Changes in America’s Food System

Just in the time that I have been alive, there have been major changes in how I obtain my food. Add in the experiences of my parents and grandparents’ generations, and we see profound changes.

My mother was born in 1911 in the tiny town of Spencer, Indiana. Her father ran the livery stable in town, later selling those new-fangled automobiles. They lived a couple of blocks from the town square, and a few houses from the country. My grandfather kept a milk cow in a nearby pasture and milked it twice a day for the family milk supply. For the rest of their food, my maternal grandmother simply phoned in her grocery order, and a delivery boy brought it on his bicycle.

My mother told me that fishermen sold their daily catch from the White River. Market fishermen are pretty much a thing of the past. And market hunters–popular in the 1800s and into the early 1900s–are definitely a thing of the past. I’m sure my grandparents in southern Indiana had access to fresh passenger pigeons in their day, as well as ducks, geese, and venison. Many folks kept backyard chickens and rabbits for food. My Dad hunted rabbits his whole life, and fished as well. If he found a snapping turtle, we ate that. We did not get all of our food from the store.


The offerings of market hunters.

My paternal grandparents lived in the city of Indianapolis, but they always had a garden. They also got a lot of their food from my grandfather’s sister’s farm in Tipton, Indiana. We did too. As a teen in the 1950s, I remember freshly killed stewing hens and big bags of lettuce, green beans, tomatoes and corn on the cob that came from the farm. But most of our food came from the grocery store.


This isn’t Harry Grasshof’s store, but this is what it looked like. I don’t remember his store ever being this well stocked though.

When I was 7 years old, my mother would send me to the store for the odd item that she had forgotten, like an extra carton of milk or loaf of bread. The tiny store was a couple of blocks from our house. Harry Grasshof, an immigrant from Germany, ran the market. I gave Harry my list, and he got whatever I needed and bagged it for me to carry home. The store had only two aisles, with a very limited selection of goods. Potatoes, onions, apples, oranges, grapes, bananas, lettuce, green beans, carrots and such were available, but not all things were there in all seasons. The produce was local and in season. In the winter, we relied on canned vegetables and long keepers such as potatoes and cabbages.

The meat case had cuts that Harry had butchered himself, and the edges of the meat were dried. There were flies in the case in the summer. There were a few boxes of Tide, All, Oxydol, Duz, Ajax and other cleaning products on the shelves, plus canned fruits and vegetables. We ate canned green beans, corn, asparagus and beets. The only baked goods I remember were loaves of Wonderbread.


This isn’t our local A&P, but it looked like this. Such a selection!

Then the first supermarket, an A&P, opened up across the street from Harry Grasshof. That was probably about 1953. I was dazzled by the big, bright aisles with all of their selection. Meat was packaged. No more flies. Produce aisles were packed with beautiful, fresh fruits and vegetables. They had treasures like Twinkies, Hostess Cupcakes, and Little Debbies. One got a cart and helped one’s self to whatever one needed — or was induced to buy on impluse. No more personalized service from a grocer who helped customers one at a time.

People grew Victory Gardens during World War II, but when the soldiers came home, home gardening seemed to die out. Grocery stores carried more and more items and they came from farther and farther away. Then came the hippie movement, a back-to-basics mindset that included growing one’s own food. Jim Crockett started Crockett’s Victory Garden on PBS out of Boston. I lived on a 7-acre farm in Higganum, CT in 1976, following advice from Jim Crockett. My husband and I raised lambs and grew our first garden together. I hadn’t had a garden since I was an ag major at Purdue University in 1963, but I have been gardening pretty much ever since.

Today we have big modern grocery stores all over the place with an unbelievable selection of goods from near and far. Fresh produce of all types is available year round. If the US isn’t harvesting strawberries and blueberries, the stores carry them from farms in Australia or Chile. People forget that produce has seasons. You just go to the store and it is there. But that incredible availability comes at a cost. Not just to your pocketbook, but to the environment. Food travels an average 1500 miles to get to your table, and that adds a LOT of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from the trucks, planes and ships that bring your food to you from the four corners of the world. Even local food travels. We live in Orange County, CA. Our carrots are grown in the Imperial Valley in San Diego County. But before they get to us, trucks haul those carrots up to Bakersfield for washing and packaging. The they come back to Los Angeles, and then Orange County.

People concerned about such things as saving civilization from the ravages of global climate change are paying more attention to where their food comes from. Many are growing their own. Others are patronizing farmers markets. Every little bit helps.

I recommend reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable and Miracle,” as well as Michael Rhulman’s book, “Grocery,” which is a brief history of America’s grocery stores in the 1900s. See if you don’t think differently about food after that.

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Back to blogging? Let’s hope!

I have been neglecting my blog. I finished radiation for breast cancer in early May and have been recovering ever since. My mammogram in August showed that I am still clear of cancer, so all should be smooth sailing from here on out.

I was able to plant and maintain my garden this summer, but blogging was still beyond my energy level. I have now cleared the mess around my computer, taken some photos of the yard, and processed the photos. Am I back to blogging about my tiny farmlet in the city? Time will tell.

We have had some changes in the chicken yard. Someone dumped three chickens in a neighboring park a few weeks ago. All three had health issues, so they appear to be culls. Someone adopted the hen and rooster with bumble foot, a staph infection. I got the hen with a prolapsed vent. The lady who rescued her fixed the problem with the protruding cloaca, and our new girl, Cherry, even laid a few eggs for us before going into autumn molt. She is a sweet girl, probably about a year old, and she lets us pet her. We think she is a Rhode Island Red, but her personality is shy and retiring, not the super active typical Rhodie. The granddaughter of the lady who rescued her named her Cherry Jam. We shortened it to Cherry. Here she is. Whoever had her before us clipped her beak, a horrible practice on factory farms.


We had an issue with our hens this past weekend. Our oldest hen (who I think we named Little Red Hen, even though she isn’t red) is about 11 years old now and enjoying her retirement on my no-kill pseudo-farm. She got into an argument with Dino-peep, our bad-tempered Barred Rock, and Dino-peep pecked her eye pretty badly. Here is her good eye. See how long her beak has gotten? She got it stuck in the hardware cloth and that is when Dino-peep attacked.


Her left eye was a bloody mess. Looked like hamburger. I had my husband hold her while I applied antibiotic ointment with a Q-tip. This is what the other side looks like three days later. The swelling has gone down and there is no sign of infection, but I’m not even sure that she has an eye left in the socket, much less if she can see with it.


We still have two out of five hens laying, but it is molting season and we expect egg production to stop soon. That is why I freeze the abundance of eggs in the spring. I break open the eggs, beat them slightly with a pinch of salt and put four eggs per baggie into the freezer. They are good for baking, scrambled eggs and omelets in the winter.

The nasty Dino-peep is on the left, and the nice Princess Aurora on the right. Based on how red their combs are, I suspect that they are the ones still laying.


The other “animals” on our farm are Monarch butterfly caterpillars and garden spiders. I don’t have any photos of our caterpillar crop from this summer, but I did snap some pics of one of our huge garden spiders. This gal builds her web on our deck.


I did manage to grow a garden this summer, but the rats and squirrels got a lot of it. I have never had bigger or more lush Blue Lake pole bean vines. They were loaded with flowers. Then the rats ate every one of the baby beans plus the flowers! I got exactly zero green beans from my row of beautiful pole beans. I found three beans that escaped the rats, and am saving them for seeds for next summer’s garden.


I have a similar tale of woe from my tomatoes. Eight tomato plants, zero tomatoes to harvest. Fruit set was paltry and the rats got the few that did set.  My one summer garden success is this lovely butternut squash. I think it may weigh several pounds.


I got a nice harvest of summer squash from my fabric Gro-pots in the driveway, but have no photos. Those are now kaput for the year.

So what about my orchard? The rats and/or squirrels got every single apple. I got ZERO.  Same with my Katy apricot, except it was birds that ate the crop. Not sure who ate the two Snow Queen nectarines, but it wasn’t us.

I have other fruits coming along. There are about two dozen avocados on the tree. I may start picking them soon. They don’t ripen until picked. Then it takes about five-eight days, and then, uh oh, they are overripe.


We have been harvesting limes off and on. Here is an unripe one. The Bearrs limes turn yellow and fall from the tree when they are ripe.


The lime tree is also flowering, so I am expecting an extended harvest from it.


My Meyer lemon was looking pretty bad last winter, but it has bounced back with some fertilizer and more regular watering. I have two dozen nice lemons already nearly full sized.


Our citrus crops are pretty immune to the critters, except for the oranges. Once they turn orange, it is a race to see who gets them, me or the critters. Our semi-dwarf Navel orange is loaded with fruit this year. I am expecting a nice harvest this winter, starting about January, God willing and the rats don’t get them. There are five oranges in this one pic.


Right now, my biggest joy is my Fuyu Persimmon tree. It was finally big enough to set fruit this spring. We have five lovely persimmons that should be ready in about 3 weeks. I picked one today Just to make sure I get one of them.



For some reason, my crazy blackberry vine set fruit late. We may or may not get any of these berries. Birds like them too.


Part of my joy in gardening is anticipating what might produce food next. Here are my artichokes. They won’t produce flower buds (i.e., the artichokes) until spring, but I enjoy watching the plants grow.


The artichokes and persimmon tree are in my Garden of Perpetual Responsibility. That is also my pollinator garden that I plant for bees and butterflies. I still have a few straggling flowers left over from my summer garden in this bed. Here is a marigold and a zinnia.



One of these days, I might get around to adding up my year’s harvests to date to see how many pounds of produce we got. I log the harvests from my calendar into an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of what I actually harvested. No way to tell how much the rats got, but it was a LOT this year.

But it is also time to clean up the garden beds and plant my fall/winter garden. No rest for a gardener in coastal southern California. Something is always growing. And that is a good thing.







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First day of the New Year, and happy gardening to us all in 2018

Sorry for the long absence. No, I’m not quite dead yet. My last post was in March, 2017, when I was trying to get over a number of physical challenges, including constant tiredness. Well, no wonder I was tired and constantly sick. In June, I found a lump in my breast that turned out to be cancer. YIKES!

The biopsy showed that it was triple negative breast cancer, the hardest type to cure. My oncologist ordered what is called neo-adjuvant chemo, which is chemo before surgery. I don’t want to go into the gruesome details, but the past six months have been the worst of my life. Chemo SUCKS! I still have surgery and radiation ahead of me. But my last MRI shows that the cancer is GONE. And my body concurs. I am only three weeks out from my last chemo session, but my energy bounced back before I was hardly finished. I am once again bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, having beat cancer’s ass. Surgery to remove the tumor markers is scheduled for Jan 19, just before my 75th birthday. I will be getting radiation from late February into early April, and then it will be “just” years of monitoring for recurrence.

During this ordeal, my loving hubby took over composting and chicken chores, plus doing most of the cooking and some of the grocery shopping. That was in addition to his teaching job AND his duties as an environmental activist with our local and state Audubon organizations. My poor garden went fallow.

Nevertheless, I did manage to plant and maintain my little garden box, The Garden of Joyous Anticipation. I built it in 2016, six weeks after recovering from surgery for endometrial cancer, which was unrelated to the breast cancer. How lucky can one person get, huh? But weighing and recording my meager harvests fell by the wayside, as did recording the number of eggs our four hens laid. I estimate that we got 600-700 eggs in 2017. I have absolutely no clue about produce, except we had decent apple, apricot, and peach crops. The persimmon and pomegranate trees flowered, but they are still too young to produce.

Let’s take a look at where my yard garden stood yesterday, on New Year’s Eve, and hope for a better 2018.


Our two Liquid Amber trees in front turn a gorgeous color in December, with leaves remaining on the trees into January.


This was all the garden I could manage to plant and maintain for the past six months. Watching these plants sprout and grow gave me hope and courage. As well as some tasty organic produce! Can you identify the crops? Green bunching onions, Redhead radishes, garlic, a red lettuce of some kind, chard, beets (Detroit Red and Chioggia), baby bok choy, and two overwintering bell pepper plants (a Giant Red Marconi, and I forget). We have been harvesting green onions, lettuce and radishes.


Crazy weather. We have an iris in bloom in January. Southern California plus global warming equals unpredictability. I call it global weirding.


My artichoke patch survived. Somehow I managed to keep it watered, and we have four artichoke plants promising a nice spring crop.


My three raised beds in the back yard are utterly neglected. Our watering system is me with a hose. And yet somehow a few dwarf blue curly kale and a couple of collard green plants have managed to hang on. Rejuvenating these poor neglected beds is high on my priority list for 2018. Right after finally sending out our Christmas cards. Hahaha. Yeah, I am WAY behind on a lot of stuff.


Our semi-dwarf navel orange tree has a very nice crop of huge oranges on it. I think there are about 4 dozen oranges, and they are the biggest ever, weighing nearly a pound apiece. Joy, joy.


Our Bearss lime tree has a decent crop on it. We squeeze and freeze the juice in ice cube trays, and store the cubes in ziplock freezer baggies for year-round use. Vic does most of that squeezing and freezing. I have been using the juice lately to make a powdered sugar glaze for homemade cranberry-pecan scones.


Our dwarf Meyer lemon isn’t looking too good, and neither are the dozen lemons on it. I hope I can rejuvenate that poor little tree.


Our Littlecado avocado tree is infested with invasive non-native shot hole borers. It produced only three avocados this season. I hope that it can successfully fight off the infestation as several of our other trees have done. At least it didn’t die like our plum tree and one of the nectarine trees did.


Our three Asian pear trees produced a number of small pears this year, but the rats got them all. At least the trees make pretty fall foliage.


This is a winter view of our chicken coop and run, as seen from our recently pruned apple tree orchard. I have a dwarf Granny Smith, a semi-dwarf Fuji, a full-sized Gala that I mistakenly thought was a semi-dwarf when I bought it, and a semi-dwarf Florida Prince peach tree, all growing in this tiny space. Vic and I cut the trees back to a decent height a couple of days ago. I have hopes of reaching the fruit from 2018 more easily now. This is assuming that I get to it before the rats, squirrels and possums do. Urban gardening is a real challenge.


This is Princess Aurora, a nice Black Sex-linked hen, and a prolific layer. See how pale her comb is? She is in her winter rest period and not laying right now.


Contrast the size and color of Princess Aurora’s comb and wattles with Princess Ariel, our Light Sussex hen. She is laying again after her fall molt. Sadly, Dino-peep (the nasty-tempered Barred Rock shown in the header photo) picks on her and has pecked off her neck feathers.


Poor old Chicken Little is about 10 years old now. She is doing good to lay 10-20 eggs a year these days, in contrast to the 300/yr that she produced in her prime. My husband keeps threatening to review her vacation and retirement benefits package, but I think she is pretty secure. She has become a nice pet in her old age. She is too feeble to get away from being petted now.


Look, somebody laid an egg! We are getting an egg every second or third day. Meanwhile, we have eggs frozen down to make scrambled eggs during the winter egg dearth.

And that concludes yesterday’s photo tour of my tiny urban farmlet. Here is hoping for a healthy 2018, and a MUCH better year than 2017 was. Please leave a comment.

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My chicken surprised me

First, let me apologize for my absence. I got sick on December 28, a mere cold supposedly, but it laid me low for two months. And being old, I also had visits to my GP, urgent care, the ER, and the dentist for one thing or another in the last two and a half months. The result was that my energy has been sapped and my garden neglected. It has been all I can do to just maintain our four hens, and keep up with composting chores.


Princess Ariel is the white hen in front, with Dino-peep (a barred rock) right behind her. The two black ones in back are Princess Aurora and old Chicken Little, both Black Sex-linked hens. We are getting three eggs a day, almost every day. Can’t keep up with them!

It is spring, and three out of four of our chickens are now laying. We are awash in eggs. I devil some of them, make 5-egg frittatas and 6-egg German pancakes, and even freeze some of them for use during the winter when my hens stop laying. (To freeze eggs, break them into a bowl, then break the yokes and mix them slightly with a dash of salt. Pour the eggs into a small Ziploc bag, squeeze out the air, and freeze them flat. I freeze them four to a baggie for our winter scrambled eggs. Or two to a baggie for use in baking.)


This is Huevos Rancheros season as well. I melt grated Mexican cheese onto a corn tortilla, and top with a fried egg and salsa. That orange is from our tree. I LOVE springtime here on our little urban farmlet.

But how did my new hen surprise me? Well, I thought Princess Aurora, my white hen with black tail and wing feathers, was an Americauna (or however that is spelled), and I was expecting her to lay blue- or green-colored eggs. Nope. They are light brown.

Back to the internet I went, where I figured out that Princess Ariel is a Light Sussex breed of hen. They are a nice meat and egg breed, although we don’t eat our chickens. Our spoiled girls get laying pellets, and a daily feeding of scratch to give them something to do, plus mealworms and an assortment of seasonal organic greens. They have a nice enclosed cage that keeps them safe at night, plus an open run for daytime use. They have a good life, I think, plus a very generous vacation and retirement package.


The nest box of our chicken coop is decorated with art on the outside, and the cage is lit with a solar light. They can roost inside or outside the nest box at night. Chicken Little is old and prefers the shelter of the nest box these days. The area to the left of the cage is fenced, but open on the top for daytime use. If the girls ran free in the yard, there would one NO greenery left. And there would be chicken poop on my pathways. So they have their part of the yard, and I have mine.

The Light Sussex is a friendly breed, and Princess Ariel seems very people oriented. She tries to follow me as best she can inside her cage and run, always interested in where I am more than where her fellow hens are. I suspect that she associates me with getting fed, and that she is more food focused than the others, but who knows.

Despite my neglect of the vegetable garden, the fruit orchard is providing. The number of lines this year is astounding. These are Bearrs limes, which turn yellow and fall from the tree when ripe. This is about a third of what is on the counter now, awaiting squeezing and freezing.


This is about five pounds of limes.


I squeeze the limes and pour the juice into ice cube trays for freezing. When the juice is frozen, I pop the cubes into a Ziploc freezer bag. When we want some limeade, we just put a couple of cubes into a glass of water and add a teaspoon of sugar, plus regular ice cubes when the lime cubes have melted.


It is also navel orange season. But we have rats in the yard, and they like oranges too.


I would go out to get an orange for breakfast only to find that the rats had beaten me to it.

Sadly, the rats got more than half of my orange crop, and it wasn’t a particularly large crop with year. I did manage to trap one in a snap trap, but I haven’t been diligent about my trapping.

The rats also ate ALL of my snow pea crop as soon as the seeds sprouted, all of the bok choy and komatsuna, and all of my Lacinato kale. It seems that they don’t like leeks, so I do have a dozen leeks that are nearly ready to harvest. I have given up on my winter garden and am about to plant my summer garden of tomatoes and bell peppers. Unless I give up on that too before planting. Between being constantly sick, and the ongoing rat problem, I am pretty depressed about gardening. Encouragement would be appreciated.


Hope springs eternal in the garden, and this August Price peach flower bud holds out hope of a peach crop down the road. There are about 80 blossoms on this semi-dwarf tree, the most ever. The abundant rain this fall has been a boon to my mini-orchard.


The tiny Garden Gold dwarf peach tree in a pot is blooming nicely this spring. I never get any peaches from it, but I am hopeful this year.


The Florida Prince peach tree is loaded with fruit, despite having been attacked by shot hole borer beetles. It seems to have fought off the infestation and is bearing a bumper crop. Maybe all the water helped.


Our Katy apricot was LOADED with blossoms last week. I am hoping to get some apricots, unless the birds get them all.

With rats, birds, possums, and pests, it is hard to get a crop these days. A changing climate isn’t helping either, what with weather that is too warm, too dry, or just unpredictable. But I keep trying.


A volunteer tomato plant is growing nicely in my Garden Box of Joyous Anticipation. So far the nights have been too cool for it to set fruit, but look–tomato flowers in March!


Deer Tongue and Black-seeded Simpson lettuces have self-seeded themselves in some of my little garden boxes. I see a salad in our future.

And so my garden and I struggle on. Best wishes for your spring garden!

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Making pork pibil

I have made pork pibil before, using my Sun Oven to cook it. A Sun Oven is a solar oven that uses only the power of the sun; it is a great way to save energy. But given the short days in January and limited sunlight, I made a modified pork pibil in the crockpot.

I started with a recipe from the New York Times, and modified it. I didn’t use banana leaves and I couldn’t find my package of achiote paste. I swear I have some in my cupboard somewhere. But God only knows where. So is it really pork pibil without the achiote paste? No clue. Also, I added carrots. Why? Again, no clue. “I had carrots” is as good a reason as any.

Another variation is that I added a bit of honey because standard pork pibil is a bit too sour. I don’t like black pepper at all, nor spicy hot foods. So I left out the black pepper and reduced the amount of chile powder from 1 T to 1/2 tsp. If you look at the original recipe from the NY Times, you will see that it calls for marinating the pork in a rub. I didn’t do that either.


I served the pork pibil with corn tortillas and lime wedges.

Here is what I did.

Pork Pibil, aka Mexican-style pork tenderloin

1 pork tenderloin (1.5 lbs)

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 yellow onion, cut in half and sliced thinly

1 T honey

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp chipotle chile powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp cloves

1/4 tsp salt

1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch long chunks

juice and grated rind from two oranges

juice from two limes

1/2 C water

Place all ingredients in crockpot and cook for 6 hours on high. Serve the pork and onions with corn tortillas and lime wedges, with the carrots on the side.


The orange and lime juices were from my mini-orchard. I used juice that I froze from last year’s crop. Here is a shot of this year’s crop of oranges, with the first one ready to harvest. It sure is fun cooking with things I grow in my garden.



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Morning Glory muffins–Where have you been all my life?

Morning Glory muffins have been around since 1978, but I just heard about them. They are my new favorite thing. So easy, so nutritious. I modified a recipe from the New York Times; their version was a modification of the original recipe, published by Earthbound Farms.


Yes, this is my photograph. It was also my breakfast!

The original Earthbound recipe had pineapple and grated coconut in it, and a whopping 1 and 1/4 C of sugar. The New York Times version had some whole wheat flour and coconut oil in it, and 3/4 C sugar, but no pineapple or vanilla. Both versions had way too much sugar for my taste, and I don’t care much for coconut. I also thought a tablespoon of cinnamon would be overwhelming. So here is my take on Morning Glory muffins. They are just right for me.


Dry Ingredients

1 C all purpose flour

3/4 C whole wheat flour

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

Wet ingredients

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 C brown sugar

1 medium apple, peeled and grated

2 medium carrots, scraped and grated

3/4 C walnut pieces

3/4 C raisins

1/2 C melted butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Place paper liners in a 12-muffin tin.

Stir together the dry ingredients in one bowl. Mix together the “wet ingredients” in the order given in a second bowl.

Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until moistened.

Divide the thick batter into the 12 cups and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. After five minutes, remove muffins from the tin. Store in a container at room temperature for up to three days. Betcha they won’t last that long.

Good modifications of my recipe would be substituting golden raisins for regular raisins, topping each muffin with a walnut half, or using pecans instead of walnuts.

The only ingredients in these muffins that were from my garden were the eggs. Princess Aurora, our Black Sex-linked hen, has been laying steadily since late December. Princess Ariel, our white Ameraucuna, is still growing up, but at 7 months, she should start laying at any time.



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A new start in a new year

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? My husband and I caught colds on a trip to Cambria before Christmas and I am just now getting around to my list of resolutions. It is pretty much the same list every year. You know: lose weight, eat healthier, exercise more, keep the garden tended, conserve natural resources, live a green life, etc. This year, I am taking a short-cut and just making a simple resolution. “Do Better.”

Naturally, I have subheadings under that. For one, I plan to be a better follower of the Slow Food movement. That means choosing local foods as much as possible and cooking things from scratch. It also means learning about and promoting endangered local foods on the Ark of Taste. To that end, I renewed my membership in Slow Food, USA. You can join at

I have vowed that I going to eat locally grown foods and also try to have something from my garden every day, as much as possible. That includes homegrown eggs from my tiny flock of four hens. Princess Aurora, my 7-month-old Black Sex-linked hen, began laying the last week of December. Right now, she is my only laying hen. Princess Ariel, the white Ameraucuna, is still a pullet and not laying yet. But her comb and wattles finally seem to be growing and turning red, so I am hoping that she will come “online” sometime this month. Din0-peep, our nasty-tempered Barred Rock, is still molting. Chickens don’t lay when they molt. It will probably be February or even March  before she lays again. Old Chicken Little, a Black Sex-linked hen, is an elderly bird at this point. If we get any eggs at all from her this spring, I will be happy. She is enjoying her retirement.

With two brand new hens and two older birds, I expect production to top 500 eggs this year, possibly as many as 700. A chicken of these breeds in their first laying year should be able to produce 300-350 for Aurora and maybe 250-300 for Ariel. I would think that Dino-peep is capable of producing 200 eggs, with maybe a couple of dozen from Chicken Little. Time will tell.

One area of my life in which I would like to do better is logging in my produce harvests. I do an excellent job of record-keeping in terms of weighing the harvests and writing them down in a weekly engagement calendar. But I do a horrible job of transferring that data to Excel and then putting the totals on the sidebar to this blog. You will see that I did NO harvest updates in 2016. There is a lot of room for improvement in this area.

As far as green living goes, my rain barrels are full and my compost bin is well managed. By composting, I am able to keep a LOT of kitchen waste out of the sewer and about 10 big trash bags of leaves a year out of the landfill. The chickens are able to dispose of some of my kitchen and garden waste. They like peelings. So to myself I say, “Keep up the good work.”

After my surgery in early May for endometrial cancer, I decided to retire from my teaching job at the Orange County Conservation Corps. But we all need something meaningful to do to be happy. I have decided that my new “job” will be to cook more from scratch. This year is only 5 days old, but I already have made rye bread and bagels from scratch.


This delicious ham sandwich was made with homemade rye bread, red oak leaf lettuce from our garden, and leftover Christmas ham.

After we had made all of the ham sandwiches that we could from our Christmas ham, the hambone went into soup. I made the bean soup in the crockpot using an heirloom bean mix (Tom’s Mix of 14 heirloom bean varieties) that I bought from Native Seed Search on our trip to Arizona last summer. This mix contains at least 14 of the following 23 bean varieties:


Aztec black (aka black turtle)

scarlet runner

Aztec white runner


Rio Zape (aka Hopi purple string)

moon bean (soldier)

yellow-eye (butterscotch calypso)

Four Corners gold (Zuni gold)


Colorado River (cut-short bean)

cranberry bean

yellow Indian woman


flor de mayo

Hopi traditional lima


ojo de cabra

Christmas lima

pebble bean

Tohono O’odam pink

purple calypso

Dos Mesas


I soaked the beans overnight in the crockpot and rinsed them well the next day.


The result was a great soup, enough for four days.

The package came with several recipes. I modified the one called Southwest Heritage Bean Soup. Here is what I did.

1 C dry beans, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained.

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

3 stalks of celery, finely sliced

4 carrots, sliced

2 potatoes, diced

1 hambone

1 C cubed ham

1 T chile powder, optional (I left it out)

2 bay leaves

1 qt water or chicken broth (I used water, but chicken broth would have added more flavor)

1 can diced tomatoes

Put all ingredients into the crockpot in the order given and cook for about 8-10 hours on high. (At the end, you can add a tsp of salt if you want. Don’t add the salt in the beginning or it will toughen the beans.) Serve with cornbread. I like to put a cup of cranberries into my winter cornbread, either fresh, frozen or dried. This soup really stretches out the meat.

Nothing in my bean soup was homegrown, but we gathered the bay leaves from the wild on a recent trip to Cambria, CA. The carrots and celery were organic.

By making this delicious soup, I also helping to support dry land farmers of the Southwest. And by posting this recipe, I am promoting the use of heirloom varieties of beans, some of which are disappearing from grocery store shelves. If you don’t happen to be driving through Tucson where Native Seed Search is located, you can buy these beans via the internet at or They suggest saving some of the beans to plant in your own garden, but I just don’t have the room.

Today I am making a modified pork pibil in the crockpot using homegrown orange and lime juice. I have plans for making a homemade apple pie this afternoon, using the last of the apples from my tiny orchard. But that is another post.

Eat local. Grow your own. Keep yourself and the environment healthy. Happy 2017.

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