Confessions of a Farmer: Getting Serious about Real Food

By Terri Smith –

It seems a lot of people have been really sick this winter. I was, and for way too long, and for me, this was a wake-up call. In my own life, I have noticed illness is often brought on by a combination of physical, mental, and emotional reasons. I found this winter’s illness perplexing because I had thought I was healthy, happy, and eating well. In reality, I had let some things slide.

Posing with potatoes in Mom’s root cellar. Photo: Karen Thompson

First of all: I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I’m not a farmer, not really. I also don’t actually want to be a farmer. But, what I realized this winter is that I really don’t want to work for anyone else either. I need a sense of purpose to feel fulfilled. I have been trying to figure out what direction I want my new life to take, but I have no cohesive plan. We have a lot of fun here, but Gardener/Artist/Writer/Burlesque Dancer isn’t quite a career path (and the dental plan is terrible). (Note: I’ve never really sought a career, but I do want to have a plan, a purpose, and a moderate income… and possibly dental).

Second, food: So much of how our bodies fight infection has to do with nutrition. The biggest issue I am having with food at the moment is not new. I feel this every winter. I don’t trust conventional food anymore, and in winter I buy more food from the grocery store. This is sad. I remember drinking milk fresh from a cow and feeling good; my body loved milk. Now, there isn’t all that much left in milk, or any of our food, really. So much of it is pasteurized and irradiated for our protection, and then vitamins and minerals are added back in.

We think we know so much when we start playing with our food, but nature always knows more than we do. Food is more than a sum of its parts. We do not really understand it enough to change it so much. I don’t know what the problem is. I keep looking for answers, but it’s hard to know what to trust online. There are as many sites claiming wheat is sprayed with glyphosate prior to harvest and that is why it makes you sick as there are claiming the doctor who says glyphosate hurts you is a hack. Personally, I am tired of the debate. What I see is that food used to be nourishing, but when agriculture turned into agri-business, it lost something somewhere and our health and the health of our planet are suffering for it.

So, what to do? I like to refer to Michael Pollan’s book, An Eater’s Manifesto, which comes down to: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” This seems self-evident, until you break it down. So much of our food isn’t actually food anymore. He devotes chapters to explaining what it means to “eat food.” A few examples being: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food,” and, “Don’t eat anything that doesn’t rot.”

But how? How can we be sure our food is really food in this age of obfuscation, I mean, information. You do whatever you like; here is a summary of what I am doing:

Grow it myself: If I grow it, I know what went into it, and the scientists and doctors and health magazines and myth debunkers and bloggers can yell back and forth all they want about whether herbicides and pesticides and GMOs are safe or unhealthy or absurd or purple or blue or whatever. I will just be over here, quietly tending my cabbages.

Get it locally (or as locally as I can): I trust people I know. I tend to trust small business more than big business.
Buy as unprocessed as I can: Processed or refined food often has nothing much in it as far as food value goes. White flour, white sugar, and white rice are three main examples of refined foods that don’t do good things for your body.

For three seasons of the year in Canada, however, it can be difficult to figure out how to get enough vegetables. Here is my plan: Get serious (and realistic) about storage vegetables. I will grow as much as we need of what grows well here. I will buy what doesn’t grow well here in quantity from another local farmer. I canned way more this year than I did the year before, but next year I will do even more. A chest freezer is also a wonderful thing. Frozen broccoli and cauliflower make excellent soups; frozen pestos make great meals almost instantly. Frozen Swiss chard makes a great colourful accent in the freezer and then adds a lovely boost of nitrogen to the compost next spring (so far, I haven’t managed to use much Swiss chard in winter). Kale chips really are a fun TV snack food, as well as a good way to feel good about all that kale you didn’t really want to eat but felt obligated to pretend that you love. Kale chips take large amounts of kale and turn them into tiny, bite-sized, crunchy, flavour-delivery systems (I like mine with nutritional yeast and Bragg’s). I also dug out my sprouter from storage. I couldn’t find it last winter, but now it’s back. Sprouts are easy and quick and fresh greens in winter are better than candy.

So now the days are getting longer, and my immune system and myself are back on track. I must grow food. I cannot not grow food. I love real food. I love eating it, growing it, sharing it, and talking about it. Sadly, I couldn’t make a living selling it, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to shut up about it or in any way stop advocating for it. The benefits to eating well are myriad. Eat good food and you help yourself, help local/small farmers and local economies, and help the planet.

Terri Smith is a non-certified organic vegetable farmer in the Cariboo. She is passionate about writing, art, goats, and feeding good food to good people. She believes in following your heart, living your dreams, and taking care of the planet.

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