To the North Pole with 16,000 pounds of flour

Kodiak, Alaska, garden, gardening, organic, scarecrow, vegetables, Peary, diet, food

A homespun scarecrow in Kodiak, Alaska keeps bald eagles out of the garden.

When Robert E. Peary prepared for his final attempt to reach the North Pole in 1909, his provisions included an astounding list of supplies: 16,000 pounds of flour, 10,000 pounds of sugar, 10,000 pounds of “biscuit”, 100 cases of condensed milk, 3,000 pounds of dried fish and 30,000 pounds of pemmican. The expedition was a success, largely due to Peary’s previous experience in the North which gave him the knowledge of “exactly what I wanted and how much of it.”

In today’s world, it’s difficult to wrap our heads around planning meals beyond tonight’s dinner and referring to a shopping list that contains 10,000 pounds of anything. One of my neighbors, a longtime resident of Kodiak Island, remembers when groceries arrived by ship — once a year. “I remember my first strawberry,” she once told me.

On February 13, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released new 10-year agricultural projections, including food prices through 2021. How they can extend data points out to 2021 is beyond me, but after wading through the corn, poultry and beef projections (where’s the fish?), you get to the good stuff. Turns out we are thinking more about how and what we eat. Phil Lempert of SupermarketGuru.com for example, says more people are choosing to eat at home to save money. [Well, duh.]

Ever heard of Extreme Couponing? A new one on me. There are cooks out there who pride themselves on making the most for the least. Isn’t that what cooking from scratch, using basic ingredients is all about? I say issue a slow cooker and a copy of Joy of Cooking to every household.

Size matters, too. Americans are using smaller pieces of beef, chicken and pork (again, where’s the fish?) and filling the rest of the plate with grains and vegetables; which by the way, is just what the Dietary Guidelines recommend. So perhaps the upswing of a down-turned economy is that we not only save money but also eat healthier.

Last year, global food prices hit an all-time high. Whether you call it a time to tighten our belts or ditch the Doritos, I’m even more convinced that we have an obligation to ourselves and the world, to grow at least some of our own food. No room to garden? Grow herbs on a windowsill, sow a few salad greens in a container, or participate in a community garden.

What can we learn from Robert Peary’s grocery list? For one thing, he didn’t just drive his Suburban up to a big box store and load it up with 30,000 pounds of pemmican. The famous explorer was a master planner, and he knew a little something about nutrition.

“The absolutely essential supplies…are few, but they should be of the best quality,” he noted in his journal. “They should be prepared in such a way as to secure the maximum of nourishment.”

Interesting, eh? Securing the maximum of nourishment. Like making the most for the least. In terms of our own health, we need to cook from scratch more often; and shop with intention, keeping the motto, maximum nourishment in mind while navigating grocery store aisles, visiting a farmer’s market or buying seeds online.

In terms of the planet’s health, how about reducing the number of times you go to the store? Could you go for a week–or a month–without buying groceries?

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Dear Reader,

I’ve put together a Top 40 List of Vegetables to Grow; one that I share in my weekly column and with my Organic Gardening students. Though the varieties are more suited for Southcentral Alaska’s growing conditions, the list contains a lot of helpful information. If you’re interested, I’m happy to email you a copy.

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12 Responses to To the North Pole with 16,000 pounds of flour

  1. Bonnie Elsensohn says:

    Marion,
    Would you email me a copy of the top 40 vegetables? Hopefully some of them will grow in Sitka. Right now we grow kale, collards, carrots, peas and Swiss chard successfully, but if there are more that don’t require a lot of sun and a long growing season, I’d be game to try them!

    • marionowen says:

      Hi Bonnie, Thanks for your growing (tee hee) enthusiasm. I’ll send them via email. As a heads-up, I’m talking about that very subject at the Master Gardener Conference coming up April 14. Here is the link: http://www.alaskamastergardeners.org/Conference/Welcome.html

      • Deb Elsey says:

        Hi Marion, Thanks for the offer of the plant list. I’d be interested in seeing it, as I am at the beginnings of my 2012 garden plans. Would you be able to help out with the seed planting times for either starting indoors or out? That would be a great help. I live in south-central. (Anchorage). I’m sure other areas would love the information relevant to their areas. Thanks so much for your blog and the time and energy that you put into it. Deb

      • marionowen says:

        You’re most welcome, Deb. I’ll be in Anchorage on the weekend of April 14 — doing two workshops at the Master Gardener Conference. Sign up… I’d love to meet you. Cheers, Marion

  2. Jayne Hurlbut says:

    Hi Marion, I would like a copy of your top 40 vegetables….might be benificial to our Demonstration vegetable garden at Soos Creek Botanical Garden in Auburn. I’ll pass it on to Trish our resident Master Garden.
    Thanks Marion.
    Jayne Hurlbut
    Maple Valley B&B

  3. JoAnne says:

    Marion, I’m interested in your Top 40 List of Vegetables to Grow. I’m trying to adapt my growing to a small townhouse deck in Anchorage and would like to work with your list. Looking forward to it and continuing to read your columns.

  4. Janeen says:

    Hi, I’d love that list also. Each year I learn a bit more as I garden, but I’d love to someday have the gorgeous vegetable garden that I dream of.

  5. Jen Johnston says:

    Good morning Marion! Please email me your Top 40 list of vegetables to grow. More and more I am convinced that fresh produce is what our bodies crave! Thanks so much and have a great day!

  6. sarah blue says:

    I love your scarecrow – so bright and cheerful. Please email me your top 40 list of vegetables to grow. Thank-you.

  7. Leslee Downer says:

    HI Marion,
    Love all your good garden info!!! If the list is still available, I would like to have a copy. Have a great time at the conference!

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