Local Food and Mysteries Solved

Local Food and Mysteries Solved June 10, 2010

This week, I thinned out the volunteer saplings that had sprouted up amid the groundcover around the stump of an old white pine. We would never have taken down that pine tree ourselves, but by the time we bought the house, the damage had been done.

The downside to that has been a loss of a wonderful visual screen between the lawn and our busy street.

The upside is planting a mini-orchard of semi-dwarf apples along the front of the property, to eventually serve the same role… and maybe provide us with some truly local produce. (Zero food-miles is a pretty environmentally nice number.)

But what to do with the island of groundcover in the middle of it all has been something of a question. I don’t much feel like trying to eliminate the old tree roots–that was an enormous tree. I’ve thought about planting some rosa rugosa to grow over the old stump, and eventually fill up the island. But in the meantime, the volunteer saplings kept growing: a clump of swamp maples, and something I could not identify.

Yesterday, I thinned out the saplings to just the biggest of the maples and the tallest and healthiest looking of the unidentifiable trees. Today I finally I.D.’ed the mystery sapling: it is an American elder, an elderberry tree.

In some ways, this is ideal. I had only kept the saplings around as backup insurance, in case the apple trees do not flourish, so I’ll have something started in that spot. But now I know it’s an elderberry, I’ll probably take out the swamp maple, but let the elder remain.

The elderberry is considered either a tall bush or a small tree, likely to grow to not much higher than the semi-dwarf trees around it. And, like the apples, it produces food: elderberries are edible when cooked, and can be made into jellies or wine. How cool is that?

They’re messy trees, but this one is surrounded by a girdle of mixed groundcover plants.

I’m feeling pretty happy about this discovery, needless to say.

Meanwhile, Peter and I have been managing to eat more locally already, though less spectacularly. One way of dealing with the problem of produce bags has been to buy local vegetables from small local stores, and often, these aren’t wrapped in plastic. We’ve been eating a lot of asparagus, which the Valley is known for this time of year. Also on the menu have been local strawberries, and organic (non-local) fresh broccoli and lettuce. It has all been quite tasty.

Oh! And I’ve solved the cheese problem–at least partly. One food that’s hard to come by without a plastic wrapper is cheese. The answer to that turns out to be our local deli counter, where I can ask them to slice off a one pound chunk of cheddar cheese, of the sort they normally slice thin for sandwiches. While it is true that it comes in a long, five to ten pound block that’s wrapped in plastic before it gets to them, it’s also true that they will wrap it for me in paper if I request it, and that the result is less plastic than if I bought the same cheese from the grocery store, ready-wrapped for my convenience.

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