13 Jun 2014

Independence Days Challenge: the months-later-than-usual edition

Posted by Teresa Noelle Roberts

Hot Seeds

I forgot to take a picture of the harvest before I started cooking it. So you’ll have to settle for Farmer-Style Ryan Gosling. Oh, the horror!

Warning: My hippie side is showing. If you’re not interested in gardening with a side order of the politics of food, move along. We’ll get back to the smut soon, I promise. But thrift, food security and encouraging local production of food are important issues to me, on both a personal and a community level. And everyone likes good food. So bear with me. Maybe you’ll find a good recipe, if nothing else.

Most years, I take part in something called the Independence Days Challenge. I explained it in more detail in the post to which I linked, but basically, it’s a challenge for gardeners and crunchy types to grow and preserve more food, buy local food when possible, and eat what you grow and preserve. Normally I start posting in early spring or even late winter, but this year… well, while I’ve been gardening like a madwoman, I just plain forgot to start on the challenge, which at this point is more to make a record of the garden year and to challenge myself. Since I’m self-employed (and thus on a tight budget) and we’re still planning a huge trip to Italy this fall, it’s more important than ever to make sure I don’t waste food and use the garden’s largesse wisely. And due to the tight budget, I’ve been buying cheap food from outside our “food shed” a lot, food that wasn’t necessarily sustainably raised. Since a lot of fossil fuel went into raising that food and getting it to New England, I have to make sure it’s not wasted either.

The blogger from whom I learned about the challenge, Sharon Astyk, hasn’t been doing it herself this year for a reason that’s more than valid: she and her husband have just adopted a fifth child (adoption was finalized yesterday!) and they’re fostering four others, so between parenting and farming, they’re a little too busy to blog much.  (Go read Sharon’s blog archives if you’re interested in food systems, climate change, farming, or the joys and challenges of foster parenting. She’s one of my heroes.)

I decided it’s high time I start making Independence Days updates if only for my own reference. Here are the challenge categories, in Sharon’s words:

Plant something: A lot of us were trained to think of planting as done once a year, but if you start seeds, do season extension and succession plant, you’ll get much, much more out of your garden, so I try and plant something every day from February into September.

Harvest something: Everything counts – from the milk and eggs you get from your animals to the first dandelions from your yard to 50 bushels of tomatoes – it all counts.

Preserve something: Again, I find preserving is most productive if I try and do a little every day that there is anything, from the first dried raspberry leaves and jarred rhubarb to the last squashes at the end of the season.

Waste not: Reducing food waste, composting everything or feeding it to animals, reducing your use of disposables and creation of garbage, reusing things that would otherwise go to waste, making sure your preserved and stored foods are kept in good shape – all of these count.

Want Not: Adding to your food storage or stash of goods for emergencies, building up resources that will be useful in the long term.

Eat the Food: Making full and good use of what you have, making sure that you are getting everything you can from your food, trying new recipes and new cooking ideas, eating out of your storage!

Build community food systems: What have you done to help other people have better food access or to make your local food system more resilient?

Skill up:  What did you learn this week that will help you in the future – could be as simple as fixing the faucet or as hard as building a shed, as simple as a new way of keeping records or as complicated as making shoes.  Whatever you are learning, you get a merit badge for it – this is important stuff.

And here are my current results:

Plant something: more lettuce, more pole beans, more radishes, more green onions, more cilantro. Purchased parsley but haven’t planted it yet. Don’t worry, there’s a lot more planted than this, including tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, beans, peppers both sweet and hot (four kinds of hot), snap peas, shelling peas, cukes, zukes, basil and dill. The “planted” category is stuff that went in this week!

Harvest something: lettuce, mustard greens, tatsoi, arugula, mizuna (a third form of mustard green, mild enough to eat raw), radishes, snap peas (just a handful so far), spinach, broccoli, broccoli raab, dill, basil, oregano, kale

Preserve something: Freezing spinach tonight. Otherwise I haven’t done much preserving yet.

Waste not: Composting, setting aside books and my “out-shrunk” clothes (I’m down 25 pounds!) for donation. I’ve actually been wasting a lot of food. Due to trying to lose weight, I don’t just decide to make French toast when the bread’s a few days old, and so we’ve lost quite a few loaves to mold. One of the reasons I’m doing this challenge is to remind myself to get creative with using up foodstuffs and still be calorie-wise!

Want not: Nothing in particular this week. But I think the fencing and the three new 8×16 raised beds we added this spring will count for this category whenever there’s nothing else to add. That was a job and a half!

Eat the food: Salads every night, and often for lunch as well. First broccoli is steaming now. Used the last of 2013’s canned peaches yesterday, and still working on 2013 tomatoes and salsa. (Sun-dried tomatoes in salad or sauteed greens are wonderful. Just saying.) Made a delicious rice-and-greens dish with some of our gobs of about-to-bolt mustard greens (Does that count as “waste not” too?) I have to remember to cook up our last bag of 2013 beans, since we have peas on the way within a few days and fresh beans are just a few weeks off.

Build community food systems: Bought some local strawberries today–first of the season! Other than a regular donation to the Greater Boston Food Bank, nothing else. I’ve been sharing some of the garden’s wealth, and we’ve gotten some eggs from our friendly “egg lady,” but not this week.

Skill up: Seeking out new ways to cook in a healthier, lower-calorie, but still delicious way.


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2 Responses to “Independence Days Challenge: the months-later-than-usual edition”

  1. Hey lady! Wow, this sounds wonderful. I do what I can but your garden out produces mine by a bazillion, I bet.

    Tell me, how do you store your sun-dried tomatoes? I’ve been putting mine in jars and then pouring olive oil over them – but do I need to do anything else, like boil the filled jars? Just curious.

    You’ve inspired me to start more seeds. Hugs!


    Christine Ashworth

  2. Christine, I just store mine dried in a jar and soak them in oil or water before cooking if a recipe calls for it. It’s not considered safe to can food stored in oil, so I think if you pour oil over them, you should use them quickly and probably refrigerate them. A million Italian grandmas would disagree, but better safe than sorry IMO.

    Glad to be an inspiration!


    Teresa Noelle Roberts

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