Interdependence AND…

Kale Mix Harvested

This past spring saw a surge of interest in gardening and in articles on the topic. I came across one by a woman who had good advice, but made a comment that didn’t sit right with me. She said her family’s reason for growing their own food was not ideology since they believe in interdependence.

After much reflection, I realize my discomfort is in being asked to choose between interdependence and independence, as if anyone could be just one.

My Garlic

Certainly I am seeking to gain skills that make me feel strong and responsible and let me take back some power over my basic needs. But I don’t see that as isolationist – in fact, it often comes from a place of seeing and caring about my connections to the rest of the world and wanting to improve those relationships. I continue in the tradition of The Nearings and Wally and Juanita Nelson with a philosophy of food growing that strives to honor and experience my interdependence with the whole

Monarch Pollinating

planet and find ways to live here that avoid doing harm.

My goal is to do more for myself, and then to shift who I am dependent on to more local sources and relationships. That way, I can have some say in how things are done, as well as cutting the travel footprint of goods.  But I don’t expect to ever be going it alone.

I also find that the more I engage in these activities the more connected and interdependent I often feel, in both liberating and frustrating ways.

Canned Peaches

Canning Peaches

A full root cellar and shelves of preserved food in the fall brings me such pride and satisfaction and a sense of safety. But, being a gardener during a drought, as I am right now, is tremendously humbling, a moment when I truly understand how little control I personally have over the world and my own best-laid plans. Keeping bees also shows me the limits of my personal power. Although I can work hard to be a good beekeeper, I can’t control many of the problems they suffer from: exposure

My Apiary in June 2020

to pesticides and fungicides, forage opportunities lost to development and lawns, erratic weather including droughts, and new diseases and pests traveling quickly around the globe.

These situations help me understand the balance between what I can do by myself and what I must join with others to accomplish.

I live in the US, a culture that tends towards extremism and either/or dichotomies: you’re with them or against them; powerful or a victim; independent or helpless; useful or useless. I am also posting this a couple of weeks after July 4, US Independence Day, when people celebrate the concepts of freedom and self-reliance. Those are great qualities… but when they are emphasized by themselves, they become warped, even pathological, devaluing our connections to and care for others and exacerbating loneliness.

If anyone starts to really think it through, it quickly becomes clear how much we depend on others, especially in a complicated, industrialized society. Even if you have all the skills to fix your computer, your car, your health problems, pave your own roads, make your own clothing, grow your food, cook and preserve it – no one person has the time to do all that. When we pay others to do this work we somehow don’t count it as a dependency, but it is. Can we embrace that, or at least accept that it is the reality?

Hen with Chicks

I can relate to the wish of needing no one but myself. I grew up in a chaotic, stressful house with a mother who had Multiple Sclerosis. I watched her lose all her physical abilities and become increasingly dependent on others, while receiving the societal message that this made her less and less valuable. It was excruciating for my whole family, and from there the idea of living alone in the woods depending on only myself had a certain appeal. I started camping as a young woman, even took classes in “primitive skills” to learn how to survive by myself. 

One Bee on Gooseberry

However, I discovered that the amount of work and dedication that took was more than I could realistically do by myself for any length of time, shaking my illusions of truly doing it by myself.

There is now lots of research including in the fields of neuroscience and health that show how social our species is and how isolation hurts us. I also raise other animals so I have a comparison point. Our goats can stand, run and clean themselves within an hour of birth, and our poultry aren’t far behind,

Mom and Kid

while a human takes years to do those things and then lots more to be taught other necessary skills to live well. Yet we have this wish to see ourselves as needing no one.


It is both humbling and beautiful to see how connected we are. To consider how little control I really have over the world and my life scares me. But, to see how much a part of a larger whole I am, to feel how much support I receive just to be alive, and to know that I share the responsibility for the world with many others is a big relief.

I don’t think I’m alone in internalizing this more deeply lately. In this time of pandemic and economic crisis, many people see that we are truly in this together.  Can we find more ways of acting like it across race, gender, class, political beliefs and species? We have so much to gain.

“It is a law of life that man [sic] cannot live for himself alone. Extreme individualism is insanity. The world’s problems are also our personal problems. Health is achieved through maintaining our personal truth in a balanced relation of love to the rest of the world.” –Harold Clurman

Swallowtail Butterfly on Echinacea


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Food Preservation: Dehydrating

A couple months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of food preservation is even clearer to me. More people are gardening now, and learning how to make that harvest last is so empowering. In past blogs, I talked about food preservation generally, then focused on nutrition issues. This time I will look specifically at one technique: Dehydrating.

Drying is the oldest known method of food preservation by humans, dating back at least 14,000 years. It was applied to meats, fruit, herbs, eggs and more. This method works by removing moisture from the food, historically using air, sun, wind or smoke, which stops microorganisms from growing in the food (Water is Life, remember!).

I’ve dried herbs for a long time, but I only expanded to other foods a few years ago after coming across one of those small circular electric dehydrators at Good Will. I have also recently circled back to another group of foods that can air dry. I’ll discuss all of these.

Calendula Blossoms

Air Drying Herbs

I’ve dried herbs for making infusions, salves and oils for a couple of decades now. Herbs generally are low in moisture already so I didn’t need added electricity. When I worked at Mill Valley Farm in Stratham NH we added dried herbs to our products one year. The owner of the farm built screened racks to set up in his attic. It was uncomfortably hot for us up there, but worked beautifully. On my own, even in tiny apartments, I had great success laying out my nettles (Urtica dioica), red clover blossoms (Trifolium pratense) or calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis) in a paper bag (to avoid direct sunlight hitting them) and hanging that in a sunny window or putting the bags in the car.

Electric Dehydrators

My First Dehydrator

But for foods with higher moisture content, I needed a more active approach. A friend of ours built a number of solar dehydrators, which probably work great in a dry environment. However, here in humid New England, the process took too long, and molds started to move in before we got out enough water.  (Anyone reading this have a solar option that works in New England – I’d love to hear about it!)

So, when I found the electric dryer, it was my chance to give that a try. I figured I could dry anything, but I didn’t know if I would like the end product or have a good way to use it. So, I just started experimenting, trying: kale, collards, summer squash, eggplant, tomato, radish, snap beans and any seedless fruit I came up with. Not everything was a hit. Here’s what I now know I like:

I Made Raisins!

-Fruits. I’ve long been a big fan of dried fruit, raisins and much more. To me, dried fruit usually tastes even better than the unprocessed fruit does. Often what I find commercially is from far away, like papaya and mango. Doing it myself gives me the opportunity to expand my options with what I can grow here: peaches, pears, hardy kiwi and more. I made my own raisins last year – delicious! A friend just shared dried watermelon with me – amazing! I look forward to trying persimmons and pawpaws once those are established here. The learning curve with fruit centers around how to dry it enough to be unfriendly to microbe growth, but still moist and chewy. At least that’s how I like it – you can try it and discover what you like. It can take a full day, depending on how small you’ve cut it up and what the weather is so start early!

Dried Kale

-Leaves. Kales and collards have been a great success. I cut out the stem and cut the leaves into pieces, which can be dry in just a few hours on a good drying day. They could be eaten as is, but I tend to put them into soups, stews, and braised vegetable dishes. They re-hydrate nicely.

-Tomatoes. Everyone knows about sun-dried tomatoes, and I think doing it in the dehydrator tastes just as good. At least that’s what my partner says since tomatoes don’t sit that well with my stomach. He can pop them into his own bowl of soup, or have them on his side of a pizza, or toss them in his salad bowl or pasta dish.

-Other. I will usually dry other items if I happen to have a lot. Last year I did some summer squash and radishes. For us, if we don’t end up loving them, we can always share them with our goats!

Drying Peaches in the Excalibur

Once I was sure I liked it, I bought myself an Exacalibur Dehydrator, complete with thermostat, timer and fan for air circulation and later add stainless steel trays. Less fussing (moving the trays around, turning over the food) is needed with this model and I get a more consistent end product.

Usually when I am drying, the weather is hot and humid so I am lucky to have a screened porch where running the dehydrator won’t add heat to our house. Ideally, I will set it up on a sunny morning so it’s working when there is the most heat and least humidity already.

Popcorn, Sunflowers & Winter Squash

Expanding My Air Dry Options

As my available garden space expanded, I wanted to try new things, especially long lasting staple crops like drying beans and grains. Not many people grow these for themselves, I think because the processing seems daunting. It did to me at first. But I came to realize that at the home-scale I could do much of it by hand.

These are crops that start drying on the vine or stalk, then just need some time in a relatively dry, airy place to finish up. We have a high ceiling in our living room and strung some rope for suspending corn cobs and paper bags of beans. Once dry, I can remove the dried pods from the beans or twist the kernels off the corn which sitting by the fire watching something fun. I now grow 6 varieties (there are SO many kinds!) of dried beans (True Red Cranberry, Jacob’s Cattle, Good Mother Stallard, Pinto, Turkey Craw and Dolloff), popcorn, and dent or flint corns for grinding into cornmeal. We already had a grain mill since I have been grinding grain for myself for years. I tried to grow wheat one year, but the

Dried Beans

birds harvested it for me. I will try again – maybe even this year! The sunflowers are for the chickens in mid-winter. I especially love the beans… this is a plant that feeds the soil while providing a yield, will climb up a fence for easy later harvesting, and is full of protein – a super-food-crop in my opinion!

What I love about drying is what a long shelf life these foods have (if you keep them dry) with no added energy after the initial processing. I don’t have to worry about a power outage like I do with my freezer.  Also, the prep time is not as extensive or heat generating as canning or freezing can be during our hottest season.

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Food Preservation: Nutrition

I have practiced food preservation for years, loving how it helps me eat local food year-round and practice permaculture principle 2: Catch and Store Energy. Writing more about preserving was already my plan before we entered this new coronavirus world of social distancing and grocery store shortages. Now, it seems even more relevant.

Our July 2019 Veggie Garden

I don’t think we are in great danger of running out of food. But, I do think the safety of shorter supply chains and of avoiding stores is appealing, the health benefits from real, nutritious foods can only help us, and that people taking stock of what they truly need and rely on is leading to a new appreciation of food

A Few of my Favorite Seed & Plant Catalogs

growing. Seed sales are booming, CSA memberships are selling out, and garden plots are in demand. It follows that soon, how to use and save what is grown will be the question.

Before looking at specific techniques for preserving in detail, I want to address the issue of possible nutrient loss in preserved foods.

The belief that raw plant foods are ideal is currently popular. I was taught differently. Years ago, driven by my own health problems and by environmental and ethical concerns, I researched human nutrition and experimented with a number of different diets. I can say that vegan, low-fat, and raw veggie diets only further worsened my health. But, along the way, I was lucky to discover some people who helped me learn and make choices that have served me well, especially brilliant Wise Woman Susun Weed, and The Weston A. Price Foundation.

I learned that animal products are generally best raw but not plants. Plants treated in some way to break their tough cell walls makes the nutrients, especially minerals, that they contain much more accessible to their animal consumers (that includes human animals). This is supported by looking back at how our ancestors ate, and at current research.

Plant Cell Walls


The basic idea is that the thick cell walls of plants hold in the nutrition we need.

Our teeth cannot break the cell walls, and our digestive juices are not strong enough to do so either. We didn’t evolve an internal cooking (fermenting) system, like ruminants have, so, if we want to get value out of plant foods external “cooking” methods become necessary.

When I say “cooking” what I am referring to are any ways that break those cell walls. Heat is one way – roasting, baking, grilling, etc. Other options are freezing, drying, lacto-fermenting, and covering in oil or vinegar (think salad dressing). You can actually see this process happen, when a crisp bright piece of kale turns limp and dark in your soup, when the lettuce starts to look weird and slimy sitting in the dressing a long time, when your frozen blueberries warm up and, well, are just not the same as fresh. These are all clues that you can now really benefit from eating these!

Carrots, filled with carotenoids!

Minerals & Vitamins

Minerals are elemental rocks which can have different forms but can’t be destroyed by anything in your kitchen.

Vitamins, especially antioxidants, are often enhanced by cooking. Research has shown this with lycopene, carotenoids and ferulic acid. Vitamin C is a less stable compound so will break down more easily, with heat, exposure to light or time. However, Vitamin C is in a lot of plant foods – not just citrus – and much does remain after cooking.

Cooking In Water

One reason people became worried that cooking meant less nutrition may be because of this fact: if you heat a plant in water, the freed nutrients can leach into the water. If you are a drinker of Nourishing Herbal Infusions you will also understand this, as we rely on the long, hot water treatment of the herbs to move those compounds into the water. Here’s the key – the nutrients haven’t been destroyed but transferred into the liquid. That’s why for herbal infusions we squeeze out the herbs and compost them then drink

Braising Garden Veggies

the liquid only. If you boil veggies and throw out the water – yeah, you’ve wasted a lot. So make sure not to do that! We prefer oven roasting in olive oil, and also braising on the stove top with oil and a little water. Whatever liquid is left we make sure to ingest as well.

What About Enzymes?

Dr. Pottenger’s research did show that the enzymes in raw meat and raw milk aid our digestive process, which is why raw milk is more easily digestible. However, the enzymes in fruits and veggies are mostly destroyed by our own bodies because we don’t need them.

Elderberries in the kitchen


There are a number of constituents found in plants that are toxic or anti-nutritional to us which cooking deactivate, like oxalic acid in spinach, and cyanide-inducing glycosides in elderberry and phytohaemagglutinin in kidney beans.

Uncooked veggies aren’t useless to us – we get fiber, and some of the vitamins and minerals they contain. But at a time when we are worried about feeding the world and many well fed people have specific deficiencies, it seems we should try to get the most we can from what we eat.


The good news in terms of food preservation is that most of these techniques also offer us more bio-available nutrition. The research shows that some methods of cooking and of preserving keep certain nutrients better than others which is an argument for a diversity of tactics. In my next posts I’ll go over the varied options we have for keeping our harvests year-round.

I do know that there are wildly differing opinions, experiences and even conflicting research results out there.  I’ve shared here my own experience and what I learned from people I trust for you to consider and make your own best choices for yourself!


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