Friday, January 1, 2010

Earlier Conversations

The following post is a distillation of the rest of the email correspondence regarding this challenge. Many thanks for contributions to the discussion and help creating this blog go to Sarah Lohman at Four Pounds Flour. She regretfully won't be part of our challenge due to the acute lack of growing space in her NYC 4th floor apartment.

Everyone involved in this project should post any future questions, comments, etc. here on the blog.

Some of the questions were repetitive as people chimed in; I'll list the first incident of the question in this post.

I (Mark) mentioned having harvested 1-1/2lbs of soybeans, discovered in a field at the public hunting grounds I go to. It took me about 15 minutes to gather the plants, and 5-1/2 hours to shell all the beans. I have since discovered that the shells break open much more easily once they have dried a few days and have a supply of pods drying at the moment. This should help explain my wife's (Jessica) comments about soybeans in her introduction post.

Sarah, having lived through the 'Tenement Diet' experiment on her blog, said that we'd all starve fore sure.

Mark: "No way we'll starve! We may hate what we're eating but i seriously doubt we'll go hungry."

Sarah: "That's probably true. You should give some serious thought to cooking fat. You're going to need a cow or goat to milk and produce butter, or a pig to butcher."

Mark: "I was thinking about a couple of chickens for meat, although it sounds like rabbits would be hilarious. I think a goat is a little much for our urban homestead.

hopefully i can kill some small game this winter and render its fat. they have a lot to keep them warm during the snowing."

Then as Sarah came for a visit, I had mentioned getting a few chickens or a small pig. At this point Jessica told me that I was quite mad, and we didn't have room enough for a pig or chickens. We discussed alternatives, caring for an animal at a local farm, etc. She'll probably be ticked when I come home with a pig and two chickens. She'd better hope my hunting skills improve...

A discussion ensued regarding salt - a long-time staple of society. I'll get to that subject more in another post.

Another conversation with Sarah, in which I get an inadvertent art education;

Sarah: " You also have to think about sugar and grains. You might want to take a page from "The Gleaners" and walk through some wheat and corn fields now and pick up stray grain. Somebody on this project should think about keeping bees. They may even be grants available for honey bee keepers, since the bee population is in such a sorry state right now."

Mark: "I was planning to plant some sugar beets for sugar. Bees sound cool but I don't know if I will want to do this again, and I don't want to be stuck with a permanent colony.

What is this 'Gleaners'?"

Sarah: The Gleaners is a famous painting by Millet: The gleaners were peasants, that would sift through wheat field after the harvest, and pick up missed stalks of grain.

Next in our discussion, Todd came up with the question; "is freeganism ok? Can we "harvest" salt, sugar and ketchup packets?"

My reply;

"The idea is to eat only foods cultivated by hand - all those packets are processed foods. I'm not really trying to replicate freeganism. Pioneers didn't have McDonald's coffers to raid for dietary needs.

For sugar you can grow some beets or sugar cane, or raise some bees.

And make your own catsup, ya lazy."

-I had posted ideas on salt but as I've said, I'll get to that topic in another post.

Todd next asked, "Can we trade outside of our group? If we harvest 3 bushels of tomatoes, can we trade 1 of them outside of our circle for some butter that someone else made by hand from their cow?"

Opinions varied on this subject; initially I said that trading hand-cultivated goods for like goods, but the peanut gallery seems split on the subject. I'll take this subject up in another post as well.

One thing is certain; trade amongst each other before 'Market Day' is fine. If participants want to swap stores or work out deals in advance by all means.

I urge everyone please think about building your stores sooner than later - the average person (according to the feds who have nothing better to do with your tax dollars) consumes about 33lbs of food per week.

Kathleen brought up a book called "Square Foot Gardening" in an effort to entice Sarah to join the competition, not knowing her spatial restriction. She also brought up vertical gardening, a technique she learned in Scotland. There's sure to be more on the subject posted here in the future. She offered up her library of gardening and permaculture books to anyone who wants to borrow them.

Kathy has shared this idea with some of her European friends - if you're reading along here, welcome! We'd love your feedback added to the process.

Next Jessica raised her objection to abandoning Pepsi for a week, in her words, "I am a pop addict." This generated a bit of discussion, and ultimately it was decided that everyone was allowed one exempt item to consume freely during the week.

If your item is 'McDoubles' then you are a jerk.

Next in the discussion Pete asked about cooking methods. Any modern method of food preservation or preparation is acceptable, and there are no 'off-limits' cooking impliments.

Pete also asked about 3 things; salt, pepper, and oil. The short answer is, no, not unless you use your 'exempt' item.

Kathy mentioned a 'seed exchange= some time in March - this is definitely something we should schedule.

Our final topic of discussion; wild sources of foods. I asked everyone if they knew of any places where food is growing wild such as fruit bearing trees, wild berries, etc. Here are the responses;

Mark: "There are fields planted with soybeans down by Spencer Lake, in Medina. This is public hunting and fishing ground. I pulled a wild carrot from there (one of those plants you have to be careful not to get their poisonous look-alikes) but the root was inedible, even when boiled.

There is a huge mulberry tree right behind our garage, which dumps buckets of fruit late in May.

There is a small apple tree in the field next to Shields where Jessica and I worked. The tree is not maintained at all so it is too high and the fruits are runted, but there are some low-hanging branches."

Pete: "There are thousands of cattails behind me at work. They're not super tasty, but, they're edible in all four seasons, depending on the part. I also have wild strawberries in my front yard. They're tiny, but very sweet.

There are wild blackberries all up and down the Chagrin River from Concord down the east side. I'd assume it's the same for the Black River, with another berry. Ed has told me that there's tons of wild onions and ramps in the Cleveland Metroparks. He's even cultivated some in his garden."

Kathy: "We started raspberry bushes in our yard last year (and they produced fruit this year) and planted a couple of grapevines this year. I don't know exactly how much fruit we'll get from them, but hopefully it will be a good source. We also will have enough veggies to probably feed all of us (all of you included!)

Grandma has some pear trees... maybe we can climb the fence in the cover of darkness to forage for pears... :o)

Tuxedo park has lots of blackberry bushes. We were picking through them at the Knights of Columbus picnic when we went with grandma this past summer."

Kathy also mentioned she would be getting 2 chickens, but won't let me eat 'em. :(


  1. Todd is considering beekeeping; He is attending a workshop in February and is joining a beekeeper's circle.
    I am not planning on any "cheat" items for myself; I will figure out how to do without whatever I can't produce that is off limits. I think it will be a fun part of the journey.

    You may be allowed a couple of chickens; in our city, you're allowed two. I also know that someone the next block up keeps some. (I know this because one of thier chickens crossed the road in front of me a while back!) I don't think livestock (goats/pigs) are allowed to be kept within city limits though.

  2. I'll post about my cheat item later on in another post. I likely won't decide what it'll be until way later on, based on if I can even get anything to grow.

    Where I live, I can't have anything aside from pets. Zoning laws are strict in the sardine packed portions of Lakewood. No livestock, no chickens, no animals that aren't traditional 'pets'.

  3. Not sure about a cheat item. If I take a bunch of tomatoes and sell the tomatoes then purchase something with that money, is that acceptable. Would that be an acceptable way to come by things we can't grow/forage this year? Sugar, salt... Sugar beets won't be ready in time for the goal week. Salt, well that may be a week to make salt not truly exempt but more in line with the challenge.

  4. No - you can of course sell your goods if you have a surplus, but you can't use that money to buy food for the challenge! I've yet to make a ruling on salt. Even if sugar beets won't be ready there are plenty of other sugar sources - fruits will be in abundance by then, trees in spring can be tapped for their sap (and there are quite a few more than sugar maples that you can make syrup from) and you yourself are thinking of raising bees!

  5. I agree. PLUS I'd like to remind all of us that it is ONLY a week! If you want to use sugar and/or salt for preserving food you have obtained within or outside of the rules of the challenge, just don't eat those foods the challenge week! It's not like all the crops will flourish that week only and we won't be able to can/preserve them before or after with sugar and/or salt.

  6. Are we going to carry this over to next year? See how we do from year to year?

  7. Just like all the football coaches say, I'm just takin this one game at a time.