Friday, March 5, 2010

Favors & Rewards, Or, Why It's Good to Know Your Food Network

Free salmon

So farming friend called me up Wednesday night and inquired about the state of my chest freezer. Was there, perhaps, room in there for 50 pounds of salmon filets? See, she runs a monthly on-farm market during the winter season when the local farmer's markets don't operate. She invites a few choice vendors to show up and sell their goods, but also will sell the products of a few other local vendors. One of those products is wild caught Alaskan sockeye salmon. The couple that sells this delectable treat maintains a fishing license and a fishing boat in Alaska, and that's how they spend their summers. The quality is outstanding, and as carbon footprints go for fish, this is pretty light on the earth.

So farming friend needed another couple cases of the filets to be ready for her on-farm market this weekend. But she has a day job, and no one was going to be at her farm yesterday to take delivery. So she asked me and the salmon lady if it could be dropped by our place in the course of her delivery rounds. No problem for me: I was around and having dinner with farming friend that night, so my freezer space wouldn't be tied up long. No problem for salmon lady as we live closer to the day's other stops than farming friend does.

I spent between 5 and 10 minutes chatting with salmon lady and helping her pack 50 pounds of salmon into our freezer and then some into a cooler with ice packs. That evening I put the fish back in the boxes and took it with me when I went to dinner at farming friend's house. It was nothing. But salmon lady was so appreciative - as if I were doing her a big favor - that she offered me a free fillet. Now, I'm already on record as never saying no to handouts. You can believe I didn't turning down ethically fished wild Alaskan salmon that sells for $12.75 per pound. Needless to say, I was thrilled.

Just for Ali, a bonus picture of the cats with free mushroom bags

But the bounty didn't end there. When I got to farming friend's house for dinner, the first topic of conversation after getting the salmon in her freezer was all the mushroom bags she'd gotten from local mushroom producers. Like battery egg facilities that kill "retirement age" laying hens, (who are still capable of years of egg-laying) because their production is no longer optimal, mushroom farmers keep mushroom substrate only through the first few and most abundant flushes of mushroom production. Of course, there's no cruelty involved in either packing bags of inoculated sawdust as close together as possible, nor in getting rid of them as soon as they pass a peak of production. Nonetheless, farming friend had been given several large bags of sawdust inoculated with oyster mushroom spores. And she wanted to know if I wanted a couple of them. What did I say? (Altogether now; say it with me:) "Sure! Thank you!"

I don't want to create the impression that people chuck free food at me on a daily basis, but similar things have happened more than a few times since I've gotten to know my local farmers and producers on a personal basis. Free eggs, free bones to make stock, free pork jowls, the loan of useful and expensive tools, and now enough free salmon for four modest portions and a decent chance at a small crop of oyster mushrooms. Obviously, I also just like to know where my food comes from, even when I pay a fair price for it. But there really are multiple advantages to getting to know your farmers.

Of course, I try to be open handed too. I've arranged to loan our beater pickup truck this weekend to a young Agricultural Extension agent who needs to haul some horse manure for her own garden. And our broadfork will be loaned out this spring too. Farming friend got her vermicomposting system going with some red wiggler worms from our bins, and I plan to take containers of worms to the last meeting of my soils class next week to get some fellow students started on vermicomposting as well. It seems to me that farmers and other sustainability minded folks are far more open to bartering, and interested in making just a little more effort to share resources, and ensuring that nothing goes to waste. That's a good group of people to know and be a part of.


Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

You must be living right, Kate, to have such good food karma. We've been on the receiving end of blackberries, oysters, venison, striped bass, and even raspberry brandy, but never salmon or mushrooms. Enjoy!

Robin said...

Just goes to show that it's really good to know your neighbors - no matter where you live!

I am ashamed to admit that it took us 10 years to know our neighbor and then the first step was made by her not us. Because of that initial meeting, we now have good friends who we can rely on. She introduced me to chicken-raising and we now have three hens. She also brings my husband meat-based food since I cook vegetarian ;) Makes him extremely happy to get her leftovers.

Sandy said...

You are so lucky! Enjoy the bounty!

Kate said...

Tamar, if I'm earning my food karma by living right, then you must be too. I don't think salmon and mushrooms trump blackberries, venison and brandy. I'll enjoy my windfalls, but I'd enjoy yours just as well.

Robin, I have the same problem, and I don't understand why it is so very hard to get to know one's neighbors. But I'm glad to hear you've gotten to know yours and that backyard poultry has resulted.

Anon, sent you an email!

Sandy, thanks! I sure plan to!

J.N. Urbanski said...

My local farmer won't give me soup bones; I have to pay for them! You're certainly doing something right.

Jen ( said...

I agree with you!

Paula Adams Perez said...

I love it! This is the way we live our lives too - help people out whenever we can, and the blessings always flood back to us (not necessarily from the same channels!)

I have a good relationship with my previous employer (a health food grocery) and they call me whenever they have a box full of produce cuttings or bruised apples to dump. They would rather not put it in the garbage, and my husband or I try to be very faithful to always respond to their pick-up call, whether we need the compost materials or not. Besides compost, we get lots of apples that can be baked or made into sauce, and often heads of organic lettuce that are a little beat cosmetically, but still plenty good inside. If we have more than enough, I pass the cuttings on to my neighbor for her pig, or a bag of apples to a friend.

Yesterday, we received from a friend with a shop full of scrap wood. We were looking to fix up the used bunny hutch we got for free. Instead of giving us a few pieces of wood, our friend happily made the new roof to fit the hutch while we visited.

Bless and be blessed!

Aussiemade said...

We get mushroom compost very cheaply and last year from my 5 bags I grew over 20kgs of mushrooms. I will be buying some in the very near future..I feel more lovely swiss browns and button mushies comeing on. Oh to have wild salmon. Where I live in tasmania we have salmon farms on the river near us..
Karma is the greatest gift I got free zucchini my neighbour will get zucchini cake. :)

Anonymous said...

Love the bonus kitty pics :-)

Wendy said...

This is what I have found to be true, as well. That when you get to know people, the sharing begins ... with amazing results. It's how we've gotten the firewood that kept us warm all winter -- and we have enough for next winter, too --, canning supplies, books, clothes for our kids, skis, ice skates ... and food!

And of course, we reciprocate where and when we can. It's just amazing, isn't it? :)

Kate said...

JNU, maybe you need to cozy up a bit more, or maybe you just live in an area where too many people make their own stock and are therefore willing to pay good money for soup bones. At least you know where to get them...

Jen, thanks.

Momma Pajama, that sounds like a pretty sweet deal. You could supplement the feed of a good handful of livestock with the produce that's just on the far side of table quality.

Aussiemade, I've heard before from Australians who get (mostly) spent substrate by the 5-gallon bag. Mushroom producers don't seem to do that over here for some reason. Too bad for us.

Ali, ;)

Wendy, yes! Truly amazing at times.