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A Small Medium @ Large

Down in Ozark County we planted a lot of beans to store up for the winter, maybe a thousand row feet.  Like everything else, they’re coming in late. There’s simply no time to can them and we don’t rely on freezer space.  Here’s a pioneer (or prepper) alternative we’re trying out this year:

Leather Britches or “Shucky Beans”   

Select young tender green beans that contain small bean seeds as large as can be obtained without the pods being tough. String and break off each end of the pods.

Thread a large needle with No 40 sewing thread (or maybe kite string if you can find it).  Tie both ends of the thread together forming a large knot. Take a pod and pierce needle through center bean seed.  Continue to put needle through all the pods in the center.  When a string is full finish it off with center seed in last pod.

Hang strings over a wire or rope stretched across porch or upstairs in a garage.  Do not let them get damp with rain or fog.  As soon as they are dry enough to crimp or rattle, place them in plastic bags and tie securely so no insects can get in them.  Be sure they are perfectly dry or mold will get in them and be unfit for use.

To cook “Shucky Beans”

The day before the beans are to be served, take about two strings of beans, wash carefully, cover with cold water and soak overnight.  Next morning put beans in cooker- an iron pot improves the flavor.  Boil hard for 30 minutes.

Drain well, wash under running water.  Return to cooker, add two teaspoons of salt, ¼ to ½ pound of fat back or salt pork or a ham bone, and about ¼ cup of dried, yellow-eyed beans.  

Cover with hot water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until done, about three hours.  Cook until most water is absorbed and beans are just dry.  Serve hot with cornbread.

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Switching topics, my sesame crop turned out to be more of an education than anything else.  It was a long wet spring and I didn’t get around to properly disking the bottom to knock down the grasses and weeds.  So I took three seed types (saved from two years ago) and mowed and sowed an acre or so by hand right over the top to see what happened.

I patiently explained to incredulous friends that I’d adopted Masanobu Fukuoka’s (1913-2008) do-nothing philosophy.  His celebrated natural farming techniques include no chemicals, no tillage of the land and no composting.  Fukuoka wrote The One Straw Revolution and is still cited by helpful folks with little or no evidentiary support of actually trying to wrest a living from the soil.

His approach apparently worked out on the island of Shikotu in southern Japan where he lived and grew orchards of ginkgo trees, limes, grapefruits, avocados and mangoes.  Creating a self-sustaining food forest here in the Ozarks – a cardinal objective of the Farm Resettlement Congress – is an entirely different matter.  Do nothing and get nothing is more like it.

I agree with Wendell Berry’s criticism in the preface to the US editions (1978).  He wrote that Fukuoka’s techniques are not “directly applicable to most American farms,” but also said that it would be “a mistake to assume that the practical passages of this book are worthless.”

Berry suggested that Natural Farming would require farmers to have fresh eyes and the right kind of criteria for their land in order to come up with methods relevant to their own farms.

Furthermore, Fukuoka’s techniques are difficult to apply even on most Japanese farms and he has few followers.  The transition from conventional farming produces losses in crop yields or outright failures and requires many years to make the principles work. Silvapasutre is the way to go around here.

In Food and Agriculture, Friedrich and Kienzel state the rejection of mechanization is not justifiable for modern production and that his system cannot interact efficiently with conventional systems. So what happened in my no-till sesame experiment?

The one place that my sesame survived was on a dry, rock infested and unfertile patch of ground where I’d burned off the burrs and weeds last March.  Instead of reaching its previous average height of five to six feet (in the same place), it is currently less than half sized.  This is not because of my serious over-seeding, but competition from everything else still in the ground.

In fact, over-seeding is probably why it is there at all, and mimics the way the plant beats out competition in poor soil conditions.  Otherwise it doesn’t stand a chance.  When over-seeded the plant grows a tall single stalk with seed pods emerging all the way up the stem.  When given more space the plant takes a beautiful candelabra form with pods on each arm.  

Sesame best germinates when nighttime soil temps reach 70° in June, long after our native plants are knee high.  And then the sprout stays about two inches high for a month while sending down its taproot.  Unless the field is otherwise bare you can’t even find it.

The reason I mess with sesame, besides exploring the big economic potential for anyone with a dry bottom now in fescue, is more prosaic.  The abandoned acres of poor and wasted Ozark soils could provide a high protein and oil rich food source to sustain many people should the unthinkable happen.

To learn more, Farm Resettlement volunteers will man a booth at the 3rd annual Pioneer Heritage Festival of the Ozarks (Oct 5-6), and will be giving away such samples of wild-crafted sesame seeds as we can hand pick. This is because the harvest is normally done after a killing frost, usually a few weeks later. Demos will be given on a home-sized oil press if it gets here on time.

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To be creative is to constantly take leaps out of the context of our past experiences. It’s one thing to explain things, to capture the reader’s intellectual attention and entertain the prospects of a forward-looking Ozarks. But the greater challenge is to translate all this stuff into an economic demonstration that is accessible to our everyday experience.   

The objective of the FRC 20 Year Plan is to empower our worthy goals and positive hopes in these turbulent times. Ideas, then, must be so memorable and repeatable as to happily spread on their own.   Like the self-generating metaphor of the phoenix, the FRC’s slogan “Permaculture Nation in Our Generation” serves to telescope many things into a universal meaning. 

The mounting threats of modernity are only getting worse. To be survived – the Ozarks need to find a common will to face the future. Can we not engage in loving – and feeding – our neighbors as ourselves, through direct relationships instituted in advance? And if we cannot find a common will to face the future, then it must be asked: by what wisdom are we living?

Every selfless act, small or large, counts for so much in this age of “I, ME and Mine.”   I have yet to meet the person who believes that time is not running out on our accustomed way of life. Rational people, one would think, would mobilize their friends, neighbors and congregations to at least feed each other should the larger institutions we take for granted fail.  

We pay a lot to insure our real property, health and lives against calamity when the odds of nuclear or bioterror coming in our lifetime are likely higher.  As I see it, the America of my youth is over, replaced by a culture of perpetual juvenility. I don’t expect “most people” to understand the full import of our situation. But will the elders, clergy, and elected leaders of this community speak up?   

Freedom is the measure of choices we have when the unexpected happens. Unless and until we’re offered a profound change in subjectivity, and a call to duty that rises to the occasion, we’re out of aces.