Tuesday, December 17, 2013

In which I make a salad and replenish the ozone layer

Step 1. Puree a shoal of tiny fish and a head of elephant garlic in 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice.

The blades of my food processor whirled, caught a piece of anchovy, and whirled on, fanning the fish and garlic beneath them.

I used the pulse feature. The blades caught two pieces of anchovy and a fragment of garlic.

I picked up the running machine and tilted it to throw fish and garlic into its blades. I smelled ozone and felt the warming motor inside its plastic case.

I scraped the walls of the bowl, pulsed, and tilted some more.

I switched to the other blade.

How about labeling these things? I suggest, “Pacifist blade, to avoid harming fish or garlic,” and “Paleo blade, to go mano a mano with the flesh you’ll devour.”

The anchovies were turning to soup, but the garlic stayed stubbornly solid. I mashed fragrant fragments on the floor of the bowl with my porcelain pestle.

I smelled ozone. The sun didn't seem quite as bright as it had been.

Step 2. With food processor running, add a liter of olive oil, drop by drop, to fish and garlic mixture.

Let's see; there are 20 drops in a milliliter and 1,000 ml in a liter. If I drop one drop per second, that's 60 drops per minute, there are 4 pecks in a bushel, Peter Piper divided by the number of elephants in a garlic field and there once was a girl from Nantucket who multiplied by the number of anchovies in a shoal.

By the time I'd run my food processor that long, I wouldn't need sunscreen.

I poured in the oil and moved on.

Step 3. Massage the kale with salt, as you would rub someone’s shoulders, until limp.

The kale bled chlorophyll tears before the tension had left my shoulders.

I assembled my salad and applied sunscreen.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Reestablishing Fire Cycles in the Great Plains

Before Europeans arrived, fires routinely swept the Great Plains, rejuvenating grasses and suppressing trees spreading from the riparian areas that cross the region. Whether lightening caused or set by Native Americans, fire maintained the grasslands and provided lush grazing for bison. Europeans plowed the grasslands for crops and put out wildfires, disrupting natural fire regimes.

Today, land managers in the Great Plains are setting planned burns to reintroduce fire and reestablish fire cycles. I wrote a fact sheet about using planned burns for the Great Plains Fire Science Exchange (GPFSE).

The GPFSE increases understanding and improves management of fire in the Great Plains. This region stretches from Montana and North Dakota to central Texas. The Exchange is funded by the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP). The JFSP funds research on wildland fires needed by policy makers and land managers.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

In the Boise Markets: Split Rail Winery

Split Rail Winery has no vineyards and no fax (business cards say, "Fax: those still exist?"). Located in the heart of Garden City, Idaho, Split Rail is an urban winery. The vintners buy grapes from vineyards in the nearby Snake River Valley American Viticulture Area, add yeast and water, and make wine. Breweries have been buying ingredients and making beer for ages.

Split Rail Winery is "the stampede for local agriculture, the epitome of pleasure and the turning wheels of evolution." Their goal is to "keep Idaho's lips red and our hair and minds in temporary disarray."

Monday, October 7, 2013

Ranchers Helping Salmon in Idaho's Lemhi Valley

Salmon and ranchers both need water. Salmon swim up rivers and streams to spawn; ranchers irrigate hay fields to provide winter feed for their livestock. Eastern Idaho rancher Merrill Beyeler believes that these uses can coexist.

He is increasing salmon habitat in Idaho’s Lemhi Valley while improving his ranching operation.

Beyeler is working with other ranchers, The Nature Conservancy, Idaho Fish and Game, and other groups, to remove barriers to fish, reconnect tributaries to the main Lemhi River, return the river to its previous, winding channel, and increase flow at the mouth of the Lemhi. Often, these changes mean less work for him and other ranchers.

I wrote about Merrill Beyeler’s stewardship work in the current Intermountain Farm & Ranch, available on the Idaho Falls Post Register’s website through this weekend (page 4). http://www.postregister.com/farmandranch/fandr.pdf.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Solar Dairy

Cheese is protein-filled and delicious. Concentrating the goodness of milk into cheddars, Gouda, and Halloumi takes energy. Ballard Family Dairy and Cheese is using solar thermal energy, and other energy upgrades, to turn Jersey milk into irresistible, prize-winning cheeses. Learn more in my story, Sunnyside of Cheesemaking, in the Fall issue of Edible Idaho South.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Catch the Wave in Boise

Someone waved at me as I drove in downtown Boise today. Yes, all five fingers. The wave has come back around to me.

I wave “thanks” to drivers who stop to let me cross the street while I’m huffing and puffing around town under my big red backpack. For the first couple of years, drivers stared through their windshield, unresponsive, when I waved.

But I’ve gotten several nice return waves in recent years. I believe my technique has improved over time, like President Clinton learning to salute the guard as he boarded Marine One. Both of our first attempts were half hearted and tentative.

Now, I send a hearty, full-arm wave to motorists. I often follow up with a shorter, “thanks again” mini wave as I reach the far curb. I wave like a woman carrying on a conversation. I often get results.

Today for the first time, a woman waved at me when I stopped to let her cross the street. I was so shocked that I stared through the windshield, unresponsive.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Welcome to Montana. Good luck.

Two lane road; shoulder not much wider than the white line. Drying grass just beyond looking for an excuse to burst into flames. Convoy of semi-trucks pulling doubles. Two oversize loads take half your lane. Dust devil tries to wrestle you into the Chevy 1/2 ton in the opposing lane. Cattle in the right of way. Speed limit: 70 mph.

From http://www.pewstates.org/projects/stateline/headlines/rural-states-struggle-to-reduce-road-deaths-85899458438
I survived MT Highway 59 south of Miles City to get a second opinion on road safety in the state. The Pew Charitable Trusts reported in March that Montana has the highest number of deaths per mile driven of any state in the country. Deaths in that state dropped to 189 in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available.

I'm glad I completed my trip in daylight, before the serious drinking started.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

In the Boise Markets: Blue Sage Farm

You'll have to get there earlier next time to find their goat and sheep milk cheeses. Blue Sage Farm also sells lambs and uses Belgian horses for farm work.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

In the Boise Markets: Memory Sisters

Heidi and Marcia create wearable art as the Memory Sisters. Their colorful designs on silk, velvet, or chiffon scarves can change your look--or your outlook.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Why Did the Chickens Cross the Pasture?

To let the vegetation regrow, reduce parasites and disease, spread nutrients evenly, and to find more plants and insects to eat.

The chickens crossed the pasture in a travel trailer.

I visited Malheur River Meats’ ranch while they were moving their chickens recently. Their flock of laying hens and attending roosters live in remodeled trailers. I’ve lived in something similar, but it still had appliances and furniture.

The chickens can’t move on their own; they need some help: First, pull the T posts at each corner of their current pasture. It’s easiest to use a chain on the bucket of the tractor.

See this line of fence? As you walk down it, pull each of the white fence posts out of the ground. Lay each post, and the attached woven electric fence, on the ground as you go.

When you get to the end, grab the last post and walk toward the chicken's new pasture. Once the fences are in the right places, hook the tractor to the trailer and drive off. If the door swings open and chickens start popping out, ask the photographer to run over and shut the door.

Be careful as you drive over the prone fence.

In the chickens' new pasture, stop on a level spot and unhook the tractor. Don't forget to go back for the escaped chickens, which are outside the new pasture. They won’t cross the prone fence, so have the tallest person hold it up so everyone else can chase the chickens underneath. You’ll need at least one person per chicken.

Complete the job by reassembling the fence. Remember to reattach the electrical connectors at each corner, so that an electrified fence is more than just a good idea.

When the fence is complete, open the trailer door and stand back from the explosion of red, grey, white, and black hens. Soon, they'll be laying brown, green, tan, and white eggs at their new home. See a video of the action here.

The chickens seem pleased with their new digs; how does the pasture feel about the roving chickens?

Lisa Burke, one half of the Farming Engineers in Kirklin, Indiana found the answer on Google Earth. The current image of their farm was taken in early spring, before the pasture greened up. But the chickens' travels the previous summer show as a chain of vigorously growing green patches.

The chickens, and their supplemental feed, add nutrients to the soil, but I suspect something else is going on, too. I wonder if the chickens’ scratching could have roughed the soil surface enough that it warmed more quickly than the other areas.

How do you think the chickens painted green patches on the pasture?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Modern Pastoralists use Goats to Reduce Weeds and Fire

Tim and Lynda Linquist are using an old technique to solve modern problems. The couple’s business, We Rent Goats, employs one of the oldest domesticated animals. Their goats are an environmentally friendly way to remove weeds and brush, and reduce fire hazards.

The Linquists set up woven electric fences, and then deliver goats and burly white guard dogs that protect the herd from coyotes and stray dogs. They check on the animals often and are only a phone call away if there are problems. Landowners pay from $350 to $600 an acre for a one-time treatment. The cost depends on the complexity of the fencing required, the vegetation on the site, and transportation costs. The entertainment provided by the goats is free.

The rental goats are minimizing the fire danger in several Boise foothills neighborhoods this spring. Colten Tippetts, Town Manager at Hidden Springs, uses the goats on slopes too steep for mowers and brush cutters. The animals also fit in with the rural focus of the planned community.

The Idaho Transportation Department is using the goats for the first time this year to mow around stormwater retention basins. Shawn Strong, with ITD’s southwest Idaho vegetation crew, said the goats control weeds without the risk of herbicides getting into waterways.

Later in the summer, the herds will remove rush skeleton weed in some of the City of Boise’s foothills reserves. “We usually get good response from the public to the goats, because people enjoy watching them. Herbicide application freaks more people out than goats do,” said Julia Grant, Boise’s Foothills and Open Space Manager. Grant added that, despite warning signs on the low-voltage fence, people can get a shock, especially if they’re unlucky enough to fall onto the fence.

In addition to removing an invasive weed, the goats reduce fire danger. “Weeds are problem number one, but fire and weeds are so intertwined,” Grant said. Weeds allow fire to spread and then often sprout in burned areas before the native plants can recover.

After the weed and fire seasons are over, the Linquists’ goats spend the fall cleaning up alfalfa and organic hops fields. Then the goats have a few months off before they start kidding in late March. By May, the growing kids are ready to go to work with their mothers and the cycle starts again.

When Lynda, 28, and Tim, 36, met, they discovered a shared love for goats. Lynda’s pet goat William went everywhere with her and rode shotgun in her Jeep. Tim had started with 25 goats on his five acres near Wilder, Idaho. He saw a business opportunity when a friend in California wanted brush cleared from his land: Tim increased his herd to 200 and put them all to work.

The couple brought the goats back to Wilder in December 2009. That year, they were all due to kid early. Tim remembered, “I didn’t think it was going to be that bad; we had kidded goats before, but not in the snow and not that many. We were in for an education.” Lynda added, “We had a hard freeze first thing. If we didn’t get the babies into the barn under a heat lamp, they would freeze to the ground within 15 minutes.”

Tim’s job kept him on the road four or five days a week. That left Lynda, who had job closer to home, in charge of the 200 mothers-to-be. Early in 2010, Tim had used up all his vacation time and realized that weed-eating goats were a full time business. He quit his job at the end of April. “It was the best decision I ever made, after marrying Lynda,” he said.

Lynda, the president of We Rent Goats, participated in Boise’s MicroEnterprise Training and Assistance (META) program. This nonprofit helps women, new Americans, minorities, and other low- to moderate-income entrepreneurs in southwest and south central Idaho. META’s business classes and coaching have been a big help to the new business owners. “I had to learn everything,” Lynda said. “They helped me write a business plan, I learned to use accounting software--everything. And I was a psych major.”

The Linquists have adopted the nomadic lifestyle of many herders before them. The couple gave up their home in Wilder for a fifth wheel travel trailer, which lets them stay near their animals on their yearly circuit of open space, waterways, and agricultural fields. The first two years on the road were challenging. “We were goat ranchers, but we had to learn about portable fencing and being a mobile goat operation. We’re fencing experts now,” Lynda said.

As their client list grows, Tim and Lynda are increasing their herd. They keep the best females for breeding and sell the rest, plus the young males, for meat. The animals are raised humanely and certified as Animal Welfare Approved.

We Rent Goats needs to add people, too. They hire one or two summer employees every year, but they need more if they’re going to continue to grow. As Tim pointed out, though, it takes a special person to care for the goats properly, work with the dogs, and travel constantly. Acquiring land is the biggest challenge most new ranchers and farmers face. “We need a home base, someplace for the does to kid; a place to land if anything happens,” Tim said. Even agricultural lenders are surprised by the couple’s business model. While feed is a major expense for most livestock operations, the Linquists’ goats are paid to eat. “People can’t believe how low our feed costs are, especially now with hay being $200 a ton,” Tim explained.

Until they buy land, Lynda and Tim spend the off-season with their goats on empty patches of land near Boise. They find that bringing a herd of goats with them opens doors, as most people fall in love with the engaging animals. Being around the herd has a soothing effect on people and seems to bring back memories of an ancient way of life.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Trash the Fat

I heard a splash when I tossed my filthy Tevas into the empty bathtub. I pulled back the shower curtain and saw gray Idaho silt from my sandals mixing with dishwater, spaghetti, and tomato paste. A ring of meatball grease circled the tub. The neighbors’ kitchen sink had backed up while I was in the field for a week.

Our 1940s-era apartments had nooks for phones, built-in folding ironing boards, and Murphy beds, but no garbage disposals. I was most dismayed by the food I found floating with my Tevas, but I learned recently that the meatball grease probably caused more problems for the city.

Meridian, Idaho’s Go with the Flow Tour on June 6, 2013 followed the path water takes from the city’s wells to its wastewater treatment plant.

We filled bottles at one of the wells, were subjected to wet pranks at the water tower, and drove up Meridian Road, where the city is laying new water lines while the road is being widened.

At our final stop we saw how gravity and bacteria do the heavy lifting at the treatment plant. Gravity settles out solids into sludge and various kinds of bacteria break down dissolved impurities. The city's short film about water's outbound journey from our homes premiered at the tour. You can watch it here.

We learned that the unattractive foam on wastewater is produced by a bacterium that feeds on grease.

Microthrix parvicella forms hair-like filaments less than 1/100th the width of a human hair. The bacteria produce foam that creates problem at the treatment plant and requires special techniques to control.

The City of Meridian's Trash the Fat program reduces the amount of cooking grease reaching the wastewater facility. The Environmental Division gives away plastic scrapers and lids. Just scrape grease into a can, cover with the lid, and put in the fridge. The grease will solidify when it cools. Then put the can in the trash--but keep the lid for next time.

If you’re wondering what happens to grease that gets into the sewer, the Meridian Environmental Division shows you here. Don’t look while you’re eating.

If I'd known then what I know now, I would have walked across the hall, knocked on the door, and given my almost-20-year old neighbors a plastic scraper and lid.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Good Riddance to the Great Inversion

Although temperatures are still a bit below normal in Boise, we no longer hear the phrase, "historic cold snap" as part of the forecast. When we hit the upper 50s later this week, I’m going to declare an end to the winter of 2012-13 and say good riddance to the Great Inversion.

Our raw, windy Christmas day turned to snow at dusk. The freeway between Nampa, where I spent the day, and Boise, where I live, was closed: there had been a deadly accident on the icy highway. I crept home on a tractionless and deserted side road.

After Christmas, the weather got worse. A large high pressure system moved in over the Pacific Northwest. It brought warm, sunny, dry air that expanded over the existing cold, moist air, trapping it in the valleys. We were socked in tighter than the Republican voting block in the Idaho legislature.

Boise festered at the bottom of the Great Inversion for a month and a half. Day after dismal day, we woke to sinister fog. We dragged ourselves out of bed and fought the urge to go the airport, walk to a ticket counter, and scream, “I don’t care what it costs; get me out of here!” We struggled through a world of suspended ice crystals that pierced our winter jacket-sweater-turtleneck-long underwear layers. We compared notes with coworkers, cashiers, and hairdressers, “I haven’t seen a winter like this in the [fill in the blank with the number of years you’ve lived in Boise] years I’ve been here!” I heard numbers as high as 36. At night, we collapsed in bed, exhausted from the effort of moving through a thousand-foot thick blanket of ice, car exhaust, wood stove smoke, and sugar beet processing plant exhaust.

Just after the New Year, I was hurrying to catch the bus, head down, watching for ice on the sidewalk, so I didn't fall and break a bone, or the laptop in my pack. As I passed a small maple tree, I thought I heard a robin chirp. “Wow; the inversion really got to me,” I thought. “I’m having auditory hallucinations of spring.”

Two weeks later, before the sun was up enough for a clear photo, the back yard of my apartment complex swarmed with dozens of flitting, hopping, flapping male robins. They gobbled juniper berries off the trees by the neighbor’s garage. So many birds were jockeying for perches that each one was only able to grab a few of the dusty, purple cones (as botanists call them) before being displaced by another male. Junipers aren’t made for sitting, so the birds fluttered frantically around the edges of the dense, bristly, branches, trying to impersonate hummingbirds long enough to find a landing spot with food nearby.

The flocks of robins returned several more early mornings over the next week. On their last visit, they were reduced to cleaning up previously rejected cones on the ground under the trees.

I wonder how the flocks of robins fared during the Great Inversion. They re-appear every year in mid January and every year it seems to me they made a poor decision. I noticed them earlier than usual this year and I fear that this year’s visit might have been a fatal mistake for many. This spring, I’ll watch the robins quarrel over nesting territories and listen to them advertise their new digs and search for a mate with more fondness than usual. While the winter of the Great Inversion was trying our sanity, and the strength of our bones when we slipped on the ice, the male robins returned and carried on as usual. They returned and promised us that spring really would come again after all.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Gift of Stayman's Winesaps

I got out my Imperial Veri-Sharp paring knife with the stainless steel blade. My grandmother would have approved. To her mind, stainless was next to godliness: it lasted forever and was easy to keep clean. As a Trustee of her local hospital in the 1950s, she insisted that all the new sinks be stainless steel.

I selected one of the Stayman's Winesaps. They were my grandmother’s favorite apple; she said that a “Delicious apple” was an oxymoron. When I learned Otis and Barbara had one of the trees in their Boise backyard, I banished politeness and asked for some of the fruit.

I rinsed off the faint wash of white clay that dulled the apple’s skin. Otis meant to spray the fruit with kaolin clay every two weeks. But he often let a bit more time pass before he got out his hand pump sprayer and applied another coat. Insects hoping for a meal of apples, or to lay eggs in their flesh, don’t like walking or crawling through the clay particles. They leave clay-covered fruits alone.

I cut around the apple’s meridian from the top to the blossom end and back up the other side. Then I trimmed away the stem and the remains of the dried blossom from each half and carefully cut around the core, or pome, which gives apples, pears, and quince their name (“pome fruit”). When she cored an apple, my grandmother left a smooth, shallow dimple. I tend to gouge out uneven divots that take some of the flesh, too: I waste good food. I can still hear my grandmother chide me whenever I reach for a vegetable peeler instead of a knife: “Peelers waste so much.”

She served chicken on one of my visits. I thought I did a fine job of cleaning my plate: I left a pile of bones connected by ligaments, tendons, and a few shreds of meat in the hard-to-reach places. My grandmother reduced her chicken to a pile of clean, dry, disarticulated bones that would have inspired a colony of dermestid beetles to work longer hours.

Otis had ensured that their tree produced good-sized Stayman’s Winesap apples, so I cut each half into slices. Standing on his tripod orchard ladder, he had thinned the fruit when the developing apples were about the size of one of his fingernails. He removed all but one from each cluster of flowers; if there were still too many fruits along a branch, he removed entire clusters.

Biting into the first slice, I tasted the pink and white perfume of last spring’s apple blossoms. Bee legs tickled the inside of my cheek and a pollen basket might have brushed my tongue. That bee, or another one, must have spilled a few grains of pollen from one of its baskets onto the flower that produced the apple I was eating.

Most of the foods we eat, other than grains (corn, wheat, barley, etc.), must be pollinated by insects, and bees do most of the work. Whenever I see a truck loaded with hives of honeybees on their way to a pollinating job, I can’t resist waving. I wave and I worry about the bees’ dwindling numbers, as Colony Collapse Disorder ravages hives across the country. Researchers don’t completely understand the cause, or treatment, of the disorder: disease, stress, and pesticides are all suspects.

I ate the Stayman's Winesap slowly. All things in moderation; don’t be greedy; live within your means. My grandmother lived within her means. When my brothers and I were kids, she lived in the house her grandfather built in 1873. We assumed everyone’s grandmother had a commode chair with a chamber pot in the downstairs bedroom and a wood-burning range in the kitchen.

When she was 80, my grandmother built a new house, after realizing it would be cheaper than fixing up her old one. Her new house had hardwood floors, marble windowsills, thermal pane windows, a tiled fireplace hearth with a mantelpiece made from a maple tree that grew in her woods, and a small greenhouse off the garage. Her new house did not have a mortgage.

The wood-burning range went into the basement of her new house, “for when the power goes out.” The refrigerator wasn’t worn out yet, so she put it in the basement, too, and stored apples and other fruit in it. As I swallowed the last bite of my first Stayman’s Winesap, I remembered my grandmother's new kitchen. She bought a new fridge, an electric range, and her first dishwasher. The range and the dishwasher were clad in stainless steel.


More about apples

The apples we see in the grocery store are only a tiny sample of the thousands of varieties that exist. Orchards planted by early European settlers in Idaho contain valuable genetic resources. Learn how this diversity is being cataloged and preserved here.

European honeybees, which travel from orchard to orchard in hives, aren't our only pollinators. Learn more about our 4,000 species of native bees here.