Another Day of Liiiife

Is it crazy that in this time where COVID-19 is meant to be stopping everything in its tracks, I feel busier than ever? There are so many online offerings, so many sources of information/education/inspiration (of varying qualities), so many important people that I want to check on, near and far. (Not nearly enough hours in the day to connect with everyone I care about.)

I notice in myself a tendency to overconsume and overdo, just as in regular life, even while “regular life” is up in smoke. This will be an exploration for another day, because this blog commitment can easily become another way of overloading myself.

For now: Note the irony, because I believe that the frenetic pace of modern life is part and parcel of why we collectively required a pandemic-level disaster to get our attention.

Today, our governor issued a “hunker-down order” as we’re jokingly calling it, because of the folksy (read: confusing) way he put it in his press conference. (I’m glad we can still go outdoors and take walks and bike rides. On the radio I heard that Britain’s prime minister put some new stringent requirements in place, saying people can only exercise outdoors once a day.)

It is a strange new world we’re living in. I was operating in hypervigilant mode for much of last week, and that is starting to abate. Meanwhile I’m eager for sunlight to return after a string of cloudy/rainy/sleety days. I’m also eager to get some garden plants in the ground. It seems more essential than ever to grow some of my own food.

AND it seems more essential than ever to support local farmers. In the absence of a winter farmers’ market, where I usually get my spring plants, I can still connect personally with the farm community to get some things to eat and plant.

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Parsley and cilantro too.

Just today, in advance of the “hunker-down order” taking effect, I drove up to my friend Laura Karr’s farm to get some spinach, lettuce, kale and other seedlings. She let me snip some fresh greens for supper as well. We kept a good distance between us instead of exchanging our customary hug.

I’m so lucky to have these connections and the flexibility to make such a trip right now. (Local folks: you can email her at kgacresfarm@gmail.com to see what all she has available.)

20200322_183023 (768x1024)Gratitude: I woke up with this old song in my head: “I just want to celebrate another day of living. I just want to celebrate another day of LIIIIIFE.”

And check my fave bright sunshiny sweatshirt worn on a dreary day. I got it at a thrift store in Phoenix years ago (actually in December! but it seems like years ago!).

Tip of the Day: This comes courtesy of my friend Merry, an energy healer. If you have trouble sleeping (as I often do), it might help to do a little release ritual at bedtime to let go of excess energy and stuff that doesn’t belong to you. Try repeating to yourself something like: “I release all excess energy from my field,” and “I release all emotions and energies that aren’t mine from my field.” (Field just means your body and energy.) I tried it last night and it really helped.

Resource of the Day: Local people: definitely check out KG Acres, Laura’s farm, and other Indy Winter Farmers’ Market vendors who have alternate ways to keep you fed. If you’re interested in growing some of your own food, check out the Gardening Guru Exchange for tips and info.

Got a good tip or resource? Put it in the comments, or message me. And thanks for the sweet notes saying how this blog is useful to you. It really means a lot that people are reading and resonating.

Till next time….

Garcia’s Gardens

One of the great things about freelancing is coming into contact with the coolest people: farmers.

A story assignment recently took me out to the eastern edge of Marion County to meet Daniel Garcia, proprietor of Garcia’s Gardens. This suburban Lawrence farm takes up most of the Garcia family’s back yard and is overlooked by their neighbors’ subdivision houses.

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This photo was taken in late fall, showing the crops that Daniel was going to protect through the winter.

“Do you ever wonder if people are looking out their windows at you while you farm?” I asked him when he took me on a midwinter tour of his grounds. We were looking under row covers at salad greens and “the babyest of baby spinach” as he put it.

“I hope so,” he quipped, “because nobody is ever outside, except for the occasional smoker.”

For someone who grew up working in his Mexican-born dad’s huge garden in northwest Indiana, and took a job picking strawberries at age 12, it’s hard to fathom why people would never show their faces outside. “Everybody’s always indoors. It’s weird,” he says with a shrug.

He says some of his neighbors think he’s crazy, but one older couple gets it. “When we first got our chickens,” he says, “they were like, ‘oh I used to tend my chickens and we used to have a big garden.’ I think they really like what I do.”

Chefs and customers like it too. In addition to direct customer sales, Daniel supplies restaurateurs who love his carrots, Asian greens, heirloom tomatoes, and green onions, just to name a few. Because of the size of his enterprise (he farms intensively on about half an acre) he can pay close attention to the quality of his produce.

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Daniel checking under the hood of his 1940s-era David Bradley two-wheeled tractor.

One of the interesting things about this particular farm is Daniel’s use of a walk-behind David Bradley tractor, which dates back to the 1940s. He says it works like a mechanical mule with tires, and runs on a three-horsepower engine like a lawnmower’s. Just about any farm implement that would be hooked up to a regular tractor has its matching implement for this one-axle machine. Using it to keep weeds at bay allows Daniel to avoid chemical herbicides, which he’s committed to doing.

When I asked him if he felt like he was helping to keep history alive by using the David Bradley, he said, “I think so, a little bit—I hope it’s not like a curse!” He’s one of many organic farmers using this type of tractor—and some use it even for planting seeds.

Daniel takes his produce to the Fishers Winter Market and also sells it through stores like the Good Earth. Spring through fall, he can be found at numerous outlets, including the Irvington Farmers Market, which is where I met him. I believe we bonded over kohlrabi or some such thing, and I was struck by the joy he radiated, standing there in his veggie booth. Here is a man who loves what he does, I thought.

Later I got to meet his sweet family and hang out with them and their dog Gonzo (Gonzo Garcia, love it!). I got to crunch a freshly pulled carrot, and even made off with some delectable chickweed, as I wrote about here.

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One of the best parts of working at home instead of in a corporation, as he did a few years ago, is more time with his daughters.

I know I’m not alone in appreciating the fact that people like Daniel are out there growing healthy food in innovative ways. Today I learned that Grist Magazine has honored another farmer I met “on the job,” Ben Hartman of Clay Bottom Farm. More on him in a later post!

Made of Sunshine

I first heard about Healthy Hoosier Oils when shopping at my food coop, Pogue’s Run Grocer. As a local food enthusiast, I was thrilled to find out that there was a new local alternative for culinary oils. I didn’t know much about how the product was made, but after I took home my first bottle of sunflower oil, I knew it was delicious. Seriously flavorful.

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Once you’ve tried it, you will crave its buttery flavor.

I ended up buying bottle after bottle of sunflower oil as we drizzled it on our salads all through spring and summer. And popcorn popped in the stuff is amazing. It’s great for stir-frying too. Then there’s canola oil, which has a more neutral flavor and a higher smoke point.

Eventually I suggested to my Farm Indiana editor that we do a story on the Boyer farm in Converse, Indiana. That’s where the seed crops are raised and turned into this fantastic staple of my dinner table.

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Sunflower fields forever.

Yes, this is the amazingly fortunate position I find myself in at this stage of my life: I get hooked on a particular foodstuff, and get to go visit with the folks responsible for it. I write a story about them and collect a (smallish) paycheck.

I met Craig Boyer, the 81-year-old patriarch of a family that manages to stay tightknit and geographically close in an age where that is rare. (All of his and wife Nancy’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren live within just a few miles of where the above photo was taken.)

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Craig Boyer with a section of the filtration system for the culinary oils.

The land has been in the Boyer family since 1848, farmed for six generations and counting. The culinary oil enterprise is fairly recent, and arose partly out of Craig’s health crisis. He had to semi-retire after a major cardiac event, and he was supposed to watch his diet. His sons Mark and John experimented with converting their biodiesel operation into culinary oil production, in part because of the market—but also because their dad loved his fried foods.

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Brady Bolen bottles and labels the freshly pressed oil.

I was pleased to hear that the oils are free of solvents and additives. I actually was a bit clueless about how conventional oils are extracted (through a nasty-sounding process involving hexane and high heat). Healthy Hoosier Oils go through a cold press.

The oil crops themselves grow in a minimally-tilled row-crop setup, in rotation with the corn, soybeans, and wheat that the Boyers also raise. “We use zero chemicals,” Mark told me, speaking of the canola and sunflowers. I asked about weed control: “It actually is relatively easy in that both canola and sunflowers eventually will canopy. When they canopy, they cover the ground and protect themselves from invasive weeds to a certain extent.”

Honeybees are key to the Boyers’ strategy too—they partner with a local beekeeper to make sure that honeybees are working their magic on the crops.

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Honey from Bastin Honey Bee Farm of Knightstown is sold onsite along with the oils.

 

I enjoyed my tour of the operation that July day, even the sweltering 1940s-era corn crib (repurposed to store the oil crops). Here’s the writeup for Farm Indiana, if you’d like to read more. Locally, you can find Healthy Hoosier Oils in Kroger stores, Pogue’s Run Grocer,  and other independent grocers.