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Nuts! March 11, 2012

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This link will die with startling speed, but here is my Locavore on Missouri Pecans. Get it while you can. The lack of permanent links has been a crippling fact of life for my Locavore column.

This is my mother-in-law’s favorite nut. A few years back, I made up two batches of candied pecans. One super sweet for her, the other hotter than hell for me. I left them to cool and when I came home, they were gone. Crissy had COMBINED them for her mom.


You can get a look at the “world’s largest pecan” here.

Mound City, Il. March 10, 2012

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 I’d like to introduce you to Mound City, Illinois. This tiny town of around 700 people sits on the west bank of the Ohio River. It is just up from Cairo, the greatest missed exit in literature, at the junction of the Mississippi. If Huck and Jim hadn’t slept through their turn, they would have ended up coming through here.

To see the town, you would little expect its history. At one time it was one of the most vital shipyards and Naval Stations in the United States. It was home port to numerous ships of historic significance and frightening destructive potential. It is true though. Once upon a time this drowsy little town churned out some of the most fearsome weapons in the U.S. fleet.

James B. Eads, who died with a reputation as bridge builder and first-rate civil engineer, was largely responsible for this town’s transformation. He wasn’t known for civil engineering in 1862, he was known as a shipbuilder with an eye for destruction.

He built seven fearsome “City-class” ironclads in just five months. To meet the deadline, he enlisted Mound City into assisting on his Navy contract. The yard there was swarmed with workers constructing the U.S.S. Cairo, the U.S.S. Mound City, and the U.S.S. Cincinnati. You will find a more comprehensive history of Mound City at the website brownwaternavy.org. The ships served with distinction, and much combat. The U.S.S. Cairo, sunk by a Confederate mine, was raised and put on display in Vicksburg, MS where you can visit and study its construction.

When these ships were rolling out of Mound City, the shipyard employed twice the population of the town today. These ironclads formed the heart of the Mississippi Squadron, raining fire up and down Confederate waterways. They were technologically advanced. They were cramped. They were loud. They were deadly. They look positively steampunk today.

Another famous ship at Mound City was the Red Rover. This hospital ship frequented Mound City as its home port. This ship was also home to some of the first women to serve in the Navy, including African American women including Anne Bradford, a slave. She was taken by a Union vessel as contraband in January of 1863 and served until October of 1864 as a nurse on the Red Rover. She became the first woman to receive a Navy pension for her service.

Go to a satellite view of Mound City, Il today and the slipways are still visible on the south side of town, along the Ohio, right at the end of Sleepy Road. The canal for the powder barges is still visible just north of town.

In 1865, the Mississippi squadron was largely auctioned off. I’ve attached the notice from the June 27, 1865 Norfolk Post. For months the hulks of these great warships rested at Mound City, waiting for buyers. Their armor stripped, guns removed and powder safe in the arsenal at St. Louis, they waited at anchor for the scrap-men and scavengers to do what the Confederacy could not.

I’ve blown past signs for Mound City on trips before. There is no large historic site. There is no tourist attraction. From the Interstate, there is no hint at the crucial role this town played. Next time I’m through though, I’m making it a point to stop. I want to see the ghosts of these slipways myself.

The Academic World of Skyrim March 8, 2012

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One of the more interesting features of Skyrim is its academic world. While the wielding of powerful magic and the wholesale slaughter of enemies is all well and good, I find the scholarly life in Skyrim quite interesting. It has literary criticism, research, even institutions of higher learning.

As a historian, there are some familiar themes in here. Finding primary sources and comparing sources can be crucial to success. The partial and incomplete nature of history is apparent whenever you are given a chance to explore the past directly. While that isn’t an option in our world, it is in the world of Skyrim thanks to various magical mechanisms from potions to Elder Scrolls.

There are also scandals and academic rivalries at work. Self-important researchers, absent-minded novelists and outright plagiarists dot the landscape. Quests can often involve winning an argument through poetry, engaging in energetic “debate” with dragons and even retrieving lost books for Urag gro-Shub, the Orc librarian in Winterhold.

And the books… There are entire web pages devoted to the books which range from dry tomes on accounting, to cookbooks, to epic novels and even the rakish Gentleman’s Guide to Whiterun by Mikael the Bard. (He does nothing to improve the wanton image of his trade.)

The highest academic honor I have been able to achieve is Arch-mage of Winterhold. The position, similar to a dean, comes with a large endowment, apartment and favorable perks. Alas, Urag gro-Shub still won’t let you check out his books. An Orc obsessed with preservation? Yup. That’s Skyrim.

Ozark Locavore at 100. March 5, 2012

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 My weekly column, The Ozark Locavore, has reached its 100th installment in the Springfield News-Leader. It will be on Rose Wilder Lane and her arrival in Missouri after her family’s farming failures in South Dakota. This column and its precursor writing on local food issues has spanned the space of my time in Missouri. My thinking over the last two years has moved from my west-coast concerns over energy and environment to Southwest Missouri concerns over food security and economic sovereignty. I’ve identified numerous reasons to “go locavore.”

I’ve also found that I’m exploring the critics of locavores more. As my understanding of the irreversibility of our current food system has expanded, I find myself looking at the locavore movement as a current incarnation of a collection of previous localization movements. It has similarity to other consumer movements as well. As I position myself to look at what comes next, I’ve been seeking out the movement’s critics. This has largely been an exercise in futility as the “locavores” criticized in hyperbolic editorials tend to be hyperbolically sketched straw men representing the authors current obsession with either snobbery or mass starvation. There is also a petty defense of industrial food and mass market choices, but no depth can be found in those arguments either.

Throughout all of this reading and researching, one local product has risen again and again as the simplest illustration of local food economy and value, the egg. Local eggs represent both a superior product and often a clear economic case for investigating your local food options. Local battles over chickens often bring this product to the foreground of the locavore movement. They simply taste better as well.

Here, in celebration of Ozark Locavore #100 in the Springfield News-Leader is a reprint of Ozark Locavore #13. Enjoy!

You will hear a lot of people crowing over chickens inside city limits. For all I know, the ordnance in favor of our feathered friends might have passed by the time you read this. Or it might not. As I write this in June, sentiment is running about 50/50, though most of the meetings have heard testimony that is powerfully pro-chicken.
Last week, we looked at our history with the chicken and the triumph of industrialized egg production. Eggs are so cheap and readily available that it baffles some people as to why you would need a chicken at all. When the crowds do gather on this issue, like the Urban Chicken Informational Meeting at the City Utilities of Springfield on May 10, they are decidedly pro-chicken, but I have heard the backlash.  What’s that backyard chicken got that I can’t get at the supermarket.
Well, I’ll tell you. Home grown chickens have got soul. Let me tell you what one single gang of chickens has accomplished in the local food movement.
Leah Bonebrake is known as the “egg lady” at Pappy’s Place and you will find her there on Wednesday evenings with a load of eggs and produce. Patrons can get their local produce and fresh eggs at the same watering hole they get their ice-cold beer and barbecue. It’s a pretty sweet deal born out of impromptu farming and savvy marketing.
Bonebrake began farming and selling her surplus in 1994. She was one of the first vendors at the Commercial Street Farmer’s Market, but she soon tired of the day long chore of setting up and vending. Additionally. her chickens didn’t stop when the market closed for the winter. The eggs kept coming.
“I had cusitomers and eggs year round, so I developed a customer base and twice a month I would deliver eggs and produce,” Bonebrake said. “I would stop at Pappy’s with the extra on the way home.”
The stop of convenience soon became the point. It was much easier and convenient to have a place to meet.
“My girlfriends and I have kids and work and it became a night to meet,” Bonebrake says. “It just grew. I just sold 70 pounds of asparagus at pappy’s just last month. I don’t have to make deliveries. Gas got so high. Now we sit around for happy hour and people come.”
Bonebrake says the patrons at Pappy’s have even put in their own garden out on the patio. All of this because of chickens, because of chickens and the undeniable powers of farm fresh eggs. Chickens are hip. According to the New York Times, they are this decade’s It bird. Indeed, to get the patrons of a bar to start a garden, those are some funky chickens indeed.
Right now, we are debating this noble bird, as are communities all across the nation. The choice is between one of community and harmony with our food or a continuation and expansion of our divorce from the realities of where our food comes from.
I for one choose the noble harmony of the chicken.

Sidebars and Online material

In Season this week: Apples, Blueberries, Corn, Cherries, Gooseberries, Beets, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Greens, Leeks, last of the Lettuce and Kohlrabi, Radishes, Rhubarb, Squash, Tomatoes, Turnips and Spinach. Peas and Peppers and the first of the Pumpkins are on the way.

Next week, We begin a two-part look at chickens and eggs. Sandy Clark is The Ozark Locavore. You’ll find more local food, recipes and information at http://www.ozarklocavore.com. Got a great resource, email us: sandy@ozarkloccavore.com

The rise of the chicken:

Leah Bonebrake