goingplaceslivinglife

Travel, Food, and Slices of Life


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Learning Along The Pathway

When I was growing up my Dad would often drive into town and pick up the Sunday New York Times. As I got older I enjoyed reading not only the magazine but I started perusing the classified, looking for my “someday” job and apartment. Oh, the dreams I had of what could be……and then life took another pathway.

I’ve had a checkered past. I earned a degree in geography and urban planning, but  my first job out of college was for the Tennessee Supreme Court in the court administrator’s office. They were starting a judicial PLANNING division and so, since I had a degree in urban PLANNING, I was hired. It was fun but as I realized I was getting further from my education, I looked for and moved to the planning job.  For three and a half years I actually worked for a planning and engineering company and really enjoyed it. But again……life took another pathway.

There was a death in my husband’s family. His mother asked us to move to Connecticut to take care of the estate issues. We lived in the house rent free and would until it was sold. One of my tasks was to determine the market value of the property and in doing so, we listed it for sale and boom! we needed to move within a couple of months. I was looking for work as a planner but we were in the middle of a recession then and jobs were scarce. So… life took another pathway.

I started working as an real estate agent for the broker who had listed the house. While I did well, I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Showing houses was a challenge because I did not know the area well and there were no apps with a talking GPS (hey, no cell phones at all)  in those days so I had to rely on paper maps, all the time portraying an image of competence to the buyers.  That was stressful enough but the part that made me more uncomfortable was listening to a homeowner extol the cost of the renovations he had made when it looked like a piece of incompetent amateur construction.  And then Baby #1 was born and I no longer wanted to put in the long hours needed in that kind of sales position.  Once again…. life took another pathway.

 

When I told the broker I was going to let my sales license go he persuaded me to start an appraisal division of his company. I built the reputation and business started coming in nicely and then I needed to hire some staff. The broker told me he was moving to California and was selling the real estate business, including the appraisal division. I said no way, it may be your name but it was my blood, sweat and tears. He very much understood and so, I soon owned it. I got a partner who had the bookkeeping kind of background and so we went on, growing during the 1980s real estate boom to 12 employees. (Although I planned longer, I only was able to take off one week when Baby #2 was born.) And then there was another blip in the financial market and property values started to decline. Where there is no room for a second mortgage or a current home value did not support getting the mortgage refinanced, there are no appraisals. We closed the business and…… life took another pathway.

By this time I had had baby #3 and no income. My husband got laid off. We ended up moving from Connecticut to Tennessee where I stayed home with the baby. Then my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer and after surgery, radiation and chemo I got a job at Vanderbilt Medical Center, working for one of my husband’s eye doctors. I had looked for a managerial position at Vanderbilt and when HR asked me what salary I wanted I thought about what I had made in the good years in Connecticut and then made a “cost of living” adjustment and said $30,000. They laughed…too high apparently. Anything lower would not help the family so I changed my resume to administration instead and ended up taking that first position as an AA for $18,000. I figured if I was not going to earn enough money I might as well not be in charge of anything. And so….. life took another pathway.Image result for vanderbilt university medical center

After five years of learning eye health jargon, things changed when the doctor in charge left. My position was eliminated but I was not, so HR moved me to another place in the hospital. The boss was, to put it nicely, a challenged individual. I left and move over to the university side of Vanderbilt to the Department of French & Italian. More new things to learn and master. And then my husband died and there I was a widow with a young child. Graham entered my life and I sure made him work to woo both of us. And there I was again….my life took another pathway.

My kiddo and I joined Graham when he went on sabbatical to Colorado for six months. I thought a start together in a neutral location would be good. We made friends and when it looked like he might be offered a job there I started looking for work. I had a sweet sweet double interview with the statewide blood bank and they offered me a position for a beautiful salary. I came home from that interview to be told we were moving back to West Virginia.  Ha ha…guess what….. my life took another pathway.

Looking for work in the Rust Belt was a challenge. I finally was hired as a practice manager for a financial adviser. Since it was a start-up I accepted a lower than desired salary with the promise of bonuses that would boost it to the sky (dream on, eh?). That never happened. After three years of building that business into something sustainable, I asked for a $10,000 raise and he basically countered with 50 cents an hour. I resigned. This time, definitely my choice…..my life took another pathway.

I started to build up my book selling business that I had been running on a small scale for about 12 years to provide additional income. I was able to match that prior salary for the next two years while having the time to also get involved in the farm-to-table movement and helping build The Wild Ramp. All the time, we were planning for my husband to retire when my kiddo left for college and so……my life took another pathway.

We moved to Oregon just about four years ago. I applied to about 50 jobs, making sure each cover letter and each resume was custom tailored to each specific job. I never heard from 46 place, but had four interviews. One had the grace to tell me I was overqualified and they were sure I would be bored and quit. I countered with an comment (I had nothing to lose)  that at this age I would love a job I could do with one hand behind my back. But no job was offered. (Ageism is one more hurdle to getting a job that needs to be fixed.  Date of birth information can no longer be asked, but they can and do asked for education information, including year of graduation. I think you agree, most of us complete high school at age 18, so extrapolation is easy.) So feeling ready to do anything….. life took another pathway.

I took a summer job as a farm hand. Yes, me. I never ate so much ibuprofen in my life but I did it and learned a lot more. In all my effort with The Wild Ramp I had probably visited 100 farms and had heard their stories. Now I got to get a (very small) taste of the life farmers live.  And the experience confirmed something I already suspected: I am not a farmer. But I need my farmers (we all do) and respect them highly. And so, taking a plunge……my life took another pathway.

I started up the commercial food processing business, Can-Do Real Food, to support local farmers by preserving their surplus produce by canning and dehydrating. (This gives the farmer another income, provides consumers a way to have a taste of the local summer harvest any time during the year, and reduces food waste.)  When we moved to Oregon I learned to can, so I had one year of canning at home. Other people have forgotten more than I have learned but it has been a pretty amazing experience. You can read more about it at the Can-Do Real Food blog. 

In the past year I had been dealing with a knee that has been injured but there is nothing surgical that can be done to fix it. It forces me to walk a bit wonky which has now affected my hip joint on the other side. I am in a new world of hurt and so…..I suspect my life is about to take another pathway again.

Through all these years (63 and counting) I have received continual education. The first part is one we all are fed K through  12. The next was the narrowing down of a field of study (college). And since then, through work and seminars and conferences and self teaching, the learning has continued and increased.  I urge everyone I love to never stop exploring, never be afraid of change.

I know jargon related to the legal profession, the medical profession, the academic profession, and now food processing (and government regulation thereof).  I wonder what’s next!  Whatever it is, I strongly doubt I will ever live in New York City!

 

 

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Farm to Table Pork

For those of you who started reading recently when I have been writing about my reaction to the political hoohah of the past year, you might not know that I have been involved in the farm to table movement for the past six years or so. 

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My business, Can-Do Real Food, works with small local farms capturing their surplus produce and preserving it either by canning or dehydrating. This helps reduce food waste, offers the farmers another income stream, and provides local consumers shelf-safe local food that can be eaten any time of the year. I work with produce only; vegetables, fruits and nuts.eat-local

Most of the farmers, however, have animals for eggs or meat production. One of my farm partners, Wooden Mallet Farm, is located northwest of the small town of Yamhill in the foothills of the Coastal Range.  They offered the opportunity to buy a whole or half hog and we plunked down $50 about 6 months ago to help with feed and reserve our half. pigs

This morning I went to the farm to observe the processing. Why? Because I am curious. I get the meat all wrapped up in white butcher paper, so if I lived in a fantasy land I could imagine there is some “immaculate conversion” from hoof to plate, but instead I wanted to honor the animal by being there.

Several years ago I naively went to a farm in West Virginia to observe chicken processing and ended up being involved literally up to my elbows.  So I understood the general process.

One amazing aspect of farming in Oregon is that mobile slaughter is allowed to occur on the farm. The processor butcher explained that the regulations are not as strict as the indoor facilities and we discussed the differences between this winter time processing with the low temps (we are having unseasonable cold weather…it was maybe 30 degrees this morning) and the need to work fast while there is light. Summer time processing has the issues of flies and other insects as well as concerns about higher temperatures affecting potential spoilage.

So from the time the 22-caliber bullet was fired into the brain and the carotid artery was severed, until the time the carcass was hanging in the truck was perhaps 15 minutes. Hoofs were saved for a friend of the farmer to make dog treats. The processor collected the hides and offal for someone else who processes the skin and renders the rest. The livers were inspected and several rejected; winter hogs apparently often have some liver damage. The ears and hearts were saved by the farmer.

The carcasses will be weighed and I will receive an email tomorrow about the hanging weight. That check goes to the farmer.

The email will also give me contact info for the butcher and I will call to give him the cutting instructions. We like our pork chops one inch thick for example. We will get a small ham and the rest cut into ham steaks. We want the baby back ribs and country style ribs. And the bacon. There is never enough bacon. There will be some roasts and a few other steaks and then the rest will be ground. We will request Italian sausage.  There will be a fee for that butchering, the curing for the hams and bacon, and the wrapping for all.

All in all we will purchase a whole lot of pork that will feed us for about a year for about one-third the cost of purchasing the same amount at the store. In addition, we know our farmer so we know how the hogs were raised, the food they ate, and the way they were treated.  And, as much as you love bacon you get at the supermarket, I want to tell you that this bacon is better….way better.

I could take a few hours to honor the animal that will be feeding me. hogs


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Something New Learned

I think I wrote about feeling a bit like George Plimpton a few years ago when I was writing for The Wild Ramp Market in Huntington, West Virginia.  (To bring the youngsters up to speed, George Plimpton was a writer/journalist who decided he would actually have the experience before he wrote about the Detroit Lions. That experience became a book, Paper Lion, and then a movie. He wrote of other sports as well, always having participated fully.)

At the time I was visiting farms and other food producers for the year-round local food market, there was a lot I did not know. I still don’t know much about farming, but it is because of all the questions I asked and the experiences I had that I have learned a bit. For example, milking a goat and processing chickens. That last one was never on my bucket list but I am glad for the experience.

Well, yesterday I had a similar chance to do something related to farming and processing that I never expected to.  The fact that it all was legal means I can tell you about it!

A friend vaguely asked me if I would help with his harvest and I asked, simply, winter squash?  It’s that time of year, after all, and Can-Do Real Food has a killer Winter Squash Coconut Curry instant soup recipe, so you see where my mind was.winter-squash

No….he kept me guessing and then showed me a photo. Ahhhh….here in Oregon we are permitted to grow our own weed. There is a limitation and rules about how much you can grow for personal use. What I didn’t know at the time was his is a licensed medical grow operation, so we really were helping legitimately.

It has to be dried….a lot like tobacco. Anyone who has lived or visited the South or the Connecticut River Valley has noticed the drying sheds and barns.Image result for tobacco barn

It has to be trimmed….the unused portions removed from the good parts so the drying surfaces are smaller and easier to treat.

It has to be checked for mold….always something can go wrong but even with the recent rains, this harvest had only minimal amounts of decay.

3" Thickest Best Quantity Steel Rings Foldable Heavy Duty Hanging Dryer Rack,2Feet Diameter 4 Layer Collapsible Mesh Hydroponic Drying Rack Net w/ Clips&Storage Carrying BagI saw some awesome drying racks he was using that we have ordered for curing garlic next year! The synergy of learning new things in action.

 

So, why share this small blip in my education? Because I like to show you that learning can be very fun indeed. Be a life-long learner. Do not be afraid to step away from your comfort zone and learn new facts and abilities.

You never know who will invite you to an awesome activity!

 


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The Connection Between Us

Each of us is the center of our own universe and yet we experience similar pains and joys. I have learned that the ability to share helps me ease the anguish and magnify the happiness. Does your pathway include sharing?

About four years ago I started visiting farms that had expressed interest in providing food to The Wild Ramp Market in Huntington, West Virginia. A new concept, The Wild Ramp combines the shopping experience of the outdoor farmers’ market with the ease of indoor shopping.  It is a year-round indoor local food market that has increased in appeal since its inception about 4 years ago.

Although I had one grandparent who had retired from running a chicken farm, my childhood in the New York metropolitan area was focused on suburban and urban living. I even got a degree in urban planning. So you can imagine just how tickled I am that I have become enmeshed in the local food movement.

When I started I knew next to nothing and today I know just a smidgen more.  But armed with my curiosity, I spent an hour or two visiting the farmers, hearing their stories and learning about their growing practices. I then wrote blogs to inform the consumers, the better to market that individual farm and its products and The Wild Ramp Market overall.

My visit to Mil-ton farm in mid June 2012 just prior to the market opening was a learning experience for me. Dad Tim was working off-farm at his day job. Mom Stephanie was home with the four kids, in charge of daily farm chores and home schooling and also working a part-time job. Grandma lived on the land as well, part of the extended family.

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My favorite often used photo from Mil-Ton Farm

One thing that immediately struck me was how curious the kids were. They came with us as Stephanie and I walked along, eager to show me things and be part of the experience. I learned a lot about that family that day and made a foolish assumption that all farm families were that cooperative and involved with life learning. No, as I learned over time, the Appletons are unique.

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Tim and Kellen working to renovate the shop

They all pitched in, even the youngest, helping renovate the shop space. They all helped other farmers in the Wild Ramp extended family of farmers as there were calls for help. The kids helped develop salable items over the seasons.

Vivian helping raise a high tunnel at The Potager, a Help A Farmer Day project.

Vivian helping raise a high tunnel at The Potager, a Help A Farmer Day project.

The Appletons walk the walk. Caring, loving, with high standards and expectations to strive for them. They have a strong faith in God and strong belief in the goodness of life.

But Tim just died, after a long and valiant experience with cancer. The Wild Ramp family is feeling this pain.

Personally, it brings my own loss of a loved spouse very much back into my mind. I can clearly imagine how Stephanie, a pretty strong woman, must be spinning in torment, trying to comfort the kids to provide them a sense of security while not quite really sure intellectually and emotionally where her footing will be in this earthquake. And the kids, scared of future loss, needing a lot more reassurance that all will be okay.kids

Although she might beg to differ today while everything is so raw, I know Stephanie and the family will work through this. The hole Tim’s passing  has left is a horrible learning experience for all, but they will learn to meld the pain of the loss with the rising spirit of his memory.Stephanie and Tim

The outpouring of love and prayers for this family is a testament to the goodness they have been as a part of the community. Tim’s legacy is priceless. We ARE connected, all of us.

 


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You Have a Choice

Last year the USDA has approved one the latest stupid ideas: send live chickens to China to be processed. Think about it….crowd way too many chickens into a pallet size cage for the trip to China, process them there because workers get maybe $1-$2 per hour instead of the $10 they get paid here, and ship the packaged meat back to the US for sale. China loves the idea because the concept can be modified, they believe, to Chinese raised chicken in time, (Read about it here.)

There is no news since last fall about this decision. In other words, we have no idea if it is happening. One American economist said it does not make CENTS to pay for the transportation over 7000 miles two times, but the rule permits it, so it is perhaps only a matter of time before some corporation figures out how to make it profitable.

Concern about food processed in China is well-founded. There has been toxic dog food, baby food that needed to be recalled and more.

If you shop for the least expensive price, you may be tempted by this. If you still have a working brain cell, you won’t be.

So what is your alternative? You could buy chicken with an organic label. But there is a better choice.

Pastured chickens on Dancing Faun Farm, Oregon

Pastured chickens on Dancing Faun Farm, Oregon

You have farmers near where you live that raise meat chickens. You can learn how they raise them, what practices they use. Chickens that are pastured raised, either free ranging or in chicken tractors, have full time access to eating like birds…..pecking in the dirt, eating bugs and grass seeds. Farmers typically supplement with feed.

Chicken tractor on Avalon Farm, West Virginia, moved daily to provide a fresh patch of grass to the chickens.

Chicken tractor on Avalon Farm, West Virginia, moved daily to provide a fresh patch of grass to the chickens.

Buying locally means supporting a neighbor, a local farmer who works very hard, long hours to bring you healthy food.  It does mean you will never buy a $4 chicken again. Work your food….and health care budget…to allow for $12 chicken and you will feel MUCH better. Chicken no longer is the inexpensive meat meal it once was in our home. It is, in contrast, one of several meat meals we make weekly. We have learned to get three meals from one chicken as well, which reduces its per serving cost.

If you consider the FARMacy an important component to your health, this information is already part of your lifestyle. If this is a new piece of horrifying information to you, you have a lot of catching up to do about the stuff you have been putting into your body-and affecting your health.


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Outside Looking Back In

I lived in Huntington for seven years; Graham for 20. We worked, raised my son Sam through middle and high school, and got involved in a number of places and groups where our interests and talents fit.  We planned Graham’s retirement and our move to Oregon to coincide with Sam heading out to college and we feel good with that decision. But it sure felt nice to visit Huntington this past weekend.blog-logo

One of the groups that we loved and shared our talents was The Wild Ramp. I visited food producers and wrote blogs, worked in the market each Wednesday morning, and helped on an array of other projects including sewing volunteer aprons and shopping totes, compiling the cookbook, and making presentations to other groups around West Virginia who were interested in emulating the market model. I did not serve on the Board of Directors because I knew I would be leaving Huntington for Oregon and I did not want to “leave a hole” when I left. Well, I carried the “hole” of missing The Wild Ramp with me.

DSCF5747As lifetime members I have stayed as closely connected as living on the west coast permits. I read the blog and Facebook pages. I’ve ordered a few items, including ramps, which Shelly Keeney graciously mailed. I planted those ramps in as close a setting as I could find…at high elevation in a stand of deciduous trees…on a farm about 15 miles from where I live. Next spring we will carefully harvest enough for one dish to share with the farmer. I have worked with a group that wants a year round indoor market, but the commitment needed to get it beyond the planning phase proved too much. I think they have a lot of places where they can buy organic food and do not fully understand the benefits of more greatly supporting local farmers.

Last Saturday I spent five hours back at The Wild Ramp. I got to poke my nose in just about every corner of the new market and greatly admire the new space. I noticed the new items offered for sale since I moved and also missed a few I hoped to find. I bought tee shirts and coffee mugs and more and I’m sure my purchases helped the cash register take that day!  DSCF6590

Most of all, the best part, was connecting with the people. I chatted with shoppers, asking all those “pesky” questions I always asked: How did you hear about The Wild Ramp? How often do you shop here? Why? How do you tell others about the market?  How much do you usually spend? The answers continue to be interesting.

  • Many people still believe that The Wild Ramp is an organic market. There is one certified organic farmer but overall, It is not. But we know our farmers and if you want food that is grown without chemicals, you can find it here.
  • There is a belief before entering the market that it is expensive, more expensive than local supermarkets. Overall, it is not. Or maybe, I should say, it depends.  If you buy prepared foods, buying whole foods and all the ingredients you need to prepare a meal can be higher. Once you have a pretty standard pantry of common ingredients, buying whole food tends to be less expensive. In addition, whole foods are not loaded with chemicals, so if anyone in the family has some allergies or arthritis or skin rashes or digestive problems, staying away from food additives can make a huge improvement in health. Periodic cost comparisons of prices at The Wild Ramp and local grocery stores show that costs are comparable.
  • The market’s items continue to be chosen as local gifts for people who live elsewhere. I know I used to…and once again….had gifts in mind with some of my purchases.

Of course, some of my friends knew I would be there. It was a great emotional rush of hugs and laughter, playing catch-op and extending invitations to come visit. For foodies, Oregon offers a continual feast. I noticed as I shared stories with some that we seemed to be local gluttons: fresh salmon and oysters, olive oil, wine, hazelnuts, and all local produce and protein sources we had found. (The Wild Ramp’s effort to help Huntington experience the 30-Mile Meal could be limited to 15 miles in the Willamette Valley.)DSCF6593

It was working with the farmers and other food producers for The Wild Ramp that my awareness of the importance of local food grew. In today’s world, where food is sourced or processed in counties that do not have the same compliance record with food safety, where produce prices in the supermarkets will be rising because of the drought in California, identifying and supporting local farmers who produce healthy food is even more important.

So, as I laughingly admitted to Gail Stoll Patton, even in Oregon I still talk about The Wild Ramp as “my” market. And Gail, in her wisdom, replied, “It IS “your” market. And it is “mine” and it belongs to each and everyone who helps it operate and shops there.” No truer words. Be proud, Huntington, you built it, and you support it.


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Serendipity

Not once did I consider it an April Fools joke but we have no idea how the photo showed up on Graham’s Facebook feed last night.  Kentucky State University has a mobile fruit and vegetable processing truck that visits farms in season to help them preserve their harvest.KSU mobile fruit and vegetable kitchen

Finding no info to take me specifically to the person in charge, I emailed the head of the agricultural school at KSU, dropping The Wild Ramp market experience to give me local “street” cred (more like farm cred).  And now we are setting up an appointment for me to go look-see!

Why the excitement? Two factors. In case you missed it, I am setting up a business here in Oregon to help small farmers preserve their surplus fruits and vegetables. AND we will be in Kentucky for Graham to do some forensic business in May, less than an hour from where the KSU research farm is located in Frankfurt!!Can-Do Company Logo Final

WOW! Life is good!  Now, who can I get to help me write a grant application?