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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).

Yesterday we decided to drive to Willcox to pick apples and get some organic veggies and wine. Our friend Kim joined us for the trip. Willcox is about 75 miles southeast of Tucson, and is where much of our local produce comes from. We got to Brown’s Orchard (the organic you-pick apple and veggie farm) while it was still fairly cool outside, and were excited to spend the morning frolicking among the trees. Unfortunately, Brown’s Orchard was closed. Since we’d expended all that gas to get there, we decided to backtrack toward Apple Annie’s, another you-pick orchard that is not organic. Although we didn’t like the idea of supporting a non-organic grower, it seemed like a good opportunity to see a local apple orchard up close.

On the way, we stopped in at Visser Family Farms for some local grass-fed meats. As we drove up to the farm we passed happily grazing sheep feeding on grass. They truly were grass-fed! The woman who greeted us was cheerful and helpful, and led us to the barn where she stored cuts of lamb, pork, beef and chicken. Many of the cuts were “from the butcher” and were not local. We picked out some locally raised, hormone and antibiotic-free ground beef and a lamb shoulder roast.

Then we got back on the road toward Apple Annie’s. I was very excited to pick apples. My experiences with apple-picking are of beautiful, mature orchards in Vermont where we climbed the trees and enjoyed the comforts of a fall day in a shady, peaceful grove. The moment we entered the parking lot for Apple Annie’s I knew this was not going to be a serene Vermont-like experience.

There were about 100 cars in the dirt lot, which led to several tents and a 2-story building. Vendors were selling their salsas, Kettle Korn, cider, jam, trinkets, burgers, ice cream and baked goods. There was a gift shop inside the building, too, but we didn’t see what they had for sale. There was a small group of people with empty buckets waiting to board a tractor-pulled wagon, so we got our buckets and joined the brigade. The tractor took us on a slow, gas-guzzling journey around a small orchard filled with dwarf fruit trees. The driver announced that the second stop was where we could pick Fuji apples and Asian pears, which was what we wanted. We had noticed that there were vast quantities of fruit on the ground, and we asked the driver if we could harvest some for our chickens. Unfortunately, it is now illegal to collect fruit that has touched the ground for fear of E. coli. It seems that somewhere in California where cows were grazing among the fruit trees their dung harbored E. coli and some people eating fruit from the ground got sick. So no ground-fruit for the hens.

The apple-picking itself was fun. It’s always nice to harvest your own food, even in the company of 100 eager tourists clamboring for chemical-laden bounty. We filled a bucket with apples and then moved on to the pears. Asian pears are very sweet and crisp, and they were surprisingly refreshing in the heat of the shadeless dwarf orchard. When we had gathered all we wanted (and unwittingly left about the same amount of fruit on the ground to rot), we headed back toward the entrance to the orchard. It was only about 200 feet from where we had been picking, so there was truly no need for another tractor ride.

Apples at Apple Annie’s

Apples rotting on the ground at Apple Annie’s

We waited in one of several lines to pay for our harvest. In all, we got 12 pounds of apples, 16 pounds of pears, a bag of 6 peaches, and 2 half-gallons of apple cider, and spent about $45.

Our final stop was a winery. I had been looking forward to getting some wine for quite a while since we had not had any since our first local meal. The winery (I can’t remember the name of the place) looked quaint from the outside. But as soon as we stepped in the door, we were struck by the frigid air, the extravagent decor, and the old-fashioned farm-wife outfit our hostess was wearing. It was a surreal scene. We got a taste of red wine made exclusively from local grapes (most of the wines were processed locally, but from grapes grown in vineyards in California and northern Arizona). The wine was tasty but expensive, and we opted not to buy any. It was better just to get out of the weird zone and head for home.

We learned a lot from our trip to Willcox. The farming practices at Apple Annie’s confirmed our belief that local is not always better: It takes a huge amount of resources to keep apple trees alive and producing in the arid southwest, and it might be better to abstain from eating apples altogether or find a slightly more distant but far more efficient source. We found a great source of local meat, and feel good about the farming practices and the people at Visser Family Farms. And we decided that we would really like to go back to Willcox to experience apple-picking at Brown’s Orchard when they are open.

Two things really struck us about this experience. First was the extravagant waste of fruit at Apple Annie’s. Frankly, we thought it was a travesty. We’re betting that probably at least half of the fruit produced by their trees never gets harvested, except by ground squirrels and skunks. It seemed like the “you-pick” approach was not the way to go, since inexperienced pickers like us ended up inadvertently dropping as many fruit to the ground as we managed to successfully harvest. In our opinion such orchards should have professional pickers who know what they’re doing and don’t waste huge amounts fruit. All of that wasted fruit represents an enormous amount of water, fertilizer and pesticide.

The other thing that struck us was how silly it was for us to drive an hour and a half to pick fruit. Part of the reason we went was to get a better idea of what Willcox was like, since that was where a fair bit of our local food has been coming from. However, it is extremely wasteful for three people to drive 150 miles round-trip to pick 30 pounds of fruit. It was a good lesson in how important efficient local food distribution networks are.

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 had a wonderful, relaxing Friday at home. Chris did some work on the computer while I read and talked with some friends online. It was a good food day, too. I had oatmeal (whole cooked oats) with honey for breakfast and Chris and I ate a bunch of leftovers for lunch. Then I had the foresight to soak some adzuki beans for dinner. We had all the right ingredients for a good bean stew- onions, chiles, tomatoes, tomatillos, garlic, bell pepper, cholla buds, oregano… When I was about to cook the beans, Chris asked me where they were from. I have no idea where those beans came from! I’m sure I bought them at the co-op, and they’re from nowhere local. Funny how my mind just switched off for a while. I decided to cook the beans anyway (they were already soaked and ready to go) using our non-local salt and chiles. We’ll give them to our friends when we go to their house later this evening.

So now we had a dilemma: We really didn’t have much in the house for a satisfying dinner. We have only gotten two eggs from our chickens in the last two days, and we ate one of them yesterday. But, man, omelettes sounded really good! We called Wild Oats, the Food Conspiracy Co-Op, and Rincon Market in hopes of finding some local eggs and/or meat, but no luck. Rincon Market does carry Hickman’s Farm eggs, but they are from Buckeye, AZ, which is 117 miles from Tucson: Too far! We searched for farmer’s markets open on a Friday afternoon, but found none. Then Chris remembered that our CSA has a pick-up day on Friday as well as Tuesday (when we get our share), and they often have fresh, local eggs. Bingo! We went to the CSA pick-up site and lo and behold, there were our eggs! Five bucks a dozen for local eggs, and well worth it. Even if we ate the entire dozen for dinner we’d be eating for less than $10 total, which is less than any restaurant meal, and would be of better quality. We felt a rush of relief as soon as we knew we’d have a good dinner.

Our omelettes were superb. We filled them with leftover baked veggies (squash, eggplant and zucchini), leftover sauted okra, tomatoes and onions, fresh oregano and fresh tomato. They were topped off with a roasted tomatillo, garlic and anaheim chile salsa that Chris made, and a bit of goat cheese. We’ll be having grapes for dessert.

While the omelettes were cooking, our friend called us to tell us that Shamrock Farms (a dairy farm) is local and sells organic products. Indeed, they are located about 70 miles from us. Chris is ecstatic because, as he said, “where there’s milk, there’s the potential for ice cream”! I’m hoping they have yogurt, although we’ll need to figure out if all the ingredients in any processed food like yogurt are acceptable to our local palates.

That’s it for today. Signing off to go eat some Cochise-grown grapes.

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!

The last couple days we’ve had some good food and we’ve made some happy discoveries. First, the meals.

Last night:

  • A soup made from the remains of the chicken we cooked the previously night, along with onions, garlic, yellow crooked neck squash, and salt.
  • Red La Soda potatoes and sweet potatoes, baked with a touch of salt.
  • String beans cooked in red wine with shallots, garlic and salt.
  • The remainder of the watermelon from the night before.
  • Prickly pear refresca.

Tonight:

  • “Bunless” hamburgers (lean grass-fed beef from Cochise) topped with goat cheese, roasted chile and tomato – these were awesome, and I think only an avocado could have improved it (this will not be the last time I lament the absence of local avocados!).
  • Okra sautéed with a green bell pepper, onion, tomato, coriander (from our garden), and salt.
  • Lemon cucumbers, sliced and marinated in olive oil, lime juice and salt.
  • Prickly pear refresca.

Next, the happy discoveries. Last week we were quite pleased to find a source of local olive oil, Queen Creek Olive Mill (in Phoenix), and even more pleased this afternoon to learn that the AJ’s Fine Foods market in Tucson carried their olive oil. We promptly drove up to get some. Our other discoveries today included local limes (from the Co-op on 4th Ave.) and local goat cheese (from Fiore di Capra, in Pomerene; this was also for sale at the Co-op). Olive oil, limes and goat cheese: not a shabby bunch of discoveries for one day!

Our CSA share yesterday included a canary melon, tomatillos, cherry tomatoes, roasted Anaheim chiles, an onion, wheatberries, red La Soda potatoes, okra, and bell peppers.

June 2017
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