Back in the day, I baled a lot of hay. It was something every rural Wisconsin kid of a certain age did for extra money in the summertime. I must’ve handled thousands of rectangular bales during those years, and I was disappointed to discover that they had been replaced by huge round bales that couldn’t be moved without a tractor. So now there’s one less way for teenage boys to earn money and stay out of trouble.
We have great farms in Wisconsin because we have great hay. It’s what we feed to the cows that make the milk that makes the cheese we all love so much. We also feed it to our horses, goats, sheep, and any other animal that likes to munch on leafy greens. Our ample summer rain and rich soil assure Wisconsin farmers that they can grow hay in abundance with minimal effort.
The first twenty-one quarts of tomatoes from the 2010 canning season rest on the shelf of our storage cellar.
We like tomatoes. During the summer, we eat tomatoes from our back yard and from local market gardeners.
If we want organic tomatoes during the off-season, we have the choice of fresh tomatoes from California, Mexico, or South America; or canned tomatoes from corporate “organic” farms in mysterious unknown locations.
(Fun fact: When you see those canned organic tomatoes with the “Muir Glen” brand, remember that Muir Glen is owned by General Mills, who proudly claim to be the world’s sixth-largest food company. These are the same people who brought you Lucky Charms, Hamburger Helper, and the Pillsbury Dough-boy.)
There comes a time in the summer when our garden is producing tomatoes faster than we can eat them. That’s when we round up the surplus, stuff them into sterilized jars, and pressure cook them for 15 minutes. Sometimes our farmers at the market have excess or “seconds” (tomatoes that’re not cosmetically perfect) for a good price, so we buy a whole bunch and can those, too.
We found ourselves using about one quart-sized can of tomatoes each week for things like salsa, pasta sauce, and casseroles. Rather than buy these corporate mystery tomatoes, we much prefer to have tomatoes from our cellar.
We know where they came from.
The Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference is the largest gathering of its kind in the United States. We became aware of it in the early ’90s, when the organic farming movement was just beginning to expand beyond its narrow “counter-culture” niche. Today organic farming is big business, and some of the biggest food corporations are trying to muscle in on the fastest-growing sector of the food business. Read on