Twenty-First-Century Skills

Evidently it has become a problem that so few people like to cook, about 10% of us according to one survey.  Wait!  What about all those cooking shows on television?  Is that just wishful thinking, like someone saying, “Someday I’d like to write a book.”?

I prepare food every single day.  I have my fast-food options: scrambled eggs, salad, tuna or sardines, apples and peanut butter.  I don’t bother with too many fancy recipes.  A lot of meals are simply a steamer filled with what’s available at the time, including potatoes, carrots, cabbage, sweet potatoes, whatever is in season.  Put it on the table with butter, seasonings, and cheese or beans and you have a meal.

We aren’t vegetarians.  I make a pot of beef soup some weeks.  Other weeks I make a beef and pork meatloaf.  A whole chicken lasts a week—fried leg quarters and wings one evening, chicken breasts and vegetables another.  I boil the carcass, removing any meat left on the bones, and make soup. The dog gets gristle, fat, and anything that’s left except the bones.

In my freezer are locally sourced chickens, whole-hog sausage, ground beef from grass-fed cows, and ground lamb.  I raise chickens for meat and eggs, and what I don’t grow in my garden I pick up at the farmers’ market, from gardening friends, and from Oklahoma Food Coop. That includes my Oklahoma peanut butter, Oklahoma lard, and yogurt from grass-fed cows.

What do I buy at the grocery store?  Sardines and tuna, frozen salmon, almonds, avocados, and coffee.  Oranges in their season.  Jar rims and lids.  Apple cider vinegar, although I have made my own.  Chocolate.  And some cheese, although much of that also comes from Oklahoma producers.

When foods are available, I can, freeze, and dehydrate.  In August, my pantry is filling, but I need a lot more green beans, more jars of tomatoes and tomato sauce, and apples.  If they’re available along the roadside when Dale returns from his art shows in Colorado, I’d like another bushel of peaches.

What I thought of, when I heard the piece on NPR bemoaning the loss of cooking skills, was this: what’s missing are time and education.  If you work all day away from home, how do you make time to preserve food?  Without training, how sure can you be that your home-canned foods are safe?  We need to address these issues.  People need to know how to grow and preserve.  As climate change progresses, this education may be what saves us.

Yes, I’m often worn to a nubbin, as my mother would say, during canning season.  But in the winter, when I serve a meal from my freezer or my pantry, I’m grateful that I know how to feed my family.  And I’m proud that I’m passing this education on. The ability to grow and preserve may be more in need in the coming century than even tech skills.  The only thing more important, if things continue to go downhill, may be the ability to find water and dig a well.

 

When You’re Privileged

I got out early one morning this week to feed and water my chickens before the temps hit the 90s. While I was out there, I mucked out one of the pens.  I pulled chickweed, dandelions, and various weedy greens from the potato bed and tossed them to the girls.  Almost two hours later I came in soaking wet and happy.

Chickens and a garden are the best mental health professionals I know.  Only long walks in good weather can come close.

I grabbed a bottle of San Pellegrino and drank about half of it down.  One of my favorite songs from My Brightest Diamond ran through my head.

When you’re privileged, you don’t know you’re privileged.  When you’re not, you know.

I know how lucky I am. I live in the country surrounded by tall trees.  I’ve spent years trying to turn a clay creek bank into a garden.  While I don’t grow nearly enough food to feed my family, I enjoy the fruits of my labor.  When my labors fall short, there are well-stocked grocery stores within a few miles.

Before we get complacent, here are a couple of things to think about:

Almost a quarter of the children in Oklahoma are food insecure.  That’s a function of our politics, but how does one get out the vote when people are struggling to just get by?  How does one change the mindset that hunger is all ones own fault?

We’ve just come off one of the coldest Aprils on record and THE hottest May on record.  Coupled with drought, what will this do to our food supply? What will it do to food prices in a state where too many already have trouble feeding their families?

We all need to appreciate our own good luck.  We also need to think about what we can do to share our luck and our know-how.

From Idea to Fruition

It’s always easier to get an idea than to execute it.

I live on the bank of a deep creek bed.  A couple of dry creeks flank the back yard where I raise a garden and chickens.

Because there are so many trees surrounding the place, sunny spots go for a premium.  A few years ago I put a small greenhouse in one of the sunny spots to replace my cold frame.  I wish I had the cold frame back.  Or the sunny spot.

The green house isn’t big enough to be self-sustaining during the winter cold, so I had an idea. Directly behind the garden and the chicken coops, one of those dry creeks is man deep and two-men wide.  What if I chiseled out straight walls and set them with blocks to the top of the bank?  I’d add a few feet of repurposed windows for height and a clear roof. The two ends would be double paned for insulation and include doors and vents.

When the trees are bare, there is more sunlight.  Because summers are so hot here and spring is so short, wouldn’t winter be a good time to plant potatoes, cabbages, and other cool-season crops in a greenhouse?  Would the depth and the dirt help control the temperature?

This idea resurfaces every so often, like it did today when I was cleaning out a chicken coop and wondering where I was going to put all that dirty, half-composted hay from the run.

You know what I need?  I need someone by whom I can run my ideas, someone who isn’t cleaning chicken coops and weeding garden beds and killing potato bugs.  Maybe that person could say, “Hmm, let’s give that idea a try.”

I’d be glad to help…if I have time.

What I have instead is a son-in-law with his own ideas.  He thinks I should turn that deep, dry creek bed into an aquaculture setup.

Of course, about every ten years we get so much rain that the deep creek backs up into the dry creek beds.  What then?

 

What’s in Your Pantry?

When I first started thinking of the unthinkable–food shortages because of climate change, political turmoil, or natural disaster–I bought a few bags of wheat.  Man does not live by bread alone, but bread would certainly help with survival.  Wouldn’t it?

Then, I started getting a little older…and a little achier in the joints.  I not only did my gardening homework, I read widely about the relationship between diet and health.  I gave my buckets of good organic Oklahoma wheat berries to another person with a long-term pantry.

Now, instead of wheat and sugar, I had rice, quinoa, beans, oats, corn and honey.  These were backups for my real plan, of course.  I was building the humus in my acidic clay-bed garden and raising chickens for meat and eggs.  And I continued to do research.

My diet isn’t the result of fad but of desperation. My mother lived for sixteen years with dementia.  My dad, a minister, cared for her.  He also worked at the church’s food pantry.  The diet of his poor…and the food he brought home to mother…were laden with wheat, sugars, dubious fats, and a long list of unpronounceables.

In his eighties, he was diagnosed with dementia. He was healthy, active, and sharp. Then, he wasn’t.  What role did the catch-as-catch-can diet play in his and mother’s conditions?

Certainly genetics plays a role, but our lifestyle can often override our genes.  We all have health risks.  My mother and her mother were crippled by deteriorating joints, and this is why I gave up wheat and sugar.

I asked my dad once, “Don’t your joints ever hurt?”

“Nope,” he said.

Well, mine did.

You can do wonders with achy joints these days. Now I am determined to do what I can to stave off the broken brain.  Once again, I’m rethinking my pantry.

I’m convinced more than ever that the garden and the chickens are the real key to security.  Here are your necessary vitamins and minerals, your proteins, carbs, and fats.  Here are the foods necessary for survival and for more than that, good health, tantalizing tastes, and good times with friends and family around the table.

More research is required.  I have decisions to make about what goes and what stays in my emergency stores.  Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure soil building, gardening techniques, seed saving skills, and animal husbandry are the real long-term pantry.