North Country Farms

Blog: Food for Thought

Circle of Simplicity

There is a book which has impressed and inspired me by Cecile Andrews entitled “The Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life.” Her perspective on living a more soulful and simple life is refreshing and thought provoking. After a trip yesterday to Lihue doing way too many errands, which included a stop at the dreaded Walmart, I returned to our beloved north shore with items which were not on my list and without some that were. I also returned with a renewed promise to myself to avoid these stores as much as possible and then reread the chapter in “Circle of Simplicity” about reducing our raging consumerism. Here is the part I wanted to share with you.

The Alternative Shopping List – Becoming a Caring Consumer

1. Do I really need this? Is there anything I can use instead? Here is where the joys of ingenuity come in. It’s fun to find substitutes.

2. How will this item affect the quality of my life? Will it help me engage in life more fully, like sheet music or gardening supplies or a swimsuit? Or will it just make me more passive–like another TV?

3. Is the cost of the item worth the amount of time it takes to earn the money? For instance, how many hours do you have to work to buy an espresso? Is it worth it? You might say yes, but at least you have thought about it.

4. Could you buy it used? Rent it? Borrow it? Share the purchase with someone else?

5. Where should you buy it? Consider these possibilities — a small locally owned business that keeps your money circulating in the community — a business you value, one that adds life to the community — a business that contributes to the community — a business that treats its employees well

6. How will this purchase affect the environment? Is it biodegradable? — can it be recycled or repaired? — will it use resources to maintain? — is it over packaged? — how far did you drive to buy it? — where is it made? — how much energy was used to import it?

The industrialized fourth of the world uses fifteen times more paper, ten times as much steel and twelve times more fuel as the rest of the world. American houses are twice as big as they were 50 years ago. We have more shopping centers than high schools. We drink more soft drinks than tap water.

Now there is some food for thought! Keep that in mind when you next go shopping, while you are anesthetized by the interior mood of the store you are in, the artificial lights, the neon colors, the overwhelming scents, the white noise– all screaming buy buy buy!

In this same vein, I just watched a documentary called “No Impact Man.” A young man and his wife and toddler launched themselves into a year-long experiment into living in New York City and attempting to have no impact on the environment. They went to lengths way outside my comfort zone, but it gave me pause. Featured prominently in the documentary is this family’s focus on their food and their dedication to shopping at farmer’s markets and buying their food locally. That is something we at North Country Farms can surely get behind and a purchase that totally meets Cecile Andrews alternative shopping list criteria!

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What is Wrong with People?!

While I was never aware of it, apparently, according to my children, there is something I say quite often—“What is wrong with people??!” This handy little phrase can be used in any number of settings. In traffic when someone won’t let me in. When I see the bizarre array of things that people in front of me in line at the supermarket are buying and calling food. When I watch visitors go out into surf that has all my ocean radar up. When I read an article about politics and the inane decisions being made in the name of progress. See! It is a versatile little ditty. Most recently I used it when I saw that very few people were buying the simply beautiful ulu (breadfruit) that we had harvested and put out for sale last Tuesday.  In response, my sage son, Sky, thought that our sweet customers were unfamiliar with how to prepare ulu, unclear on the sheer deliciousness of this global goodness. He thought that perhaps people will not eat breadfruit “until they have to.” Well, I don’t believe doomsday is here—yet. But, I do truly know that we have to grow and eat more local food. Start with adding a breadfruit from here on the farm to your weekly dining experience. I guarantee you will not be disappointed!

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Basic preparation: Peel and wash the breadfruit. Remove the core and cut into large pieces. Place into a pot of lightly salted boiling water and cook for 30 to 60 minutes or until tender (as you would cook a potato).Drain and cool. You can substitute breadfruit in any recipe that calls for potato. Mashed is divine—with garlic and herbs, even more heavenly!

 

Sautéed or wok stir-fried: Dice and sauté in a little oil with: – 1 sliced onion – 1 minced clove of garlic – a dash of soy sauce

Stuffed Baked Breadfruit:  Peel and blanch the whole breadfruits in boiling salted water for a few minutes. Remove the stem and core. Remove some of the flesh and dice it and place in a bowl. Sauté 8 oz. ground beef or turkey in a knob of butter.  (I bet tempeh or tofu would be great, too!) Add to the diced breadfruit. Then add: – 1 cup diced tomato – 1 small onion, finely chopped –  2 tbsp. butter – salt and pepper combine the ingredients and fill the cavities of the breadfruit. Bake in a moderate oven for 45-55 minutes. Drizzle with melted butter and serve.

Rhythm

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.
Thomas Merton

In my life, no two days are exactly alike. Usually I can arise when I like and take on the day in the manner that suits me. That, however, is surely not the same as saying there is no rhythm to my fine life. I thrive on rhythm. I surely know children do and I think most adults crave it in some fashion also.
 
The farm has an ebb and flow that needs tending to — every week we plant  trays of seeds, every two weeks we plant baby starts out in the field, every Tuesday we harvest for our community, every Wednesday we hoe and weed all the gardens.
 
Each morning I make the rounds of the farm, feeding the cats, ducks, chickens and rabbits. It is a slow and sweet awakening to the rhythm of the day.
 
The coffee ritual has its own cherished cadence in my mornings. The breathing in before the breathing out the bustle the often-busy day has for me. Evenings always have some kind of sunset pause for me, another breathing in. Sundays have a totally different feel and non-structure, but surely would not be Sunday without the New York Times! So even the day with the least shape has a rhythm.
 
When my children were small, I saw that the rhythm I created was comforting for them. We had the most harmonious times when that was respected. I think that a certain amount of this same pulse and flow still sings to my soul and balances my being.
 

The New Year

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“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

This is a new year.I am somehow silent. For now. I eagerly await the tone of a new voice. Perhaps some more inspiration. Until then I am quiet.

I Have a Friend

I have a friend. He is charming, smart, handsome and kind. He is also gay and in a long-term committed relationship.

The other night I dreamed that he and I were married. The dream consisted of several unconnected vignettes–us at a restaurant, us walking in snow, us reading side by side–us always connected and smiling, content.

I awoke pondering the dream and its significance. It stuck with me and I noodled it around until it hit me. I know now that the dream was truly about what I miss about being single. Not the sex, although, heaven knows, that can be a wonderful thing. This was not about that. What I really miss is the easy companionship of a life partner. The sharing and caring that comes with a healthy relationship. The ease and softness of knowing someone so well. Of having another being who cares when you don’t feel just right and brings you a cup of tea and a blanket. Who interrupts your reading to share a passage from their book. Who can massage your feet without an agenda of it leading to anything more. Who can walk alongside you on the beach, holding your hand, in sweet silence.

My life is wonderful. I am surrounded by so much love and abundance–and I know that and feel it so very deeply. I remain ever-grateful. And I zealously guard and adore my quiet and solo time. This dream was a reminder, however, of what I do miss.

Time and Trees

Twenty-five years ago my then-husband and I bought this land. We had just two little children then and a dream. We built a shed on the wide-open land. We lived there in simple humble fashion for two years while we built our home.

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We were at the farm supply store one day and the elderly Japanese grandpa, who spoke barely a word of English, took my hand and signaled for me and the kids to follow him—across the parking to a giant avocado tree. He somehow communicated that these were the best avocados in the world and filled a bucket for us to take home.

After eating several ripe ones, the kids and I took one promising seed and did the tried-and-true toothpick in a glass of water sprouting trick. It worked like a charm. That little tree was planted right next to the shed we were living in, one of the first things planted on the land.

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Now, each and every autumn for the past 17 years or so it has produced hundreds of the most delicious avocados in the world. That grandpa was so right. He has passed on. We still trade at that store—the next generation of the same family has taken it over. And, the avocado tree by the parking lot is gone.

But ours lives on. And we are so glad!

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Beauty and Joy

When I lived in New York City—an exciting and pulsating time in my life—I worked first, as a young woman in the 70s, in advertising. The work was fast-paced, stimulating and lucrative. In order to balance the intensity of that world, I did volunteer work at the Audubon Society and the New York Botanical Gardens. The time spent at both places was food for my soul, an antidote to the electric world of advertising. Ever since those days at the Botanical Gardens, I have carried a quote by Enid Haupt, the founder of those magnificent gardens. I came across it the other day and want to share it with you here . . .

           “ I do what I love and what people will enjoy. Nobody knows

 quite how the world is going to shape itself, but as long as people care

 about art and books and flowers, the world will be a good place to

 live in. I believe—and always have—that things of beauty and joy

 endure.”

 Aesthetics have always been important to me. . . being surrounded by beauty makes my heart light. Reading a fine and meaningful book settles my spirit. Keeping joy alive in my day carries me easily into the next day. My very essence is calmed by beauty and joy. I aspire to keep both present in my world, always.

 

Kauai summer sunset

Cinnamon Sugar Muffins

Without my youngest son, Bay, here my supply of quarts of Strauss whole fat vanilla yogurt is taking up too much refrigerator room. For the record, he is currently in Wyoming in the Tetons on a cross-country jaunt in our VW Eurovan, so don’t feel too badly for him.

Bay with VW Eurovan “Moby” on the open road

And don’t feel too badly for that uneaten vanilla yogurt, because I discovered this muffin recipe below in my wanderings on Pinterest (from bakedperfection.com) and I made these muffins today. Man, oh man, they are fabulous! Those who know me, know I have basically burned out on creative cooking. Twenty-nine years of cranking out family meals three times a day will do that to you. Plus, I have a chef daughter, Nell,  now and my oldest son, Sky, who does some amazing kitchen magic as well. So, I’m in semi-retirement in the kitchen. But, this recipe I will make again. And again.

Cinnamon Sugar Muffins

2 cups flour (I used 1 cup unbleached and 1 cup whole wheat)

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

2 large eggs

1 cup vanilla yogurt (recipe called for low-fat, I used whole)

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

4 tbsp oil (I used coconut oil)

1 tsp vanilla

Topping:

1/2 stick unsalted  butter

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400. Line standard muffin tins with paper cups.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, yogurt, sugar, oil and vanilla. Add flour mixture and mix lightly until the dry ingredients are  just moistened. Do not overmix. The batter will not be smooth.

Divide batter among the muffins cups and bake until a toothpick inserted in one or two of the muffins comes out clean. About 12-15 minutes.

While the muffins are baking, melt 1/2 stick of butter and place in a bowl just large enough to hold a muffin. Combine 1/4 cup of sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon in another small shallow bowl. As soon as the muffins are done, dip them one at a time in the butter and then roll them in the sugar mixture. Set on a rack to cool.

This recipe says it makes 12 muffins. Like so many other muffins recipes that I find, it did not. It sadly made only 8 muffins. Rest assured that I will at least double it next time.

Cinnamon Sugar Muffins

A Small Family Farm

Often people suggest expansion as the obvious next step to a successful business such as our farm. I know the decision to remain a small family farm goes against the traditional business model. I actually have a farm which, along with our farm stay cottages,  supports us in a very fine way and which I do not seek to expand. I have witnessed farms pressured into expansion as the marketing opportunities increase. The expansion translates into more work, more crew, more delegation and reliance on more wholesale accounts, whose loyalty is fickle at best. If this expansion also led to more profit, more security and more fulfillment, that would perhaps be understandable. Instead, we see, all too often, the quality of the farm and the farmer’s livelihood compromised by the stress that comes with larger work crews, high overhead and fluctuating markets.The experience of the farmer is greatly diminished.

At North Country Farms we have, over the years, grown a small-scale family farm able to produce a living for us, while fostering an intimacy with the land and hopefully having a meaningful impact with the consumers from our community and on the visitors who see our farm in action. The diversity and quality of our crops are ongoing challenges. The complexities of our small farm are providing a lifetime of study as we are constantly learning the strengths and weaknesses of both our land and our business.

Our challenge is the proper stewardship of our little piece of paradise, not on how to expand and do more. Striving to find the balance in each work day between professional and personal space, between the sharing of our island with our guests on the farm and safeguarding all that makes our island home special.  Equally important is the fulfillment of personal goals this small farm gives us. In down-scaling we have more diversity of tasks, resulting in less physical and emotional strain that can come with repetition. We are able to enjoy rather than dread the long stretch of a work day, where the work that needs to be done can be taken on at a pace and in a fashion less likely to burn us out. This family farm has grown with my family, all the while involving my now-grown children, whom I was able to always have alongside me while working. That aspect of the decision to remain small cannot be underestimated.

This small family farm is a lifestyle and a conscious choice, not just a job. It speaks volumes about who we are here. I hope that the opportunities for small farmers can grow and become, once again, a vital part of our communities. I hope that this rapidly vanishing way of life can be preserved. In feeding others, we feel ourselves – on so many levels.

 

our main garden

Here are some other factors that make it abundantly clear that small family farms are in need of a resurgence.

Source –  http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/familyfarms/

  • there are 5 million fewer farms in the United States then there were in the 1930s
  • of the remaining 2 million farms, just over one half million of them are family farms–the rest industrial factory, often corporate, farms
  • half of the farmers are between 45-65 with only 6% under 35

Why are small family farms important?

  • these farmers live on or near their farms and have a vested interest in feeding and protecting their communities
  • the vast majority of family farms are using sustainable farming methods
  • these farms sell mostly locally, decreasing the carbon footprint of the food they grow

What can you do?

  • buy locally from your farmer’s market or from markets in your area that sell local produce
  • “Shake the hand that feeds you.” Michael Pollan

Flowers Feed My Soul

Amidst all the fine food we grow on the farm are flowers.  I cannot imagine life without their rich riot of color and fragrance. They feed my soul. Here are some I wanted to share. Enjoy!

“Bread feeds the body, indeed, but flowers feed also the soul.”  ~The Koran

sunny sunflowers

uncanny cattleya orchid

circle garden – merry marigolds

Independence

With the fourth of July just past, I got to pondering independence. How we are so sure that this is a great thing. Well, I am all for independence. But I have some reservations about our push on it. I surely understand the unhealthy aspects of co-dependence. However, I think we have forgotten about fine inter-dependence. We need each other! How lonely and sad would our lives be without each other? How difficult would it be to have to do all the things that need doing? We need our families to surround us with unconditional love and appropriate direction. We need our friends to stand by us and offer laughter and solace, depending on the situation. We need our communities that nourish us and provide support, in all sorts of ways. We are essential to each other, as our breath is to our lives. I, for one, don’t want to ever forget or take those on whom I rely for granted.

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Core Beliefs

I am in the process of an often-challenging, but wonderful, bodywork series of structural integration. The last session was core work, prompting the question: “What are my core values and beliefs?”

 Big question. My response was almost immediate and solid — “I am living them.”

And given time after the session to think more on this, I came to the remarkable conclusion that not only was this answer sincere and valid, but to be able to state this so assuredly makes me a very fortunate woman.

 I live a life where my belief in the vital importance of family and being a conscious parent has been exercised daily. This has been a heartfelt path, which has tested me many a time. My strong commitment to work that matters is evident in my 20+ years of working this land and providing clean food for my community. The integrity in the treatment of this property with only organic and sustainable practices is central to my core beliefs. The manner in which I present our cottage rentals and attempt to model for guests an honest and simple lifestyle by activism is surely part of who I am and what I believe in. I have faith that all we do is important, even though we might not see it. The ripple effect is fundamental to how I take on each day, essentially believing that my actions can matter in the world, near and far.

 My life has evolved to this very special place. To be able to actually know that my core beliefs are in action is very satisfying. It also brings up an overwhelming sense of gratitude in me. I will not take this grace for granted. I will continue to pray in whatever fumbling way I can for the continued blessings that allow me to love and live my core beliefs.

 “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

from The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

entrance to the farm looking toward the mountains