Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I'm in the midst of the second big push of the gardening year; the processing. All those plants I worked so hard to raise and plant and make grow have indeed been growing and just as the hostel season wrapped up, I thought I'd have a break when the cabbages, broccoli and all of it started to call for attention. Since my ambition is to eat year round from a garden covered in snow and frost for a good part of the year, not only do I need to make sure I grow enough, I better figure out how to keep it too. I have no interest in selling my own produce in August, only to go buying the same product from Canada or California in March. We don't have a freezer, so learning how to keep our food through the whole year has been the key element in our journey towards the high level of food self sufficiency we're at now.
Out of the various means of food preservation, fermentation has become my preference. It's the oldest known way humans have preserved food and beverage, starting a millennia ago with mead (honey wine). All across the globe people have used the ever existing live culture yeast and micro organism to preserve vegetables, cheese, grain and meat and to produce wine, coffee and chocolate. I got my first sauerkraut lesson many years ago and it was as simple as shredding the cabbage and adding salt. How much salt? Just sprinkle it as you go. Crush the cabbage with your hand to draw out liquid, pack it snuggly in a vessel and keep it submerged. Add ginger and hot pepper and it’s South Korean KimChi. Wait a few days and eat it. The probably most well known source for information about fermenting food is “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Ellix Katz who also has authored “The Art of Fermentation”, for those who really want to geek out.
Today I grow hundreds of heads of cabbage, many of which we store fresh but many are turned in to kraut, say around 30 gallons per year. Once we get going, we eat almost one gallon a week, along with the 80-100 quarts of fermented beans, cuces, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. I also squeeze onions, garlic and salsa into my well stocked cellar. Fermented food is delicious and super healthy and I'm convinced that all these past years of not a single day in bed being sick is largely due to the constant supply of live fermented food.
I took to fermentation not only because of the health and flavor benefits it comes with, but largely because for me, it's the ultimate self sufficient way of preserving food that can't be kept fresh in a cellar or on the kitchen shelf, like the surplus broccoli and beans and the cabbages that crack or the carrots that the voles munch on. There's no freezer involved, thus no power grid. There's no cooking or heating involved, thus no fuel. I get my gallon jars from a restaurant down the road that would otherwise throw them in the dumpster and I can reuse them, year after year. Fermentation is self sufficiency and self sufficiency is a political agenda; to grow, keep and eat my own food keeps me away from the food industry, the fossil fuel based agriculture, food stores and logistics. Or rather, it keeps them away from me: Away from being reduced to a consumer and just another link in the conventional and highly unsustainable food chain. My organic garden, the fermentation vessels and root cellar are the diverging factors where the most basic of needs, eating, is moved from the hands of corporations (food, oil, stores) to the hands of myself. Planting, tending, harvesting and eventually packing the salted cabbage, beans or mixed salsa in a jar is the ultimate hands on political action I can think of. And it comes with a reward: Summer preserved, all year.