Wholier Than Thou

I devoured Eliot Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook in two sittings yesterday. Fantastic book. I rarely write reviews on the website, and this isn’t going to be one, but I’d seriously recommend it to fellow northerners looking to expand their garden season. Capital allowing, I will start experimenting with his techniques this fall.

He’s basically got three central techniques:

  1. Quick hoops: low tunnels which cover two of his standard 30″ wide garden beds. These are designed to overwinter crops for early spring harvest. Though if you got a warm spell mid-winter and something was ready, you could harvest it then.
  2. Cold houses: unheated greenhouses made of metal frames and greenhouse plastic. The outer greenhouse protection is paired with a second cover 12″ off the soil on flat-topped wire wickets. The two covers combine to give effectively three zones more warmth, moving his zone 5 coastal Maine climate to a zone 8 climate. These houses are actively harvested during the winter. The houses are mobile, using a multi-plot rotation (described in detail in the book) to get three crops out of the same plot.
  3. Cool houses: minimally heated greenhouses with a minimum temperature of 35F. The extra heat, primarily to protect the water system for their produce washing and packing station, allows for a small growing area with six crops per season.

For a variety of reasons they strive to focus on the minimal inputs allowed by the cold houses and the quick hoops, as well as traditional uncovered summer plantings, all depending on a complex rotation and market demands. Johnny’s sells a lot of the hardware and tools Coleman developed, but he encourages all homesteaders and farmers to experiment and modify. No one has the perfect design.

What does this have to do with the title? The real reason I started this post early on a Saturday morning was to share this wonderful quote. The details about the book above just kind of spilled out 😛

The quote starts with a story about a rant he gave to his wife, how if he were to open a store (instead of selling to markets and having an on-farm produce stand during the warm season), it would sell only “real food”. The description I quote below is, to me, beautiful. It encapsulates everything I’ve been trying to do with my family’s own diet, and talking about in posts like the Food Ziggurat.

…since we were talking about “whole” food she had the perfect name for the store: I could call it the “Wholier Than Thou Market”.

Well, i am very serious about the need for such a store, although I don’t have the time to initiate it myself. I offer the idea and the store name to anyone who would like to take the next step beyond where industrial pressure has stalled the organic movement. This store would sell no prepackaged food. Breads and crackers would be whole grain and made fresh daily. There would be no aged bags of flour but only wheat or oat or rye berries for the customer to grind into fresh flour with the store’s mill. Milk would be raw from a local grass-fed herd and so would the butter. If you wanted juices they would be squeezed fresh into your own glass container. Meat, poultry, and eggs would be local and range fed. The fruits and vegetables would be fresh year-round from nearby fields and greenhouses. The only processed foods would be the traditional ones like cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, dried tomatoes, wine, and beer. The only sweeteners would be honey and maple syrup. Real food. We all know what it is.

You can easily imagine the displeasure of the organic food processors with the “Wholier Than Thou Market.” They are already dismayed at nutritionist Joan Gussow’s truthful reference to their products as “value added, nutritionally degraded.” But I’m convinced that it is in the best interest of healthy humans to make food processors redundant. Furthermore, all the items in the “Wholier Than Thou Market” would be purchases directly from nearby growers. No middleman, no energy-intensive long-distance shipping, no need for preservatives. That would make a few other mercenary mercantile groups redundant.

Is this radical? Possibly. But then organic farming seemed pretty radical when I started.

(page 212, The Winter Harvest Handbook)

I’m a terrible businessman, so you won’t exactly see me doing this either, but I’m trying to build this for our family. The drive to have real food, food that exceeds your wildest expectations of taste, is what drives my homesteading dream. While we’re stuck in the city, we’re still doing as much as we can. I’m still a novice gardener, but I’m getting better, and next year’s garden expansion is particularly ambitious.

We’re now milling our own flour. I’m finding more and more recipes that have me excited about real, simple ingredients. I’ve always been a minimalist cook but books like Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi are utterly inspiring. They do amazing things with simple ingredients and judicious seasoning. I’ve got a design for a root cellar, again money depending.

While in the city, I’m looking at getting neighbors to co-operate and do community gardening, or at least let me cut up their lawns and pay them in veggies. Maybe I’ll offer milling. My taste in bread is a bit different than most Americans, but I’m thinking of offering bread and pizza-making classes. If the root cellar comes together, it will be big enough to store a bit more than what we can eat ourselves.

Have any of you done any community food initiatives? Would you shop at a Wholier Than Thou Market? If you’re a northerner like me, do you do any winter gardening?


7 Comments on “Wholier Than Thou”

  1. I love the idea of a Wholier Than Thou Market! Whole Foods did a presentation on healthy snacking and I was really struck by the contrast between the foods we made for snack (salad, energy balls, and ranch-tasting cashew dip), all of which were delicious and made of real food, and the processed snacks in the goody bags they gave us, all of which were fake and some of which were truly disgusting (teriyaki-flavored seawood… *shudders*).

    Are you addicted to milling now? I have absolutely 0 interest in milling my own flour (one more device I would have to shop for, maintain, etc.) but I could really get on board with the idea of a store where I could do it with THEIR equipment. I’m sure the kids would love watching :-).

    • David says:

      I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to milling, but it is a good practice. With wheat breads, the taste is milder, and the nutrition content is higher. The fresh buckwheat flour made really tasty waffles. I haven’t yet tried milling my own corn, but corn is a grain you want as absolutely fresh as possible, because it is the quickest to spoil.

      I’m still learning my particular machine though.

      And about the store having a mill – mills have traditionally always been a community endeavor.

    • Tarynkay says:

      In my experience, the kind of super hippie-doomsday-prepper-Wholier-Than-Thou stores that sell wheat for milling also have a grain grinder on site. Lots of people don’t want to mess with owning one personally. We had one for awhile but sold it as we didn’t find it worth the trouble. Anyhow, if you can find a place that sells wheat in your area, they will likely be able to mill it there for you as well.

      • David says:

        Hmmm, the yuppie hippie market I go to does sell grain, but they do not have mills. Plus, I would never want to rely long-term on buying from there, as it is $$$ compared to buying 50lb bags and storing/milling yourself.

  2. Liquid says:

    It might be hard to do some of these food growing and processing procedures in a big city but I can see the appeal. A lot of people up here in Canada grow winter wheat during the cold season. 🙂

    By the way, I’m polling PF bloggers for a future blog post idea. If you know your Myers-Briggs personality type would you mind sharing it with my readers? I’ll link your results back to your site.

    You can take the test here if you don’t yet know your type. http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp I’m an INTJ by the way 🙂

    It would be great to include you in my research project, but no worries if you don’t want to either. 😀


    • David says:

      Liquid – I come out as an INFJ, which is one of the rarer types. FWIW, I am practically 50/50 on the last two letters, but when reading the various descriptions of the types, I think INFJ is the correct type for me currently.

      From what I understand, INTJ is a *very* common type among the PF/FIRE crowd.

      • Liquid says:

        So far it looks like only 7% of people who responded to me, including you, say they are INFJ. Thanks for getting back to me. 🙂 I’ll include your results in my future article. 😉

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