Archive for the ‘Urban Farmwife’ Category

New Class Series by Harriet Fasenfest

We are so honored and excited to announce a new series of classes by Harriet Fasenfest. The author of Householder’s Guide to the Universe and the DVD Preserving With Friends is offering these classes in conjunction with the authorship of her new book Remembering, Re-Imagining and Returning Home. For more information on this series and to register, check out our class page. Also, read her new blog post here.

Remembering, Re-Imagining and Returning Home

“To make public protests against an evil, and yet live dependent
on and in support of a way of life that is the source of the evil, is
an obvious contradiction and a dangerous one. If one disagrees
with the nomadism and violence of our society, then one is under
an obligation to take up some permanent dwelling place and
cultivate the possibility of peace and harmlessness in it. If one
deplores the destructiveness and wastefulness of the economy,
then one is under an obligation to live as far out on the margin
of the economy as one is able: to be as economically independent
of exploitative industries, to learn to need less, to waste less, to
make things last, to give up meaningless luxuries, to understand and resist the language of salesmen and public relations experts, to see through attractive packages, to refuse to purchase fashion or glamour or prestige. If one feels endangered by meaninglessness, then one is under an obligation to refuse meaningless pleasures and to resist meaningless work, and to give up the moral comfort and the excuses of the mentality of specialization.”
~ Wendell Berry “The Long Legged House: Essays”

Remembering, Re-imagining  and Returning Home

Welcome home or to the start of your return home.  Hopefully you will join me for the full trek because I believe our homes, and the home economies that support them, will offer us comfort in the years ahead. I believe we are facing hard times and that finding a softer, kinder, more resilient way of confronting them will be necessary if we are to hold onto our hears. The negative results of our economic policies are picking up speed and we are seeing the breakdown all around us. Which is why creating homes and lives that are somewhat buffeted from the storm will be important to our emotional, spiritual and economic resiliency.  At least that’s how I see it; otherwise, I would not have bothered to write this book.  Others seem more willing to believe that a “local” economy will keep the reach and demands of the global economy at bay. Some imagine what is needed are a few new rules, taxes and incentives and that using the market place to put a price on carbon or to invest in alternative energy will create new jobs and a healthier environment. Some say it is Wall Street, moneyed interests in politics and crony capitalism that is the problem while others posit it is capitalism itself that has muddied the waters of a civil society and suggest a wholesale systems change. Though I applaud and agree with many of these efforts, my own tact is to focus on how creating a home economy can offer solutions that are not only strategic and life affirming but within reach of our own hands and hearts.

If I look toward the personal home economy as a means for a better life its because  the
systems, requirements and consequences of today’s global economy (and all markets
are global now despite what you think) are simply too large and unwieldy to hem in.
They are too powerful or too powerfully backed by those who have too long ignored the
issues that face so many of us.  We are up against a cost of living that is making life
ever more difficult.  Just as it is confronting our urban lives it is challenging our farmers
who, like us, are facing the challenges of ever increasing land costs and ever
decreasing wages.  That I write and live by the principles of “householding” and now
home economics is because faith would be hard to summon otherwise.

Having said that however, creating a home economy alone will not turn the world right.
It is an adolescent yearning to think anyone can make the world safe from the swings
and arrows of nature or human folly or that “Home” will ever give us the full shelter from
the storm we imagine. So where A Householder’s Guide to the Universe was a love
song and early imagining of a life restored to wonder, Remembering, Re-imaging and
Returning Home takes a more sober look.  It takes a look at place making in a world of
the placeless since few of us live where we were born.  Most of us are transplants,
immigrants and transients following opportunity, careers or hope.  This transience has
not only impacted our sense of place but our economic, emotional and spiritual lives. All
these things must be considered if we are to Remember, Re-imagine and Return home
in an honest and respectful way.

On the matter of spirituality however, I’ll admit a certain flush in discovering that
Returning Home, (a title I picked out of my secular mind), is often referred to within a
spiritual context.  One returns home to a truer sense of self or connection to the source.
One returns home to the sacred values that sustains life. That the phrase “returning
home” could be interpreted in a spiritual context could have been a serendipitous
discovery but in the end I think I was given insight into what a return home might mean
or require.  Though nothing is more subjective then our faith systems, I will say that the
requirements of this life — frugality for one – could not so easily be endured were it not
for a certain spiritual foundation.  At least that has been my experience.

In the end, to write of a return home was to unwind a million narratives.  Even now I fall
hopelessly short of understanding all that will challenge us.  But what I do know is that
our relationship to home is ancient and primal.  What I know is that it is woven within the
history of land and labor — by whom and for whom.  It is informed by gender, race,
caste, class, poverty and privilege.  It is marked by the workings of the marketplace as
trade brought empire and empire brought conquest and displacement.  It is marked by
science, industry and technology.  It has been defined by religious and territorial
imperatives and/or arrogance.  But most significantly, or at least not to be
underestimated, it has been marked by human nature — our virtues and vices; greed vs.
gratitude, hubris vs. humility, love, loyalty and commitment to people and place versus
things that lure us beyond.  We are inheritors of a patch-quilt legacy that has informed
not only the world without but the world within.

It is through these varying and mystifying lenses that I write.  From the practical to the
spiritual, from the historical to the personal: from charts, essays and reflections to the
tools for self reflection, Returning Home hopes to elevate not only our understanding of
home economics but its capacity to restore our lives and the life of the planet and the
people who live on it.  That, at least, is my very lofty goal.

The Farm Mom and Me

HarrietI apologize for my absence during these last few months, but the urban farm wife has been busy welcoming the urban farm mother who showed up, moved in, and settled down during these last few months.

Having mom move in with me took a bit of getting used to. I mean, two strong minded women in one household? Still, if you read my book you know Sonja (my mom) was my teacher in all things related to food, and I owe her a ton of gratitude for that. Frankly, I still do which is more a comeuppance than a surprise.

In some odd stroke of fate and synchronicity the farm mom showed up at just the right time and with just the right attitude and skills. Thanks to her the farm home is operating as it should with three square meals a day cooked from scratch with nothing wasted. Which is what I mean by my comeuppance. If it wasn’t for her, the stuff hanging out in the freezer, cellar and pantry shelf from bounty 2014 would be lingering past its prime. Though I’m a tad ashamed of my sloth it seems I get to eat humble “pie” in the form of cake — miles and miles of cherry, blueberry and strawberry cake.

blogThe cakes started showing up innocently enough. Baking has always been a way for Sonja to show her love which, for her grandson, meant cherry cake. Though canned cherries were not in my pantry when the cake-a-thons started, I kept my mouth shut deferring to the instinct that was bringing those cakes to bare. I mean love is love and if she needed to buy canned cherries then, well, I’m not about to look a gift cake in the mouth. But when she starting reaching for the my store of frozen blueberries I knew a great notion was not only being born but would soon be on the rise (sorry).

For the next few weeks we enjoyed our fair share of blueberry cakes only to be followed by strawberry cakes from my store of frozen Hoods. Though I have lost count I would imagine a half dozen strawberry cakes have met their maker which is good news given that fresh strawberry season is just around the corner. It appears that with little (or no) planning on my part strawberry stores 2014 will give way in time for strawberry season 2015 which is just the way it should happen in a perfect world (though for the record I have never lived in perfect world).

Yep, with Sonja around stuff has been moving. The tomato sauce is flying off the shelves IMG_2051(meat balls in sauce is a house favorite) as are the last of the stored potatoes (baked, boiled, mashed and repeat). We have enjoyed sides and sides of sauteed greens (made before and after the inevitable brassica flowering ensues) and piles of caramelized onions made in response to their early warp-speed sprouting and turned into “French” onion soup. My hunch It was likely some old farm wife or mom with a bunch of sprouting onions on their hands that came up with the brilliant idea to cook them to a fraction of their size and render their divinely sweet, dark and unctuous essence. Combined with a bit of beef broth and wine and top with crusty old bread and bit of melted cheese and you get something brilliant from slim pickings. Now that’s what I call enlightened peasant cooking.IMG_2058

This matter of peasant cooking is not all that removed from the world my mom came from. More likely it was cooking that still had a good deal of utility and frugality built into it — a time when three square meals a day was more a blessing then a given. That memory gets embedded in a person which is why mom is more walk then talk and why I said I was getting a comeuppance. Though I try to hold my own it is yet an optional endeavor. Eating out, particularly in Portland, Oregon, is always a tasty option. And so my hat goes to the farm mom who is showing me, once again, how it’s done and just in the nick of time.

Filling My Pantry

HarrietMy oh my, what a busy season it has been. We all knew it was coming but who really remembers in early Spring as we rush to find the earliest of strawberries for making jam? No, this is our lot in life and, for me, there is no turning back.

Living and eating by the seasons and from your pantry is not only what we do but what we are and I dare say the farmers are glad for it. At least I would assume so given their smiles at the last Fill Your Pantry Event I attended.

The event held on November 3rd in Corvallis, Oregon and sponsored by the Ten River’s Food Web was promoted as “a one-day farmers’ market offering bulk quantities of beans, grains, storage crops, and preserves. We believe this event is a great way to facilitate local eating throughout the fall and winter months. It also allows our local food farmers, ranchers, orchardists, beekeepers, and cheesemakers to move large quantities of produce before the winter season while demonstrating the ability to raise edible staples across the Willamette Valley.”

For the past four years I have made the pilgrimage to what is arguably one of my favorite events of the year. Of course I’m a bit strange but the mind and heart can burst with the energy of the local food movement. That I get to be a part of it gives me pride, farmwife pride, a cook-in-the-winter-kitchen pride.Fill your pantry

Fill your pantry 3The winter kitchen is a lovely place to be. Besides all those delicious long-simmering soups, stews, casseroles and my-oh-my pies, it is the reason for the season of our madness. It is where we put all the good work filling our pantry to the good work of feeding our friends and family.   This is the logic of the system – from seed to pantry and back around. This is the logic of the farmwife but somewhere along the line folks got too busy to cook so industry took over. Slowly folks are returning to the task but not without others spitting bullets about the notion that good old fashioned home cooking is anything other than tyranny.

There are a lot of valid reasons why folks feel over burdened in this world. Hell’s bells if there aren’t and I would be the first to say our modern world has turned the home place into little more than a way station between obligations. Cooking? Home cooking? Are you kidding me? I get it but I will say that a nation of home cooks can do more to change the culture of farming or economics in America then almost anything else I can think of.

My rationale for that statement is longer than I can post here but home cooking is a powerful tool particularly when done in support of the local farming movement. It gives them an outlet for what may otherwise not suit markets and chefs because we home cooks know that a blemish here and there does not matter. Moreover, we are invested with the skills and desire to avoid packaging and understand how the main becomes the many.

10712947_817535758269155_2265384268620865158_nWheat berries, for example, bought whole and either cooked as a side dish or cracked for porridge or ground for flour or bulgur or, or, or, allows for a myriad of transformations and a whole wheat berry, properly stored, will last well into the next season. Ground into flour, on the other hand, the germ of the wheat berry is exposed to air and can become rancid over time which is why flour should be stored in the refrigerator. This principle applies to so many other ingredients that, with a little bit of knowledge, a fully stocked winter pantry can become an invitation for endless innovation without taking up room in the fridge.

This is the way your grandparents or great grandparents or someone’s grandparents used to live and it is inspiring to see how many folks are catching on.  Heck, when I first started on this journey I had to access information on winter storage from the archives of my local extension office. Now they are displayed proudly and what a lovely thing that is.

Fill your pantry 2So while home cooking is not everyone’s path it is a yummy way to support your local farmer. Perhaps next year we will be able to have such and event in Portland. Certainly we have enough talent and heart to pull it off. For now, however, I will keep my 2015 calendar marked for this event since it is one of the highlights of my year. Oh, and if you want to get in on the action this year there is still time. The Willamette Farm and Food Coalition is hosting a Fill Your Pantry event on November 16th between 1-5. To get more information follow this link. Until then, happy winter cooking.



The Morality of Time

HarrietFor the past few years, besides growing my own food, I have partnered with a farm family (Dancing Roots and Rockwood Urban Farms) to help where help is needed. My overture (sincere if not a tad spotty at times) speaks to a growing awareness that many hands make light work but, too, that most small farmers can’t afford many hands or any hands at all if the truth be known.  Which is why such things as the InFarmation events, hosted by Friends of Family Farmers, is such a blessing. They bring willing hearts, minds, backs and hands to the issues facing small family farmers and give us “eaters” something to sink our teeth and feet into (soil that is). As for me, the commitment to partner with a family farmer is elemental to my life, to householding, to home economics and to, well, morality.IMG_1809

Excuse me for going into the murky ground of moralizing but hell’s bells if we don’t need it. Frankly, we’ve lost our footing and I blame it on a certain market mentality.  You see, there is a theory behind mainstream market economics that suggests everything in life will find it’s proper standing within the public sphere by virtue of the voting dollar.  That is to say, we have sidestepped morality in lieu of a kind of market justice.  The phrase “the market will decide” speaks to this theory. It proposes that the consumer, as the ultimate decider of justice, will shop their conscience and, on the whole, make good and fair choices to benefit the better part of our society.  Unfortunately, humans are messy and complicated creatures that more times than not make choices based on self interest and marketers know that. They know that telling us we are doing good by shopping for this or that will relieve us from the responsibility of doing good in deeper, more tangible ways.  Furthermore, they know that nobody likes a moralizer.  Nobody likes someone telling them they are being big fat pumpkin heads for thinking that shopping alone will stand in for doing the right thing. No, for that sort of moralizing you need a mom.

A friend of mine came up with the phrase “momunism” and I like it. Momunists are mommies with a mission, moms who love feeding you in the spirit of generosity and love while, at the same time, expecting you to put your time towards the social good.  “Go out and help your family farmer” has saddled up next to “Eat your peas” as the rallying cry of momunists because shopping alone is not enough.  Shopping, whether at the farmer’s market or through a CSA (community supported agriculture) is only the start. Sure, farmers need money to pay their bills (and frankly way more than we are giving them), but they also need our time in the fields.  This is not an either/or situation. Money is not time and time is not money despite what this market economy has told you.

Money is the currency of the placeless. Throw a person off the land and hand them a paycheck. Promise a rising boat. Demand their rootlessness and turn them into consumers. Erase the memory of right relationships to the soil and each other. This is spiritless thinking.

Time is what the market economy has stolen in the bargain. Time away from our homes, families, communities, land and resiliency (for who will buy what they can make for themselves?) Give them sick soil, a ravaged planet, disjointed families and tons of mindless distractions along with some half baked jingle that shopping will save the world. This is evil thinking.

IMG_1815Which is why I say money is not time and that stealing time back from the market economy to put back into our homes and soil and, and, and… is a radical act. It is why I say the home economy functions on different terms and why, if you really want your family farmers to succeed at the audacious task of repairing the soil and growing healthy food then you, as an eater, need to do more than spend money. You need to spend a bit of your time every week or month or whenever possible to go out to the fields and do some work.

So now, as the weather and season turns to a quiet roar (for much will be in the planning for 2015), I suggest you spend some time talking to your roommates, your partners, your children and your neighbors about how to spend at least part of next year’s summer vacation (which by the way is an anomaly in the real world of small scale farming). Now, in these closing days of the season when cider, donuts and trips to the pumpkin patch call us city kids to the farm, I suggest you consider this bit of momunist moralizing cause hell’s bells if you darn pumpkin heads don’t need it.


Hand Work

HarrietA series brought to you by Harriet Fasenfest, author of A Householder’s Guide to the Universe and a Portland area local. Harriet will be writing regularly about the farmwife movement and responding to readers’ own experiences and questions. If you’d like a question answered on a future blog post, send your letter to the email address at the bottom of this essay.

So here it is, the season of our madness. Stone fruits, green beans, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes and the earliest of apples and grapes. I assume you have you been dashing madly between the garden and kitchen and like me thinking This Is NO JOKE, no joke at all. Sometimes I wonder about the logic of it all but that moment passes in a flash because I am a lifer. I have opened Pandora’s box on a world less than equitable and this matter of householding or farmwifery eases my heart while, at the same time, offers a meditation on the nature of hand work.

IMG_1727Somewhere between my endless tasks I realize there is only so much work my hands can do in a day. In that way hand work is limiting and likely matched, in scale and rhythm, to the limits of the natural world. It occurs to me that there is a certain right relationship with nature to this and I wondered, as I picked, washed, stemmed and dried my grapes for raisins, whether every step away from hand work brought consequence not only to the planet but to the spirit of our lives.

There is a story we tell ourselves about progress, that we are better for our inventions. But from hand to tool, from wheel to horse, from steam to coal to oil to, now, and most egregiously, tar sands, the “hand” that turns the crank has gotten meaner over time. The consequences are in the air, water, seas and soil just as they are in our homes and families. Whether hand work will repair any of it is unclear but I has occurred to me as vital to the conversation about home economies.

I have long mused on the notion of a home economy and this matter of hand work has offered a new perspective. Consider it an ethic but hand work suggests a life of moderation. Once the screed response to those annoying kids ( as in “I have only two hands!!!!!”) it has taken on a new spin. The limits of hand work puts efficiency into the sacred context of limits, offers gratitude in place of greed, thrift in place of excess and moderation in its right relationship with nature and thereby ourselves.

IMG_1740Of course I’m being extremely idealist to suggest we can return to a world of hand work alone but it is yet true that nature functions without machines. Yes, humans are distinguished among animals by their capacity to make tools and I am not one to live without them during this busy season. I mean there is romance and then there is logic and even I do not make raisins by drying grapes out in the sun (Oregon summers are not sunny or hot enough during grape harvest). Still, taking the time to harvest my grapes by hand, to pull them from their stems, to set them in the dehydrator and hand select those which are dry from those still moist offers a meditation not only on the sacred but the profane.

You see, I am not really brave enough to calculate the cost of my raisins when compared to those at the grocery store. To do so would compare apples to oranges or the life I lead to the one industry has tried to take from me, from us, from farming and farmwifery. In my wonkier moments I will speak of pattern languages and how nature’s economy runs on a separate track, a wholly distinguishable track that holds no common language with the world of bottom lines. But that is only when I am pushed into it, when someone challenges this life as being impractical. More often I need not defend my life or the value it holds for my heart because I have opened Pandora’s box to a world less than equitable and this matter of hand work has put me (and my raisins) in right relationship with the world. At least its a decent working meditation.

IMG_1750And so my lovelies, rejoice in all your hand work even though it is NO JOKE, no darn joke at all!

Harriet Fasenfest

Urban Farmwife

Please send your letters, comments, and questions for Harriet to, including farmwife in the subject line. We look forward to hearing from you!

And So I Cook

HarrietA series brought to you by Harriet Fasenfest, author of A Householder’s Guide to the Universe and a Portland area local. Harriet will be writing regularly about the farmwife movement and responding to readers’ own experiences and questions. If you’d like a question answered on a future blog post, send your letter to the email address at the bottom of this essay.

Okay August, it’s on. I’m on, you’re on, we’re all on — the bounty, the harvest and full court preserving.  With July behind us we are well underway.  Jam pots have been filled and freezers packed with berries.  Yes, July gave us pause but nothing like what stands before us.  August, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road as stone fruits, beans, squash, cucumbers, pepper and tomatoes fall in mad succession. This is our proving ground, the time farmwives earn their cred, the time the reasons for the season make themselves known.

I’ve already mentioned some of the reasons, let us call it the farmwife initiative.  But other reasons exist – tasty ones, frugal ones, smart, farm-wife cooking ones.  This matter of cooking is, at the end of the day, what food preservation is all about, but I do not hear enough of it.  Not in the manner that befits the cause and that concerns me a bit.  Because without cooking food preservation floats perilously in the modern world of trending and trends do pass.  Before long jars of pickles and jam will saddle up between knitted hats and macrame plant holders (if you’re that old) to gather dust and mock our fleeting fascinations. I do not want to scold, but form without full-bodied function is our culture’s folly and the death knell of many a movement.  Which is why I am up in arms touting cooking – day in and day out cooking, solid simple everyday cooking, cooking from our (own) stores, cooking from the food we have put up in volume and farmer direct, cooking as the motive and logic behind this movement because without that important piece our movement is open to what may come.

I’ve thought long and hard about what may come and I don’t think I’m far off.  You see, without our deep and continued support small-scale farmers will need to look evermore to the market place for their survival.  To a certain degree they already do but in the long term the marketplace (with its long established operational systems) will demand an ever greater participation in a system that belies the heart of this movement.  The culprit (if I’m to call it that) is something called economies of scale and without going into it’s operational raison d’être, (if only because other posts will cover it) I will simply tell you that small farmers ain’t got it and likely don’t want it. What they have in it’s stead, however, is the proverbial swimming-up-stream scale because being small in an economy pegged to big is way more than an ideological stance — it is a challenge of unparalleled proportions.  Hourly wage???  Don’t ask.  So why do they do it?  Well, because they’ve looked at the land and the soil and the environment and figured out that of all the many things they could do in this life farming, honest small scale farming, might be the most ethical.  At least that’s how I figure it and I sorta agree.  Which is why I love them and love imagining I am a part of that life but not without understand my responsibility in the matter.

You see, to allow them to shoulder the weight of some pastoral mystique without standing shoulder to shoulder in the effort is blatantly unfair, and so I cook.  To leave them alone to deal with the cost of land today, the cost of start up, the learning curve, the merciless hours, the back breaking work is unfair, and so I cook.  To imagine they can sustain all the hand work and trips loading and unloading at farmer’s markets or management of weeds or watching produce gone to seed or chores left undone or a house left to disrepair is unfair, and so I cook.  To assume that it is fair that they cannot pay for help or take a weekend off is unfair, and so I cook.  I cook because I’m afraid what will happen if I don’t.   Because if I don’t then I cannot blame them for looking elsewhere.   Soon they will be open to whatever port in a storm is available to them.  Soon specialization will creep back into the lexicon.  Soon (and this is beginning to happen) they will be approached by big business (the brokers and big chain supermarkets) telling them to quit all that silly small farm diversity stuff and grow an exclusive main crop at guaranteed prices before season’s end which will mean, as it has meant before, pennies on the dollar.

Soon competition will increase and payments decrease.  Soon get big or get out will repeat its rationalizing mantra.  Soon farmers will see their crop shipped or trucked hither and thon or mixed with the produce of other farms to end up as private-label, value-added stuffs marketed as “organic on a budget” which will, at first glance, appear fair but on closer consideration will reveal the principles of economies of scale and efficiency systems and vertical integration come full circle. Soon it will be production, distribution and consumption as usual if only with a brand new organic and local party hat and frankly, who could blame them?  I mean you try being a broke ass hard working small scale farmer for a couple of years and then talk.  So I get it, see it, and fear it.   We is why I yammer on so much about farm direct purchasing and farmwifery, food preservation and now cooking.  It is why, if you haven’t figured it out, I say we farmwives are important, no, VITAL, bookends to this movement and that we have to show up, put up, be counted and cook.  If not do not be surprised when the revolution is packaged and sold on your grocer’s shelf.

But what’s that you say?????  You’re too busy to cook.  I know that rationale and I will not jump into that briar patch except to say busyness is not particular to our generation but rather, as a generation, particularly based on the presupposition of leisure.  And leisure, as it has been handed down to the people (particularly during the growing season) is the rationale of efficiency systems, cum industry, cum economies of scale, cum marketing, cum chicken Mc nuggets or, at the other end of the spectrum, fancy hand-crafted foods that speak the language of a movement many times removed from the economies of small scale farming.   Leisure, as it turns out, is based on a certain lie and either costs too much or too little and, dependent on class, is feeding a people either filler or hype.

Yes, yes, we are busy or perhaps only seduced by the easy flow of food stuffs brimming from street carts to grocery stores (in fact Heat-and-Eat family meals is one of the quickest growing segments in grocery sales) or because we imagine cooking a mystery.  My sense is we’ve made too much of cooking or maybe just fancy cooking.  But farmwife cooking ain’t fancy, it’s real!

Perhaps one day I’ll get around to writing a cookbook that shows just how simple it can be.  Then again, there are plenty of books out there that can give you the basics and as I’ve written before, all you really need is one “how to cook everything” cookbook and you’re set.  The Joy of Cooking is still my go-to favorite, but the point is you don’t need to complicate things.  Really, all you need is a willingness and commitment to cook your meals.

I guess I’m lucky.  I hail from a generation whose parents still cooked.   Utility was the point, frugality was the reality.   There were no recipes, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mother look at a cookbook.  What she had was a repertoire.  Most nights there were baked potatoes set on the dinner table, and no one ever decried the repetition.  They were easy to make, affordable and tasty; a virtual farmwife trifecta. Vegetables were simply steamed with a little meat roasted or broiled to the side.  Dessert was simple.  Applesauce or fruit compote – that mystery of stewed dried fruits reconstituted with a bit of lemon peel and cinnamon.  A miracle of thrifty innovation.

Beside my mother I have sat at the table of older farmwives.  Women I have met since moving to Oregon and from whom I’ve learned both the simplest and most profound style of cooking.   Biscuits or cornbread cooked in the flash of an eye and repeated infinitum.  A jar of pickles brought out at every meal or that here-to-fore odd but soon to be revived (if I have anything to do with it) mixture of frozen mixed vegetables cooked in a flash.   Sausage, steaks, ground beef or chicken defrosted and simply cooked (if you go that way) keeps it easy along with a bit of mashed potatoes.  Canned fruit sauces (apple, pear, plum, whatever), served to the side of many a pork chop or for dessert or in baking – miles and miles of baking in muffins and cake – is simply utility unbound.

Yes, this is August, the season of our madness.  As you continue with your bad selves let me encourage you to think seriously about how you cook, what you cook, how much you cook and, most importantly, why you cook.  Choose items to preserve or store that will go the distance.  Put on your farmwife hat and think utility more than fancies.  And on that note I offer you mom’s recipe for stewed fruit.  Couldn’t be any easier.

Dried FruitSonja’s Ever So Delicious Stewed Fruit

In a pan put an assortment of dried fruit (the fruit you dried over the season)

Suggestions: – Prunes, apples, apricots and pears

Add a stick of cinnamon and a few slices of lemon peel

Add water to cover

Bring to the boil

Turn off heat, cool

Put in a jar and let the fruit sit overnight to make it’s own syrup

Eat as is or served with yogurt or cottage cheese or on pancakes or, or, or.

Will stay good in fridge till a very long time!

Harriet Fasenfest

Urban Farmwife

Please send your letters, comments, and questions for Harriet to, including farmwife in the subject line. We look forward to hearing from you! 

Greetings from the Urban Farmwife

A new series brought to you by Harriet Fasenfest, author of A Householder’s Guide to the Universe and a Portland area local. Harriet will be writing regularly about the farmwife movement and responding to readers’ own experiences and questions. If you’d like a question answered on a future blog post, send your letter to the email address at the bottom of this essay.

HHarrietowdy all and welcome to what I hope becomes a healthy conversation between friends.   I’m so excited to be a part of this movement which, since the publication of A Householder’s Guide to the Universe, has not only grown by leaps and bounds but taken on many names. For some the term urban homesteading fits, for others it is radical homemaking. My own term “householding” has expanded to include urban farmwifery; a phrase as apt to my life as it might be controversial.

I’m not sure exactly when the term came to mind but at some point in my evolution I considered the phrase “farmwife” as distinct to the larger notion of farming itself.   You see, for a number of reasons I had stopped “farming” much of my own food. I credit age (and a weakening back) as part of the reason but I also felt ever more inclined to support a young farming movement. With so many of the next generation looking to farming in response to socio-economic and environmental concerns and, too, as a way to make a living, I felt obliged to support them. Which does not mean I have given up growing food all together (I’m definitely a lifer) but just those things I need in quantities my backyard space could not supply.

As some of you might know, I’m a serious preserver. Yep, if it grows I want to can, dry, freeze or store it for winter use. Which is why the householding or preserving CSA model worked so well for me. Instead of the normal weekly or bi-monthly CSA shares, I receive large one-time installments in quantities that work for my preserving needs. You know — ten pounds of green beans or cucumbers for pickling, 100 pounds of tomatoes for canning. The model works well for me and likely would for others with limited space (preserving shares are getting more popular so speak to your farmer) but while I was not quite as busy in the garden growing food I was just as busy in the canning kitchen, even busier.

You see, the closer I worked with farmers the more I realized how little time they had to put up their own stores or, for that matter, cook meals during the busy growing season. I realized what was missing in their lives was the farmwife; that here-to-fore unheralded partner in a farm system. Now don’t get upset at me. I’m not speaking gender here but skill sets. We cannot really speak of farm “husbandry” without recognizing the role and value of farm “wifery” at least I doubt any farmer would deny it. In fact over the years I have had more than one farmer “propose” marriage to me and not because of love.  Of course I’m being cheeky here but men and women (together and separately) have begged me to marry them if only in recognition of what my role in their lives meant.

To come home after a full day in the field to a hot meal or, in the morning, to a breakfast of eggs and biscuits is no small thing. To be able to reach for (after spending countless hours growing food for others), your own canned tomatoes or pickles in winter is a joy but this is not always what farmers can do. No, more likely they are so busy out in the field that they miss the opportunity to do this. Which is why, how and when I realized that I was a freak’n farmwife. Sure I lived in the city and was divorced (another story) but I was wifering myself all over the place and loving it.

I was the one in the farmhouse cooking up meals and calling farmhands to lunch (and darn if I did not ring that triangle thingy). I was the one cleaning out the fridge (you know the one that looks like a poltergeist came to call?) from the endless “we’ll get to this later” food stuff in waiting.   I was the one making meals and freezing them for later or canning up whatever else those poor besotted lovers of the soil wanted me to do. I was, in essence, an angel, a farmwife angel.

If I have taken on this role it is not simply because I like to cook or preserve or, maybe, just like being a friend, but because they, the farmers, need us. Not just to cook meals or can up stores but to support them in the type of direct purchasing they need. Which is another part of this farmwifery thing. We are the bookends to an economic system. Just as they grow the food we must use it, cook with it, put it up in quantities that get us through the year. We must give them an ever greater share of our incomes because they need us to. We cannot compare the food they grow to the stuff we can buy at the store. Economies of scale (small scale) will mean big prices and we need to be at peace with this. But we can mitigate the costs by staying outside the box. That’s another fine and fabulous thing farmwives can do.

Every year we haul out the old jars (or buy new ones to start our supply) to do what we have been doing for generations before, that is, rural wisdoms got turned into big supply chains. Every year we step outside the packaging and distribution chains most foods must rely on. Every year we learn more about the seasons and what it really takes to grow good food — the victories and the gains and we share that with our farmers. They need us and we, by golly, need them. Which is why I say we farmwives are bedfellows and bookends to the farming movement. Both of us are trying to create a new model, a new economy, the home economy (which I mention only as a tease for future letters.) We are the new dynamic duos – farmer (urban or rural) to farmwife (urban or rural). Oh heck yes. Yep, I am a radical urban farmwife and darn proud of it.

So that’s how it happened. That’s how this householder became a farmwife and why I encourage you to try the name on yourself. Remember, this is not specific to gender. And just like farming itself, farmwifery has been dumbed down and co-opted by industry. Frankly to be so excited about the young farming movement and say nothing of farmwifery is it’s own sort of gender bias and I’ll not have it. Nope, let’s just say I’m old enough, ornry enough and, well, smart enough to know better.

So tell me your name, send me your letters — what you do, what you think about and how you are moving this movement forward. I promise to read them all and respond as time and space permits on our blog. Let’s start coming together to teach each other, support each other and keep this movement going and growing. Rural and urban, farmer and farmwives and everyone and anyone in-between and by any other name. Oh yeah!

Harriet Fasenfest

Urban Farmwife

Please send your letters, comments, and questions for Harriet to, including farmwife in the subject line. We look forward to hearing from you!