creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Very Smelly Story

 All objects, including the food we eat and clothes we wear, even the most inanimate or simple of objects, has a story to it —  a unique history of how it came into being. These stories follow an object around with it, and part of the art of life is to discover and share those unique stories with each other. So, I hope you’ll enjoy this glimpse into a particularly powerful and pungent variety of hard-necked garlic, nicknamed “brought-from-Russia-in-the-lining-of-a-coat garlic.”  To discover just why it’s called that…read on:

This summer I was given the task of harvesting most of the organic garlic on DFCF. It was one of my cousin’s favorite activities, so it was quite an honor to do it and got to experience firsthand, why he loved it so.

However, it wasn’t easy! Mother Nature had one of her most brutally humid summers in the Midwest/east coast. I developed a system of getting up at dawn, and working until about 10:30am, when the amount of sweat pouring down my face had washed away all sunblock, then I fled inside to cool down and avoid burning. Additionally, the ground was tough, and the bulbs wouldn’t just come out without a good fight. If the earth wasn’t loosened first around them, the rooted “beards” beneath the bulb would cling on tightly and the green necks would rip off from the bulb as you pulled on it. In order to do a good job and preserve as many whole bulbs and stems as possible, I had to carefully dig them out one by one. But even that proved to be a challenge. Put the shovel blade too close and it could slice right into the bulb, too far and it wouldn’t loosen enough so the neck would rip when pulled.

The process required care, attention – and patience. It became a kind of meditation and focus practice for me. I noticed that whenever my mind got caught up in thinking about other things than the task at hand, I’d end up with a damaged bulb. I was determined to do a good job! So I took my time, but not too much, as the job needed to get done in a somewhat timely manner!

By the end of the process, I unearthed over 1000 gorgeous bulbs of garlic from two different varieties – one hardneck and the other softneck. The hardneck bulbs tended to yield a larger, more gorgeous looking bulb that received a lot of attention from admiring buyers at the farmer’s market. I felt quite pleased to be the guy who harvested most of the garlic, but I was curious to know more of the story behind the bulb and the people who put all the hard work in before I receive the credit (we know Mother Nature ultimately deserves all of it).

Each precious bulb emerged from a single clove, which was planted in October the year before. After approximately nine-ten months of growing time within the soil and sunlight, as the green stalks started to brown, it became time to pluck them out of the Earth, where they would then be “cured” so they could store for a long time.

The history of cultivated garlic goes back 6,000 years to ancient China, but this beloved variety of hard-neck garlic was gifted to DFCF by a local organic farming guru, Jeanette, who began organic farming long before it caught much attention. I attended a dinner party at her farm, where she told me where she got the variety (at least this is my version of the story). Seems a friend of hers had some of the bulbs lying around that were left over from his deceased grandmother belongings.

He didn’t know what to do with them and he thought they were just dried up onions (they are in the same genus). But he did know that his grandmother, a Russian immigrant who fled her country originally brought the garlic and a few other items over to America with her so that she would have something familiar with her to plant and comfort her when she arrived in a foreign land. To keep them close to her she sewed the garlic cloves into the lining of her coat. Jeanette asked her friend if she could have some cloves herself to cultivate, and over time help develop the big bulb. From there the garlic variety has spread to various farms across Iowa, producing their beautiful big bulbs. I asked Jeanette what she called the variety and she responded “brought-from-Russia-in-the-lining-of-a-coat garlic.” A long title, but an appropriate one!

Oh and one last tidbit, I also learned that garlic produces a little clone of itself that flowers up from it’s stem known as a scape. These remarkable airborn-mini-garlic bulbs have a flavor and smell very similar to the garlic below the earth, and are considered a delicacy among those who know how to cook with them. However, their growth drains energy away from the development of the bulb beneath the soil, and so are plucked off as early as possible. They look quite cute however!

And so that, is some of the story behind the garlic! What stories do the items in your cupboards, your closets, your drawers have? What does it take to find out? How could you share them?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Farmers & Markets

After seeing firsthand the amount of care and respect that organic farmers within the Iowa community have for the food they make, for their fellow farmer, and the Earth in general – it becomes even more important for me to attempt having a more personal connection to the food I eat. For me that also means knowing more about how the food was raised, where it comes from, and who the people are involved – sometimes challenging information to gather. All the more reason I am making more of an effort to gather a larger percentage of organic food from farmer’s markets and ask more questions about the food being sold.

I was thrilled to witness this summer how the Iowa City Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings had grown from the scant booths while I attended college in 90’s, into a real “happening” community event, with music and festivities.

It’s more than just a place to buy things, but a social gathering, a place to mix and mingle with like-minded people, and a way to deepen the story of connection to the food and goods for sale. It’s fostered a Wednesday night spin-off and there are now numerous farmer markets spread out across town on different evenings. It’s a good sign that the organic farming community has grown in the region that there are people who recognize the importance of local, healthy eating!
As I looked at what prices various farmers were selling vegetables, I realized as a nation we really don’t pay the full price for our food. I’ve heard people complain and gripe about the rising cost of food or how expensive organics are, but in truth we pay so little of the actual cost that raising and preparing food requires. Much of the conventional food grown is subsidized by the government, so we’re not paying the correct price on non-organic food, which just makes it seem that organic is that much pricier. When you factor in the amount of environmental toxins that get pumped into the ground and wash into the water supply and the amount of energy, gas, and other resources required to get conventional food into our hands – we certainly aren’t paying the full price for it in cash, but in environmental damage and health problems. We know this, right? And yet it continues...

I found some disturbing “intel” during my time in Iowa. It begins though with some good news: a lot of conventional farmers in the region are doing well financially. I am genuinely glad to know they are making good money in such a challenging occupation. But this boon is thanks, in part, thanks to growing corn used for Ethanol fuel – not food. You may have heard, though, that Ethanol is proven to offer very little real environmental returns when you consider all the energy it takes to grow the corn. When I hear that more and more small farms have been bought out by giant agribusinesses…when I discover more farmers are growing corn year after year for the profit margin, thereby ignoring the wisdom of rotating crops for soil health and conservation…when I hear a lot more chemicals and GMOs are involved in making sure there are big yields for the big financial gains…my head starts to spin.

I’m so proud to be from Iowa and the rich history of farming it has, but I am deeply, deeply saddened by the modern industry to which it has been tainted. I do not blame the farmers – many of them I call family!  I know they are doing what they can to make a good living. I am concerned by our society, so caught up in growth, progress, comfort, convenience and advancements in technology that it ignores conscious care of our environment – unless being “green” can turn a profit too, which we know it can. It seems that nothing motivates our nation more than economic concerns. Which means it’s going to require a lot of re-educating and re-considering how things are done, and there are some good people at work doing just that.

It's my sincere wish that family farms make a fortune through organic farming - they deserve it. The re-evolution of the farm industry is underway, but it needs our support! We can grumble all we like about the cost of food, but in a capitalistic driven market, we vote with our dollars. Place more of our money into the hands of a friendly organic farmer at a market than the unseen faces of corporate food production.  We get delicious, conscientiously produced food out of it too. It’s time to truly know and be what we eat!