The KoMo Fidibus 21 Grain Mill in action

Here is my new electric flour mill in action. I hand ground about 1 to 1.5 lbs of whole wheat flour per week for 12 years, mostly for myself. Now I’m switching over to 100% whole wheat for all baked goods, and I bake everything from scratch, from bread to pizza to pancakes, sweet rolls, cookies, and more, for every household member. Next up: posts on sourdough baking this week with flour ground by this mill.

Rainwater collection tank

Ward’s 650-gallon rainwater collection tank. It collects water from the front portion of his roof.

Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains 4th Edition Book Cover Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A Guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens

The Ancestral Puebloans & the Great Drought

These are ruins of cliff dwellings at the Palatki Heritage Site in the Coconino National Forest to the southwest of Sedona, Arizona. Palatki means “red house” in Hopi. The bottom picture shows some wild foods in the area that the Ancestral Puebloans would have harvested to supplement farming and hunting, including juniper berries, pinyon nuts, agave, and prickly pear cactus.

Adapted from Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens:

The Southwest’s first farmers grew many domesticated and wild plants including corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, bee plant and amaranth. They encouraged the production of wild foods like pinyon nuts and weedy field greens. The ancestors of today’s Puebloan tribes developed hundreds of native plant varieties well-suited to our climate and soils, many still grown in traditional fields today.

They practiced rain-fed and dry farming (without irrigation), harvested rainwater behind check dams, planted terrace gardens, farmed in washes, and used volcanic ash as a nutrient-rich mulch. They made use of sophisticated astronomical observations to help determine times for planting and for conducting agriculturally-themed rituals. The first farmers also invented sustainable farming techniques such as placing yard-high piles of rocks in fields to store heat (thermal mass) and collect dew.

The population of the Colorado Plateau fluctuated with the availability of the food supply, indicating that humans had reached their maximum land carrying capacity using the available technology.

The Northern Arizona University Land Use History of the Colorado Plateau web site says, “The ancestors of the Hopi built a sophisticated agricultural civilization in many of the desert areas of the Southwest, including the southern Colorado Plateau. This era probably ended gradually in waves of drought, diseases, invasions and other crises, including a Great Drought that occurred in the American west from 1276–1299. In the Four Corners region, most of these ancient population centers suffered a collapse and were abandoned at different times between 1100–1300 A.D.”

In the area around what today is Flagstaff, “From A.D. 1100 to 1225, the Wupatki culture flourished. Then rainfall began to decrease, the growing season shortened, and soil nutrients became depleted. By 1400 the Sinagua had deserted their pueblos and migrated to other communities.”

The area was not farmed again until the arrival of European-American immigrants in the 1880s.

Flagstaff Community Market farmers’ market in Flagstaff, Arizona

I rode my bicycle down to the Flagstaff Community Market on its opening day, Sunday, May 25. The Market runs through October. The downtown market is held in the city hall parking lot. Part of the parking lot is shaded by solar photovoltaic panels. Many of the farmers come from surrounding agricultural valleys that are lower in elevation than Flagstaff, including the Chino, Prescott and Verde Valleys. I will be doing short profiles of local and regional farmers throughout the Market season. At the end of June their Wednesday afternoon market will begin on the east side of town in the Sunnyside neighborhood; I prefer that market and will post photos from there as well.

Moran Henn, the director of Friends of Flagstaff’s Future, poses for me in the third photo. F3 or F-cubed, as it is often called, is our local political quality of life and environmental organization. I have served a couple of terms on the board. F-cubed was a Market sponsor in its earlier days, helping to support its mission of fresh, local food and fun.

Fourth photo: the Crooked Sky Farms booth. This farm also supplies our local Flagstaff CSA & Local Market (Community Supported Agriculture Project). They have a large and varied selection of vegetables, herbs and more. I’ll no doubt have more to say about them this summer.

Fifth photo: Backyard gardeners have their own booth at the Flagstaff Community Market. The booth is sponsored for the third year in a row by nonprofit local food systems organization Flagstaff Foodlink. Ordinary people can sell home-grown vegetables, herbs, fruit, the Market. The Flagstaff Backyard Gardener’s Network is a project to help gardeners learn form one another and sell to their neighbors.

The vegetable seedlings for sale are offered by the Flagstaff Garden Starts CSA, “a collaborative effort between Flagstaff Foodlink and Flagstaff Native Plant and Seed. We strive to provide high-quality, responsibly grown vegetable, herb, and edible flower starts to the Flagstaff community, while educating and bringing together backyard growers. We’d like the CSA to be an opportunity for gardeners to network, share ideas, and ultimately learn from one another. Members of this CSA will be taking local food production into their own hands, while procuring part of their food security.”

Adapted from Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains:  A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens:

Low Carbon Diet Calculator

The concept of “foodprint” is broader than that of the carbon footprint; it also takes into account water use and other resource inputs needed to produce your food.

You can lower your food carbon footprint by walking, bicycling or taking the bus to your local farmers’ market, CSA and for other food shopping excursions. Someday, local farmers’ market vendors might bring their produce to market by bicycle.

From the Flagstaff Community Market website:

The Flagstaff Community Market (FCM) is a regional producers market that operates for growers and producers of agricultural and related products. The primary purpose of the Market is to support small and medium sized independent growers and producers by providing citizens with a local alternative to corporate and globalized food production.  

It is our intent to connect growers and consumers and encourage people, both urban and rural, in growing more of their own food.  A secondary purpose is to provide an outlet for small-scale producers of value added food products, local artisans, and community and sustainable agricultural groups.

Additionally, it is the purpose of the Community Farmers Market to provide a Community gathering space for residents and visitors to Flagstaff to mix in a relaxed, educational, and fun environment.

Rediscovering the (almost) lost art of home canning

First photo: an antique Crown brand canning jar used for canning food by my grandmother and great grandmother in Canada in the early to mid-20th century. The photo is an enlarged copy of their small 1927 immigration picture (my great grandmother is in the center, my grandmother, age seven, is on the left, and her sister is on the right.

My mother never learned how to can food. Born in 1942, she is part of the several generations of people (including me) brought up to live a “modern” lifestyle dependent on consumer culture. Post-World War II, “progress” began to be defined as not having to be self-reliant and meet most basic household needs for food and clothing and other necessities yourself. The income from modern jobs allowed people to buy what they needed ready-made. I had to teach myself to can food when I decided it was a good skill to acquire.

Second picture: a World War II U.S. government-sponsored poster.

Adapted from The Natural Canning Resource Book: A guide to home canning with locally-grown, sustainably-produced and fair trade foods: For more than half a century, canning was thought of as a quaint art practiced by our grandparents or great grandparents. We can picture them in the early 20th century slaving away over a hot stove to preserve the bounty of fruits and vegetables grown in the Victory Gardens of two world wars and the Great Depression. Many of our parents, however, never learned how to can, and the skill faded into history along with other food growing and preservation skills.

The Green Revolution, economic globalization and modern food processing technologies have radically altered our food landscape and made home canning seemingly obsolete. American supermarkets are bursting year-round with every kind of “fresh” and processed food item from every continent but Antarctica. Food is cheaper today, as a percentage of our budgets, than at any time in world history.

Now a series of interlocking global crises have conspired to make food preservation skills hip again. There is new awareness of the many problems caused by industrial, fossil-fueled agriculture, climate change and peak oil, and lingering economic problems created by the financial excesses of a second Gilded Age. A series of food scares involving fruits and vegetables contaminated by factory farm animal pathogens like E. coli O157:H7 has led to a growing desire in many people to know where their food comes from. Many people also desire to ensure that their food contains a minimum of salt, no petroleum-based pesticide residues, artificial preservatives, or high fructose corn syrup.

People are also seeking greater food security. The average U.S. city has a two to three day supply of food available at local supermarkets. Establishment of a local food system is a core feature of a community energy descent plan. Transition Culture blogger Sharon Astyk says in her food preservation book Independence Days, “so why should we preserve foods and build reserves? Because no one else is.”

Disillusionment with the industrial food system has led people to re-embrace locally grown food. Over the last couple of decades, thousands of farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture projects, community gardens, urban foraging collectives and community kitchens have popped up like mushrooms across North America. New terms and concepts like locavore, Slow Food, permaculture, 100-mile-diet and Radical Homemaking are on their way to becoming mainstream.

The Transition Culture Movement is a positive, hopeful approach to the interrelated challenges of peak oil and climate change begun by permaculture designer Rob Hopkins. Gen-Xers and Millennialists are now teaching ourselves and our friends, family members and neighbors to can, dry and ferment foods and store garden produce in root cellars.

More people than ever now recognize that local economic resilience is also good for democracy and social justice. It severs our reliance on transnational corporations and centralized supermarket distribution systems. As Astyk puts it, “The rhubarb is up. And it has me thinking about democracy, justice and what to have for dinner.”