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"The Potato Soapbox" by Beth Weick, as published in North Country News, October 2009

Last Thursday morning seven of us set to work in the Upper Pasture, dirt caking our hands and jeans, digging intensely through mounds of soil. Despite first impressions, we're neither crazy nor hoping for hidden treasure…unless, you mean potatoes. That's right, those tubers are akin to vegetable gold here at D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead. And by the end of the fall, we hope to be more than 1000 lbs. richer in Fingerlings, Kennebecs, Peruvian Purples, Russets and Yukon Golds.

It is an exciting promise of good eating for the months to come. But where, exactly, do we put half a ton of 'taters?

At D Acres, it is our root cellar that answers that question. And not just as a winter home for potatoes, but also as a place to store a host of fall vegetables – because, of course, root cellars were the original refrigerators. Potatoes fill our mouse-proof wire bins while hundreds of pounds of carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, and rutabagas lie in tubs of sand, and heads upon heads of cabbage sit on their stalks in buckets of compost.

As our assortment of containers suggest, there's no one right way. Root cellaring allows for some creativity. If you have an unfinished basement, that could become an excellent food storage spot, as could an unheated room shut off from the rest of your house. Other methods involved trashcans sunk into holes dug into the ground (cans keep out rodents, and water), or secure boxes stored outdoors for the cooler months (climate dependent – you don't want produce to freeze!).

A root cellar is also an ideal place for fermented foods. In this way, our shelves become an ode to the color, crop diversity, and hard work of the warmer seasons. From bins of bright orange carrots and deep red potatoes, to jars of pale green sauerkraut and purple kim chi, from emerald garlic scapes to the deep greens of piccalilli relish, there is an intense beauty to the array of color. A provocative beauty, evoking memories of long hours, dirty hands, and satiated satisfaction.

Our shelves and our bins bespeak seasonality and the changing nature of our diet as we respond to what our gardens put forth. We are providing for our own well-being, and doing so within the limits of our land. You, too, can share in this. Come by D Acres this Saturday, October 17 for a Fermentation Workshop 1-3pm, or a Root Cellaring Workshop 3-5pm. Check out our website (www.dacres.org) or give us a call (603-786-2366) - come for the whole afternoon if you can!

I could put all this in terms of self-sufficiency or food independence, a stand against corporate agriculture and systems of industrial production. Each of these concepts would be applicable. But I suspect that such phrases, bandied about as buzzwords and fleeting fads, undermine that brilliant beauty of a stocked cellar. Rather, I want to say: know the story of your food, be the author of each meal. It's tastier, more rewarding, more satisfying. And in doing so you learn the story of your land, your environment, and, indeed, of yourself. In a way no grocery shelf is able to, a dirty potato in a dark cellar illustrates the necessity of food and the magic that occurs between dirt and seed.

Beth Weick is a resident of D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead, a non-profit service organization. She first came to the farm in April 2008 as an intern, and now focuses her work on gardening, tending to the animals, and writing. Learn more about the programs at D Acres by visiting www.dacres.org.

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