Barbara Kingsolver’s book Vegetable, Animal, Miracle is a memoir covering a year in the author’s family’s life on a small farm in rural Virginia. It was an extreme lifestyle experiment: they minimized their fossil fuel footprint by growing much of their own food and supplementing with locally produced food as much as possible.
The moral of the story is that they lived well. As it goes, local and fresh foods taste better and are more nutritious. The family worked hard in the garden and the kitchen, but it was therapeutic work and it brought them into closer relationships.
VAM began to demystify the following question: what is a “locavore” to do during the winter? I’ve been eating well and eating locally for the past month on a farm and garden diet, but none of that is going to be available come November, much less December, January, February.
The above question pairs well with another question I’ve been asking myself in the garden: what can I do with all this produce? Well, one answer covers both questions, and I’m grateful to Barbara for pointing out the obvious: it’s food preservation! Barbara and her family did a ton of canning, drying/curing, and freezing during the months of harvest. They set a good example for what we should be doing in the garden with our excess produce.
I’m beginning to learn about this topic from another angle, too. I have a book called The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz, which demystifies food preservation much further. The difference between processes like canning/freezing/drying and fermentation is that fermentation employs bacteria and yeast to preserve and alter foods. It’s microbial gardening!
So far I’ve worked on two batches of honey mead (with honey from a friend down in Scottsville) and garden sauerkraut. It’s a completely new field for me, but it has an enormous potential within the garden’s mission to explore marginalized food systems. I’m proud to say I have garden vegetables (in the form of sauerkraut) in my refrigerator. They should last into the winter!
I did not expect to experiment in these ways before the internship began. I thought I would be focusing on growing food. However, I can not separate those activities from the activities that follow them: preparing and preserving food. They are just as necessary, and just as interesting.