Today I find myself back home across the Sound from Seattle after ten days on the coast of North Carolina. From sunny, humid mid-80's to overcast, drizzly mid-50's -- a stark reminder that I do not yet have enough firewood for the winter. The storm windows have been closed over the screens for winter and the woodstove has been slowly bringing the house back up to a comfortable 68 degrees. Someone stole several pumpkins from the garden while we were away, leaving us with only one small pumpkin. I believe we are missing some squash as well. As I've said before, it's been a disappointing year in the garden, but we were still able to harvest carrots, cabbage, and onions for tonight's dinner. The chickens seem to be doing fine, though they were very happy to be moved out from behind the shed and back onto the now overgrown lawn. I am perfectly fine letting them handle the mowing for the time being. The neighbor's maple tree has started to blanket the side yard with leaves that will become the foundation of next year's compost pile while this year's pile continues to break down for use as winter mulch and later for spring planting. It seems the summer -- such as it was -- is conclusively over. Despite all efforts to prepare before leaving home, I find that I have returned to a backlog of projects.
It's been two years since I've been back to coastal Carolina. While I have several good friends there and it is great to be able to spend time with them once again, my trip reminds me of the reasons I jumped at the opportunity to return to the Pacific Northwest. During our ten-day visit just about everyone commented on how lucky we were to be there after the summer heat had finally let up. I was still uncomfortable any time I had to be outside except for the afternoon we spent at the beach, swimming in the ocean. It's just hot there and I have never been comfortable in the heat.
Besides the heat and humidity, I find it very difficult to eat responsibly in the south eastern United States. It took a while living in North Carolina for me to understand that part of this is because of pigs. Pork production, processing, and packing make up a huge chunk of North Carolina's industry. In fact, North Carolina is the largest pork producer in the U.S. (according to the EPA). As a result, big business has had big influence on state agriculture and, ultimately, on consumer options.
Just a quick comparison of Washington State and North Carolina: in 2008, Washington had 697 certified organic operations totaling 96,166 acres. NC had 156 certified organic operations totaling 5,243 acres. Washington had 39,500 farms while NC had 52,500. Washington's total agricultural area in 2007 was approximately 42,540,079 acres while North Carolina's was 31,113,828 acres. Possibly the most staggering figure is that of those total agricultural acres, 4,775,287 were pastureland in Washington while only 941,609 were pastureland in NC. Read those numbers again and then realize that chickens and hogs are North Carolina's top commodities and second only to tobacco in exports while Washington's top commodity is apples. Meat ranks fifth in the state's exports behind fruits, vegetables, "other" (most likely hops), and wheat. In general, Washington and North Carolina go about producing food very differently. (All of these stats come from the USDA)
When we lived in North Carolina, we were members of a local food co-op where we shopped regularly. We were also lucky to have a farmer's market where we could get fresh, local food. When one is traveling it is not as easy to avail one's self of these options. Traveling on a budget presents another hurdle as the worst food is almost always the cheapest and easiest. We were fortunate to have hosts with which to stay during most of our trip and thereby have the capacity for food storage and prep, but we were also dependent one the good will of said hosts to get around the sprawl of town. Since the co-op was on the far side of town and we were not in town on Saturday during the farmer's market, we had to make due with what we could find in the grocery stores. I soon I found I just had to let it go, make the best of it, and be thankful to the good friends we have for putting us up, driving us around, and opening their homes and kitchens to us. We tried to spend what little money we had in a direction to support healthy and responsible food systems.
Today I am glad to be home with the chickens, the garden, the produce markets, and the local butcher. I do miss my friends back east. I hope they can come visit soon.