I have been a member of the Briarpatch Cooperative (located in Grass Valley, California) for several years and have been delighted to see them focus on local foods in the past two years, putting together special fliers, tagging the products, and even encouraging people to participate in Eat Local challenges. I work for a small community-based non-profit organization in Camptonville about 30 miles north of Grass Valley. We have a Family Resource Center on the grounds of our local elementary school, and offer an early childhood program. Together, we share a school garden based on the Edible Schoolyard principles, and the elementary school actually has a School Wellness Plan that includes offering organic and locally raised foods!
We are lucky to be located in the Sierra foothills, high enough to be in the conifer belt, but low enough to have a good growing season. However, most of my neighbors only grow a summer garden, and when the frosts hit ( as they did early last weekend), everyone folds up for the winter, waiting until the following spring to get growing again. I decided to turn to the Briarpatch Community Fund to apply for grant funding this fall, as I wanted our organization to host a special program encouraging greater food self-sufficiency. I was delighted when they awarded us with a grant, even though I had only a month to quickly assemble and promote the program, which we held on Tuesday night. Drawing upon the wisdom of our community, we were able to contact a few special people and plan for an educational evening based on the Twilight School model we have used since 1997.
Twilight School always starts with a free or low-cost community meal.
The first half of our evening program was a demonstration by our local nurserywoman, Jessi Wilcox of Rebel Ridge Organics, on what to plant in the fall (broccoli, cabbage, hardy greens, garlic and onions, flowering bulbs, cover crops incuding fava beans... the list is probably longer than you thought). She also showed how to create hoop tunnels and use floating row covers to protect crops, extending your fall harvest or getting an early start in the spring.
Jessi highly favors using cover crops, and spent a lot of time describing the benefits; the biggest one that stuck in my mind was that you would be replenishing the soil for the next season. She also recommended using rice straw (readily available in our part of California) to cover the beds, so that the beneficial microfauna would stay in your garden over the winter rather than migrating elsewhere.
Then, Robyn Martin of Olala Farms spent the remainder of the evening delighting us with stories of her 35 years of preserving food for her family of six while living mainly without electricity. She covered using a root cellar (and reminded us not to mix the onions with the apples) and drying foods using recycled sheer curtains to keep the flies away. She delved into salt brining, and explained that our Sierra Nevada soils are mineral deficient, especially of iodine. Robyn swears by Celtic sea salt for making these brines, though most of us would need to decide to exempt that from our local food choices, since her experience has shown that there are more minerals and longer-keeping brined foods by using this source of salt over choosing other forms of sea salt.
Robyn also explained what lactic fermentation is and how those foods differ from brined ones, as well as detailed how to choose, pick and pack your foods for best preservation. Here, Robyn (left) discusses a canning dilemma with young mother, Jessica.
I feel particularly fortunate to live in a community where there is a strong interest in self-sufficiency and re-learning the old food preservation skills, where there are people like Robyn who have the wisdom to share and Jessi who is making new scientific information available, and for a cooperative such as Briarpatch for supporting us!