Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dig In - Vegetable diversity

I have talked to or corresponded with enough Featherstone CSA members by now to know that most of you care a lot about how your food is grown.  You want your food dollars to support farming methods that are good for soil, water and people.   You want food that is fresh and tastes good.  And I am pretty sure that you value the natural world in all its glory.   So you will be happy to know that just over the southern Minnesota border near Decorah, Iowa exists an organization devoted to preserving vegetable diversity -  the Seed Savers Exchange.  The mission of Seed Savers is to save the world's diverse but endangered garden heritage for future generations.

Here is one of their many garden plots.  And their visitor center, with hollyhocks in the foreground.

Whether you are a gardener, a CSA member or simply an eater,  I think you can admire and benefit from the work of the Seed Savers Exchange.    I happen to be married to a passionate gardener who enjoys growing many varieties of vegetables and fruits.  I used to think- like most people - that an onion is an onion.  Okay, I knew there were red and yellow and white onions and that once a year for a few weeks we could enjoy sweet Vidalia onions.  But that was about it.  But now I know better.  I have cooked with many types of onions and can notice differences.   Some are easier to peel.  Some store longer.  Some are sweeter.  Some mature early and some late.  Some are drought tolerant.    I just like knowing that there are lots of kinds of onions in the world and that someone is making sure that they survive.  I wouldn't want to live in a world where there were just three or four kinds of onions any more that I would like to live in a world where all musicians played the violin and there was no such thing as a timpani.  I love the violin - my mother plays the violin.  But I like the deep boom boom of the timpani too.  (Of course it helps that one of my sons is a percussionist.)

Onions are just one small example.  A few summers ago Frank grew at least fifteen kinds of melons - almost all from seeds purchased from Seed Savers.  It was amazing how different they were - in appearance, flavor, ripening characteristics and more.  The more I observe Frank and other farmers and gardeners - like Jack Hedin and the folks at Featherstone Farm - the more I appreciate the breadth of knowledge, skill and plain old sweat required to produce good tasting, bountiful and nutritious fruits and vegetables.

I know that everyone does not want to grow produce - especially without chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.  Or is able to do so - for many reasons.  That is why CSA's and farmers markets are so great - non-food growers (like me) can still have access to excellent food.  You can feel good knowing that Featherstone grows many varieties of vegetables - some of which are not ordinarily available commercially.    The "crops" section of the website lists many of them.

If you have a patch of ground somewhere that you can call your own (or that someone else will let you borrow or even rent) - I really encourage you to plant a few seeds - maybe even seeds from Seed Savers Exchange.  It might not even be too late to plant some this year, depending on the seed.    I am not worried that you are going to put Featherstone Farm out of business any time soon.  Growing food simply requires too much work, knowledge and infrastructure for most people to become independent of professional farmers and growers.  But you could certainly decide to try ten different tomato plants.  Or five kinds of radishes.  Or eight kinds of peppers.  (Seed Savers sells 57 varieties in their catalog and members offer 859 varieties! )  Or beans.  (Members offer 1,477 of those - 37 varieties in the catalog.)  And then you can decide if it is really true that variety is the spice of life.

(This recipe is from the 2010 Seed Savers Exchange catalog)
1 1/2  cups Lina Sisco's Bird Egg Bean ( or any combination of favorite dried beans)
1/2 pound green beans or yellow wax beans or combination
1 small red onion, sliced into thin rings
3 T. chopped fresh basil (or parsley or cilantro)
Salt and pepper to taste

Vinaigrette -
1/4  cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sugar
2 t. Dijon mustard
1 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper

Cook dried beans (see June 5 pinto bean post for bean cooking directions).  Steam green/yellow beans until crisp tender.  Prepare vinaigrette.  Add dressing to all ingredients while beans are still warm.  Chill for several hours.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.  Garnish with basil leaves.

No comments:

Post a Comment