As I look over the sad scene of destruction that is, or rather was, my garden, I can’t help but notice that the weeds are doing well despite the demolition work of the deer, and the poor soil. I remember that the soil can be “read” by paying attention to the weeds that grow there. Often the best plots are those that can support a lot of weeds. After all, if weeds can grow there untended, your vegetables, with the added attention and care that you can give them should thrive!

As I survey the damage, I also see an awful lot of buttercups. Despite their humble beauty, I know they are poison to some foraging and grazing animals such as the goats we have been thinking of getting (more later). Buttercups, as well as the dandelions and plantain I see growing here are an indication of heavy soils as are some kinds of dock, which I don’t see right now.

If I had the mosses may apples and joe pye weed, which I have down below but not up here in the garden area, I would know that the drainage was poor, so that is not necessarily a problem here. Up by the road I see some cornflower, and chicory so that soil must be a bit lighter, though sandy and probably not too fertile.

Oh how I long for the soil of many of my former gardens, light and humusy, well drained and rich. Usually the purslane and chicory grew right there on their own, and if the dandelions didn’t, I planted them.. Not only are they delicious and nutritious, but their long tap roots reach down and break loose minerals and such that are too deep for the vegetables to reach. All of these “weeds” and some others also regularly found themselves on the menu for they are as healthy as they are easy to grow!

If nothing was growing there I’d know that the soil was not too fertile, or had been poisoned in some manner. Still, that truckload of manure I didn’t get this spring when my old pickup broke down would have been well received, and I make a note to get it as soon as I can. It may be a bit late to save this crop, but the soil will still benefit from it, and can have the whole autumn and winter to digest and enjoy it and get revitalized for next year.

Now, I have to go finish picking the wild black raspberries and see if i can scare up enough to make a bit of jam. Have a safe and Happy 4th, and don’t forget to ponder just what it is we should be celebrating. Hint, its not just a great burger.

 

Ok, so I’m a week late. Last week was the Summer Solstice, and the frenetic activities that occupy the longer days of summer have proven to be a false economy. Posting has taken a step back as the added burdens of garden weeding, fruit picking, mowing and such have stepped up as we have been preparing for freezing, canning and drying the upcoming harvests. Though our garden is still dismal owing to the thin covering of heavy soil (is that an oxymoron?), and the depredations of the deer, squirrels and ground hogs. Family, neighbors and local farmers seem thus far to be having a decent year, though. Hopefully their excess will be available to help carry us through until our little plots mature and are strong enough to provide.

 

Often, while struggling to finish some long task at the end of an even longer day, I look up to realize that, although the sky is still light enough to see, it is long past the kids’ bedtime and I haven’t even cooked supper yet. I know it is summer, but proper sleep is a commodity that we are often short on as a society, and I try to keep their schedules regular.

 

But back to the solstice. Growing up it was a regular part of our family routine to observe the position of the sunset each evening at supper. Our table was in the western part of the house, and the fact that, by happy coincidence, our barn ran almost directly north and south, so it was easy to mark the progress of the sun as it progressed on it yearly cycle. It was as much a matter of conversation as the weather, and a part of our internal clocks. Precision was less important than the act of observation, the act of appreciation.

 

Our observatory was the product of years of living and watching, and a certain amount of osmosis. We just kind of absorbed the positions and related meaning. We drew encouragement in the dark days of February to note the sun had moved toward a certain point on the barn roof and spring was surely coming. Similarly, even though the days were long and beautiful, we were reminded to get the harvest ready and prepare for winter as the sun began its trek back south. Without realizing it, we were in tune with the seasons more surely than we could be if the calendar was our only regulator. Though this is just one of the cycles we are all influenced by, often too little thought or credit is given.

 

In the years since I left home, I have always, to some degree, paid attention to the the position of the sun. Depending on the specifics of my location, it has either been the sunset, or the more traditional sunrise. Sometimes I have simply taken note of the positions as the year progressed, making improvised observatories such as our “barn roof observatory”, and sometimes I have taken a bit more time and built simple observatories.

 

One year I planted my green beans and pole according to my previous year’s observations. I dubbed this creation “Beanhenge”. Other years I have stacked rocks, adjusting for precision throughout the year, only to find myself changing homes before my creation was complete.

Since moving to this current home, I have not yet had time to actually build a formal structure. Happily a combination and a few coincidences have handed me a ready made observatory.

 

My desk sits beside the massive stone chimney that heats our winters (and helps hold the cool in the summer), and windows wrap around me to both the south and the east. On the morning of June 21, when viewed from here the sun seems to rise between the two tall poplars that shelter my outdoor cooking area. Next December, I know if I sit here, it will rise over the very back edge of the outhouse. Once during a particularly dark year (of mood), when I first noticed this, I dubbed my “creation” with the slightly disrespectful moniker of “Sh*thenge” and the name has since stuck.

 

I believe everyone should be just a bit more aware of the workings of the world, and so I propose you make your own stone henge. It can be as easy as picking a spot to observe either the sunrise or sunset, and occasionally noting the difference, or it can be as complicated as getting a compass, and marking the various points from a central observation point, then making daily observations and markings. Here are some cool activities that can make it a part of your family’s routine, and maybe create a tradition and a re-connection with the natural world. http://fun.familyeducation.com/outdoor-games/winter/35028.html

 

I originally started this blog to document and share my experiences as I return to my roots in the country and in the kitchen. You see, I grew up in a rural area, with a depression era mentality. Even though it was the 1960’s and 1970’s, we grew and foraged much of our food, and we purchased seasonal produce from local farm stands and canned or froze or dried it for the upcoming winter. Stocking our pantry was as much a part of the daily rhythms as the the sunrise or the need to eat. Anyone can tell when its suppertime without a clock, and so with blackberry time or any other time we were aware of. The years were filled as a progression and and our pantries expanded and contracted with a regularity of a long comfortable breath.

As the years went on, like most kids, I left home and headed for the city, and so gradually lost touch with much of my food supply. Oh, I still picked berries and made my own jelly, but it was easier to spread it on some of the cake like substance the chain stores market as bread. I grew my garden and canned a few tomatoes, but the bulk of my winter vegetables came out of a can rather than a mason jar and were grown in some anonymous distant place rather than out back.

Blessed with such a healthy childhood I took for granted my reasonably decent health. But Occasionally I noticed how many of the folks I worked with battled chronic weight issues, or had minor skin ailments, or perhaps high blood pressure. Health issues were often the topic du jour around the coffee pot as everyone stuffed themselves with “healthy” bran muffins rather than the ubiquitous offering of doughnuts. Some of the younger trendier types even eschewed the coffee for a nice morning pick me up of diet soda of even water flavored with some artificial stuff I could not spell much less pronounce.

Gradually the years went by and we all aged, and more than a few of us passed from the standard illnesses of the industrial age, cancer, diabetes, heart disease. We all accepted these losses as part of the attrition of life. Like the divorces and corporate failures we endured them and moved on.

So now I find myself back in the country, in the mountains of my youth. And I begin to rebuild and restock my pantry. But my blackberry patches have been replaced with condos and my walnut trees cut for some fool’s firewood. Little by little I begin to rebuild worn out soil, to search out foraging spots. I reach out to find local sources of the food I need to feed my family, only to find many of the old farms and farmers gone. Those that remain are beset on all sides. Market forces and big agribusiness have all but eliminated all the sources of local food. Tomatoes are available year round, but even in August are not from around here. Even the laws are seemingly against simple local food.

Recently I was looking for a farm to buy milk from directly. Most of the farms I worked on or around in my youth have been replaced by Housing developments and blacktop, so I asked at the Mountain Herb Shoppe when I went to buy some multi-vitamins for my kids. The folks there were so nice, and really wanted to help, but there simply was no farm locally that was selling milk directly. The reason it seems, is a fear of raw milk.

As a kid we generally drank fresh milk right from the farm. Those days we knew each cow by name and habit, and if anything was off in her health or behavior, we were sure to investigate. and if anything accidentally fell into the milk, we fed it to the calves after a serious scolding against our carelessness.

Daily we brought our jugs and, at the end of the evening’s milking, we filled them from the bulk tank, a stainless steel refrigerated tank that held all of our, and the cows, efforts. The milk was fresh and creamy. Though the tank had a motorized paddle that stirred the milk to cool it more quickly and to keep the cream from separating, an hour or two after it was in the bottle, it need to be shaken to remix the milk and the cream.

Sometimes we would draw off the milk from a tap in the bottom of the jug and take the cream fro our coffee, or to make butter or ice cream, or even for whipping and serving on dessert. The skimmed milk that was left was not completely free from cream, and still tasted nearly as rich as the store stuff anyway.

Seldom was it ever wasted. Even though in its raw state milk tends to not stay fresh as long, it was not as nasty nor as harmful as the store bought stuff when it was “sour”. It could still be used as sour cream or in a recipe where the slightly off taste would be noticed, heck, you could still drink it, especially if you added a bit of flavoring like chocolate or a bit of vanilla and sugar. Worst case, the dog would promise undying loyalty for just a taste.

Store milk is another story. First off, the store stuff is nowadays produced on farms that milk in a continuous, 3 shift day, from cows that are given drugs to speed their production of milk and so require more than the morning and evening milkings traditional for thousands of years. The cows are more or less simply an input in an industrial process and not a member of the extended family as were most of the cows on the farms of my youth.

Next this milk is Pasteurized, or cooked, to kill any nasty germs that may have fallen into the milk. This could happen in the barn, in the tank, in the truck on the way to the factory, or during any one of the many processes through which it undergoes. To be fair, this could happen, and probably does happen on smaller farms. but the ability to oversee and correct such problems is worse on an industrial scale. In addition, the cooking creates a nearly sterile product that has a much longer shelf life to enable shipping long distances and sales for a longer period of time.

The milk is also mechanically separated from its cream, much of it being diverted to other products and uses. A portion of the cream is forced through small screens under high pressure to break the fat particles into unnaturallly tiny pieces that can not separate when they are added back into the milk at controlled ratios to create the various percentages of milk from whole, one percent, two percent and so on.

Trouble is, the Pasteurization kills beneficial bacteria as well, and without the enzymes and bacteria that have for thousands of years helped people to digest the milk, many folks find they can not drink milk at all. Some yogurt companies have made fortunes by adding the same bacteria back into the milk and loudly proclaiming their health benefits. (They are probably right, but why kill them in the first place? But I digress). In addition, the smaller particles of cream can pass through the stomach lining of many humans and cause even more health problems.

But you see, as a large scale industrial material, milk is a controlled substance. That’s right. That white liquid is subject to search and seizure and can even be classified as a hazardous waste if it has been produced, sold or consumed outside the system.

Now, I have never been any kind of an activist. I prefer to take care of my family and friends, educating as many as I can reach, but never overstepping the bounds of social propriety. I don’t view store milk as a poison. It is convenient and easily available and better than nothing. But I prefer milk fresh from a farm I know, and that is now illegal in much of the country. Similar battles are cropping up in other types of food as industrial meats and vegetables are being eschewed for locally produced varieties, even as the terms “organic” and “natural” and others are coopted and diluted by the same large concerns. Caveat Emptor. But the buyer can not beware if he has no choice. I don’t care if you drink cooked milk, why do you care if I drink mine raw?

Please visit my other blog, The Raw Milk Underground for news and views as I have time to post them, and in the meantime please visit The Weston A. Price Foundation and RealMilk.com for more and better information. Everyone who eats is being dragged into this battle, and even if you don’t know it, decisions are being made for you that could affect your health more than any other single thing. What you eat is ultimately more important for your health than any vitamin or exercise program.

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