F.A. Farm

  (Ferndale, Washington)
Postmodern Agriculture - Food With Full Attention
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Flaming Idiots

Many people don't realize what a valuable resource the Local Harvest forums are. The forums have all kinds of info on food-related issues and opportunities to reach out with new ideas. However, there are always one or two "flaming" idiots who are merely trying to score points. It is really quite cowardly to sit down and vent without actually trying to solve the problem. Some time back, I ran into one of these types who are stuck in the current business model and who was personally offensive in order to cover up his lack of understanding in method and theory. And he even has a Masters in Aerospace Engineering (!), so he should know about proper survey methodology and calculation. As they say, a little knowledge is a bad thing.

Once again, I seem to have gotten sideways with a supposed market gardener who has had difficulty finding viable seeds for a rare cantaloupe. Of course, I am still a closet academic and the idea of buying more seed and trying a larger sample size appeals to me. There are so many variables in seed saving and the impacts start right in the field, even as the plants are growing. Simply expecting every seed, or even every packet of seed, to be in the 80-100% germination range is a false assumption. This really is part of the old business model - that regulation, certification, more regulation, and even more certification will ensure that you can TRUST the product. In reality, there is a very good reason nature is so conservative and produces huge amounts of seed. Not only does surplus seed production increase percentage of viability to maturity, it also increases the genetic and chromosonal shuffling, or recombination, that provides flexibility in a changing environment. As we tumble into the brave new world of the future, we should be saving more of our own seed and acclimating the food we grow to our changing environment. In order to do this, we need to think in new paradigms. I have been ensconced in the probabilistic paradigm for the last 10 years and it helps me quite a bit.


I Like Squash Bread

I grew up on a farm and was in the garden early in life. I was always fascinated by squash and we only had one type of squash - Buttercup. It was a big deal for me to cut open the squash, scoop out the seed, add a little brown sugar on the top (I don't bother with this anymore) and bake in the wood stove (which we later converted to fuel oil so it was always on in the winter). This was the same stove and the same oven I would stick my feet into when I came home from sledding. We also put weak lambs in a cardboard box and set them on the open lid so they would have a heated environment. Some made it, some didn't. I once had a lamb that was started this way and I bottle fed him. I named him Roqueforte, or Roki for short.

Anyways, this morning I got up early and made squash bread with some frozen Buttercup squash from 2005. Still delicious after more than 4 years. I use a basic Joy of Cooking recipe, but I don't put clove in anymore because of an allergy I seem to have picked up. I also like to put in chopped pecans and walnuts, as well as raisins. I reduce the sugar by more than half and this bread approaches a full meal quality. It is amazing how well we can eat if we take a hint from the Native Americans - potatoes, corn, tomatoes, squash, beans, amaranth. My current Buttercup variety is one I have been working on for over ten years and resulted from an accidental cross between Kabocha and Buttercup in my little garden in Vancouver when we lived there. It actually came up as volunteers from the compost and I let the seedlings live. Now they have a blocky Buttercup shape and a dark green background with orange "flames" coming up the sides. There is also no button on the bottom. I still get a wide range of genetic variation in the fruits that come up each year, even though I only save seed from the sought-after phenotype. Per a seed-saving workshop I went to a couple of years ago, I save seed from several fruits and mix them up, so as to counter the inherent inbreeding depression in vigor. It seems to work, as I got over 1,000 pounds of Flame Buttercup from 1,125 square feet of space in 2008. At $1.25 per pound, this works out to over $49,000 per acre. Of course, this is just a metric, as I cannot sell all I can grow. (This may change in 2009 as the economy tanks more and more.) However, my squash bread tastes great, I have a wonderful high-yielding variety that is aesthetically pleasing, and my customers and family eat large amounts of quality squash all winter. Squash really is great stuff. I grow plenty of summer squash each year also, but I have a fondness for winter squash, and specifically Buttercup, that stretches over more than half a century.

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