The Call and Times, Column 30 – And God Saw That It Was Good – Where Faith Meets Environmentalism

29 09 2015

(September 27, 2015)

The Urban Farmer

And God Saw That It Was Good – Where Faith Meets Environmentalism

We’ve talked a lot about the environment – the problem of global climate change, the issues surrounding human waste production, and the environmental harms of industrial agriculture. In these and many other columns, I’ve quoted verses from the Bible as defense for my calls to action, and have used a more general spirituality to motivate a new environmental ethos. These parallels, and my frequent citations of them, are not an accident.

I am firmly of the belief that how sustainably we interact with Nature – the global climate, each local ecosystem, and our fellow living creatures – is a central, indispensible component of our religious beliefs. Not only is this treatment a reflection of one’s faith in a Creator God but, I would argue, a foundational responsibility of ours, as human beings living on this planet.

As a bit of background (if you couldn’t already guess), I am a Christian. And while I am not Catholic, I see the Office of the Pope as one of the most important, venerable leadership roles in the global Christian community and indeed, in global political leadership as a whole.

I, like so many others, have been delighted with the progress that Pope Francis has already made in matters of social and environmental justice. A central theme of his papacy has been the proper treatment of the Earth: this was the subject of his second encyclical, Laudato Si’, and has been a major discussion topic of his visits to the U.S. Congress, White House, and United Nations over the past week.

In light of the Pope’s visit, and his encouraging call to action on global climate change and environmental protection, I would like to make my own bold call to action: Environmental protection and sustainability are necessary components of Christianity. Here’s why:

  • The Earth belongs to God, and it is inherently good. In Genesis 1, the description of each era of Creation ends with some variation of the bold assessment, “God saw that it was good”. The story poetically describes the creation of all physical reality, beginning with the Big Bang and cyclically narrowing in scope to the Earth, its environment, and a few grander classifications of life. It is implied that each component is essential to the function of the greater whole, but it is stated very clearly that each is good and necessary in its own right. In countless other places in the Bible, notably in the Psalms of David and the Book of Job, it is made clear that God finds beauty in the functioning of the Earth and the diversity of its life, and that unadulterated Creation is the yardstick to which we must measure human successes and failures.
  • Flourishing, sustainable life was and is a central goal of Creation. Through Genesis 1, God’s basic commandment to each set of created beings is that they are to “be fruitful and increase in number”, filling ecological niches all throughout the Earth and building Earth’s fertility and solar energy capture. The inherent sustainability of this ecosystem is summarized in God’s promise to Noah and the Earth (Genesis 8): that the cyclic, regenerative nature of the days and seasons would not ever cease.
    In the familiar parable of Matthew 6, similar in nature to Psalm 104, Jesus emphasizes the idea of Divine Providence – that every creature, from the birds, to the flowers and grasses, to human beings, have their needs met by a divinely-created and –maintained ecosystem. This principal is what Wendell Berry has more recently termed “The Great Economy”, where the very nature of the Earth is to create and maintain life while actually expanding its ability to do so.
  • Human beings were created as caretakers of this good Earth. In Genesis 2, we are placed in the Garden of Eden with the explicit instruction to “work it and take care of it”, to enjoy the bounty of Nature while working to improve it. Even the command to have dominion over the Earth and to subdue it speaks to this general goal – that we must work against the harsher elements of the ecosystem but together with the constructive ones.
    This idea, that human intervention can improve Nature, has actually been borne out by Allan Savory’s ideas of Holistic Management. Through the “technologies” of holistic land and resource management, our footprint can become a monument of carbon sequestration, topsoil growth, and biodiversity. That is our purpose here.
  • It is possible to harm the Earth with our bad decisions. In Numbers 35, God commands the Israelites, “Do not pollute the land where you are…Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell.” Warfare is given as the immediate example of this pollution, but from here arises the idea that we are spiritually connected to the land, and that our actions have lasting effects.
  • God does not want this. Ever. The Bible is full of examples of self-imposed limitations – placing boundaries on our expansion and exploitation, even when Nature or our abilities would not otherwise do so. A case in point comes from Deuteronomy 22, where we are given the cryptic commandment: “if you come across a bird’s nest beside the road…do not take the mother with the young.” We can enjoy the products of Nature, but we must stop ourselves short of destroying the source of these products – in this case, the mother bird. Especially as human populations were expanding (and in all the time since), the need to stop ourselves from destroying the well while pumping the water is one central to our lives on this planet.
  • But we have disobeyed. We have harmed the Earth. Climate change and generalized environmental destruction were not really occurrences in biblical times – but they are now. And the prophecies given in Isaiah, particularly in Isaiah 24, sound eerily like a description of global climate change.
    Anywhere we look, harm is being done to the Creation. Loss of biodiversity, exploitation of limited natural resources, depletion of topsoil and freshwater reserves – these are all the products of human activity, and will all be further exacerbated by climate change.
  • It is our duty to act; inaction is the same as opposition. In the well known parable of Matthew 25, Jesus states firmly that “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Ignoring a problem here on Earth – whether it be one of social welfare or environmental protection – is akin to ignoring God. Beyond this, climate change and other environmental problems are issues social justice and welfare. By inaction, we are allowing others – often those who did not cause the problem – to suffer. God has deemed this unacceptable.
    At the White House last Wednesday, Pope Francis called us to action on climate change, deeming it “a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.” In front of Congress on Thursday, he made a bold statement, that “now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at…protecting nature.” Just as the verse above tells us, it is our duty to act, and inaction is unacceptable.

 Before I eat, I say a prayer of thanksgiving for the work of the sustainable farmers, the sacrifices made by the plants and animals, and the indispensible value of the Earth and its ecosystems, for providing me with sustenance. This is a sincere prayer, and one whose value I hope others can see.

For much of human history, we understood Nature – and God – enough to know that the two are inextricably linked; that God is the maintaining force behind the natural world, and that the global ecosystem is capable of providing for all of our needs, if we make our goal to protect, rather than destroy.

As a Christian, and more generally as a human being who believes in the Divine power that drives our material world, it is my duty to be an environmentalist. Pope Francis, the leader of the largest Christian church in the world, shares this belief. Do you?

I’d like to give a quick shout out to the North Smithfield Garden Club. Two weeks ago, I had the honor of being invited to speak at their monthly meeting about natural pest and weed control methods. They’re a great bunch, committed to the beauty and productivity that comes from growing a garden, and guess what? They are looking for additional members! Shoot me an email if you are interested, and I can put you in touch with their President, Jo-Ann McGee.

My column appears every other Sunday in The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times. The above article is the property of The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times, and is reprinted here with permission from these publications. These are excellent newspapers, covering important local news topics with voices out of our own communities, and skillfully addressing statewide and national news. Click these links to subscribe to The Woonsocket Call or to The Pawtucket Times. To subscribe to the online editions, click here for The Call and here for The Times. They can also be found on Twitter, @WoonsocketCall and @Pawtuckettimes.


The Call and Times, Column 29 – The Meat of the Problem: The Woes of Industrial Animal Agriculture

29 09 2015

(September 13, 2015)

The Urban Farmer

The Meat of the Problem: The Woes of Industrial Animal Agriculture

Take a trip to the meat section of your local supermarket. Pick up a package of ground beef; or a chicken leg; or a filet of cod. What do you actually know about that product? Sure, it came from a cow, or a chicken, or a fish. But how many (hundreds of) different cows did that ground beef come from? How small was the enclosure where the chicken was kept? Was the fish wild-caught, or farm-raised? How were these animals treated, what were they fed, and what was the effect of their production on the local environment? It is likely impossible to find the answers to these questions on the packaging. And in all honesty, that’s probably because you wouldn’t like the answers if they were there.

Today, we’re going to take a look at the current, abhorrent state of the conventional meat industry in the United States. I believe that knowledge drives changes in consumer buying patterns. I also believe that, when consumers reject the practices of an industry, it forces the industry to change or perish in its own filth. Therefore, it is my duty to scream this information from the rooftops – here goes.

First, let me introduce CAFOs – that stands for “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations”. To envision what this means, imagine you and 1000 of your closest friends standing, shoulder-to-shoulder inside your house, in a few inches of your own excrement, for a few years of less-than-comfortable existence. When one of you gets sick, imagine how fast it spreads to the rest? When one of you dies, imagine the others simply cannibalizing him, for lack of something more mentally stimulating. Welcome to modern industrial agriculture in the good ol’ USA!

Cows live in feedlots, often a covered area, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in their own excrement; if they’re lucky, there’s no roof and they can see the sun. Pigs are raised in general, close-quarters confinement. Chickens live in squalid conditions in an enclosed barn, cooped in battery cages with too little space to even sit down if they’re egg layers, and sans the cages with too little space to even sit down if they’re meat birds.

In case you’re wondering, birds living in these filthy, crowded conditions engage in stress behaviors like rubbing their bodies against the side of the cages. We can’t have scarred meat if we wish to sell a perfect (-looking) product in the grocery store – hence, meat birds are cage-free! There was a bill in the Rhode Island legislature to also remove the battery cages in egg-laying operations, but one of our largest local egg producers, which sells its products at a premium price under the false guise of humane-treatment, adamantly and successfully opposed the bill. I guess corporate profits are more important than some minute semblance of animal welfare. That sounds reasonable.

Let’s take a look at diet. Chickens are natural seed-eaters, so I guess it’s good that they eat grains. But their diets in factory farms consist of other fun additions like arsenic and food dyes, so that the eggs are not so anemic that you can’t distinguish the yolk from the white.

Cows, goats, sheep, and llamas, on the other hand, are collectively called “ruminants” – they are herbivores with a special type of stomach that allows them to digest grass. Their natural diet is majorly grass-based, with some starchy plant matter, like roots and seeds, as would be found in a natural prairie. But by the magical logic that arises from ill-advised government subsidies and industrial agricultural practices, conventional farms feed these animals a diet exclusively of grains. That’s right: animals that are made to digest mostly grass are not fed grass, because that would cost too much. In case you are wondering, they are also fed supplemental goodies like chicken feathers and excrement (you read that right), and spoilt candy products – you know, food.

In addition, because there is little reason for these operations to use organic feed (scoff), some of the artificial pesticides and herbicides used on the grain fields can accumulate in the meat, milk, and eggs of the animals that eat the grains.

As would probably be expected, the treatment of the animals in CAFOs is far from humane. They are also often given hormones to encourage unnaturally accelerated growth and increased milk production.

As a result of unnatural diets (especially in ruminants like cows) and stress, the animals are far more likely to get sick. A diet consisting entirely of grains makes the cows’ stomachs overly acidic; this encourages the development of e coli bacteria, which are capable of making human beings sick. To avoid this, they are often given therapeutic, daily doses of potent antibiotics with their feed, an incredibly reckless practice almost singly responsible for the emergence of antibiotic-resistant super-bacteria that we occasionally hear about in the news.

Just in case the animal treatment and human health conditions weren’t enough, the environment suffers under this system. Grain agriculture is generally horrible for the environment, so feeding these completely unnecessary crops to animals only compounds the problem. The large amount of manure that is produced by animals in confined operations (mind you, this is often laced with e coli) is rarely dealt with in an environmentally-constructive manner. Rather than being used to build the topsoil as is entirely possible, it becomes an environmental pollutant when it runs off into public waterways.

If everything above has made you sad, or angry, or queasy, I’m happy to hear it – that was my goal. But I want you to know: this applies only to industrial meat production. This applies to the system that produces the 10 cent chicken wings, and $2/pound ground beef, and cheap fast food.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can do better. This system is the product of the past few decades of irresponsible, industry-driven agricultural policy. It is a huge, expensive mistake, and it is the job of everyone who knows about the issue – which now includes all of us – to relegate it to the history books.

The best way to change this is to starve Goliath, and instead feed David. We must entirely reject the system of factory farming, insofar as it is possible to do so, and substitute our own. Our health, our environment, and our collective karmic load will benefit from doing this.

Surprise, surprise: we can start by growing and raising food ourselves. Even if this only means a small organic vegetable garden, you can save money on food that can then be redirected to more responsible sources of animal products.

Better yet, raise micro-livestock. It is easy and inexpensive to raise a small flock of chickens for eggs and meat, and a small herd of rabbits for meat, in nearly any urban or suburban backyard. This ensures that your eggs and some of your meat are raised with human health and animal and environmental welfare as primary goals, and the savings can then be directed towards better choices for other animal products.

Skip the conventional meat, eggs, and milk from the supermarket, even if it’s labeled “natural” or “vegetarian fed” (unregulated terms that probably means the company is a factory farm). Buy from local farmers who you can talk to, whose operations you can see, who do it sustainably! Buy from farmers markets, making sure to actually ask the farmer about their practices. Buy from smaller grocery stores and marketplaces that themselves make an effort to source from local, sustainable operations.

To avoid everything I’ve mentioned above, you’re looking for pasture-raised, grass-fed beef, lamb, goat, and dairy products; wild-caught or sustainably-farmed fish; and eggs and meat from truly free-range, pasture-raised birds. Don’t rely on labels for this information. The food industries are experts at making you believe that a product is superior so that you’ll pay more for what amounts to a well-drawn label. Please email me if you’d like some more detailed guidance as to where you can buy your animal products, and which companies to support or avoid.

For all of you out there who have pets as I do, I know you can empathize with the ills of animal cruelty. Proverbs 12:10 says that “the righteous care for the needs of their animals”. Curiously, the Hebrew origin for that word “needs” is much deeper than the English lets on – it means the emotional and spiritual well-being, as well as the physical. The animals whose meat, eggs, and milk we consume – they are our animals. Their lives, how they were treated, how well their needs were met, become our responsibility as soon as we pay the system that produces them. Choose wisely.

My column appears every other Sunday in The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times. The above article is the property of The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times, and is reprinted here with permission from these publications. These are excellent newspapers, covering important local news topics with voices out of our own communities, and skillfully addressing statewide and national news. Click these links to subscribe to The Woonsocket Call or to The Pawtucket Times. To subscribe to the online editions, click here for The Call and here for The Times. They can also be found on Twitter, @WoonsocketCall and @Pawtuckettimes.

The Call and Times, Column 28 – Prepping for Fall – The Garden in Transition

29 09 2015

(August 30, 2015)

The Urban Farmer

Prepping for Fall – The Garden in Transition

Two weeks ago, we talked about the importance of making a Harvest Plan – a well-though-out strategy for using and preserving the glut of produce that we are blessed with at this time of year. I brought up some tips from my own garden and kitchen, and hopefully inspired you to find ways to can, freeze, root cellar, and dry your garden’s bounty, so you can enjoy it well into the winter months.

Now, as the steady march towards the fall becomes ever more obvious, with the cooler nights and the first changing leaves, it’s time to discuss a task that is arguably just as important as food preservation – smoothly transitioning the urban farm into the fall and winter months.

When I visited Cluck Urban Farm Supply last month, the store’s owner Drake Patten left me with an important bit of advice: “end your season as you began it, with intention”. Given the busy six months that many of us have already invested in the garden at this point, it’s often easy to neglect some vital fall garden tasks, those that would otherwise make our lives easier and increase production in the months and years to come.

These jobs include three big categories: seed saving, extending the season, and putting the garden to rest. I encourage each one of you (and, most of all, myself!) to try out some of the ideas below in your own gardens. Make the transition from summer to fall to winter as smooth and productive as possible.

Seed Saving

This is arguably the easiest of these tasks but, in my opinion, that which holds the most significance. Last year, I wrote about my Uncle Harry, great Aunt Petrula, and late great Uncle Demetre, and the nearly four-decade story of their selectively-bred “Russian Tomato”.

As I learned from them, by saving the seeds of your best, most productive, tastiest crops, you create a variety completely unique to your microclimate and garden. You are improving upon the hundreds and thousands of years’ worth of work that farmers, gardeners, and breeders have already put into a variety, and are making it easier to grow a superior product in your own urban farm.

Seed saving can be as simple as choosing the best fruit on the best plant, allowing it to completely ripen on the vine, and either letting it rot away on the vine, tying a plastic or mesh bag around it to catch the remains, or picking it ripe and letting it rot in a shady location, protected from animals. Once the fruit has rotted away, the seeds which remain are ready for planting, and can be stored in envelopes until the following year. Vegetables like lettuce, carrots, and onions can be left in the ground and allowed to flower and then go to seed (in the first or second year, depending on the crop). By tying a fine mesh bag around the ripening flower-head, the seed can be collected and stored the same way.

The fun in this comes from your personal definition of “best fruit” and “best plant”. Merely by saving the seeds of healthy, productive plants, you are adapting the species to your own microclimate – the rainfall, temperature, airflow, and pest populations of your own yard. But by selecting for specific characteristics – like the pointy-bottomed, meaty tomato that my Uncle Harry has made his current goal – you are forming the crop to your own, personal specifications, making a fruit or vegetable that you want to eat!

And on a more global scale, seed-saving ensures the preservation of the rich biodiversity that farmers and gardeners have thus far been able to coax out of the natural world. It is our heritage, and by improving upon open-pollinated, heirloom varieties, we all do our part to ensure the sustainability and self-sufficiency of our food system for generations to come.

Extending the Season

This year, I am making a concerted effort to have a productive fall garden. This can mean different things to different urban farmers, but in New England, there is a (relatively short) list of crops that will grow productively into the fall and winter.

This includes short-season root crops, like carrots, turnips, beets, and radishes, which can be grown during the fall and even left in the ground over winter, until they are needed; leafy green crops like lettuces and other salad greens, kale, cabbage, and certain other brassicas, and Swiss chard, some of which (brassicas and chard) actually benefit from frost and will continue producing into the late fall and beyond; and winter onion-family crops, like short-day onions, which are planted in the fall and grown (under some sort of plastic/greenhouse cover) over the winter, and garlic, which is planted in October and grows slowly until the following July.

Other than the relatively simple additional requirements of short-day onions, these crops can grow, with little protection, during some of the coldest months of our year. They should be planted right now (following the instructions on the seed packet) to give them time to gain some footing before the cooler weather comes.

To get even more out of the cold season, however, it is possible to buy or build a small-scale greenhouse of some sort. This could be as simple as a cloche (a small plastic or glass dome above an individual plant), a cold frame (raised bed with an old window laid on top), or a low tunnel (a half-soda-can shaped tunnel over a garden bed, constructed from PVC pipes and covered with thick plastic). It could also be much more complex a full greenhouse, passively solar heated or even electrically heated, with the option of setting it a few feet into the ground to utilize a little geothermal energy.

Whatever you choose, the temperature within a greenhouse is much warmer than the surrounding air, and can even remain above freezing throughout the winter.

Putting the Garden to Rest
Once the crops have borne their last fruit and the frost has arrived, if you decide not to grow fall and winter crops, it is time to end the growing season with as much attention to soil fertility and overall health as you began it.

First and foremost, this includes cleaning up dead, spent, and diseased plants, adding them to your compost pile or (better yet) feeding them to your chickens. This helps to minimize the overwintering of pests and diseases in the plants, and ensures that the garden is clean come springtime.

You also want to focus now, more than any other time of year, on directly improving soil fertility and taking measures to prevent its loss. Cover cropping is the growing of cool-season varieties of grasses, legumes, and other plants that naturally mulch and protect the soil over winter, and provide some fresh biomass to till into your garden come spring. Absent this, or maybe in addition, a few inches of good mulch (shredded fall leaves, cut grass, straw or hay, and even compost) will protect the soil from erosion and decay slowly over winter, adding to the soil’s fertility. Finally, fall is the time to add soil amendments: manure or compost for fertility and lime for soil pH.

Many of these activities tie well into the chicken coop, rabbit hutch, or other small urban livestock. They can be a source of manure (and, in the case of chickens, calcium amendments from their eggshells), and cover crops can serve as a green food supply for them during the cold months.

My column appears every other Sunday in The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times. The above article is the property of The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times, and is reprinted here with permission from these publications. These are excellent newspapers, covering important local news topics with voices out of our own communities, and skillfully addressing statewide and national news. Click these links to subscribe to The Woonsocket Call or to The Pawtucket Times. To subscribe to the online editions, click here for The Call and here for The Times. They can also be found on Twitter, @WoonsocketCall and @Pawtuckettimes.

The Call and Times, Column 27 – Prepping for Fall – The Harvest Plan

29 09 2015

(August 16, 2015)

The Urban Farmer

Prepping for Fall – The Harvest Plan

A harvest of medicinal and culinary herbs, ready to be dried

A harvest of medicinal and culinary herbs, ready to be dried

The sun is shining, the chickens are laying, and the garden is bearing its bounty. We are in the height of the New England growing season, where the summer harvest is coming in strong, but fall is knocking at the door. Indeed, there’s no better time of year to plan for the coming months, and make sure the fall garden is productive and healthy.

Two years ago, I wrote a column entitled “Put ‘Em Up”, where I discussed the different methods that urban farmers can use to preserve the summer and fall harvest for winter. After my interview with Drake at Cluck Urban Farm Supply, where she stressed the importance of the fall garden, I was inspired to revisit and expand on those ideas.

In this and my next column, we will talk about the two major goals that every urban farmer should keep in mind at this time of year – preserving the garden’s bounty efficiently and completely; and preparing the garden for the fall and winter seasons (whatever that garden might look like).

Food Preservation – Making a Harvest Plan

First, let’s have a quick recap. The four major methods of food preservation are freezing, drying, root cellaring, and canning.

Freezing, just as the name implies, utilizes sub-32° temperatures to keep food from going bad. It is the least labor intensive of the four (most produce requires minimal if any processing before freezing), but can be limited by freezer space and reliable electricity.

Drying removes nearly all the moisture from produce, creating conditions that prevent spoilage. This can be done using a few different methods: air-drying on a drying rack indoors (limited to herbs); outdoor passive-solar dehydrating; and powered dehydrating in an electric dehydrator or stove set to a low temperature (energy intensive).

Root cellaring uses a cool, dry, dark location (a dedicated, in-ground root cellar, an alcove in the basement or garage, or even a kitchen cabinet) to leverage the inherent storability of certain crops: fruits like winter squash and apples, and root crops like potatoes, carrots, and onions.

Canning uses high temperatures to kill bacteria, and seal food in airtight glass jars, via two different methods: water-bath canning does this in boiling water, and relies on a high-acid and/or high-sugar (think jams, jellies, preserves, and pickles) environment to prevent spoilage; pressure canning uses a high pressure chamber to increase temperature above boiling, completely sterilizing the contents of the jar and preventing spoilage in low-sugar, low-acid things like vegetables. Consult the USDA’s website and the “Ball Blue Book” for specific, safety-tested recipes.

Keeping these food preservation methods in mind, it’s important to develop a harvest plan to ensure that all of your garden’s produce goes to good use.

The first step, of course, is to eat all that you want fresh. The best time to enjoy a berry or a tomato is right off the plant, still warm from the summer sun. Nothing beats fresh tomato salads, garden stuffed peppers, and berries mixed into yogurt at the height of the season.

Chances are that you’ll still find yourself with too much fresh produce to eat before it spoils. The next steps are to figure out, for each type of produce, which type of preserved product you’d like to eat down the road, and decide how frequently you are willing and able to preserve.

How exactly you do this depends very heavily on your individual preferences, tools, and skills, but here are some highlights from my own system. The most productive crops that I have in my garden are tomatoes, peppers, berries (straw, rasp, and black), potatoes (regular and, hopefully this year, sweet), herbs of all sorts, onions (this year), green beans, and lettuce, so I will address my methods for each of these.

Off the bat, I’ll say that there isn’t much in the way of storage for lettuce. We use what we can, but the rest tends to bolt – and that goes right to the chickens. I call that up-cycling – the (now) slightly-bitter carbohydrates are turned into high-quality fats and proteins in eggs. Let’s call that the fifth method of food preservation – storing spent and inedible produce in the bodies of livestock!

Green beans can easily be harvested in large amounts once or twice a week. I like to wait until I have a few quarts, usually after just one harvest, and I blanch and freeze them whole. Blanching is when you boil them for a few minutes, and then immediately submerge them in ice water, to destroy enzymes that would negatively affect the taste. This is a necessary step before freezing certain fruits and vegetables.

Potatoes and onions are great candidates for root cellaring – at least my family’s take on it. We have a dedicated cabinet space which, for reasons not quite understood (it is on an outside wall and very close to the stove), is cool, dark, and dry – this is our “short term” root cellar. After the potato harvest early in the fall (and this year, the onion harvest), we take the most damaged roots and put them into our “root cellar” for immediate use. The rest are stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated room until we need them.

I grow a wide variety of culinary and medicinal herbs – you can just call me The Apothecary – and my absolute preferred method for preserving these is drying. Depending on the specific herb, I either string it up outdoors, in the shade, to air dry for a week or two, or lay it out on simple drying trays in a cool, dark, well-ventilated room. Once they are dry, they can be stored whole (best to keep the medicinal and flavorful oils from evaporating) or powdered to be used immediately.

One of my favorite methods for preservation is making tomato sauce. We’ve tried canning tomatoes in the past, and while they turned out alright, our preference dictates that nearly every extra tomato from our garden goes into homemade sauce. Whenever we accumulate 10 to 20 pounds of tomatoes (that should be very soon, if the temperature would just stay above 80 for more than a few days), we make a batch of tomato sauce. This also tends to use up a lot of other excess produce (onions, peppers, sometimes celery, and herbs of all sorts), which is a welcome bonus during the summer glut. In past years we have frozen the sauce rather than canning it (I refuse to use table sugar in our sauce, so I’m not certain that it would be safe to water bath can), but I am considering investigating a no-sugar recipe this year so as to not take up even more precious freezer space.

Berries are probably the easiest thing to preserve. The method I’ve taken this year is simple, and applicable to any berry: hull the berries if necessary; wash them and allow them to air dry; spread them out in a single layer on a baking tray and freeze them until solid, 2-3 hours; once frozen, put them into a freezer bag or container, clearly marked with the date, and store them in the freezer. The downside to this is that the fruit is very soft after thawed. Even so, it is great on top of yogurt or in cooking. This same freezing method is what I use for peppers, though I much prefer to eat them fresh if possible.

In my next column (August 30th), we will discuss the second primary goal of this season – planning for the fall garden. For some, this is putting the garden to rest; for others, it is skillfully extending the growing season to November and beyond. I’ll see you then!



My column appears every other Sunday in The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times. The above article is the property of The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times, and is reprinted here with permission from these publications. These are excellent newspapers, covering important local news topics with voices out of our own communities, and skillfully addressing statewide and national news. Click these links to subscribe to The Woonsocket Call or to The Pawtucket Times. To subscribe to the online editions, click here for The Call and here for The Times. They can also be found on Twitter, @WoonsocketCall and @Pawtuckettimes.