|Like many across the country, we have had our share of arctic visitors this winter. The snow is piled high as I glance out the window. It could be gone tomorrow with a blast of southern air, or we could get the now familiar dump of snow. The outstanding visitor of the season has been the snowy owl. Everyone seems to check in with each other on the latest sightings. Harry Potter has come to the Vineyard. To quote Adam Moore of Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, Arctic Visitors, “...the Arctic weather, whose cold is just as piercing as the owl’s talons.“
On Saturday night we returned home from a friend’s at around 11:30pm only to find our road blocked by a large tree which had fallen from the weight of the heavy snow. With no interest in taking on a chain saw at midnight, we forged ahead on foot. Under the light of a cloudy full moon, we crawled through tunnels of snow-laden branches magically lighting our way with snow crystals that casted a glow. Magic had come to our neighborhood. I have never experienced such beauty on a walk along any road. We lost the road and for a moment became completely disoriented - which way was home? Wondering with such peace and tranquility. Once home, our power was out and we lit our way through the house with candles. A few moments later our 17 year-old wandered in exclaiming the delight of his recent trek down our 1/2 mile road on foot. It was reminiscent of his younger years as a toddler discovering the wonders and magic of sparkles in the snow. This is what keeps us going on Martha’s Vineyard in February!
The days are getting longer with sunsets at 5:30pm. The cows still need milking and the chickens are laying more eggs. Milk, cheese and yogurt are always available at Mermaid Farm and The Grey Barn. We are just finishing the last of our butternut squash and we are down to 3 bags of Morning Glory Farm corn in the freezer. The local larder is getting slim and it’s time to consider the seed order. Caitlin Jones of Mermaid Farm is my expert seed saver and the one I turn to, not only to select the seeds for the coming season, but also to start and grow the seeds.
This Spring, John Bagnulo and I are teaching a weekend class, our Garden & Culinary Adventure in April. We will teach participants how to develop and plant a 20’ x 20’ plot that will feed the family. On Sunday, participants will receive seedlings to take home and begin. One can never get excited enough about the future of the Spring garden and the abundance of a full garden!
Not only do we need to consider the seeds, but also the companies.
Look for organic, heirloom varieties. Grow 2-3 varieties, as one may do better than the other. Jim Athearn at Morning Glory Farm says that he grows conventional tomato varieties hydroponically and organic heirlooms in organic soil, both in green houses. He says he cannot tell a difference in taste. But for the health of the planet and ourselves, I say we must go beyond taste, especially if one cannot tell the difference in taste between the conventional and organic. I say there is nothing as fun or interesting to my palate as a plate of color and the taste of the heirloom variety - August 2012 Newsletter. There is NOTHING like the taste of tomatoes that have been picked at their peak ripeness and not been refrigerated. This is why they taste so good; because we wait for the perfect tomato, patiently dreaming of our July harvest! I seem to return to this topic of tomatoes this time of year. Perhaps it is the longing… and perhaps this is why I would not consider buying any in the store as it would just be too much of a disappointment! Heirloom Tomatoes are in a league of their own.
I love to pore through the Fedco catalog just for the stories and descriptions. Here is where I must digress and discuss Genetically Modified Organisms. By now, we all know the familiar acronym GMOs (GMO Breakdown), but do we get it when it comes to selecting seeds and crops for our garden or perhaps shopping in the store when it comes to produce? GMOs have no place at our tables. They do not feed more people, they only allow farmers to grow more crops that are not used for food, crops that need more pesticides and chemical fertilizers, all of which ruin & pollute our soils.
One farmer friend said ”It doesn’t matter, the GMOs are in our poop, so it is already in our soils!” Oh dear, I say! It can’t be too late! I never considered the poop of birds that are fed GMO grain! All of us can do our parts! Did I mention that they wreak havoc with our gut bacteria?
Genetically Modified Organisms are grown under environmental conditions that drastically reduce the plants uptake of essential nutrients. Additionally, GMOs have the ability to pass transgenic material onto the microbes in our intestinal flora, thereby turning our own intestinal flora into organisms with the different functions. If you eat animals that have been fed a diet of grain that contains GMOs, then you are eating GMOs.
Just like the RoundUp and Rodeo that some folks want to dump into our ponds to kill the Phragmites? Yes, that is right, there is a connection, but that will fill many more pages than I have time for here.
The simple act of home-cooking provides the opportunity to support local agriculture and purchase foods that were grown in ways that protect and restore the soil.
Back to seeds….
I am not much of a seed saver. I get as far as sprouting and then I kill them, and then I kill them if I don't eat them fast enough. I leave that to my expert farmers and neighbors who take great pleasure and time to nurture the fullest potential from seeds. I am content to pour through the catalogs and share my desires with a professional seed starter.
I made this Warm Salad of Cauliflower, Shitake Mushroom & Brussels Sprouts this week and could live on it! It will serve 8 generously with enough left over for breakfast!
It is easy to cook Brussels Sprouts many different ways. Steamed, roasted, sautéed and fermented are common practices in my home. Whatever way you choose, do not overcook them, as not only do they lose their nutritional value and taste, but they will begin to emit the unpleasant sulfur smell associated with overcooked cruciferous vegetables. Cut the larger ones in quarters and the smaller ones in half. My friend Gary Stuber likes to cut them into strips like slaw and sauté them quickly. The health benefits alone should make you race to the store to grab 6 lbs. of Brussels sprouts!
I gathered my yoga clothes and set out for a 7am yoga class on a blowy and frigid morning, only to arrive and find the class cancelled, so I headed to the spin class hoping to make it in time, only to find no class. Discouraged, I thought I would splurge on a cup of coffee, only to find nothing open! Oh yes, it is February on Martha’s Vineyard and classes get missed or canceled and even a cup of coffee can be hard to find. But the farm stands are always open, and while they do not offer a cup of coffee, I may find the warmth of a friend this early, poking around the farm stand with time to discuss everything and nothing: where are we going with GMOs and more dependency on fossil fuels and how all of this affects our health?; and when will the lambs come in April?; worry and evidence that our kids will not turn out okay, and of course: what’s for dinner? I cherish our time and I feel blessed in magic!
And to end with more words from Adam Moore… “On January days when the thermometer at Mermaid Farm reads minus four degrees Fahrenheit, and when snowy owls in white plumage hunt at Big Bridge, when docks wear skirts of icicles and when the Chappy Ferry captains wear survival suits, thoughts of summer are hard to conjure. The island seems much nearer to its ice age origin.”
For me, on these days, it is the moments of magic that keep me warm.