This is the sixth in a series of articles on our progress in devising a resilient food strategy here at Longleaf Breeze. Monday we talked about bread and grains; Tuesday we dealt with vegetables; Wednesday our focus was fruits; Thursday we admitted we’re not prepared for milk, yogurt, and cheese; today we deal with meat, nuts, and beans.
All humans need protein, but there’s an amazing variety of sources we can use to get it. We Americans swim in a big pool of protein and fat, so the chances that an American might not be getting enough protein these days are slim. Nevertheless, Amanda and I are preparing for an age different from the one in which we grew up, one where calories will be scarce and nutrition will be more challenging than it is today. So we need to address proteins.
Right now we’re getting most of our protein off the farm in the form of meat we buy at Costco. Our habit is to buy a package of 24 chicken thighs, grill them together, and then wrap two thighs each in wax paper and then in a Ziploc plastic bag for storage in the deep freeze. A couple of hours before meal time we put one package of two thighs out to thaw, and heat them in the microwave when it’s time to eat. It’s energy efficient and it’s satisfying, but it’s hardly resilient.
We know our plans call for laying hens. By agreement, we’re holding off on introducing this new and challenging cluster of tasks until the lodge is finished, but it’s the next initiative we’re planning. Our expectation is that when we have chickens, we will turn to eggs from our own chickens as a regular protein source. We hope and expect that we will treat eggs as an entree to be enjoyed in our evening meal, not as a breakfast food.
In the near term, I expect to kill a deer once or twice each year. As Amanda and I have already discussed in a podcast back in December, I am not a “sportsman,” and I expect to derive no joy from deer hunting. I see it simply as the prudent harvest of food from the forest land around us. If I can make deer hunting as simple as shooting fish in a barrel, I will. I expect to process my own deer here on the farm.
Neither of us has any interest or enthusiasm for decreasing a threatened species, but at least at present, deer in Alabama are the opposite. Largely because we humans have destroyed their predators in the forest, deer are overpopulated in Alabama, and it’s actually humane to harvest them in season. Parenthetically, if our guess is right and food becomes harder to come by, the overpopulation of deer may reverse itself quickly once full-scale hunger sets in. If it does, our deer hunting will probably stop too. There is also a very real possibility that the first deer I kill will be the last. I never enjoyed hunting as a child and don’t expect to enjoy it now. Protein is protein, and meat is meat, but if killing a deer makes me sick, I won’t keep doing it.
Amanda and I have a running dialogue about meat rabbits. I believe they are an excellent and efficient source of protein; she believes they are cute cuddly little bunnies with huge appealing eyes whose flesh she could never consume without puking. We may both be right, which means, of course, that we won’t be raising meat rabbits.
The pond we inherited is a tad less than an acre, within easy walking distance from the barn and the lodge, and teaming with life. It holds water well and continued to send water out of its primitive spillway even during the historic drought of 2007, but it’s more than 60 years old, and we have no way to control its level.
Our son Joe loves to fish and hopes to teach our grandson to follow in his footsteps, and we’re certainly willing to harvest fish on a regular basis. But in the curious parlance of pondspeak, the pond is “out of balance.” As we understand it, this means there are too many little fish and not enough big fish, so the big fish don’t have to work hard to find food and therefore have no interest in our clumsy human attempts to entice them to hook themselves while feeding. What we can tell you with confidence is that we have yet to catch the first fish from our pond.
One would think that the problem of not enough big fish could be solved by adding big fish, but it must not be that simple, because the experts we have consulted informally are unanimous: the only solution that makes sense in our pond now that it has been out of balance for so long is to kill everything and start over. According to conventional wisdom, at least, we would hire a pond management company to apply rotenone in sufficient quantities to kill every fish in the pond. The dead fish float to the top, and we collect them from the surface. “You can even have a fish fry if you want; rotenone won’t harm us!” Yeah, right. The rotenone dissipates within a few days, after which we restock the pond with a carefully calibrated mixture of bass and bream.
For us, it’s that “kill everything” part that has deterred us from taking any action with the pond. We know it may make sense if our goal is to maximize fish production, but it seems so, so deadly, and it goes against everything our souls tell us about our role here. So for now, we do nothing. We are eager to learn of some alternative that would allow us to improve the fish production in our pond without bringing about that aquatic holocaust we’re told is necessary.
Let’s talk about something more pleasant. Let’s talk nuts. The pecan is the predominant nut in Alabama, and we hope to plant six pecan trees to the West and South of Veg Hill. The advantage of this position is that it places them close to the barn where we can keep a sharp eye on them, and it also allows us to irrigate them (pecans produce better with regular irrigation) easily using the existing drip header from Zone 2. Planting pecans in this position is a little dicey, however. We will need to be mindful of the height of the trees not just at planting but at maturity as well. The last thing we want to do is to let a pecan tree get so big (like 60 feet or so tall) that it shades Veg Hill during the critical spring and summer growing season. The challenge with pecans is patience. We hope and expect to plant them this fall. We don’t expect usable crops of nuts for 5-7 years. Better get started, huh?
We haven’t explored growing kidney beans, navy beans, or any other kinds of dry beans on the farm, because they’re so inexpensive to buy in the store, and every indication we have is that they will continue to be available and affordable. They require no refrigeration, so they can be shipped with other slow-moving freight from one side of the country to the other at a reasonable cost. They keep for months on the shelf without deteriorating, and they take up little shelf space. Growing dry beans is easy in dry, cool climates and challenging in the heat and humidity of Alabama, so we’re inclined to let the Idaho farmers do what they do best and concentrate our growing on crops we expect to be harder for us to buy.
Strengths: ability and willingness to obtain protein from any of several sources, pond for fish readily available and convenient to the lodge and barn
Weaknesses: No experience with chickens, no success to date with deer hunting.
Key Projects: Begin raising laying hens, enhance production of pond
Overall grade: B+
Tomorrow’s focus: (6) fats and sweets