Sowing seeds for food and fun
Twenty-four people, a handful of children and one dog trudged through the mud to attend a “Winter Farm Summit” at my house on Jan. 21. Thank goodness for the unseasonable warm spell that allowed us to spread out onto the screened porch; otherwise, it would have been a very intimate gathering packed around the wood stove in our little house. The objective of the gathering was to build a support network of people who are farming, gardening, raising livestock and managing forests, and to spark conversations about our strengths and challenges related to producing and distributing food locally. I believe that everyone should and could have access to delicious, nourishing food and that much of it could be grown by our friends and neighbors right here in Ozark County.
Early signs of spring fever were abundant as we shared our plans and dreams for our farms, gardens and the greater community. Folks talked about food-bearing perennials such as paw paws, persimmons, elderberries and chestnuts. Growers shared seed they had saved such as white dent corn and cowpeas. Our discussion ranged from what crops and varieties seem to do best for us to what infrastructure would make it easier to store and process larger quantities of food. We also identified local sources of all kinds of agricultural products from goat milk and cow butter to wool for spinning and bamboo for building projects.
There were, of course, plenty of delicacies to snack on. Our spread included popcorn grown by a local cooperative, freshly gathered watercress from a nearby spring branch, venison with mushrooms, seed and berry bites made with native chokeberries and invasive autumn olive berries, Missouri-grown rice, homegrown sweet potatoes and blood pudding made by friends who butchered an injured cow for their neighbors. A grower who is experimenting with food crops that can withstand extreme climate conditions brought samples of “tiger nuts,” edible tubers also known as chuffa. I even ended up with a new pet, a kombucha scoby, which is basically a membranous blob of yeast and bacteria that turns sweet tea into a vinegary health drink. It’s so much fun to see what gourmet local foods we can come up with even in the dead of winter!
My partner Eric supports my food activism, but music is his passion. As a new acquaintance was leaving the summit, she mentioned that she had some musical equipment she was looking to sell. Soon enough, we were plugging in her old electric guitar for a test run. Now our friend Chelsea has a new blue-green guitar, and we have big plans of forming a rock band together.
Although many of us rural people balk at the idea of working together, there truly is a role for everyone to play in building a more localized food system. Some of us will sell at the farmers market or share garden excess with neighbors, but musical entertainment, massage for sore muscles and mechanical skills are just as important.
Is it possible to eat and live well without leaving the county or spending a fortune? The proof is in the blood pudding!