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Tonight we realized that this is a great time to be eating locally here. Most of our staple foods from last month are still in season (potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, chiles, tomatoes, okra, etc.), but there are also some tasty new foods coming into season.

For starters, greens are finally in season. During the month of September we managed to find very few greens: we had arugula once and verdolagas (Portulaca) a couple of times. In the last week or two, though, a diversity of greens have become available: we’ve gotten arugula, lettuce, swiss chard, tatsoi, pac choi, mizuna, and mustards. In fact, we’ve gotten more greens from our CSA than we know what to do with! We need to come up with some creative ways to preserve them (maybe some kind of pesto-like sauce that we can freeze?).

Marci got a nice diversity of foods at tonight’s Santa Cruz River Farmer’s Market. She came home with apples, apple cider, a watermelon, a large pumpkin, an onion, potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, Anaheim chiles, eggs, okra, wheat flour, and tomatoes. The overlap of watermelons and pumpkins is a good indication of the transition in seasons we’re currently in. We’re trying to appreciate the diversity of local foods available right now, because it may not last for much longer! While our climate allows for year-round growing, we can’t expect to have the same variety of foods from December through February.

At our CSA on Tuesday we bought a pack of beef liver, as an experiment. I’ve never cooked liver in my life, and I don’t have the faintest clue what to do with it. Marci wants to cook it with bacon, but then again she wants to cook everything with bacon.

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Our CSA share this week consisted of eggplant, onions, green bell peppers, mustard greens, sweet potatoes, pistachios, a butternut squash, and Anaheim chiles. At tonight’s Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market we bought potatoes, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, tomatoes, a butternut squash, garlic, and wheat flour. Finally, our friends Chi and Rodd kindly donated a dozen eggs from their chickens – thanks again, you guys! Unfortunately, our weekly goat cheese order at the co-op hasn’t yet come in, and we’re really missing it. It’s become an important component of many of our meals (oddly enough we rarely had cheese with our home-cooked meals prior to our local eating experiment, perhaps because we got enough cheese elsewhere).

Since last weekend we’ve obtained food from three sources: the Food Conspiracy Co-op (on 4th Ave.), the Tucson CSA, and the Santa Cruz River Farmer’s Market (SCRFM).

At the Co-op we bought alfalfa sprouts, apples, and goat cheese. The sprouts were a tricky decision – the seeds were probably not locally grown, but neither probably are many of the seeds from which our other “local” food derives. We hadn’t had the foresight to set a ground-rule regarding seeds, so we went ahead and got the sprouts. We also have not been worrying about where the animal feed comes from that gets turned into the “local” meat we’re buying. These considerations are another step beyond where we currently are in this experiment, but we plan to address them eventually!

Our CSA share this week included a canary melon, green beans, tomatillos, cherry tomatoes, sweet corn, Guero chiles, bell peppers, and an onion. In addition, they were selling locally-raised organic chickens and eggs, so we bought two of the former and a dozen of the latter. While there we talked with the founder, Philippe Waterinckx, who mentioned that he’s been eating a mostly-100-mile diet for 3 years. We were humbled when he said that he doesn’t add salt to anything. We look forward to talking with him more and learning his secrets about eating locally in Tucson. Thanks, Philippe, for starting the Tucson CSA and leading by example!

Finally, at the SCRFM we got more wheat flour, as well as pears, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatillos (it might seem like we eat a lot of these – it’s because I can’t get enough of them!), lemon basil, an onion, and purslane (a.k.a. verdolagas, a.a.k.a. Portulaca). We also discovered a local beef CSA that was selling some meat there. It’s called Double Check Ranch, and is located near Winkelman (north of Tucson). They offer several different types of CSA shares, including half of a cow ($6.00/lb.), 1/10th of a cow ($7.00/lb.), 1/20th of a cow ($7.50/lb.), and hamburger shares ($5.00/lb.). Their policies seem fantastic; here are some excerpts from their brochure:

“Our cattle are raised humanely and treated respectfully. They live on open range and eat only range and pasture grass. We include no hormones, antibiotics, or animal byproducts in their diets. They live in familiar surroundings and are not stressed by repeated trucking…

“We believe that responsible, small-scale agriculture is a critical, and currently, largely missing key to a responsible economy. Our mission is the production of humane and sustainable beef. We know that managing land well can restore the biodiversity that our landscapes are losing at a frightening rate. We have a biological plan to manage our land holistically, all our decisions are goal driven to ensure that they are socially, economically and environmentally sound. We are dedicated to improving our watershed. We share our ranch with a variety of wildlife: mule deer, javelina, quail, rabbits and rattlesnakes, to name just a few. Coyotes, bobcats, and the occasional mountain lion are an important part of the balance. We feel that this balance is far more important than any economic loss we may incur losing a calf or two to a predator. Therefore, unless an animal is rabid or deviant, we do not control them.”

This sounds like a cattle ranch that we can feel good about supporting! We bought a pound of ground beef and two pounds of round roast on the spot, and plan to purchase one of their CSA shares once we figure out where to put 50 pounds of beef (we may get an efficient chest freezer so that we can take advantage of bulk opportunities like this, if we can make room in our small house). You can find the Double Check Ranch owners at several farmers’ markets in the area (Oro Valley, Oracle, St. Philip’s Plaza, Plaza Palomino, and now Santa Cruz River). They seem like very nice people.

While on the topic of meat, I should mention that we believe meat should be eaten sparingly. Meat production is one of the most environmentally destructive industries on the planet. It is also a major contributor to world hunger, since huge quantities of food that’s edible to humans gets converted into meat, but at a 90% or greater loss in energy. However, Marci and I are by no means vegetarians, and feel that livestock can play important roles in a diversified sustainable food economy. Since we began our local diet we have eaten less meat than we typically do (roughly 50% less, at least), and we would like to reduce this more.

This past weekend we found some additional sources of local food, experimented with some new foods, and did a little bit of work in our yard. All in all it was a relaxing but productive weekend.

On Saturday I visited the Native Seeds/SEARCH store, which is conveniently located near our house. Native Seeds/SEARCH is a fantastic organization, based in Tucson, which works to conserve and promote the use of plant cultivars traditionally raised by the native peoples of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. Their farm is located in Patagonia, about an hour from Tucson, and although they sometimes use a small amount of pesticide on their crops, I tend to forgive them since they do so in order to preserve endangered crop varieties (Marci still holds a grudge about this, however). Roughly half of the plants we grow in our garden are derived from their seeds. At their store (located on 4th Ave.) they sell seeds, packaged foods, books on desert gardening and other topics, and crafts made by native groups.

We were hoping that many of the packaged foods at Native Seeds/SEARCH would be locally grown. From what I could gather from the people working there, however, relatively little of the food they sell is actually grown within 100 miles of Tucson (much of it comes from northern Arizona and New Mexico). Fortunately, most of their beans, many of their chiles, all of their amaranth, and many of their prickly pear products are grown locally. I bought two bags of dried beans, some guajillo chile powder (one of my favorite types of chiles), and a bag of popped amaranth. We’ve been enjoying the amaranth as a snack at night. It’s delicious mixed with olive oil, a little bit of salt, and chile powder, and tastes a lot like popcorn, though not identical.

On Sunday we visited the St. Philips Plaza Farmer’s Market (at River Rd. and Campbell Ave.). It’s usually an active market, and this weekend was no exception. There is a great variety of vendors there, selling local vegetables, fruit, nuts, herbs, honey, and meat, as well as quite a bit of non-local food and goods. We bought some local pistachios (a great find!), pears, apples, arugula, tomatoes, and bell peppers, as well as bacon and ground lamb. For lunch Marci made “BLT sandwiches” of a sort, by cooking the bacon and wrapping it inside leaves of arugula along with slices of tomato and roasted chiles. They were fantastic!

We saved the bacon grease, as it would have been a shame to waste such a useful substance. This was fortuitous because I was wanting to make flour tortillas, partly due to the inspiration of my friend Ryan, who’s been making tortillas and having good success. I mixed some of our local flour with part of the bacon grease (as a substitute for pure lard), a tiny bit of salt, and some water. After kneading the dough for a couple of minutes, I let it sit for an hour and then divided it into smaller balls. These I flattened using our “rolling pin” (actually a large wooden pestle) and dropped onto a heated comal (a flat metal cooking surface). After thirty seconds I flipped them over and cooked the other side for another thirty seconds. I was quite surprised by how well they turned out, given that this was my first time attempting to make wheat tortillas! Next time we will use more bacon grease or oil, and will try to make the tortillas thinner.

Since we had tortillas to use, we decided to cook up some vegetables and make tacos. As a filling Marci sautéed some onions and bell peppers and roasted some Anaheim chiles, tomatillos and cherry tomatoes. They were delicious.

Finally, we worked on three projects in our yard. Our chicken coop was needing some repair, so I set about fixing the chicken wire gate and the fencing. The chickens haven’t seemed interested in escaping for a while, but it seemed like a good idea to maintain the fence. I also planted some additional nopal (Opuntia ficus-indica) pads along our north fence. This is a fantastically useful plant, and we have quite a few scattered around our front and back yards. It produces edible pads and fruits, makes a great windbreak and privacy screen, and requires very little water. We planted some along our north fence a year ago and it’s done very well, due to the sunny exposure and the fact that the plants have access to the water which our neighbor dumps on his accursed oleanders just on the other side of the fence…

Finally, Marci bought some parts we’ve been needing for our outdoor shower, which we plan to put together soon. We’re already diverting the graywater from our washing machine to our fruit trees, but the trees need more water than this provides alone, so we’re planning to build the outdoor shower such that the water flows to the trees. We’re also planning to plant a grapevine or two around the shower, to take advantage of any water that isn’t effectively channeled to the trees.

We visited the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market today (it’s about a mile from our house). We were pleasantly surprised to see it the most crowded we’d ever seen it before. They had changed locations and there were several great vendors who were new to us. We bought a great assortment of things: jujubes, tomatoes, garlic, sweet potatoes, tomatillos, oregano, onions, Anaheim chiles, Pima/Durum wheat flour (I am most excited about this, because I’m already craving bread), butternut squash, Armenian cucumber, jalapeños, okra, pears, and grapes. These were all “organic” and all local. This is a great market and is well worth visiting. It happens every Thursday evening from 4-7 (I think) at the Santa Cruz River park between St. Mary’s and Speedway. We’re happy that this market seems to be so successful!

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