Friday, March 18, 2016

Glyphosate Use as Pre-Harvest Desiccant in Small Grain & Dried Bean Crops

by Andrea Yoder & Richard de Wilde

Last summer we published a collection of articles entitled “The Silent Spring Series.”  Within this series we discussed the impact glyphosate, the world’s most widely used weed killer, is having on our environment as well as human health.  Glyphosate, originally patented by Monsanto and the main ingredient in Roundup®, is now widely used in many herbicide products around the world.  Glyphosate was originally discovered in 1950 by Dr. Henri Martin, a chemist working for a pharmaceutical company.  There were no pharmaceutical uses discovered at that time, so the molecule was sold to other companies who proceeded to test other applications to find a use for it.  In 1970, a Monsanto chemist discovered glyphosate could be used as an herbicide which led to the development of Roundup®, first sold commercially in 1974.

Last year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.  This has caused a heightened interest in the potential negative impacts this herbicide has on human health, specifically because even trace amounts are thought to be harmful due to exposure over time.  In addition to being a carcinogen, glyphosate has been linked to a host of health concerns including its impact as an endocrine disrupter, connection to birth defects and reproductive issues, and the negative impact it can have on beneficial gut bacteria to name a few.  Despite the fact that glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide, it has not been routinely included in testing by the USDA & FDA for residues on food crops.  However, the FDA is preparing to start testing this year.  FDA spokesperson Jason Strachman Miller stated “The FDA has not routinely looked for glyphosate in its pesticide chemical residue monitoring regulatory program in the past for several reasons, including that available methods for detecting glyphosate were selective residue methods that would have been very cost and labor intensive to implement in FDA field labs.”  Soybeans, corn, milk and eggs are on the list of potential foods which may contain glyphosate and will be tested.

While glyphosate use in conjunction with producing genetically engineered herbicide tolerant crops such as soybean, corn and cotton is well-known, there are some lesser known uses of glyphosate that have not been as well-publicized.  In the most recent issue of The Organic & Non-GMO Report, editor Ken Roseboro discusses the use of glyphosate as a desiccant in some crops just prior to harvest.  While the pre-harvest use of glyphosate is not new, it is very concerning with respect to human health because it results in higher residues of glyphosate on the food product.

Dr. Charles Benbrook discusses the pre-harvest use of glyphosate in his paper titled “Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally” which was published last month in Environmental Sciences Europe.  Glyphosate is sprayed on a crop just before harvest to help speed up the dry-down process and allow farmers to harvest a crop sooner.  This is advantageous in northern, colder regions as well as in a year when conditions are wet and it takes a while for the crop to dry down before harvest.  This use is referred to as a “harvest aid” or “green burndown.”  While this process started in Scotland in the 1980’s, since the mid-2000s it has become a more common practice in the United States as well as in northern Europe and Canada.  It is mostly used on small grain crops such as wheat, barley and oats.  However, its use extends to many other concerning food crops including dried beans, lentils, peas, corn, flax, rye, triticale, buckwheat, millet, canola, sugar beets, potatoes and sunflowers.

Unfortunately this practice is not something most consumers are aware of, yet its use amongst conventional growers and the industry in North America is more extensive than any of us might like to admit.  Roseboro quotes Tom Ehrhardt, co-owner of Albert Lea Seeds in Minnesota, who identifies the challenge of sourcing grains that have NOT been desiccated with glyphosate prior to harvest.  “I have talked with millers of conventionally produced grain, and they all agree it’s very difficult to source oats, wheat, flax, and triticale, which have not been sprayed with glyphosate prior to harvest.  It’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell policy’ in the industry.”

Dr. Benbrook stated in his most recent paper that “Because such applications occur within days of harvest, they result in much higher residues in the harvested foodstuffs.”  Gerald Wiebe, a farmer and agricultural consultant interviewed by Roseboro states his concern that “Consumers don’t realize when they buy wheat products like flour, cookies, and bread they are getting glyphosate residues in those products.  It’s barbaric to put glyphosate in food a few days before you harvest it.”

We’ll wrap up this discussion with a comment from Dr. Benbrook which Roseboro included in his article.   His message is as follows:  “It may be two percent of agriculture use, but well over 50 percent of dietary exposure.  I don’t understand why Monsanto and the food industry don’t voluntarily end this practice.  They know it contributes to high dietary exposure (of glyphosate).”

References:
Benbrook CM.  “Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally.”  Environmental Sciences Europe (2016, 28:28) DOI:  10.1186/s12302-016-0070-0.
Gillam C.  “FDA to Start Testing for Glypohsate in Food.”  Civil Eats.  February 17, 2016
Roseboro K.  Grim reaper.  “Many food crops sprayed with weed killer before harvest.”  The Organic & Non-GMO Report.  2016; 161: 4-6.

GMO Update:  The DARK Act

On Wednesday, March 16, 2016 the DARK Act was defeated by a vote of 49-48 in the Senate.  Bill S. 2609, commonly referred to as the DARK Act (Deny Americans the Right to Know), would have allowed for voluntary labeling of food products containing GMOs (genetically modified organisms).  Additionally, this bill would have preempted the Vermont State law requiring the labeling of all foods containing GMOs by July 1, 2016.  Other states including Connecticut and Maine have passed state labeling standards but have not implemented the standards yet.  New Jersey, Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois and Massachusetts are also considering state labeling standards for foods containing GMOs.

Voluntary labeling of food products at the federal level would have been based primarily on QR codes, websites and call in numbers for consumers to use to inquire about the presence of GMOs.  Sadly, this method discriminates against Americans who do not have access to the necessary technology or services that would be required to find this information.

The Center for Food Safety sites 64 countries around the world already have laws in place requiring mandatory labeling of GMOs.  In a recent poll, 89% of American voters are in favor of mandatory labeling of products containing GMOs and feel Americans have the right to know and decide for themselves.

March Field Update

Sorrel popping up after the snow melted
by Farmer Richard

Just six weeks until our first CSA delivery and things are on the verge of getting very busy around here!  With all the snow melted away, Jack and I have been out looking at the fields and working on our field plan.  We had a pretty mild winter and thus far our overwintered crops seem to have done pretty well.  Last week we dug a handful of parsnips and sunchokes.  There are quite a lot remaining in the field and they have definitely become sweeter over the winter!  Yesterday we had pretty high winds that managed to rip the cover off our overwintered spinach field which allowed us to get a better look at the field.  So far it looks pretty good and tastes delicious!  The garlic is definitely up and looks to have a pretty high survival rate.  We even have some scarlet turnips, black radishes and parsley that seem to have survived the winter, even though that wasn’t the plan!

Onions in the greenhouse


Our greenhouses are filling up quickly.  The onions and shallots will be ready for their first trimming within the next week or so and we hope to transplant them in the field the first week of April.  Our first crop of dandelion greens and parsley are planted and starting to come up.  We’re hoping to see the first broccoli, cauliflower and kohlrabi sprouts this weekend.

We started the first herbs for our herb packs this week and some of the wildflowers and grasses for our pollinator packs are already poking through.  Next week we’ll be planting the first lettuce crop and hope to see the fennel pushing through as well.  We’re impatiently waiting for the ginger and turmeric to sprout.  Shouldn’t be too long now as the rhizomes were already starting to swell when we planted them!

The garlic field!
Our small winter crew is trimming the last of the pussy willow today and we hope to finish pruning the curly willow hedge rows next week.  We’re in the midst of a few winter repair projects and will be tackling our massive spring cleaning projects very soon.

We just received approval yesterday for our H2A visas.  These are agricultural guest worker visas we rely on for our seasonal field crew.  We plan to see our first group of guys back at work on April 4!  With all indications that it will be an early spring, we’re anxious for their return.

And the question you may still have on the tip of your tongue….what about the ramps?!   Jack and I haven’t ventured out to the ramp woods yet, but stay tuned for more spring updates.  They’re right around the corner!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Western Wisconsin: How Native American People Lived in the Past-Part 3

 In this month’s newsletter, we will wrap up our series of articles about the Effigy Mound Builders.  In our two January newsletters, we introduced this group of prehistoric people who once lived in our area. Our interest in this topic started last year when I discovered Effigy Burial Mounds on our farm.  We’ve enjoyed exploring and learning more about these people with our friend and neighbor, Jim Theler, who is an archeologist.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to read the first two articles in our series, we invite you to either take a look at our blog or refer to our January newsletters on our website.  In this third and final article, Jim helps us understand more about the social aspects of the Effigy Mound Builders.  These people had an interesting way of organizing their community and people.  Jim will also help us understand how the burial mounds they built fit into their culture.
—Richard de Wilde

    Part 3:  Social Structure & the Importance of Burial Mounds

by Jim Theler
In our last article we learned that the Effigy Mound people lived for most of their time hunting and gathering wild resources.  They moved seasonally to take advantage of different animals, plants and resources.  They were organized by family groups, or “bands” as described by anthropologists.

For most of the year, small groups or “micro-bands” composed of a few related families lived and worked together. They might have a total of 15 to 30 people, with the adult males related by blood and women marrying into the micro-band from other groups. These groups were “egalitarian,” meaning all people were born having equal status, but followed cultural roles based on age and sex. Inherited ranks with positions such as “chiefs” were not present in Effigy Mound times.

Prehistoric Cave Art Depicting a Pregnant Deer.
Photo sourced from Mississippi Valley Archaeology Society
Hunting, which was primarily a male responsibility, was certainly an important part of their survival.  However, their survival depended on much more than just hunting!  Survival in these long-ago times was dependent upon the cooperation of men and women working towards a common goal and women played roles that were every bit as vital as those of men. In addition to caring for children and teaching them essential skills, they prepared hides of deer and other animals, made clothing, collected medicinal and edible wild plants, gathered firewood, cooked and prepared food for storage, made mats and other important items and kept the camp in shape.  They also made fine pottery vessels for cooking and water storage.

For most of the ancient past, and until nearly the end of the Effigy Mound period, the small winter micro-bands of Western Wisconsin moved to the Mississippi or Wisconsin River valleys for the summer and sometimes formed larger groups called “macro-bands.”   A small band of related families who spent a winter together in a rock shelter certainly looked forward to the arrival of warm weather and an opportunity to migrate. The stress of surviving the winter was over, and living was much easier. Fish, mussels and small game were readily available in the river valleys and there was not much need for large quantities of firewood.  Everyone knew that groups of related families would meet at a particular location at a certain time in the late spring.  These newly formed macro-bands would be composed of 200 to 500 people.  All these groups were held together by kinship through blood or marriage.

There are several reasons they formed these larger gatherings or macro-bands.     First, stresses build up in any group of related families who are working closely together by necessity, and these stresses need to be relieved. In historic times, we know these small micro-bands would often reorganize themselves when they arrived at a macro-band gathering. Thus, members of one micro-band who were unhappy could simply say good-bye to that group and move in with another relative’s group.

Second, any individual of marital age would be hard pressed to find a suitable mate in the small winter group. All human groups have incest taboos and prohibitions on whom one can and cannot marry.  Anthropologists who have studied this situation refer to “mating-networks” that need 200 or more people to have enough potential mates available. A macro-band of 500 people or two macro-bands that might come together would be the best scenario. In historic times, these large gatherings were a time of celebration. Young people were excited to see friends again and perhaps someone who was of interest for marriage. Old friendships were renewed, accounts of births, who had survived the winter, successful hunts and tragedies recounted.

Third, people who died during the winter were typically not buried at the winter rock shelter location.  Rock shelters having hundreds or thousands of years of repeated cool season occupations seldom have human burials.  Archaeologists believe the remains of the dead were kept until they could be brought to the summer gathering for final burial.  When effigy mounds were excavated in the earlier 20th century, they often contained both bundles of human bones as well as extended burials where bones were found articulated, indicating in-flesh burials. If relatives died at a winter camp, their remains were cared for and brought to summer macro-band gathering.  This way all could pay their respects and provide a proper burial for the deceased. These burial ceremonies were a unifying activity for the greater group.

As late fall approached, the macro-band dispersed and the reorganized micro-bands made their way back into the rugged interior of western Wisconsin. Rather than returning to the location where they had spent the previous winter, they would probably select another valley for their winter camp. Selection was important, and people needed to be spaced out on the landscape so as not to over use the deer and firewood resources.

By A.D. 900 the world of the Effigy Mound people was changing.  Best estimates indicate there were probably five macro-bands in eastern Wisconsin and four in the western part of the state with perhaps a total population of 3,000 people for the southern half of Wisconsin.  The population had grown and the annual cycle of winter dispersal and summer congregation into macro-bands no longer worked. Effigy Mound people begin to occupy interior valleys year round. Archaeologists believe the landscape had become “packed” to capacity with humans, resulting in overhunting of deer likely precipitated by the effectiveness of the bow and arrow.

The first appearance of corn horticulture is seen in the region during this time as well. Cultivation of corn is something people did in the ancient past only if they must. Farming is hard work, and the yields from growing and protecting small plots of corn from animals are small. Corn, which is resistant to decay once carbonized through burning, has been found at both Effigy Mound living sites on the Mississippi River and in the interior sites of the Bad Axe River Valley.  During this same time period, river mussels along the Mississippi also were harvested by the hundreds of thousands and may have been dried as a winter food, another sign of “resource stress.”
Prehistoric Cave Art Depicting a Spring Hunt.
Photo sourced from www.turtletrack.org

The flexibility and mobility of a hunting and gathering people moving from one valley to another in different years was lost. Deer populations were reduced and firewood became increasingly scarce.  Effigy Mounds, previously confined to the major river valleys suitable for macro-band gatherings, began to be built in the interior valleys.

Effigy mounds served a number of functions. First, they are burial places of the dead.  They were built in the form of an animal, which carried additional information.  In many Native American societies people are born into a clan, a group of related families or lineages.  Clans often have a totem animal, eg Bear Clan, Eagle Clan or Deer Clan. Each clan has certain assigned tasks and ritual responsibilities. Your clan affiliation also provides clear guidelines, as a Bear Clan person could not marry another Bear Clan member. Archaeologists believe the effigy mounds are sacred burial places and that they were meant to be seen. Burial mounds in the shape of a particular animal convey the information that this land is held by a particular clan group. It was the equivalent of a “No Trespassing sign.” In the North and South forks of the Bad Axe River(the location of Harmony Valley Farm), effigy mounds were built on the sidewalls of valleys, ridge tops, and terraces to be seen by the living and to declare to those who might pass by, “Beware: this land is held and defended.” Archaeologists speculate that this Effigy Mound building after about A.D. 900 was brought on by increasing resource stress and the need to protect their area.

Between about A.D. 1000 and 1050 the Effigy Mound people appear to have abandoned western Wisconsin. The best explanation is that the deer herd had been greatly reduced, perhaps at the end of a final severe winter with deep snow—the sort that was described for western Wisconsin in the 1850s. Decisions at such time would be difficult.  Imagine your people are hungry, a few deer are yarded in the creek bottom and you can kill them with ease.  Out of necessity, you kill the deer.  One deep cave in Crawford County has ancient paintings, drawn by torch light in a style we believe to have been used in Effigy Mound times.  The paintings show bowmen surrounding a group of deer. None of the deer have antlers and their tails are up in the alert posture.  Several of these are shown with fetal deer drawn in them. This painting seems to portray an early spring hunt and such a killing of pregnant does would seem to be an act of desperation for people so knowledgeable about their natural world.

After A.D. 1050, Effigy Mound sites no longer appear in western Wisconsin. The state’s remaining effigy mounds, sacred site holding the remains of the dead, are visible reminders of this long-ago time.
 
Richard’s Closing Thoughts:
We are grateful for the dedicated and meticulous work of the many archeologists who have devoted lifetimes to uncover and piece together the lives of those peoples that lived here on our land for over 12,000 years before us.  We are in awe of the intelligent, resourceful and spiritual human beings who lived here so many years ago and their ability to tread lightly in this place.  Our goal is to not only preserve the burial mounds on our land that we’ve become stewards of, but to also consider it our challenge to live in such a way so as to maintain our land in a similar fashion.  In doing so, we hope it will continue to sustain us and our descendants for generations beyond us.  

Cookbook Review: The Birchwood Cafe Cookbook

by Andrea Yoder


I have a weakness for cookbooks, especially ones with beautiful pictures of vegetables and recipes written from the heart.  Last week I visited Minneapolis, MN and enjoyed lunch at my favorite restaurant, The Birchwood Café.  I’ve loved this place since the first time I went there.  It’s a comfortable, warm & welcoming spot with food you can trust.  As I was standing in line debating the turkey burger with creamed kale or the black bean quinoa burger, I looked up and saw a cookbook on the counter.  There was a copy labeled “café copy” that diners could take to their table to peruse.  I had no idea The Birchwood had published a cookbook and found myself snatching it up quickly before someone else in line spotted it!  I flipped through the pages as I enjoyed my lunch, then returned the book before I left and traded it in for my own copy to take home!

So here are just a few reasons I like this cookbook and encourage you to consider adding this to your own collection.  First, the book very much represents the same heart and passion you feel when you walk into the café.  Makes sense since the book was written by café owner Tracy Singleton and Executive Chef Marshall Paulsen.  The opening pages of the book include a message from Tracy and are entitled “An Invitation to Cook.”  The Birchwood serves “Good Real Food.”  According to Tracy, this means sourcing, preparing, and serving food with gratitude for the ingredients themselves as well as those who produce them and make it possible to get them to the café.  Good Real Food is food that is fresh, locally sourced, sustainably produced, organic and handled with respect for the land, animals and people.  Throughout the book they highlight a handful of farmers and producers who regularly supply produce, meat, fish and more for the café.  Our friends, Gail and Maurice Smith of DragSmith Farms, are featured in this cookbook.  While we don’t supply the café directly, Gail and Maurice have an extensive delivery route to Twin Cities restaurants and deliver our produce on our behalf.  Check out the picture of Maurice on page 18 and you’ll see a box of our produce on the back of his van!

Another reason I really like this book is that it is based on Midwestern seasons.  While we think there are four seasons, according to the Birchwood there are actually 8 seasons in the year including “Scorch,” which represents the heat of the summer, and “Thaw” which signals the end of winter and the transition into spring.  Chef Marshall’s recipes represent ingredients featured and savored in their peak season of availability.  In his words “We enjoy so much of our produce when it’s in season and available locally.  Anything we can’t preserve, we anxiously await its return next season.”  I can’t wait to make his recipe for an Heirloom Tomato Sweet Corn BLT in the summer.  In the meantime, I’m going to try his recipe in the “Winter” section for Apple & Turnip Quiche.

The final reason I really appreciate this book is the approach Tracy and Marshall take to sharing their passion and recipes.  In the “Using This Cookbook” section at the beginning of the book, they state:  “We attempted to make these recipes as user-friendly as possible, so we were careful to keep them simple, avoiding lengthy steps and hard-to-find ingredients…..We hope this book will inspire you to cook, Birchwood style.  The recipes are guidelines, so taste, adjust, and make them your own!”  And that is what cooking is all about--drawing on inspiration from the ingredients you have and simply using a recipe as a roadmap to guide you as you create simple, tasty meals that are nourishing to not only your body but also your soul.  Tracy & Marshall, thank you for sharing the spirit of The Birchwood with us in this book.  Job well done!

If you’d like a copy of The Birchwood Café Cookbook, stop in at the café for lunch and take one home with you!  If you can’t make it for lunch, you can also purchase it on their website, www.birchwoodcafe.com.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Western Wisconsin: How Native American People Lived in the Past-Part 2

In this week’s newsletter we will continue with our series about the Effigy Mound builders who lived in our area 1,000 to 1,500 years ago.  This week we’ll look further into how they lived, moved and what they ate.—Richard

    Part 2: Food & Shelter
by Jim Theler


Settlement of the Effigy Mound People
The Effigy Mound people lived by hunting and
gathering from the wild.  They moved seasonally to take advantage of different animals, plants and resources. In the summer months the Effigy Mound people in Western Wisconsin moved to the Mississippi or Wisconsin River valleys.    In late summer or early fall, they would form smaller groups and move to one of the interior valleys of western Wisconsin’s un-glaciated “Driftless Area.” Rather than returning to the location where they had spent the previous winter, they would select another valley for their winter camp. Selection was important as people needed to be spaced out on the landscape so as not to overuse resources, namely deer and firewood which were vital for winter survival.

Frequent moving necessitates having simple, portable houses.  In early historic times, Native peoples in this area used simple pole structures covered with cattail matts or sheets of bark that could be tied to the poles making a secure dwelling for most seasons. In western Wisconsin archaeologists do not find evidence of year-round houses of the type we see in some agricultural societies. Rock shelters were popular winter living sites especially if they were on hillsides or cliff faces that faced south or east and were located near a water source. Archaeologists have also found indications during the Effigy Mound period of circular, semi-subterranean houses, some with a long entrance; these were designed for temporary refuge in the coldest winter weather. These houses were apparently heated with hot rocks brought in from fireplaces outside.

Winter House
(Richard’s observation)  As we are in the midst of the coldest part of winter, I can’t help but think about fire.  We know Native Americans had mastered fire, but how did they manage it?  We know it is possible to start fires by skillfully rubbing sticks together, but what a chore!  Every time you want a cup of herbal tea or a hot meal you have to start from nothing?  I don’t think so!  From our own experience of heating with wood, we try to keep enough hot coals in the stove to rebuild a fire easily.  I sometimes struggle to start a fire in the cold fireplace and I have paper, kindling, an axe and matches!  My guess is they were masters of keeping enough hot coals to start a new fire and it is thought that they even moved to a new camp with hot coals carried in a bison horn or heavy clay pot.

During the fall and winter months when the Effigy mound people lived in the interior valleys, they would primarily hunt deer as well as elk and smaller game. Bison were absent or very rare in this area and black bears were rarely taken. Archaeological excavations at winter sites have uncovered tens of thousands of animal bones, many of which can be identified. By analyzing the animal remains and counting the number of right and left bones, it is possible to tell not only what species of animals were harvested, but the number of animals, the amount of meat represented, and what animals were most important in the diet. The answer to that question is deer. Typically, deer, with an occasional elk, made up 85% to 95% of their winter diet.

The Effigy Mound hunters used the bow and arrow for hunting. Small, lightweight arrow points found at their living sites are very different from the larger, heavier spear points of earlier times. The bow and arrow replaced the spear about A.D. 500 or 600. This was an important innovation in fire power. With a quiver of arrows, a good bowman can get off several shots in a minute and increase hunting efficiency.  While a lone hunter would be able to harvest game, small groups doing drives with the most skilled archers at ‘nick points’ where deer would flow through was undoubtedly the most effective strategy. Based on our knowledge of hunters and gatherers, everyone shared in the harvest and an animal didn’t belong to just one person.

So just how abundant were deer? In our oak savanna-tall grass prairie landscape, Effigy Mound hunters were the apex predators and it is believed that deer were much less common than at present. Today, in good habitat, wildlife managers often find 20 to as high as 50 deer per square mile. During Effigy Mound times, that number was probably closer to 2 to 5 deer per square mile. Over hunting deer would exceed the cull rate to sustain the herd.  This scenario would place the humans in jeopardy during the lean, late winter and early spring months.

Deer and elk bone from winter sites are often found broken open with vertebrae and ribs pounded into small fragments. This was probably done to remove the marrow, a rich source of fat and other nutrients. Smaller crushed bone was boiled to render “bone grease” that could be scooped off the top of the pot. Larger long bones were split open and tubes of marrow removed.  Native Americans also made “pemmican,” a sausage-like product made of fat, marrow, dried venison and sometimes berries. Pemmican could be kept for long periods during the cold season and consumed as needed.  There is little doubt that it was made in Effigy Mound times.

Richard's Arrowhead Collection
(Richard’s Observation)  But Native Americans certainly ate a more complete diet than venison.  Unfortunately, the archeological evidence is limited to what survives 1,000 years in the ground.  Jim introduced me to one of his colleagues, Connie Arzigian, a nationally known expert on the upper Midwest prehistoric Native American use of plants and gardening.  She explained that certain things, e.g. nuts and seeds, are preserved by being charred in cooking fires.  Plants such as greens and roots are soft and do not leave a trace after 1,000 years.  Connie has found evidence of extensive use of native nuts including walnut, hickory and butternuts.  She has also found evidence that the mound builders kept small gardens where they cultivated goosefoot, squash, gourds and even sunflowers.  There is even some evidence that they were selecting sunflowers to produce larger seeds.  Later on, larger plantings of corn were established.  It is easy to imagine that they harvested and ate many more greens and roots that were not preserved.  These plants may have included arrowroot, sunchoke root, watercress and many different berries such as wild blackberries, raspberries and strawberries.  

Gourds from the mound builders' time

When winter broke, the small groups of people would move to their summer camps along the river valleys.  With the stress of surviving winter behind them, living was much easier.  Fish, mussels and small game were readily available and there was not much need for large quantities of firewood.  Excavations at summer sites along the shores of the Mississippi and its backwaters have uncovered vast refuse deposits with the remains of freshwater mussels, fish, small mammals and nesting waterfowl mingled with broken pots, arrow points and charcoal from camp fires.

In our next newsletter article we’ll look further into some of the social aspects of the Effigy Mound building society.  These people had an interesting way of organizing their community and people.  We’ll discuss more of these aspects as well as how their burial mounds fit into the big picture.


Drawings & Gourd Photo borrowed from the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center.

Western Wisconsin: How Native Americans Lived In The Past: Part 1

In our last blog post in December, I introduced you to our neighbor Jim Theler.  Jim is an archeologist who has extensively studied the prehistoric people of our region. Our conversations have been spurred on by my findings of effigy burial mounds on our land last year.  I often wonder what daily life was like for those who lived on this land long before us.  I invited Jim to share his thoughts and the findings of his work to help us better understand these people. 

Atlatl
I think it’s important to understand that the people Jim will be talking about in his articles, the Effigy Mound Builders, are actually a more recent culture inhabiting our land only 1,000-1,500 years before us.  However, Jim mentions that people actually lived on our land as much as 12,500 years ago!  This was during a time referred to as “the last ice age” when the glaciers were retreating north in Wisconsin.  Prehistoric mammals including mastodons, mammoth elephants, long-horned bison, giant ground sloths, dire wolves, short-faced bears, and giant beaver roamed the land at this time.  There were Native American people here as well who hunted these creatures with finely crafted and razor sharp spear points, possibly thrown with the aid of a powerful spear thrower called an “atlatl.”  Can you imagine?  I have actually found a couple of those very old spear points on our land which Jim helped me date back to this period! 

So over the next couple thousand years the pre-historic animals disappear, became extinct and were replaced by the animals we know today.  The landscape changed as well to include trees and plants we are familiar with.  All the while, Native American people were likely living here, learning how to live with the changing climate, flora and fauna……Amazing!  I continue to find it very fascinating to learn more about these people and how they survived so many years ago. ---Richard

Part 1: Introduction and Landscape

by Jim Theler

Recently, Richard de Wilde discovered several unrecorded “Effigy Mounds” on his Harmony Valley Farm and asked me to come and take a look. This led to a discussion of how the people who build these mounds lived in the past. As an archaeologist, I have spent the past 40 years excavating and analyzing the finds from the living sites of ancient Native Americans in western Wisconsin’s Crawford, La Crosse and Vernon counties.  Archaeologists have been studying the ancient mounds and living sites of these first Wisconsin residents since the 1850s and the work continues by archeologists working in the region in association with UW-LaCrosse. The first major summary was by Wisconsin’s first scientist, Increase A. Lapham, who in 1855 published maps of Effigy Mounds near the modern town of Eastman in Crawford County. This was followed in 1884 by a mound survey by T. H. Lewis who was sponsored by a wealthy Twin Cities resident A. J. Hill. Lewis’ work included recording several effigy mound groups in the North and South forks of the Bad Axe River, in Vernon County. Excavations in Crawford County were undertaken by the Smithsonian Institution in the Late 1880s. In the 1920s and 1930s, archaeologists from the Milwaukee Public Museum excavated a number of mounds in western Wisconsin. In the late 1970s, archaeologists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison began doing long-term excavations on many living sites in the region. 

Before Europeans arrived, western Wisconsin was a region with scattered groves of white and bur oaks, referred to as oak savannas. The higher, rolling uplands and ridge tops one sees today around Westby and Viroqua, as well as the valley bottoms, had extensive tall grass prairies. The oak savannas and prairies were maintained by repeated fires of both natural and human origins. This is the vegetation Government Land Office (GLO) surveyors reported when they surveyed much of Vernon County in the winter of 1844-45. Many locations in the tall grass prairies of the uplands had no trees to serve as section corner “witness trees,” so the GLO surveyors had to pile rocks to mark section corners. Some wooded areas existed in areas naturally protected from fire (a “fire-shadow”) along some steep east- and north-facing hillsides/cliffs and along stream margins. Timber Coulee got its name as trees suitable for building cabins were available in its fire-shadow. One son of an early pioneer settler said it took his father two years to bring enough logs over the ridge from Timber Coulee by oxen to build a cabin and get their family out of the dugout in which they had lived. By some estimations today, we have 80 to 90 % MORE woodlands than at the time of European arrival.

(Richard’s Observation)  The woods we know today are different than they were at that time.   Today our woods are choked with prickly ash, locust and other invasive species that were established after woods were heavily grazed with sheep and cattle and then abandoned.  The largest and best trees are cut for lumber and the weak and deformed are left with the dead tops.  The woods that the earliest settlers describe are “clean and easy to walk through!”  Probably the result of 1,000’s of years of Native Americans hand harvesting dead branches for firewood.  Remember, they didn’t have axes and saws at this time, so they relied on dead trees and branches.

Archaeologists studying the refuse left behind at ancient living sites have been able to piece together how people lived in the past. We have found that Native American societies had ever changing styles of tools and advances in technology over thousands of years. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the “New World,” Native Americans had occupied the portion of North America we now call western Wisconsin for more than 12,500 years. We have found many prime locations that were used as living sites for thousands of years. Digging with great care, archaeologists find that materials closer to the surface tend to be more recent, and the finds grow older as we move deeper. These layered or “stratified” living sites allow us to see the changes in technology and “subsistence” (what people were eating) based on animal bones and burned plant remains.  For instance, we can see the first use of fired clay pots, the shift to the bow and arrow from the spear, and the arrival of corn horticulture. With modern technology we can use radiocarbon method to determine the ages of some ancient remains to within a few decades.
Effigy Mounds
The shifts we see in technology and subsistence have allowed archaeologists to assign names and dates to well defined Native American “cultures.” We do not know what these ancient Native Americans called themselves, so the names we have given them are for convenience of discussion. In western Wisconsin, one well-known division in what we call the Late Woodland period is the Effigy Mound Tradition. This tradition of effigy mound construction is unique to the southern half of Wisconsin with some in adjacent parts of Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois. We will be looking at the people who built the effigy mounds from about A.D. 700 to A.D. 1050. How did Native Americans live in western Wisconsin a little more than 1000 years ago?

Through archeological excavation and analysis of the materials recovered, we have learned a great deal about ancient peoples in this area.  In addition, anthropologists who study human societies worldwide have added considerable information. We have learned that people at a given level of complexity organize their societies in similar ways no matter where they live. For example, people who live by hunting animals and gathering wild plants (hunters and gatherers) organize and carry out daily tasks in similar ways, no matter if they live in Australia (Aborigines), the American arctic (“Eskimos”), or the deserts of the American west (Shoshones)-they all have similar patterns of social behavior. We can take the framework that anthropologists have described for recent societies and add information about what archaeologists have found to understand the life-ways of the Effigy Mound people of western Wisconsin.

We will explore more about the ways & life of the Effigy Mound people in our next January newsletter as well as our first winter newsletter in February.  

Spear & Mound Photos borrowed from the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center.

Vegetable Feature: Shallots, Onions and Cipollini

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

We hold tightly to the conviction that daily, year-round consumption of onions is not only a health benefit, but also an easy way to improve the flavor profile of the foods we prepare. Between the regular onions we pack throughout the season, to the shallots in the last box to this week’s cipollini onions, I’d say we’ve got you covered on all fronts!

There are many situations where you might use these three alliums interchangeably, however the last thing we want to do is lump these three distinct culinary ingredients into an undifferentiated mass. So, here goes a brief crash course on their unique attributes. To begin, yellow and red storage onions are just that—ideally suited to keep through the long winter.  Whether you sauté them along with beef or mushrooms or feature them in their own French onion soup, these onions will be your workhorses in the kitchen.

Shallots, which were included in your first extended season box, have been awarded a more fanciful designation.  Shallots have long been recognized as having a rather delicate flavor and, when used raw, they bring a subtle pungency to a dish. When cooked, however, shallots become rich and sweet tasting.

Finally, lets talk about those dark red cipollini onions. Of Italian decent, cipollini onions appear flattened and saucer-like. They are known for being an excellent onion for caramelizing and roasting, as both cooking procedures develop their natural sugars.  One of my favorite destinations for these onions is whole roasted in a balsamic glaze. Cipollini onions can be a bit of a challenge to peel, but don’t worry…there’s a trick.  Using a paring knife, trim away the roots just enough to take a thin layer off the base of the onion and mark the base with a very shallow “X” cut.  Trim the neck part of the opposite side.  Boil a pot of water and drop the onions in the water for just a few minutes.  Drain off the hot water and rinse with cold water.  When they are cool enough to handle, just pop the skins off.

All of these alliums will keep longer if stored in the right environment—typically, dry and dark is ideal, with good airflow. If stored properly, onions and shallots will store for several months.

Roasted Cipollini Onions with Sherry Vinegar


Yield:  4 servings
1 ½ pounds whole cipollini onions
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp thyme leaves
1 tsp sugar
¼ cup plus 2 Tbsps sherry vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the cipollini onions until just tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and cool under cold running water. Trim and peel the onions and pat dry.
  2. Transfer the onions to a large ovenproof skillet and stir in the olive oil, thyme leaves, sugar and ¼ cup of the sherry vinegar. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Cover the skillet with foil and roast the onions in the upper third of the oven for about 20 minutes, until soft. Remove the foil and roast the onions for about 10 minutes, basting a few times with the juices, until lightly glazed.
  3. Transfer the skillet to the stove. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar and stir over moderate heat until the onions are richly glazed, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and plenty of pepper and serve.


NOTE:  The glazed onions can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight. Reheat gently.

Recipe borrowed from foodandwine.com.  It was originally published in March 2009 and was contributed by Matt Molina.