After Stones last year, Roger and I took off on an extended journey. We started out on bicycles with cash in our pockets, riding off into the sunset, very poetic. We trundled around the northeast for a few weeks, enjoying lovely dinners out, many pounds of beef jerky, camping and visiting family. It didn’t take long for our money to run out living the fine life. Soon we found ourselves in Baltimore, nary a couple of bucks in our pockets and meeting up with our good friend Matt. It was here that the real journey commenced.
We had a seriously hard time hitchhiking out of Baltimore, such a hard time that we walked to Virginia. In 90 degree heat with a 20 lb pack, walking 20 miles a day, you need to eat a lot of food. Calorically and nutritionally dense food, food that we really couldn’t afford. Enter McDonald’s.
From here we descended into the underbelly of American society. After running out of cash, you find yourself flying a sign on a corner for food or a ride. You are cheerfully digging through trash to retrieve the still-warm fish taco, onlookers horrified at the sight. You are camping underneath dingy, wet bridges. You are squatting in a cave in Chattanooga waiting for a freight train. You are asked repeatedly, “What is a girl like you out here doing this? You’re crazy.” The only answer I could ever offer was “Man, you have no idea how much fun I’m having.” We went weeks without ever sleeping inside, spent days on the beach, met cops who were jealous of us. We were completely, gloriously free, with one exception. We were lacking food security.
Our industrialized food system is very complex, very broad and very imperfect. There is more waste than you could ever imagine. There are dumpsters teeming with bagels, Trader Joe’s sandwiches, pizza and beer. There are trash cans filled with leftovers people toss out after enjoying half of a $20 meal. There is food in the fields and orchards that is forgotten or unwanted. These are valuable resources to hungry people without a dime to spare. But these resources are dwindling as competition for them grows. The reality is that on the street, we were depending on other people’s waste, and vying for it amidst the ever growing population of homebums and other hungry folks.
This just-in-time food system that America relies on is delicate and depends on a broad array of resources that are pulled from all over the world. Most of our food is grown with oil dependent fertilizers, mechanically harvested and processed, then shipped halfway around the world to your local Whole Foods. The presence of a single mango in Hancock, MD in February is really ridiculous when you think about it. I’ve understood this for some time, but didn’t really get it until I was in a situation where I was completely dependent upon it for survival. So I thought more and more about food and how important it is to me. I thought about this so much that I finally made my first decision about the rest of my life. I decided to make food my life’s mission. I want to master organic growing and develop business relationships with local produce and meat growers to supplement our gardens at the farm. I want to learn butchering, baking and preserving. I want to be a cook that can make a fine, nutritious meal out of what’s on hand, not what I conveniently buy in a box and just add water.
I want all of this for a simple reason. Food security is wealth. It is the kind of wealth that you can share with family and strangers alike. Having extra food to share at the dinner table with an unexpected guest is a joyous thing. For many, this is not feasible, but I am extremely fortunate to have that luxury. Because, to me, feeding 12 people is the most ultimate expression of love I can give. I believe in this, because it is something that is everlasting. People will always need to eat, and I want to be someone who can meet that need. I do not want to be someone that serves a precarious industry in this Age of Limits. I do not want to fear for my family going hungry. Because at the end of the day, a full belly is priceless, and something you may not always be able to pay for at a supermarket.
So philosophy and cute anecdotes aside, what is this article really about? Well, it’s about the Starvin’ Artist of course! Four Quarters has seen many talented chefs operating the camp kitchen, starting way back with my mother cooking for hundreds under an Army tent, which I’m sure some of you remember. The Starvin’ Artist has since evolved into a real building with a proper commercial kitchen license. And the community living here at the farm has developed some real resources, too. We made a decision years ago to focus considerable amounts of time and energy on creating and identifying organic, sustainable food resources. It started with making local relationships with providers of natural grass-fed beef and pork, raised on our property or right next door. It continued with a flock of chickens, and unfortunately, a couple of guinea hens. We planted our first organic gardens, pressure canned our first batch of tomatoes. And just last year, with help from a long-time member, we made friends with an organic produce grower who has a fabulous farm ten miles up the road. These pieces all add up to a fundamentally great thing- real good food, real close to home, real happy people, all existing in a small, local economy. We’re still trying to get things right with our own operations at the farm, some harvests have been better than others, more eggs one year than another. We have taken huge steps toward food security and independence, which allows us to share the wealth of the land in the camp kitchen or the farmhouse.
So, this season, I’ll be assuming physical responsibility for the Starvin’ Artist with Miss Rosalie, who will be acting as the Advisor. I’ll admit that I’m a bit nervous about it, but I know that I’ll have help and advice from those more experienced than I am. I know that I have incredible food resources on hand. I dream of working with kitchen staff that isn’t ready to kill me by Sunday brunch. I dream of preparing food that is tasty, diverse, locally and ethically produced. I dream of happy faces showing up for thirds. These are dreams, but I can assure you all that I am busting my ass trying to learn what I need to know to make this happen. The people eating my food every night here at the farm will tell you that I still have not mastered the fluffy hamburger bun, but have achieved lovingly homemade hockey pucks several times. I can even admit to serving Pad Thai made with beef shank, instead of flank, which makes for meat so tough that even our puppy couldn’t chew it. They may also tell you that I’ve made some fabulous dishes. So the learning curve is steep, but my successes keep me confident and eager.
So friends, as we embark on another season here at the farm, I encourage you to try a meal plan. Or stop by the kitchen and say what’s up or maybe chop some onions. Maybe you’d want to take a tour of our garden? Who knows what you’d like to do, but now we all know what I’d like to do.
In Service to All