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Perennial crops: The garden that keeps giving

Deborah K. Rich, San Francisco Chronicle
There are a lot of reasons to grow perennial vegetables.

For starters, they require less work than annual vegetables. Second, they are already commercially available. Finally, perennial vegetables bring new flavors and textures to the home garden, ranging from the lemony tartness of French sorrel to the creaminess of baked oca, an Andean root crop.

“That oca is incredible; people specifically covet oca,” said Brock Dolman of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Occidental. “You roast oca with potatoes and carrots and toss in some olive oil and a little salt and garlic and crisp it up and you’ve got something wonderful. Oca is just one of the great foods. It’s not clear to any of us why that plant has not made its way into the modern cuisine, because it’s productive and it’s amazing.”

Dolman wears many hats at the center, including as manager of the center’s biodiversity collection, orchards and 70 acres of wildlands.

The land the center occupies has a long history of perennial food crops. Acorns and hazelnuts were staples of the Pomo Indians who lived there for generations. Later, Italian homesteaders brought their pears, olives and grapes.

…”Many people have grown these for a long time,” Dolman said. “I think their apparent strangeness is more an artifact of our industrial food system. I think it’s harder to mechanize some of these perennials. It’s one thing to mechanize a tomato, it’s going to be harder to mechanize a tree collard.”
(24 November 2007)
Sidebar: 10 perennial veggies to grow.

Localise and go organic to avert post-peak famine – Heinberg
David Strahan, Last Oil Shock
Agriculture must localise and convert to organic production methods without delay if the world is to avoid famine, according to a leading thinker on peak oil.

Richard Heinberg, author of The Party’s Over and Peak Everything will tell a meeting of the Soil Association in London tonight that modern industrial agriculture is utterly dependent on fossil fuels for everything from nitrogen fertilizer to diesel, and that peak oil will mean a crisis in the global food supply.

In an interview with last, Heinberg argues that meat consumption will have to fall along with the human population, to ensure an adequate food supply. An orderly conversion to small-scale, localised farming and food distribution with minimal fossil inputs is urgently needed, he said. Asked whether such a system could produce enough food to avoid widespread hunger, Heinberg replied “we are headed for tough times, but I hope we can avoid famine. But the more we do and the sooner we start the better off we will all be”.

Listen to the interview with Richard Heinberg (MP3).
(22 November 2007)

Biofuel and diet sow seeds of farm crunch

Ambrose Evans- Pritchard, UK Telegraph
Malthus may have been right after all, though two centuries early and a crank. Mankind is outrunning its food supplies. Hunger – if not yet famine – is a looming danger for a long list of countries that are both poor and heavily reliant on farm imports, according to the Food Outlook of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The farm crunch has been creeping up on the world for 20 years. Food output has risen at 1.3pc a year: the number of mouths at 1.35pc.

What has abruptly changed is the twin revolution of biofuel politics and Asia’s switch to an animal-protein diet. Together, they have shattered the fragile equilibrium.
(26 November 2007)

Down on the Farm With Your Sleeves Rolled Up

Emiily Biuso, New York Times
AT an early morning hour most vacationers would spend unconscious, a few intrepid city dwellers outfitted in borrowed boots hunch over a creek full of watercress, carefully cutting the plants with kitchen scissors.

For their hosts, farmers in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, it’s the start of a regular workday. But for the visitors, it’s a delicate balance between learning on the fly and trying to be of use on a working farm.

Hoeing, seeding and picking may not sound like a holiday, yet the appeal of agritourism is gaining in the United States. More and more people want to see where their food comes from, and the same drive that leads them to visit farmers’ markets or join community-supported agriculture farm-share programs draws them to the farm itself.

“I shop at the farmers’ market, but I didn’t really know how these people operate or how a farm functions,” said Elizabeth Schafer, who works for a visual-effects company in Los Angeles and decided to visit Maverick Farms in Valle Crucis, N.C., after a year of working 50-to-60-hour weeks. “It definitely made me appreciate what needs to be accomplished to put food on the table.”

The arrangement at Maverick Farms is simple: vacationers pay $120 a night to stay in a room in the hosts’ beautiful two-story, 125-year-old farmhouse, and they are also invited to work at harvesting, seeding and other chores. For each hour of labor, $7 is deducted from the bill.
(23 November 2007)
Mentioned by Tom Philpott:

In Italy and France, people don’t love small farms just for the delicious food they produce. They also prize them for their looks — small-scale diversified agriculture is pleasing to the senses. So city dwellers often head out to the country on the weekend and hang out on farms, and support them with their tourist dollars.

Some Plants You Should Consider Growing

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book
My seed catalogs are starting to come in – I’m always excited to see them, even though I have to put them aside for the winter lull right at the moment. “Next year’s garden” is always perfect, a glorious riot of food and beauty that never has weeds or imperfections. I take a great deal of pleasure in my fantasy, just as I do in the real, imperfect garden.

There are a million gardening books out there to tell you how to grow perfect tomatoes and lettuces. And that’s important – in my house, salsa is a food group. But the reality is that for those of us attempting to produce a large portion of our calories, tomatoes and lettuce are not sufficient – we need to get either the most calories or the best possible nutrition out of our kitchen gardens and landscaping. So I’ve compiled a list of plants that I think are an important addition to many home gardens – both annual and perennial.

1. Buckwheat. Buckwheat is the perfect multipurpose plant. Many of you have probably used it as a green manure, taking advantage of its remarkable capacity to shade out weeds and produce lots of green material. But it is also one of the easiest grains to grow in the garden – simply let it mature and harvest the seed, and it makes a delicious and highly nutritious salad and cooking green.
(24 November 2007)