By Emily Ogburn
As I sit down to write this, not only is my head fiery with thoughts about the Organic Grower’s School Harvest Conference, but my fingers are also tingling from handling jalapenos.
I just completed my first batch of fermented hot peppers with the skills I learned from Meg Chamberlain’s Basic Vegetable Fermentation class and with the inspiration I gained from farmer Sunil Patel’s Eating Resiliently class. Meg spoke with excitement and reverence for the fermentation process and the millions of microbial “friends” you can grow by fermenting vegetables. With a twinkle in her eye, she taught us the basic steps of vegetable fermentation and walked us through the hands-on process of making sauerkraut. She answered our many questions as we pounded cabbage in our jars. She spoke about how we can slow the decay process in our vegetables through fermentation, allowing us to enjoy vegetables in any season, reduce food waste, and improve the health of our guts. This can all be done with the power of even just a little salt and simple equipment (just a jar and a yogurt lid will do).
“I just completed my first batch of fermented hot peppers with the skills I learned from Meg Chamberlain’s Basic Vegetable Fermentation class … Meg spoke with excitement and reverence for the fermentation process and the millions of microbial ‘friends’ you can grow by fermenting vegetables.”
The ideas from Meg’s class moved fluidly into an afternoon session on Eating Resiliently, Sunil’s class in which he held a discussion about local food sovereignty and how cooking with local food might change our diet, our kitchens, our communities, and our city. We discussed how our kitchen shelves might be lined with more jars full of preserved and fermented goods bought from a local farmer while in season and potentially in surplus. I enjoyed imagining Sunil’s dream of a kitchen chute that ran from the kitchen to an outdoor bucket for compost. We talked about how local communities supporting their farmers would, in this way, turn a surplus or potential food waste into produce brought into our homes and kept as nourishment for every season. We contemplated a city that eats resiliently by supporting its own nutritional needs and that is thoughtful about food and farmers. This type of city might have community hubs where shared resources like kitchens in which produce can be fermented or processed in various ways. Sunil had me dreaming of a community whose average citizens, after checking the weather forecast, would not only know to grab their coats but also that their farmer has covered the crops against the coming frost. Sunil’s own Urban Patchwork Farms is working towards some of these dreams by turning urban patches of fertile land into local farms within Asheville.
“We contemplated a city that eats resiliently … and that is thoughtful about food and farmers … a community whose average citizens, after checking the weather forecast, would not only know to grab their coats but also that their farmer has covered the crops against the coming frost.”
His patchwork of farms woven through the city provides citizens with access to delicious local produce while also threading a devotion to creating community and local food sovereignty throughout Asheville. If you aren’t impressed yet, Sunil then cooked some amazing food using locally grown ingredients. Amaranth and New Zealand spinach were among the local treats that Sunil added to tasty dishes (I would recommend exploring both greens if they aren’t among your favorites already.)
“For me, the greatest gift of attending any OGS conference is the re-ignition of inspiration and energy to invest in my local food system and to think about the ways in which we can invest in the environment and our community.”
So, shortly after the conference, I was inspired to use the confidence I gained from Meg’s fermentation class to extend the life of a whole mess of fresh hot peppers, garlic, and onions grown by Urban Patchwork Farms. I took my gloves off, admired the colorful jars that now line my kitchen shelf, and I placed the pepper scraps and garlic skins in my compost bucket. I felt good, not only about the yummy treat that I would have in a week (and that these veggies could now last years if desired!), but also about thinking of each of the steps we can individually take to work for the sustainability, community, and power that could come from local food sovereignty — and yes, I did wish for a kitchen chute to an outdoor compost bucket. For me, the greatest gift of attending any OGS conference is the re-ignition of inspiration and energy to invest in my local food system and to think about the ways in which we can invest in the environment and our community. Whether it is learning how to use tinctures to assist with self-care, meeting new friends who share common interests, or listening while a wise young man in suspenders unloads some knowledge about good food—Organic Growers School conferences never fail to set my mind tingling for community and my hands burning for meaningful work.
Organic Growers School is a non-profit organization providing organic education since 1993. Our mission is to inspire, educate, and support people in our region to farm, garden, and live organically.