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Celt's Garden - Walking the Talk, in Baby Steps

Watch the weather now. When the nights start to drop below 50 degrees F, it's time to get the green tomatoes. If you have your tomatoes on stakes, you may be able to drop the stakes and cover the vines with row cover (Remay, Gro-Therm.) Mine are a happy sprawl of vines and cages, so I'm going with Plan B: go out this weekend and harvest all the tomatoes. Packed in shallow fruit boxes with newspaper above, below and between layers, they will keep indoors. Keep it to two layers deep maximum, as otherwise they get away from you. Every few days, check the tomatoes and pull out any that are starting to color up to ripen on the kitchen counter. Pitch anything that's going nasty. It's possible to have tomatoes well into December. It's possible to have a whole bunch ripen all at once and be pulling out that canned salsa recipe in October.

The basil will also benefit from a blanket of row cover, but it's almost done. If you have time this weekend, best to glean the basil and dry it, or make pesto with the excess. Purple basil packed in white wine vinegar looks lovely, and both the vinegar and the preserved basil are ingredients.

It's time to go through the summer garden and glean the last sweet corn, peppers and zucchini, check the winter squash and pumpkins, and make pickles with grown or purchased pickling cukes. As the summer garden comes out, pull the spent vines and rotate the beds to their winter crop. Cover crops protect the beds through the winter and are turned under for green manure in the spring. Garlic, multiplier and potato onions will grow through the winter for a crop next summer. It's not too late to plant the heavy veg, cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower, to be eaten in spring. Kale will keep going through a mild winter and regrow in spring even after a hard freeze.

News flash: Meat chickens from Alm Hill Gardens are coming to the Farm Stand on Railroad Avenue (officially the Local Food Exchange). In the freezer, along with gallon bags of berries and Skagit River Ranch bacon and sausage. The bagged berries can go into muffins, pies, scones or jam.

Ben Hewitt was at Village Books a couple of months ago, pushing his book, "The Town That Food Saved". He told us that he started out to write about Hardwick, Vermont, convinced that a handful of food-related businesses had found The Answer. In a town of 2000 and the surrounding area, four companies selling seeds, soy milk and tofu, compost and cheese have created dozens of jobs and been a big boost to the local economy. Jobs, morale, empty storefronts occupied, money cycling through the long established food co-op, energy from entrepreneurs, everything better. Most of the book consists of Ben backtracking on his certainty. By the end of it, he has found more questions than Answers.

Some of the things that really bug Ben: the revived prosperity comes from selling to the great cities of the eastern seaboard, not the local region. The entrepreneurs come from elite business schools and high tech startups, not gritty Hardwick. And for all the food that it produces, the area around Hardwick is in no way feeding itself.

Ben was charmingly diffident, talking to us at Village Books. He seemed surprisingly awkward with public speaking for an author on a book tour. Youdda thunk he'd have it down by the time he got to Bellingham. He read some funny and impassioned bits from his book to us and alluded to the existence of his many questions without getting into them. The book is good, and well worth reading.

I thought some of the issues Ben had his shorts in knots over were dufus, OK, perhaps uninformed by history is kinder. Ben went on at some length about making the soy milk in Hardwick and shipping it to New York City. Soy milk and tofu are mostly water, and the whole carbon footprint thing bugged him.

Jane Jacobs expounds at length on the import replacement process in "The Economy of Cities". The book's a classic, and very useful for providing a framework for thinking about the questions that kept Ben awake at night. Goes like this: a small and rough city imports finished goods from larger, more complex cities and exports commodities. Energetic types in the small city begin to first copy and then create their own versions of selected finished goods, in turn exporting them to their own hinterland. Folks in the small city gain experience in manufacturing and marketing and circulate money within their own economy. The import replacement process is how small cities pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

One of the important aspects of the import replacement process is that it's not static. Back in the Dark Ages, the merchants of London imported fine leather goods from Cordova, Spain. Then some clever locals started turning out clunky reproductions. Eventually, London had its own industry producing finished leather goods for local sale and export. The whole process took centuries.

The important thing is to begin something, somewhere, and get the process going. To stay on it and keep replacing imports with local products. Tofu made in Hardwick and sold in NYC is at least manufactured closer than California or China. If rising energy costs create some space for local entrepreneurs in the NYC tofu market, some clever Johnny in Harlem or Brooklyn is going to start a tofu company in his basement. Perhaps he already has. The Hardwick tofu guy may have convinced Vermont dairy farmers to eat more tofu by that point, or found new markets, or leveraged his installed capital equipment, marketing network and skilled work force to make other products.

Baby steps. Baby steps towards a stronger local economy, more local food, a more resilient food system. One bed of potatoes may only produce 10% of your household's annual potato consumption, but that first 10% is the hardest to grow. Two wide rows of onions produced a three month onion supply at my place and a deep appreciation of the importance of regular weeding to growing anything worth the name of onion. Ben can calm down now. We are not required to solve all the problems of the world in this generation; it is our responsibility to walk the talk.

Baked Harvest Veg

a shallow baking dish
olive oil
1 onion, thickly sliced
5-6 cloves garlic, skins left on
cut in 1/2" slices, any combination of:
winter squash, potatoes, beets, parsnips, turnips or winter radish

Pour the olive oil over the vegetables in the baking dish and toss to coat. Season with black pepper, paprika, thyme and a pinch of salt. Bake at 425 degrees F about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender when pierced with a knife. Squeeze out that roasted garlic from the cloves, to spread on the potatoes or perhaps a little bread dipped in the warm olive oil..

Addtional note: For a fictional, but entirely plausible, example of the import replacement process in action, see "World Made by Hand" by James Howard Kunstler. Kunstler knew Jane Jacobs and wrote about her influence as an urban planner. I was delighted by the way Kunstler wove her work into the plot. I'm such a geek that I seldom read fiction, and I had no idea that Kunstler was a novelist until World Made by Hand showed up at the library on my hold request and I realized that it wasn't about architecture. He's coming to Village Books on October 3 to promote the sequel.

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Comment by dave smith on March 30, 2012 at 5:29am



an interesting place is cuba under 50 + years of sanctions,   i read about how cuba became food self sufficient when russia stopped subdizing cuba after communism collapsed in russia

cuba was faced with produce their own food or starve situation

and cuba succeedded in becoming food self sufficient with a almost total organic food production lifestyle

the question becomes will the usa food production model take over ciba when if sanctions are lifted


a study of cubas rise to self suffiency is a interesting study

that might be useful if the us model of food production starts to collapse

for any of potential numerous reasons


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