I often marvel at how hard my parents worked to put food on the table as they raised us five kids. Of course we were all required to help whether that was planting and weeding the garden, cleaning veggies or even butchering chickens.
There were many times I can recall my mother sweeping her hand over the meal and announcing “Everything on this table, except for the salt and pepper, was grown right here.”
In retrospect, these meals were delectable and more than likely included a home grown chicken, cooked to golden perfection on a grill rotisserie; a steaming bowl of green beans; creamy white potatoes mounded high in a bowl and usually strawberries or some other fruit for dessert.
As kids we would acknowledge Mom’s comment with a “yeah, yeah,” as we plowed into the food, never really giving much credence to the significance of the meal before us. We all thought everyone ate this way. But as I have come to find out, we were very fortunate to have this healthy food available right outside our own back door.
I was thinking about that phenomenon when I walked into the fourth annual Sustainability Fair last Tuesday. It was held in the ArtStart building in downtown Rhinelander and I always look forward to this event with great anticipation.
That’s because a lot of the exhibitors have the same mind set when it comes to growing and producing healthy foods and products that are good for our bodies as well as our environment. Every year, this fair gets bigger and better and last Tuesday was no exception.
I sampled some awesome goat cheese made at the Hillbilly Hollow Farm; a friendly young lad participating in the Farm to School program at Northland Pines gave me a free packet of turnip seeds for my own garden, and I had a real interesting conversation with Esther Dolphin who was promoting her Naked Acres Farm where organic vegetables, meat and eggs are produced. There were booths demonstrating environmental friendly cleaning supplies and products for the home; organic skin care products; native plant demonstrations and even live bees at the Oneida County Beekeepers booth.
Unique and eye opening ideas abound at these types of fairs and I learned a lot as I perused the booths. One idea came from Rhinelander resident Jim Sholz who was showing visitors how to preserve food in a very unique way by using a clay chimney flue. I was more than interested as Jim demonstrated how he buried the flue up to its top then filled it with apples, carrots and other root vegetables. The flue is then covered with a piece of insulation and then hay, straw or a layer of thick leaves is mounded over that.
“All winter long you can go out and use the vegetables stored like this,” he said. “They keep right into the spring months.”
I was impressed with Jim as he showed me carrots that looked like they had just been harvested and apples with hardly a wrinkle. And I felt like I had made a new friend.
As a kid, I didn’t have any idea that my parents were unknowingly teaching me such important lessons when it came to providing healthy food for the table. We were living a sustainable life, a notion that is thankfully gaining ground in this day and age. I have learned during the years that many times there is good reason to go back to the days when vegetable gardens, no matter how big or small, were the norm and people took a more dedicated role in producing their own food.
I have come to appreciate the satisfying work it took to produce food for our family. Not only did I grow strong on such nourishing sustenance but I learned with a little effort I could also have the satisfaction of announcing, “Everything on this table was produced in my own backyard.”
Garden Stuffed Potatoes
4 large potatoes
2 Tbs. butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 cups cooked broccoli
½ cup ranch style salad dressing
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. dried parsley
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pierce the skin of the potatoes with a fork. Bake potatoes until soft. Remove from oven and let cool. Sauté onion in the olive oil until tender then combine with broccoli and salad dressing. Once the potatoes are cool carefully cut off tops horizontally and scoop out potato meat without breaking the skins. Mash thoroughly and combine with broccoli mixture. Brush the outside of the potato skins with oil and then spoon potato mixture into the skins. Arrange stuffed potatoes on a cookie sheet. Bake potatoes for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, or until heated through. Season with salt, pepper, and parsley.