Working with nature

Well the maple season is in full swing now – you can tell because everything is a muddy/slushy mess!  These freeze/thaw cycles are great for getting sap moving, and otherwise terrible for getting anything done outside – above and beyond of being a sweet treat at the end of winter, and harbinger of spring, sugarmaking was traditionally appreciated as being *the only thing you can do on a farm* this time of year.

The frost coming out of the ground makes our dooryard and roads an absolute mess – I spread a few loads of gravel on our driveway yesterday, and I’ll bet you won’t be able to tell by the end of the week.   Amazing, isn’t it, that 2,000 years ago the Romans built over 80,000 km of roads spanning Europe, the Mediterranean and the Near East that last to this day, and I can’t keep my yard solid for a season!

What else did those Romans know about??? We generally consider their epic achievements like aqueducts, amphitheatres, and the overwhelming power of the legions, but same as always, everyone’s gotta eat, and figuring that out for a broad and expansive empire – without refrigeration and the internal combustion engine –  is the type of thing that we just sort of shrug and attribute to slaves… because it’s hard for us to imagine elegant solutions to problems we have modern conveinences to solve.

So what did huge urban populations and armies on the move eat every day in the ancient world when they didn’t have “smart” refrigerators or Uber Eats?   Well, man does not live by the wheat of Carthage and Gaul alone – the Romans were just like us and big fans of condiments, the most ubiquitous being Garum. 

Garum is the Mediterranean equivalent of East Asia’s fish sauce and was the Ketchup of antiquity.  It’s a real case of not wanting to know how the sausage is made: basically oily fish guts were crushed and salted and left to ferment for months under the hot Mediterranean sun.  The resulting product was a staple of commerce and cuisine, a perfect example of God’s small miracles for man, the grace of working with nature: using an extremely noxious process on a highly perishable product to produce a stable, wholesome, nutritious food.

Not only was Garum shelf stable and delicious, with its savory ‘umami’ richness, these types of fermented ‘relishes’ augment and reinforce plain diets of grains and vegetables – providing trace amounts of essential fats, B12 and amino acids otherwise lacking in the peasants’ lean diet; the secret ingredients for full and robust health.  These sorts of fermented foods and beverages are universal in traditional cuisines around the world: beer, cider, mead and wine, sauerkraut and kimchi, cheese, yogurt, skyr and kefir, cured pork, pickled herring, sourdough bread, miso, natto, soy sauce and umeboshi plums…  Everywhere, forever it seems, people have been letting nature have its way with their food, not only preserving it, but enhancing its nutritional quality.  As Ben Franklin famously said of beer, “Proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”

So…. what else did the ancients know about that we should be pondering???  Well, as the world becomes increasingly unstable, wouldn’t it be nice to know the future?  Well, the Romans had a way to do that as well: augury, the divination of future events through the observation of birds. These observations were referred to as “the auspices” and of course, where our word “auspicious” comes from.

Now, I know this sounds crazy, but we’ve all experienced this haven’t we?  I recall being at a wedding once, at St. Mary’s Cathedral, where a bat was actively dive bombing the ceremony and guests.  I’ve spent a fair bit of time in there and never seen anything like it; needless to say, that marriage did not last very long…

Farmers used to do this all of the time as well: observing insect, bird and animal behaviour like nesting, migration, mating, etc. in an effort to synthesize a prediction of future weather and fortunes.  The old timers I know who carry on this tradition are remarkably accurate and have made themselves good money over the years by following a hunch they got after watching some bugs.

So what does the future hold???  I don’t know much other than that things will keep getting more expensive, especially food, as transportation and fertilizer prices mount.   Fertilizer is a particularly spicy one, as with our recent embargo of Russian fertilizer, we’ve effectively cut off 90% of the supply of nitrogen for Eastern Canada.  Like many industries, we used to produce Nitrogen fertilizer here in Ontario: there was a plant just down the river in Cardinal.  But, being a dirty and dangerous business, we decided to let someone else, somewhere else do it, and now are reaping the whirlwind.

Another example of working with nature: having a mixed farm of both crops and livestock was the traditional way to maintain and build soil fertility.  A quick jaunt around rural Ontario, with the broken fences, soybean stubble and empty barns will remind you that’s not how we do things now – and how Ontario will go forward – without cheap fertility and energy – has yet to be seen.

I couldn’t be happier to have cows right now, and I also couldn’t be any happier to have a direct market business.   Your relationship with our farm protects us from many of the vagaries of world events and the last two years have given me so much appreciation for our customers and this business model.  Thank you for your support.

The maple season is progressing nicely: if you like lighter, amber syrup, right now is the time to stock up.   There’s lots of eggs again, and plenty of meat in the freezers, and our cold storage has been working great, perfectly preserving our carrots and potatoes.   We’ve also got lots of traditional fermented food on decek as well:  Bushgarden’s organic, raw milk cheese, and our own Sauerkraut. 

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