2010-02-11 / News

Conanicut Grange Report

By Bob Sutton
In his new book “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual,” Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and several other books on food and nutrition, writes that after all he has studied and written, his diet advice can be boiled down to just seven words: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Now, I have eaten way too many fast food hamburgers to offer credible testimony on good diet but, if I think about what he is saying, it sounds like my mother’s cooking principles from long ago – and in perfect harmony with Pollan’s rule number 2 that we “not eat anything that our great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

At the January Grange meeting, member Harry Chase discussed the many small farms of 40 or so acres that comprised much of the New England and Jamestown landscape 100 to 150 years ago.

On a farm that size, with good soil, a family working together could not only exist, but also send fresh agricultural produce to the nearby city. For our greatgrandmothers, whether they lived in the city or in the country, local produce was a valued resource and a major component of the family’s diet.

We all know that times have changed and we can also speculate that the “good old days” were not always so good. Maybe there were too many winter days when all great-grandmother had to cook was turnips and corn bread. I do not want to promote an unrealistic vision of how well our ancestors ate, nor do I wish to romanticize our agricultural past. Modern agriculture, marketing, interstate roads and trucks have made more and greater varieties of food easily available to everyone.

But most of it is not fresh and most of it has added ingredients that our great-grandmothers would not recognize as food.

Chase is in the business of growing local agricultural produce, as are the nine other Conanicut Grange member farmers, and they are also in the business of making it available to we who live here. We have great opportunities, modern supermarkets for huge variety, and local farmers for fresh, and I think that makes us lucky.

Out, standing in the field

Driving by the different farms on the island, you cannot help but notice the livestock standing in the field. The wind is blowing and the snow is falling, and maybe you think, “Oh, those poor animals, why doesn’t the farmer put them inside where it’s warm?”

Hundreds of years ago, primarily in Europe, some farm buildings were constructed with the animals below on the first floor and the people above on the second floor, but that was to keep the people warm (body heat rising from the animals below warmed the people huddled above).

The animals had no choice and given the choice, would have most likely wandered outside. Domestic farm animals grow thick winter coats as the cold weather approaches. This is most noticeable on sheep, but, in fact, is a quality of most large farm animals. A place to get out of the wind is really all they seem to search out.

February wildlife: Late February is when the sap begins to run in the maple trees. Maple sugaring, a winter tradition that dates back to the Native Americans, produces the best-tasting natural sweetener in the world. Although Jamestown does not have forests of maple trees, you occasionally see some adventurous soul tap a few trees in the yard.

If you have sugar maples and you think “I’ll try that,” keep in mind that the boil-down rate from sap to syrup is about 50 to 1 so for each quart of maple syrup you pour on your pancake, you have to collect and boil down 50 quarts of maple tree sap.

The Conanicut Grange meets at 7 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at Grange Hall at 6 West St.

What’s available in Jamestown:

• Hodgkiss Farm, North Main Road: Horse hay, home knit wool caps, 423-3260

• Watson Farm, North Main Road: Grass-fed Red Devon beef, lamb, Conanicut Island and Rhody Warm wool blankets; hours: Thursday 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

• Windmist Farm, 71 Weeden Ln.; grass-fed beef products, fresh eggs; hours: Friday, 3 to 5 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Jamestown Community Farm, Rosemary Lane: Dried beans (excellent for winter soup, baked beans) 423-0910.

What’s available in R.I.: • Visit www.farmfresh.org

Winter farmer’s markets:

• North Kingstown, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., 650 Ten Rod Rd.

• Peacedale, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Peacedale Mill Complex,1425 Kingstown Rd.

• Pawtucket, Saturday, 11a.m. to 2 p.m., Hope Artiste Village, 1005 Main St.

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