Saturday, March 27, 2010

Poverty is relative

It seems that poverty has been the theme of the week in my life. I led a discussion on poverty at a staff meeting on Tuesday night. The next day Jim and I finished our taxes and, as two self-employed people, we’ve paid plenty to the government. When Jim looked at our net income and compared it to the poverty level stated in an article related to the new health care reform law, he looked up from his newspaper and asked, “Do you realize we live at poverty level?”

Maybe we do, on paper. Maybe we don’t take extravagant vacations or buy new appliances the minute the old one breaks, but poverty is relative. And when I consider all the gifts the earth gives us, I don’t feel impoverished at all.

The spring flowers are beginning to welcome us everywhere. The crocuses and snow drops have disappeared, replaced by daffodils and hyacinths (I so love that smell!). My cabbage and broccoli plants are standing proudly in the garden and the potato hills look like two snakes stretched long across the garden.

The green garlic tops are growing and I’m excited to know I should have a good harvest this year. It takes garlic two years to establish large, clustered cloves so remember that when you plant and harvest. Thanks to a gardener friend who had extra garlic to plant, I now have a second garlic bed so can alternate harvests between the two of them. My next project will be to learn to make garlic braids that I can give to friends as gifts.

This afternoon I’ll plant onions and more greens and peas. I’m trying to straggle the planting of some of the spring crops so they don’t all come in at once. Then I’ll come inside to enjoy another bowl of vegetable soup with homemade honey-wheat bread. Does that sound like poverty to you? To me, it feels like a life blessed with gifts I could never have bought for myself.

Yet, there are people who do not have food today all over the world. I was just at the local hardware store where an elderly man was buying seed to grow collards. One seed pack cost 1.99 so it's the only seed he bought; it was all he could afford.

As I dig this afternoon and feel the cool dirt against my fingers, I will pray for those who truly do live in poverty. I will also pray for those of us who can help meet that need, that we will respond when God nudges us to share.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How secure is your food supply?

I’ve never been a survivalist. I don’t stockpile water. Didn’t buy a generator when the year 2000 approached. Yet, during the past couple of years I have been asking, how secure is my food supply?

That’s one of the questions the Bluegrass Food Security Summit raised on Friday in Lexington. It’s not something most people consider. We typically walk into the grocery store, buy what we want and go home.

As the economic downturn has continued to hit families, I think more folks have considered their food security. More than once my husband has mentioned it’s one of the reasons he likes looking at our shelf of canned garden vegetables. And I will have to say I derive a sense of security from that, also.

We’ve all heard the stories of tainted food imported from overseas and even from our own country. It’s possible that food grown in your own community could also be tainted, but it’s less likely. Locally grown food is generally grown in smaller quantities and gets to your table much more quickly. It also doesn’t go through a processing plant like pre-packaged food does.

Besides the health problems that can threaten food security, there’s also the ability to transport food. If a natural disaster or war disrupts our transportation system, then we’re in danger of being cut off from our food supply if it’s not local. If our transportation system causes so much environmental damage that we have to limit its activity, we’re also looking at a disruption.

I’m not an apocalyptic thinker. I am, however, a faith-motivated person who believes I am called to be a good steward of the earth and a responsible member of the world family. These are the things that most strongly pull me to consider food security issues. There are more than 49 million people in the United States who are living in households that the United States Department of Agriculture considers to be “food insecure.” If we take a deep look into our food systems, I believe we can create locally sustainable food sources that will greatly diminish that number while it builds stronger communities and healthier individuals.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me to go plant the potatoes.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tortillas and cheese enliven frozen vegetables

I am beginning to see the end of some of my frozen vegetable supply. I think I used my last package of frozen greens this week when I made a burrito bake casserole based on a more protein heavy recipe I found years ago. This is something anyone can easily make to suit their own tastes.

For my version, I laid out the whole wheat tortillas and topped them with unthawed greens and corn, plus a few carrots we had canned. Then I added a mixture of our canned salsa and tomato puree plus the remains of our roasted chicken and some black beans that I whipped with sautéed onions and sour cream. For more bite, add jalapenos or your other favorite peppers. You can also add sour cream and cheese inside or anything else you think you would like.

Next, I folded them like burritos and put them in a casserole dish then covered with salsa and topped with cheese. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

Alternately, you can prepare tortilla dishes like an Italian lasagna, alternating layers of tortillas with cheese, meat, vegetables and sauce. Of course, you can also make it meatless.

Either way is a relatively quick meal if the meat is leftover and the vegetables have been preserved, and therefore softened, and don’t need to be cooked. Use your creativity and see what you can come up with to tickle your taste buds.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Food and Faith: Farmers' markets draw communities together

This past summer our farmers' market started up again after a hiatus of a few years. Until then, I visited farmer’s markets in other towns nearby from time-to-time looking for the locally grown products I didn’t have in my own garden. What a joy to walk among the booths and see the variety of colors and textures that nourish us. And to be able to talk with the people who grew it gave me more confidence that it was raised with love and care so would treat my body.
So when our farmers' market resurrected last year, I volunteered to coordinate a table there for the Garrard County Arts Council. I organized artists to participate in selling their art. I sold my own books a few times and also distributed information about our newly formed arts council. That gave me an opportunity to meet Tom the Honey Man, Lamb Farmer Larry, Virgil of the Gourds and a number of other local people who I had never met before. Yes, I had lived in this community since 1991, but hadn’t talked with any of these folks.

The farmers' market helped me build new ties in my community, strengthening my feeling of belonging in this small town. Community, I believe, is an important part of my faith life. While working on my book, Yes, I Am Catholic, a priest who I interviewed, Bishop William Houck, made a lasting impression on me when he said, “Jesus didn’t call us to follow him as rugged individualists, just me and Jesus. He called all of us to follow him as a community of people who care about one another and who together care about bringing Jesus and his message, his goodness, his forgiveness, his justice, and his service to other people.”

Sharing our gardening and cooking talents, we well as our love or and care for the earth, is one way of doing that.

I look forward to the opening of this year’s farmers' market where I can reconnect with those new friends who I saw only a handful of times throughout the winter. Together, the effort we make to create a better world is much more powerful than any one of us who slogs on alone.

For more information about this Friday’s Bluegrass Food Security Summit, go to

Friday, March 12, 2010

Guest Column: Inspired by Company by Rachel Correll, St. Asaph Farm

From time-to-time, I’ll publish guest columns on this blog. Today, meet Rachel Correll, from whom I’ve been buying chickens for a couple of years. In fact, we just ate our last one from the freezer this week and are looking forward to the spring crop!

We have freezers full of our delicious meat but at 5 pm when I usually start thinking about dinner I wish I had thought about it the night before and had something thawing out in the fridge. I was craving a spicy chicken dish for a few days and needed some motivation to fix it. Our friends, the Bensons of Rolling Fork Farm, were coming for dinner. I still had some of their peas frozen in my freezer and two sweet potatoes remained from their farm as well...I started thinking. I had my own carrots and colorful peppers frozen, canned tomatoes, I had some parts and pieces of our chicken left and homemade broth—this was going to be good. I just needed to buy a few items and we had one rockin' Moroccan Chicken Stew!

Begin with . . .
Olive oil and butter
Pastured Chicken - I had frozen legs and wings and then I cut up a whole chicken and used all the pieces (except the neck and back and wingtips which I throw in a pot of water with my vegetable scraps and call it stock!)

First, remove the chicken skin - just for recipes that are more like a stew since the skin gets mushy and in my opinion does not add to the dish!

Rinse the chicken with cold water and pat dry with paper towels, sprinkle with salt.

Then, in a smoking hot skillet (I use my large Le Creuset since you can just continue to throw ingredients in and put the whole thing in the oven) add some olive oil and butter until it is hot and melted.

Place your chicken in the hot skillet and let it sear the outside well, a few minutes on each side will give a nice, crusty look to the outer parts of meat.

Turn and cook for 2-3 minutes on the other side(s) and remove from pan to continue cooking the remaining chicken.

When all of your chicken is done - you will need the rest of your ingredients -
Chopped onions -2
Red, yellow, green peppers - sliced to desired size
Can of tomatoes
Carrots - cut into 1 inch rounds
Sweet potatoes - cubed
Potatoes - cubed
Chicken stock
Spicy red pepper (Indian is what we have on hand)

Sautee onions, grated ginger and garlic in juice left in pan (add butter or oil if needed).

Add the peppers, cook until soft. Add a can or two of tomatoes. Then add your spices; I do not measure, just a spoon of each of these will do - except the spicy pepper, go easy on it, maybe 1/4 teaspoon. Cook this down for a few minutes.

Add your chicken stock, a few cups, and then toss in the rest of your vegetables. Bring to a boil and add the chicken pieces. Here it is. Cover it up, let it cook on your stove top for about an hour or more (the longer the better) or toss the whole thing into your oven at 325 degrees for a couple of hours. You may wait to add your root vegetables since they can get mushy. Taste test frequently once you know the chicken is cooked through and spice it up to your liking.

Serve this over basmati rice cooked with peas—a seriously rockin' dinner for your family and company, too.

Rachel McKinley Correll and her family own, operate and reside at St. Asaph Farm in Stanford, Kentucky. It all started four summers ago in a little house in town, with a newborn and 200 baby chicks in the laundry room. Our family, farm and home have grown - two kids, thousands of chickens, and plenty of turkeys, pigs and cows! We grow pastured, naturally raised meat and eggs - no hormones or antibiotics - just healthy and delicious food for our family and yours.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Getting started in the garden

After a weekend of hours outside in the yard, my muscles screamed in relief at being exercised once again in the garden. Yes, the digging and bending and squatting reintroduced those muscles to their typical spring soreness, but it’s a welcome ache.

In order to eat from the garden all year long, it’s necessary to either garden yourself or find a reliable local food source in your community. This is the time in Kentucky when the weather typically allows us to begin stepping outside to get started on this year’s planting adventures.

So what is it gardeners should be doing in March? I learn a little something new every year, from articles I read as well as fellow gardeners who are always happy to share what they know. Here are a few tasks to consider:

1) Decide what you want to plant. If you’re new to gardening, start small and purchase plants that are easier to begin from started plants (cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, etc.) and buy seeds for what can easily begin in your own soil (corn, squash, lettuce, greens, etc.).

2) Think about the best places to plant in your yard. Where do you get the most sunlight during the growing months? Remember that the sun shifts throughout the seasons so the sunny spots you see in your yard now might not be so at the same times and for the same length in two months. Also, trees will be recovering their leaves, which will provide a shade you likely don’t see in your yard now.

3) Make a garden plan on paper. It will help you decide how much you can put into your space. Keep in mind that tall crops, like corn, can shade some vegetables around them. Crops that vine, like cucumbers and pumpkins, will travel around your garden. And, because that cauliflower plant is small when you buy it doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Allow space for plant growth.

4) If you do decide to start seedlings yourself, put them in a very sunny, warm window in the house, keep the soil moist and cover with a plastic top or plastic wrap to promote the heat and humidity that encourages sprouting.

5) Prepare your soil. If the soil is heavy and clay-like, you’ll want to add compost to improve it. Your local Extension office should be able to test the soil for you if you have questions about its acidity.

6) Get a hoe, shovel and pruning sheers to use throughout the season.

7) If you already have fruit bushes or trees in your space, as well as flower bushes, March is the time to prune.

I’m hoping we can get our onions and potatoes to plant within the week. That would be an even stronger sign to me that spring really is on its way!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The intersection of food and faith

Although there are many reasons why I began growing and preserving so much of our food, security was not one of them. I came into this arena primarily for health reasons. Yet early on, my friend Jeannie would come to our house during growing season and declare that if there were a crisis in the world, she knew where to come to be well-fed.

I’m thinking about this aspect of what we do more as I prepare to speak on a panel at the Bluegrass Food Security Summit, March 18 and 19. I’ll be serving on a panel that is considering the intersection of faith and food. One friend told me last week that those two things aren’t items she had every connected before. For me, however, they’ve been integrally intertwined since my childhood. I believe that a bit of God lives in each of us so it’s my responsibility to take care of this “home” for God. I also believe that I am called to be a servant, to imitate Jesus in the love he showed for his fellow humans. I have but one body with which to carry out that mission, so taking care of it is of major importance.

Faith and food, however, come together in more aspects than only how the food nourishes our individual bodies. Thinking of this intersection brings to mind community, care for creation, the needs of our brothers and sisters around the world. I’ll be exploring some of those aspects as I prepare for the conference. If you’re in central Kentucky, I encourage you to check out the summit and join this conversation about our food and our future.

Monday, March 1, 2010

West African Sweet Potato Stew

One of the things I love about having a kitchen filled with last year’s vegetables is that I have the ingredients I need for many dishes without a trip to the grocery store. That was the case yesterday when I tried a recipe a customer of my husband’s sent home with him. While he was working on renovations in her home she was cooking soup and making a copy of the recipe for me. It turns out to be a good one.

Kathleen sent over a recipe for West African Sweet Potato Stew. I can always use another way to utilize those nutritious sweet potatoes, so I immediately scanned the ingredient list and was surprised at the variety of vegetables it uses – cabbage, green beans, tomatoes, tomato juice and onions. I had everything I needed from our garden except the onions. I slightly adapted the recipe to use fresh sweet potatoes instead of canned, so I had to cook it a little longer to be sure they were soft all the way through.

Add to that a little ginger and red pepper flakes plus half-a-cup of peanut butter and you have a rich, vitamin-packed stew. I ate it as a soup yesterday but I have a feeling that after that red pepper has had time in the refrigerator to further infuse throughout the soup, I might need to eat it over rice to cut the spice. It will definitely warm me up on another gray winter day.