Posts Tagged ‘Gleaning’

Here are my two helpers.  We spent a morning picking apples off of a tree that we found a few years ago on a public boulevard.  The apples are almost perfect, and nearly blemish free.  They are large, slightly sweet and great fresh eating!

Here are my two helpers. We spent a morning picking apples off of a tree that we found a few years ago on a public boulevard. The apples are almost perfect, and nearly blemish free. They are large, slightly sweet and great fresh eating!

As happens this time every year, I have hit a lull in my writing.  Not that there hasn’t been plenty to write about, I just haven’t had the energy to sit down in front of the computer screen and pull all my thoughts together and put them into written words.  The summer of 2013 has seen our backyard bees doing great,  my wife just picked our first real harvest of Haralson apples, and it has been a very bountiful year for us on our urban foraging adventures which yielded us more than a dozen pints of mulberry jam and close to forty pounds of really great apples gleaned from an old neighborhood tree.

One reason for the lack of activity here at Autonomy Acres is that I am now working two jobs, and neither of them are the one that I have spent the last 10 years of my life working at.  Back at the end of May I called it quits at the adult beverage factory where I had worked and took the summer off to rediscover what it means to be human.  I was burnt out and depressed by the endless daily routine of factory life and knew I had to make some positive changes in the way I live and walk on this Earth.

Having a couple months off to gather my thoughts, and to let my body heal was the right medicine at the right time.  When I decided to take my life back, it was one of the most empowering moments I have ever felt, and the energy and self knowledge that I gained from that choice has changed my life.  I have realized that all the “Things” that society tells us are important and that matter are meaningless.  No longer will I let a “job” define who I am as a person.  The accumulation of money and “Toys” is not a measurement of happiness nor are they milestones that should be enshrined in our personal stories. Finally, it was reinforced in my mind that nothing is more important than our relationships with our families, friends, and the Earth.

While I wish I could say that I am now a gentleman of leisure, relaxing in a hammock sipping cold beer and reading Edward Abbey novels, sadly, I am still just a common worker!  I find myself back in my old haunts though – line cooking!  I worked restaurants for many years and truly enjoyed the kitchen work, but not the hours.  But I got lucky and I am now  slinging hash and eggs, cooking up real stocks and soups, and working with a terrific crew of Food Service Pirates at a local music college in the early morning, Monday through Friday.  It is nice to be appreciated for my talents and skills, and to also work for decent folks who treat me like a human being, and not a machine; a big change from where I previously worked.

I am also pulling a few shifts a week at a “Hip” national grocery store chain.  And while I do enjoy this as a part time gig, the pay is horseshit, and the health care benefits I was hoping to get through them just got put through the guillotine because of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which translated means – the big bosses saw this as an opportunity to make a shitload of money.  At least I still get a small discount on groceries!

It is interesting though to see a new side of the food industry that I was previously only a spectator and consumer in.  While I have written extensively about the global food supply chain and how it affects farmers and communities, and how it is ultimately not based on sustainable and local means and resources, seeing this first hand has been very educational.

freshly picked Haralsons!  These are an example of what can be grown in your own yard - No semi-truck needed!

freshly picked Haralsons! These are an example of what can be grown in your own yard – No semi-truck needed!

It is easy to use Wal-Mart as the poster child for the just-in-time, warehouse on wheels delivery model, but it is everywhere, whether that be a grocery store or a local brewery.  Anyone who has spent time researching food, how it is grown, and then how it is shipped to all parts of the world has seen the figures that say if a natural disaster or collapse of some kind disrupts the supply chain, grocery store shelves would be empty in 3 days.  Seeing how a grocery store runs, is managed, and is stocked I completely believe this.

Our food supply chain is balanced ever so gently on a global house of cards that when it does fall, it will fall fast.  It could happen because of the loss of honeybees that is now in the news almost everyday, or it could happen from a natural disaster or escalating climate change, or in a worse case scenario could be triggered by a terrorist attack or a war that shuts down the supply chain.  Whichever way you slice it, this scenario is all the evidence anyone should need to dig up that lawn and get growin’ as much of their own food that they can and begin adding a bit of resilience into their lives!

To echo past essays here at Autonomy Acres and other sources that touch on these issues, this predicament of global climate change, energy descent and food security that we find ourselves in, need to be looked at as an opportunity to move the human race forward into the future.  While it may seem like a futile prospect to think we can take on, and ultimately overcome these challenges, the words of Permaculture Pioneer Geoff Lawton come to mind -”All the worlds problem can be solved with a garden”!

It may seem like an idealistic statement, but I truly think that there is a lot of truth and wisdom from such a simple idea as planting a garden.  If everyone who has access to a bit of land, whether that be in the city or out in the country began to grow a portion of their own food, we would realize the abundance that this Earth can provide for us.  And a garden is more than just growing food.  Once you make the leap to becoming a producer and not just a consumer, many other wonderful things follow in the footsteps of a garden.

Compost is one of them.  Food scraps, garden waste, animal manures, leaves and other plant debris can all be composted and be used to start healing our soils.  When our soils are healthy and filled with organic matter, not only can we grow lots of great food, the soil also becomes a living ecosystem, a sponge for holding water, and most importantly a place that can capture and store carbon.

When we start to tend the Earth as stewards rather than rulers, and begin to see how humans can have a positive impact on our surroundings, beautiful things begin to spring forth.  Where once there were manicured lawns that were maintained by a regiment of poisons and pointless labor, now there can be gardens packed full of both annuals and perennials providing food for humans, habitat and forage for wildlife, and many other products that range from fibers, fuel, and pharmaceuticals.

Where once there were boulevards and roadsides, those pieces of land that are cut off from each, now there can be fruit and nut trees, fruiting shrubs, and forage for all the pollinators.  These pieces of land can be reclaimed and planted with species that need little to no human maintenance that once again help to feed us, provide us with fuel, store carbon, and heal the soil.

My futue looks sweet!  We took one frame of honey this year from our strongest hive.  It is a dark, sweet honey, most likely foraged from local goldenrod.

My futue looks sweet! We took one frame of honey this year from our strongest hive. It is a dark, sweet honey, most likely foraged from local goldenrod.

The future is full of possibilities.  If we continue down the road we are on now, then there will not be a future for the human race.  Turning the ship around is not enough – we have run out of time to do that, we need to jump overboard and start anew.  It will not be easy, but for the sake of the generations that follow, and all the other critters and plants that call this planet home it is what we must do.

Starting over will require participation from everyone.  It will not happen because a government or a corporation tells us too.  It will happen organically, and from the bottom up.  When the people demand an end to the destruction of the planet and are ready to start the healing process, governments and corporations will have no choice but to listen, and eventually cease to be.

It is possible, and it is starting.  It is happening everywhere that there are gardens being planted, where land is being reclaimed, and where communities are being built.  It happens when people band together and stand against the machine of oppression.  It happens when people realize that everything we have been taught is an illusion, and that when we change our lives, we have the power to change the world!  Peace & Cheer

A great video about living a simple life …

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Atleast ten pounds of pears that will be turned into pear sauce and preserves!

              glean – verb – Celtic origin – to gather grain or other produce left by reapers

The above definition of glean is slightly antiquated for the fact that the majority of our population now dwells in urban landscapes, but it was not that long ago when people would head out to the freshly harvested fields and collect the fallen and discarded produce the farmers left behind. In some cases it was a charitable act by the wealthy, land owning farmers to help feed their poorer neighbors; in other cases it was easier to leave the undesirable produce in the field then to properly harvest it and cull it out later. Either way, that discarded produce provided a source of nutrition and sustenance to folks who needed it. In the recent economic hard times, gleaning has made a comeback as evidenced in this article. Gleaning has also evolved into another new buzz word, Urban Foraging. This modern take on the age-old practice of gleaning is more akin to wild crafting herbs and fruit than it is to digging through a freshly harvested field, but the results are the same; free food and nourishment for those who want to do the work.

A majestic tree - loaded with thousands of pears!

I suppose my story of urban foraging starts back in childhood. I can remember grabbing handfuls of raspberries through the neighbors fence and picking apples out of the tree at a friends house. I took summer classes at a nature center near my house and that was the first time I ever ate dandelions. Those early experiences with free food have obviously stuck with me and is probably part of the reason I do the things I do. In more recent years in the wake of Peak Oil and the local food movement, we here at the Autonomy Acres family have started to pay much more attention to all the possibilities of free food in our neighborhood and surrounding semi-wild areas. We have our perennial hikes and forays into the woods hunting edible mushrooms, wild onions, making notes of where the giant stands of wild grapes can be found and where the elderberries grow. I know a tree stump down in the river valley that has had hundreds of pear-shaped puffballs on it every October for the last three years and a stretch of railroad track that has the sweetest blackberries that ripen every July. Hiking up from the river valley and back into our urban neighborhood, we have started to make mental notes of all the different fruit trees that grow around town. There are crabapples galore (not much good for raw eating, but you can make crabapple preserves and chutneys, and they are also a great addition to hard cider), mulberries (kind of like a black berry from a tree) that are great in pancakes and jams, cherries (both domesticated and wild), apples, and pears. It is the last three that I want to talk a little more about. The apple, cherry, and pear trees typically grow on private property rather than on public boulevards or city parks. Don’t let this stop you from at least attempting to harvest these fruits. Go talk to the homeowner, introduce your self and explain what you are hoping to do. More often than not the homeowner will graciously allow you to help yourself to at least some of the fruit, if not all of it. A lot of people love having a fruit tree in their yard, but hate having to clean up the fallen fruit, so they are more than happy to have someone come and clean it up for them. Now if you are lucky you might know of a good fruit tree that is on public property, or property that is no longer occupied or cared for. In the last two years we have found an apple tree and a pear tree. The apple tree is on a boulevard behind a Baker’s Square restaurant and the pear tree is on a boulevard of an abandoned and for sale industrial site. Both trees are probably hold-outs from a time when that land was still agricultural homesteads and they are still producing an abundant amount of fruit.

Having access to free food, especially the fruit trees is quite a treat. Not only does it help to sustain our bodies and minds, it is also a welcome challenge for our culinary skills. What do you do with a hundred pounds of mixed apples and crabapples that are slightly blemished? Well if you have the right equipment you can make cider – either hard or soft. How about apple sauce? Apple butter? Chutneys’ and relishes, or pies and tarts! The same goes for the pears and cherries. If you are finding morels in the spring, puffballs and chanterelles in the summer, and oyster mushrooms in the fall you can dry them, marinate them in oil, vinegar, and herbs, or just eat them fresh. How about those raspberries and mulberries from the neighbors yard, make jams and jellies. The possibilities are all delicious and rewarding. Any way you cook it, free food is priced right and is good for the soul, happy gleaning! Cheers!

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