I call this year “I’m so glad I own a farm” year. We’ve all noticed the price increases of food and gas. I’ve been asking other farmers to learn the scoop. My buddy, Steve Nowak, an organic farmer that grows wheat and barley, says it’s the first time in a long time that farmers are making some real cash and doing well. Most of the farmers that I’ve talked to are grain producers; most are making good money because they grow corn now, and corn prices have increased due to ethanol demand. Because more farmers are now growing corn, fewer are growing “food grains” like wheat and barley. This reduced availability of food grains has caused their cost to rise. Meat prices are increasing to keep up with the cost of animal feed. The cost of organic grain for our goats, chickens, ducks, and horse has gone up 300% since last year.
I have some tricks up my sleeve from this past year on the farm to pass along; perhaps you can learn some self-sufficiency and save a little money. It’s a great feeling to learn how to do something yourself and, knowing you created it, it’ll taste even better.
Have you noticed how expensive free-range chickens are? This year, I borrowed a chicken tractor, an open-bottomed cage on wheels that is moved to a new spot in the yard daily. The chickens eat bugs and weeds, while fertilizing the lawn at the same time! Anyone can raise a few chickens. Mature roosters are the only ones that crow; avoid this problem altogether by ordering only hens. I ordered 50 baby chicks for 85 cents each and am raising them for future Sunday dinners. It only takes six weeks till they are “market weight” and ready for butchering. If you don’t want to eat chickens but want a few for laying eggs, you can use this same simple coop so that they may have access to fresh leaves and grass daily, a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids.
We also planted some new pear trees and peach trees that are supposed to be Minnesota winter hardy. I won’t reap the benefit from that effort anytime soon, but apples are in abundance right now, and you might find a neighbor who would let you pick unwanted apples for pies or applesauce. Each year, we hold a “cider press party” and invite some friends over to collect the apples and process them in our human-powered press for making delicious fresh cider. We freeze the juice for use during the holidays. You can also make cider vinegar with your apple juice (see the Resource Box).
Edible wild foods can be found in Minnesota. On my long walks, I found what appeared to be volleyballs in the middle of the woods; they were massive puffball mushrooms, I learned. I returned to the woods and harvested them for a feast. The cool thing about puffball mushrooms is that there are no poisonous mimics here in Minnesota. The book Abundantly Wild provides photographs and further details about these and other wild foods.
Wild Puffball Parmesan
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup flour
- 1 lb puffballs, peeled and cut ½ inch slices
- 1 egg, slightly beaten with 2 T water
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- 4 T butter or more
- 2 T oil or more
Directions: mix salt with flour. Dip mushroom slices into flour, then egg and then cheese. Melt butter and oil and sautÃ© the breaded mushrooms till golden brown. Serve at once.
Abundantly Wild: Collecting and Cooking Wild Edibles of the Upper Midwest, by Teresa Marrone, Adventure Publications, 2004.