Tomatoes, tornadoes and lots of mud: Life in the country just got dirty

Country life isn't exactly the simple life when a tornado, floods and one very stinky dog get in the way of planting crops for a family that left the city in search of self-sufficiency.

My couch is covered in mud.

Not just any kind of mud. It’s special, stinky mud. The kind of mud a basset hound will track down from half a mile away and then brave the shock of an electric fence for.

This is special, weapon-of-mass-destruction-level-stench, cow-poop mud, brought in to my home courtesy of Buster, my dog, and the 18 inches of rain we got last month here in rural Kentucky.

Welcome to the country, y’all.

Last year, I moved my family from a teeny 600 square-foot townhouse just outside of Washington, D.C. to a farm in rural Kentucky with the intention of growing all of our own food, organically.

The weather, however, had other intentions.

Unless we plan to grow rice or seaweed, we wont be planting anything for a little while.

But I’m not complaining.  Dodging a tornado has a way of putting your life’s troubles into perspective, really quick. We narrowly missed a tornado last week when it touched down about a quarter mile from our home and destroyed three buildings, taking a roof and caving in walls of those places, but leaving us perfectly safe, huddled in our laundry room. And even with that storm and all the flooding (some of our main roads are washed out), we’ve certainly had it better than those in Alabama.

Before my farm turned in to lakefront property, my 6-year-old and I planted heirloom tomato seeds in starter trays. We planted other things, too, but the tomatoes are what we’re most excited about because we’re aiming to grow enough tomatoes to not have to purchase my expensive BPA-free tomato products for a year. 

Bisphenol A (BPA) is used in the linings of all canned tomatoes in the U.S., and tomatoes are especially good at leeching BPA out of the linings and in to the food.  We believe BPA is dangerous and want to reduce our exposure to it. The only BPA-free preserved tomato products that I’m aware of in the U.S. are out of Italy, Pomi, and come in boxes that are quite expensive when you're making 28 dinners each month from scratch at home. There are some tomato products from other companies available in glass jars – like pasta sauce, salsa and tomato paste – but they still have trace amounts of BPA in the lids and if the tomatoes come in contact with those lids while processing there is potential for contamination. Additionally, BPA-free chopped, stewed or pureed tomatoes are harder to come by in glass jars.

So we're growing tomatoes. Lots and lots of tomatoes. And canning with BPA-free lids.

Ten weeks after planting the seeds, we’ve got 49 organic heirloom tomato plants waiting for the soil outside to be visible again so we can transplant the seedlings to the garden.

Forty-nine tomato plants.

And I’m not sure if that’s going to be enough.

I’m good at city math — like determining how much a taxi ride will cost or how long a subway ride will actually take — but estimating the number of tomato plants a family of three needs to last them a year?  And add in that we have a first-grader who eats tomatoes like they are apples? I have no idea how to solve for Y in that type of agricultural algebra.

The tomatoes we grow will become salsa, diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, pureed tomatoes, tomato soup, tomato paste, ketchup…every tomato product we would normally buy at a store. Hopefully.

Ambitious? Yes. But that’s why we moved here, to give self-sufficiency a chance.  And to let Buster roll around in the mud. Not so much to hide from tornadoes, but it appears to come with the territory.

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