By Gigi Berardi
Henning Sehmsdorf and Elizabeth Simpson’s “Eating Locally and Seasonally: A Community Food Book for Lopez Island” (2021) is a powerful treatise on the benefits of local, sustainable food production, processing, and preparation. The venue for the recipe development and testing is S & S Homestead Farm on Lopez Island. The book, Eating Locally and Seasonally, is the result of years of teaching and research there.
The book itself contains 14 chapters. A highly informative preface is followed by a chapter on “Why Eat Locally and Seasonally,” a recipe list, and then the main course — 10 chapters, containing close to 400 recipes — titled by the produce itself, such as “Herbs,” “Bread and Grains,” as well as a final chapter on “Keeping the Harvest.” The family-sized recipes have been adapted to what the authors grow on the farm and to how they prepare foods. Importantly, all suggest the concept of terroir, the taste and flavor of foods that reflect local soil and climates, in this case, of Lopez Island.
The preface relays Simpson’s growing up in the lush Hood River valley, which, in time, experienced widespread use of chemical pesticides. Sehmsdorf grew up in post-war Germany, with a singular goal of being a farmer. It was at the University of Washington that the two met, and, in 1994, they “made the switch to full-time farming.”
With a graduate education and degrees (Sehmsdorf at the University of Chicago, Simpson at the University of Washington) and a passion for farming, they have spent a lifetime together growing good food and educating others on how to do the same. Sehmsdorf had a 50-year farm plan, about 10 times longer than many farmers have today, and, in time, he realized it with Simpson. The two are now planning the transition of the farm to community ownership.
For decades, the farm has been a teaching and demonstration site for gardening, harvesting, processing, and cooking good, nutritious, fresh food. Students learn animal husbandry, pasture management, water cycling, and sound business practices. Importantly, they learn how to think biodynamically, that is, to consider and care for the farm as a living organism, in tune with seasons and farming cycles.
The first chapter, “Why Eat Locally and Seasonally” is packed with information. This narrative amounts to a brilliant essay on why we should grow, cook, and eat local. In the chapter, “FLOSS” (an acronym and guiding philosophy established by the authors) — Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal, and Sustainable — is explained. For example, “fresh” also means nutritional wholeness. One cannot forget that “fresh” also counters the non-sustainable phenomena of food miles. And the expense of beef, for example, certainly extends beyond these miles to loss of rain forests and indigenous lands elsewhere. Synthetic toxins, loss of biodiversity — are all on the menu with industrial agriculture. But with local, “You have a personal relationship with the farmer and you can see how the food is grown…you help preserve a local farming economy and culture.” And so much more. The discussions that follow, of “Organic,” “Seasonal,” “Sustainable,” and “Health,” are equally compelling.
The second chapter, “A Seasonal Calendar For Farmers, Gardeners, and Eaters,” is rich with information and advice, too. For example, “winter” is preparing composts and cold frames. It is the time to mulch and prepare beds for spring planting, for growing starts in the greenhouse and for pruning perennials. “Summer” includes information on storing produce, although it also gets a separate chapter, “Keeping the Harvest,” later in the book.
The treasure trove of the book is the 385 recipes — undoubtedly all excellent from what this author has sampled: bread made from S & S Homestead grains; fresh summer pizza; lasagna; quark (German fermented cottage cheese); raw milk cheddar cheese; zucchini pickles; beef, bean and barley Soup; Henning’s cheesecake; bread and butter pickles; dill butter; and more. The authors write, “We have folks call us in the middle of their meals to tell us how great the food tastes.”
In short, the entire book is a must-read for San Juan County islanders, but also for all curious about a local, sustainable, and healthful food system. The hundreds of recipes of fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and sustainable food attest to the utility and success of the experiment in biodynamics begun decades ago on Lopez island. The beneficiaries of the fruits of Sehmsdorf and Simpson’s labor have always been Lopez islanders, and now, with the publication of this book, the world.
This book launched at Transition Lopez Island’s recent virtual conference, “Continuing the Journey.” Free downloadable copies can be accessed at https://transitionlopezisland.org and on the S & S Homestead website, https://sshomestead.org/wp-content/uploads/Eating-Locally-and-Seasonally-for-Web.pdf. Watercolors by Kelley Palmer-McCarty and photographs by Henning Sehmsdorf. Print copies are available at the Lopez Bookshop; the Sunnyfield Farmstand; the Lopez Library; Blossom Grocery; Darvill’s Bookstore in Eastsound; Griffin Bay Bookstore in Friday Harbor; and Village Books in Bellingham.
Gigi Berardi, cheesemaker for Three Sheep Creamery on Shaw Island, is a Huxley College professor and the award-winning author of “FoodWISE: A Whole Systems Guide to Sustainable and Delicious Food Choices” (North Atlantic Books, 2020) for Transition Lopez.