| Eating the Abundance
by Lisa and Ben Martens Bartel
We have all been on a bit of a wild ride the last couple of years. As food prices spiked in the aftermath of global supply chain problems and new conflicts erupted disrupting food distribution, we all suffered under rapid inflation. Those of us in agriculture saw our costs rise rapidly, and food prices soared.
Even though we treat it as a normal commodity, with the prices rising and falling on the whims of international markets, food is not just a commodity, it is a necessity, and we would do well to treat it a little differently.
The problems of nutrition, hunger, diet-related illness, even famine are ultimately always failures of our distribution system. I would like to propose, as an antidote, eating the abundance in our own communities and regions.
Most of our population lives in urban areas; we rely on food that is grown hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. The incredible, complex, global system that brings everything, including our groceries to a store (or even directly to our homes) is a marvel of the modern world. Everything is processed, packaged, and distributed cheaply for our convenience.
Industrial savvy has fine-tuned the process of delivering the perfect ratios of fat, salt, and sugar, sealed and processed for maximum shelf life, delivered just in time. The system is fragile, as we recently learned, but also disconnects us from our communities, our localities, and the natural world.
Most people associate food with a grocery store, not a farm. As the saying goes, “Every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.” We just don’t realize it anymore. Transitioning to a more local food system means that communities are more involved in where they get their food, leading to more conscientious, healthy societies. We need to get closer to our food sources. I believe we can all do it and all it takes is some practice.
It was a hot September day, a few years ago, when I bent over to pick up and move an auger, and immediately collapsed in pain. I’d spent my youth doing physical jobs, working my way through university, and after a brief stint working in an office decided that I would always prefer work with at least some physical element. In my twenties, injuries, even injuries to my lower back, seemed trivial and I recovered quickly and easily. Now approaching 40, my recovery was slow, and I realized I would need help from a physiotherapist if I was going to continue farming.
I needed to focus on how I use my body, how I move, and improve the way I use my muscles, to use my whole body for repetitive movements, for better efficiency and reduced strain. The lesson from physio was that I needed to make a practice of improved habits, and I need to work constantly at maintaining those habits, otherwise improvement will not happen and I’ll lose ground.
We all do this in our lives. It’s easiest with the things that we are interested in: every beloved hobby or interest is a lesson in practice and improved habits. I’ve listened to my children learn to play instruments, improving incrementally through daily practice, and it’s opened them to all the possibilities of skill development. I think any of us find this when we pick up a new hobby like sewing, painting, sausage making, wine making, anything really.
After years of gardening, I still remember all too well my earliest vegetable growing failures. I didn’t know the timing, how fast the weeds grow, how long to water, how to lay out the garden, how to do proper crop rotations, how to manage fertility for long-term gain, how to mulch, and when to harvest! I could go on and on. I’ve learned so much, I now take on garden apprentices!
It behooves us all to become experts at procuring our daily sustenance. I don’t mean that everyone needs to be market gardeners, or even necessarily gardeners at all (although I recommend it!). A recent guest at our farm, visiting from Quebec, left us with the gift of maple syrup. We happen to tap our maple trees, which led to a discussion about his “syrup guy” in Montreal.
In our own quest to find better quality, better tasting ingredients, we have built a network of friends and acquaintances. We have strawberry and Saskatoon berry suppliers, as well as foraging experts with local knowledge about wild mushrooms, wild mint, good fishing spots, and so much more.
I believe all of us have somewhere in our lives where we get that special ingredient. Perhaps it’s a local store getting in high-quality BC fruit, a favourite stall at the local farmers market, a fish monger, or a little bakery down the street. Paying attention to the culture and agriculture in your region gains you better eating as well as connections to the lives around you.
For those of us who enjoy making our own foods from scratch, we are even more able to take advantage of the abundance that exists. Seasonally, our region produces an amazing bounty, and getting perishable food in season means maximum taste and nutrition. Once you have learned to pay attention to what is at its peak in each season, mastery of “eating the abundance” has been achieved.
In spring, anything green becomes available: the first asparagus and radish leaves announce that summer is on its way.
In high summer, there are too many seasonal crops to list here: each fruit, wild, and tame, comes in and out of season over the course of summer. Locally grown fruit is several orders of magnitude better than imported, and for those of us who like strong tart flavours, many northern fruits are a particular and exclusive delight.
The summer is also at time of vegetable abundance, green beans, pickling cucumbers, peas, so many vegetables. If purchased from local gardeners, they offer a far superior eating experience.
Fall offers things that took the whole season to mature, such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, cabbage, and root vegetables, which all sweeten up once there’s been some cold nights.
Even winter can be thought of as a time for seasonal eating, I think of it as the ideal time to cook soups and stews, with cuts of meat that offer the best nutrition and flavour from being cooked long at low temperatures.
I’m including here a few recipes that take advantage of ingredients that I know are available in abundance in fall, and there are so many more! If you’re already on your way to finding your food from right where you live, perhaps you’re ready to try canning. I’ve never had homemade salsa that wasn’t better than most of the grocery store offerings. Take a risk, try something new!
Green Surprise Dip
(A yummy addition to vegetable sticks or crackers. So good, my kids just eat it with a spoon!)
1 cup steamed spinach, kale, or chard (you can use thawed frozen greens, or wilt chopped greens in the microwave)
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup cooked chick peas
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice or to taste
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
Puree in blender or food processor.
1 extra-large zucchini–cut lengthwise, scoop out seed and discard, carefully remove some of the flesh and reserve, forming 2 shells 1-cm thick.
3/4 lb ground beef
1 small onion
1 sweet pepper
Cook beef, onion, and pepper until meat is browned.
1 cup corn
1 cup stewed tomatoes
2–3 tbsp mild chili peppers, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Add above along with chopped zucchini flesh. Turn heat to high and boil, stirring often, until liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes.
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup cheese (like Monterey Jack)
2 tbsp fresh cilantro (optional)
Add to filling and mix well.
Place zucchini shells in a baking dish and fill with meat mixture.
Bake at 350ºF for 30–35 minutes.
1/4 cup cheese, shredded
Sprinkle on top and return to the oven for 12–15 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Yield: 6–8 biscuits.
(A favourite accompaniment to any soup. We always have squash puree in the freezer ready to whip up a double batch of these.)
1 3/4 cups flour (combo of white and whole wheat)
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup squash, cooked and pureed
1/3 cup plain yogurt
In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt. Cut in 1/2 cup butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Combine pumpkin and yogurt; stir into crumb mixture just until moistened.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead 8–10 times. Pat or roll out to 1-inch thickness; cut into biscuits. Place 1 inch apart on a greased baking sheet. (*Not all squash have equal moisture content, so if it is runny, scoop onto pan instead of rolling and cutting, or add a little extra flour.)
Bake at 425°F for 18–22 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter (optional). Serve warm.
Lisa and Ben Martens Bartel farm at Grovenland Farm near Lanigan, SK, with their 3 boys and Ben’s parents, John and Denise Bartel. Since 2011, they have been raising pastured chickens, pastured pigs, and grass-finished cattle, along with growing a chemical-free market garden and CSA (Community Shared Agriculture). For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call (306) 365-3037, or visit www.grovenlandfarm.ca.
Their products are
also available through
The Farmers’ Table (see display ad on page 9 of the 29.3 September/October issue of the WHOLifE Journal).