By Peg Keenleyside
California, arguably the primary source of fruits and vegetables for most of us living up and down the West Coast, is in its fourth consecutive year of severe drought with no end in sight. As California’s farmers have to cut back on production in order to meet mandatory water use restrictions, the cheap plenty of broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, carrots and strawberries we have enjoyed in our supermarkets could be coming to an end.
Already food costs are on the rise and we’re seeing more agricultural imports from China and South America on the shelves. Water shortages are the new norm in many parts of the world, not just in California. It all adds up to a growing awareness that there are some real threats to food security for us looming on the near horizon.
Short of taking to social media and signing yet another petition to do something about global climate change (well, I might be doing that too), the best response to the rising costs of fruit and vegetables may just lie in supporting local food systems and growing your own food with neighbors and friends.
In that vein I stopped by the Point Roberts Homegrown Food Cooperative on Benson Road recently to find out how their community supported agriculture (CSA) program is doing and when they would be opening their farm stand for the summer.
The CSA movement has grown like a wildfire on a drought-ridden prairie in recent years as communities search for ways to support small local, largely organic, farming ventures. Members pay up front for a season’s worth of a weekly box of vegetables and fruit, enabling farmers to buy seeds, equipment and make advance growing plans in the early spring for the community they serve.
The good news at the Point Roberts coop is that they have filled all but one CSA spot for the year and the farm stand opens the first weekend in June for the summer. Sign up for the coop’s weekly post about what’s available at the stand and their weekend hours of operation by visiting their website: prhomegrowncoop.com.
Growing your own food also has huge rewards, and you may find you never want to go back to a box of lettuce that’s traveled to you by plane for four days after you’ve tasted your own fresh-picked salad greens.
Growing leafy greens from seed is as easy as gardening gets. A couple of my favorites are the soft little butter head lettuces like Buttercrunch and the quick-to-mature John Scheepers Lovely Lettuce Mesclun Blend kitchengardenseeds.com. Tuscan lacinato kale is also getting rave reviews.
If you’re new to gardening, start with just 3–4 different vegetable types and learn how they grow. If you can get a friend’s family to grow a few different types and you share with each other, you’ll both be getting enough variety that the novelty of having 20 zucchinis a week to eat won’t lose its charm.
Growing for winter keeping is a great way to save on the fall grocery bills. Fall- harvest carrots, beets, parsnips and squash will all keep well in cool storage for weeks. Look for varieties that are bred for winter keeping, like the Autumn King carrot from West Coast Seeds (WCS) in Ladner. WCS also has an online planting guide for late harvest planting times and over wintering veggie types at their website: westcoastseeds.com/garden-resources.
Good old-fashioned “putting by” or canning is also the old-is-new-again way to extend your harvest – or the bounty from the farmers market – and keep the pantry full for the winter months. Must-haves at my house include peaches, tomatoes, caramelized onions in balsamic vinegar and a summer chutney packed full of apricots, raisins, roasted garlic and apple.
For canning good quality low sugar berry and fruit jams, I rely on an apple pectin called Ponoma Pectin that allows me to use almost no sugar, replacing its preservative qualities with the acid found in lemon juice. The company’s website at ponomapectin.com has a full line of excellent recipes and is worth a visit.
When canning up a whole case of 12 jars of something takes almost as much time as making just a few jars, the process cries out for getting a group of friends together to do a couple of sessions over the summer where everyone gets to take home several jars.
The only cautions for canning with a crowd is to use professionally tested recipes designed for canning, be food safe and don’t open the wine until the jars are out of the canner!