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The Winter of Eating Locally just sort of happened around my house. No plans, no resolutions, no rules about only sourcing from within the state or 100 miles, no soul searching about coffee or bread wheat, no life changing decisions. It was life changing anyway. The Winter of Eating Locally was a by product of a great gardening year followed by a long season of underemployment. Good thing that I planted a winter garden.

In addition to my home garden, Krista Rome (the Bean Woman of Everson) and I planted calorie crops last year at Broadleaf Farm in Everson. Krista has been doing dry bean variety trials there for years. One of my goals was to see what a part time farmer could grow on a scrap of land with minimal inputs.

The answer is: a lot. My half of our potato variety trials was 200 pounds. I shared most of them and still had potatoes until March. I grew malting barley, harvested and threshed it by hand and made beer with local hops, dense, dark, and nutritious as liquid bread. The squash, beans and peas yielded bountifully, the field corn project produced considerable food as a by-product of breeding for tolerance of our maritime climate, and I even got a little wheat from my wheat variety trials. All this on 1/8 of an acre.

I about went nuts last August and September trying to get the harvest in on top of the last rush of engineering projects. I'm not claiming that this is easy, just that the normal rhythm of humanity in the Northern Hemisphere is to run around like crazed squirrels in August and September.  Then some big feeds to eat up what won't keep and shift gears for the winter.

Then an interesting thing happened. I about quit buying groceries. I've always been good about baking bread regularly, but the abundance of corn and potatoes really cut down on the need for bread flour. The hard red winter wheat for bread flour is grown in the Great Plains. We can buy locally milled bread flour, but not locally grown. The winter garden has been producing steadily all through the mild winter, pumping out kale, big fat winter radishes and beets. Tomato blight ravaged my tomatoes last year, but I managed to salvage about half. They ripened up in newspaper lined cardboard trays inside. They don't have the sweetness of a vine ripened tomato, but they make outstanding sauce and ketchup. 

The taste of around here is blue cornbread made with Bellingham Blue sweet corn; soup from Dunsdale pole peas or Dutch Brown Soup beans flavored with garlic and carrots from local farms; thick brown beer from Hayes Awnless two row barley; Nothstine Dent and Mandan Briade tortillas piled with Indian Woman Yellow beans and chunky homemade chili sauce; a pan of baked Navajo Grey squash, beets, potatoes and whole heads of garlic; red polenta; blueberry muffins; apple sauce; hard cider; kale and winter radish fritatas for breakfast; Molasses Face baked beans; chicken posole; and sourdough flatbreads made from soft wheat and barley. The taste of around here is just amazing.

I about quit setting foot in supermarkets, and it's been great eats all winter. It would coast a fortune to buy it all, and some things are not commercially available at any price. The bounty took work to grow, but I answered the question: can a working person grow enough to substantially feed a small family with minimal time, space, money, water and mechanization? Yes, as a matter of fact. Totally doable.

No, not without foregoing usual suburban pleasures such as mowing the lawn (no lawn left at my place, it's all veg), taking off for weeks in summer, and the American average of 17 hours a week watching TV.  I got out to the farm about once a week last year, sometimes for a long day and sometimes for an afternoon. I dragged various family members and friends out there to help and piled them with chow. Krista organized a work party to weed the corn and beans for me at one point. The fact that it was necessary points to a way that local food production is different from the industrial food model. Even an 1/8 of an acre gets out of hand for one person when the weeds go berzerk in June. The weeding is best done collectively and followed by a picnic. It doesn't fit well with the office hamster model of work. If we took turns going around as a group weeding everybody's plot in June, our office hamster jobs would suffer. Of course, if enough of us are unemployed, we aren't going to care. 

And here's the thing. The food is way better.

See previous Celt's Garden posts for tortilla making, sourdough bread, the chicken posole recipe, red grits, Bellingham Blue sweet corn, and kale fritatas. 

Seeds and seed potatoes for varieties worth growing and eating are becoming more available. Check smaller seed companies from northern states, including Territorial and our own Uprising Organics. I particularly like Fedco from Maine. Krista has dry bean seed available at backyardbeansandgrains.com. I gave away a whole buncha seed corn at the 4th Annual Bellingham Seed Swap. If you missed it, I have limited amounts available for a donation to the cause. 

Check the Whatcom Folk School for classes from myself and other farmers and backyard homesteaders. Somebody has to be crazy enough to do this stuff and figure out what actually works.

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Comment by Celt M. Schira on March 30, 2012 at 5:29pm

Elizabeth, thank you, that is very kind of you. Many dry beans work here. Look at the days to maturity. Anything 85 days or less should work. For beans tuned to Whatcom County, contact Krista Rome. In addition to the varieties mentioned above, any fava bean works. Jack Garlick's white, Red Kidney, Orca, Vermont Cranberry, Kenearly Yellow Eye, Decker, Beka Brown, Ireland Creek Annie, Six Nations, Sargas, Rucklehouse, Tiger's Eye, Montemzuma Red, Gaucho and Saturday Night Special did well for me. Try Carol Deppe, Territorial, Fedco and Uprising Organics. Happy beaning! Not too surprisingly, heirloom beans from right across the 49th parallel to the similar climate in New England do well here. Hot weather beans such as limas and tepary beans don't get enough heat hours.  

Comment by Elizabeth W on March 30, 2012 at 11:03am

brilliant! do you have recommendations for heirloom dried beans that work in NW maritime clime?

Comment by Celt M. Schira on March 29, 2012 at 9:46am

Good for you, Elizabeth. Potatoes, squash and pole beans can be grown in compact spaces. Field corn can be grown in small patches. A 4' by 8' bed will grow 30 corn plants with bush beans or onions around the edges. That's a yield of around six pounds of dry shelled corn, which might be as much you want for tortillas or posole. Choose a stubby, early heirloom corn variety, such as Mandan Bride or Nothstine Dent.

Comment by Elizabeth W on March 28, 2012 at 4:39pm

Great story, full of life and juicy tidbits - very inspirational! thanks for sharing your pearls of wisdom. I'll check in this time next year to see where I'm at!

Comment by David MacLeod on March 17, 2012 at 8:39pm

Fantastic, Celt! This is a great story, thanks for sharing it!

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