Friday, January 2, 2015

Give and Take

This time last year, I requested a package of seeds from the Slow Food Ark of Taste as my Christmas gift. My mother happily obliged in this $15 gift. For those of you unfamiliar with the Ark of Taste, it is a collection of foods that are facing extinction. It might seem strange, the idea that foods are on the verge of extinction. However, if you look at our grocery stores, you will find that most of the foods grown for our consumption are of a small variety of breeds; those that are hardiest, easiest to grow, and (from many perspectives) the least flavorful. One of the Slow Food Movement's biggest projects is to advocate for people to begin growing endangered varieties of foods again in order to keep our flora systems diverse. The method of selling seeds from plants listed in the Ark of Taste is quite ingenious, if you ask me.
Cannot wait to get these in my garden!
So, this year, I perused the seed savers exchange to find endangered varieties that appealed to me and would grow well in my available space. I was very excited when all but my potato spuds came in the mail a few days later. I cannot wait to grow these plants, whose seeds I can then harvest and save for next year. Not a bad $40 investment, I'd say. I can't wait to share with you photos of their growth in my little plot.

These oyster mushrooms have the faint scent of seafood.
Today, I visited some friends of mine at Cedar Rock Ridge, one of the farmsteads that supply produce to Conway Locally Grown. Steve recently discovered that several trees in his yard are covered in oyster mushrooms and has been enjoying consuming their delightful spores. Since these mushrooms don't have a poisonous look-a-like, they are quite the treat to discover in the backyard. I was grateful that Steve allowed me to take a few home to try for myself. In exchange I took Carissa (his wife) some of my sourdough starter, which I've been needing to deplete so it will be healthier.

I wish I knew someone who was schooled in foraging for mushrooms. I always read about this in books about French cuisine, but I've seen a few mentions of people in various states (mostly the Pacific Northwest) taking up foraging as well. I'm always afraid that I'm going to pick a poisonous mushroom and therefor have never gone foraging for them. If you know anyone who is an avid mushroom aficionado, please introduce us!

My New Years Resolution for 2015 is to be more academic; to read more educational books, keep up with this blog (a great writing exercise, my goal is two posts per month), and put in to practice what I'm learning in the garden/kitchen. I actually finished reading a wonderfully inspiring book yesterday called Paradise Lot. The book is written by two gentleman, Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates, who are very enthusiastic about plants; so much so, that they decide to turn an urban lot into a paradise. The transformation of their space is almost unbelievable. The practices that they are following are those of permaculture, a subject which I hope to learn more about over the next year.

Overview of the Paradise Lot - taken from their blog.
To give you an overview, the ideas of permaculture are based on growing patterns that are found in nature. These include planting polycultures (plants that grow symbiotically), planting three tiers of plants (tree height, bush/shrub height, and undergrowth), and making use of perennials (much better for building the soil and creating a stable ecosystem). For those who are especially eco-minded, permaculture is better suited to growing local plants with a few non-native varieties mixed in. This means a lot of strange plants that most people don't consume anymore. However, the idea intrigues me and I hope to some day implement similar practices here in Conway.

Wayne found the book at the Faulkner County Library and it is an interesting read, but not a great reference for starting any similar work here. If you aren't into reading books, you can learn more about their practices from their blog, located here. The variety and types of plants they are able to grow in Massachusetts of all places is so inspiring!

Insect hotel example - via wikipedia
I can't wait to share with you the knowledge that I gain over the next year. Successes and failures alike will help us to build a better ecosystem in this growing urban environment. Come spring, give back to nature by planting a small garden. It could be in pots on your balcony or windowsill if you don't have much space. It could only consist of flowers. Any little bit helps us to reduce the carbon dioxide levels and give more nectar to our pollinator friends. If you have a larger space, maybe try building an insect hotel. There are designs available online for large ones and small ones. (I recommend reading up on them, they're a very cool space for beneficial insects to house themselves).

My wish for you this year is to remember that everything on this planet is a give and take. So far, we humans have done a lot more taking and it's time for us to start giving back. Happy 2015!

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