Beginnings of an End

by Sherrie Kelly

By Amy Feiereisel

Time in the semester and on the farm is tick-tick-ticking away. You would think that everything would be winding down at the house, but the last few weeks have been full of excitement, guests, and a plethora of food projects for our class based at the Sustainability House, Dirt to Delicacy (taught by our very own Ben Swimm, homesteader-in-residence!).

In this half-credit-course, affectionately dubbed “farm class”, we explored how food gets from the ground to the table, with an emphasis on how to transform raw ingredients into food that can be eaten in days or weeks, if not months, in the future. One sunny morning we made sourdough bread, pounding thick ropes of dough onto the counter in the hopes of getting some extra lift in the bread. On another we harvested fresh veggies and started the fermentation process, resulting in a refrigerator chock-full of pickles, sauerkraut, and some very salty Brussels sprouts. On a more somber, gray-skies afternoon, I participated in my first chicken slaughter, which was a profoundly powerful and moving experience. Piece by piece, food production and farm life have turned from vague idea to concrete reality.

After all this food production, it was finally our turn! Each student had to pick a “food project” to complete, preferably something you were unfamiliar with. Just a few of the projects included vegan cheese, peanut butter, tofu, and mozzarella cheese. I was determined to do something outside my comfort zone and also something that would require a little more time and effort (it’s not often you get to say you have to cook for class). Since I have been following a pretty grain-free diet, and I hail from the mighty land of Texas, I decided to make my own, from-scratch, treated-with-lime tortillas, a la South America.

It was a bit of a challenge finding my ingredients, but eventually persistence and access to such a rich farming community won out. I used locally grown, organic corn from Little Grasse Foodworks and powdered lime…from the Hardware store. You win some, you lose some.

After boiling the whole corn with lime, letting the pot ferment for a day, rubbing the shells off in cold water, and finally grinding it in the food processer (cup by precious cup), I had my masa harina dough. A quick press and a minute in a sizzling-hot skillet later, I bit into my first tortilla of two years. It was glorious. Hot, crunchy, chewy…and corny! The next few days were resplendent with breakfast tacos, lunch tacos, dinner tacos…and some seriously killer corn chips.

All finger-licking food aside, there was a wonderful sense of empowerment that came with completing my food project; I had set my mind to something and finished it, feeding myself and others in the process. I also really valued making something less novel and more everyday – staples like bread, tortillas, and yogurt get far less attention than “gourmet” items like jam, ice cream,  or duck confit, but are just as important. The fact that they are staples means they are used often, so a consciousness about how they are made seems even more relevant to daily life. Like many of my other experiences at the Sustainability House, making tortillas drew back the curtain on an area of life I had previously been unaware of.

On an extremely practical level, my project also allowed me to de-mystify a certain kind of food production, a sentiment I heard echoed by many of my classmates. After all, once you’ve done something the first time, it’s never quite as scary again. Since I recently bought ten pounds of corn to bring back home (tortillas every night!), I’d say I’ve gotten a tad bit more comfortable with the corn-treating process.

So as the semester comes to a close, here’s some advice inspired by three months living at the Sustainability House: try something new and unusual and slightly scary sounding. This could be a compost bin, or a small pot of herbs, or a food project like mine; whatever you choose, it will shift your perspective and hopefully empower you. The different and strange and unknown often turn out to be beautiful (and if you’re lucky, delicious to boot!).