New Year hopes for health, happiness on Martha’s Vineyard

A rain barrel, or perhaps several, is a garden-friendly gift that keeps giving the year-round. For many plants and gardening purposes, soft rainwater is preferable to tap water. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

By the Twelfth Day of Christmas a lot of our holiday efforts are swelling the landfill. There are many words for rejecting Adam Lanza and others like him, who have loosed destruction upon innocent bystanders — loser, loner, reject — but human rejects cannot be taken to the landfill. The solemn message of the season, the primeval hope for return of the light, transmutes easily into the Gift of the Child, who is faith — teetering on the brink of fear and seeming nullity — and the light of the world rekindled.

We have many among us — we see faces, but we do not know hearts — who suffer greatly, not only at Christmas, but also year-round. Let’s reject the Festival of Junk that modern holidays have become; let’s not create more losers and rejects, to then “dump.” We can practice the lesson of Epiphany: seeking and searching to fan the small flame of hope and mercy, and turning to the Light.

More rain barrels in 2013

For watering there is nothing faster than sinking a watering can directly into a rain barrel: no waiting for anemic, constricted hose delivery, no chlorine, no water meter. Perhaps a little late for Christmas, but just in time for 2013, a rain barrel, or perhaps several, is a garden-friendly gift that keeps giving the year-round. For many plants and gardening purposes, soft rainwater is preferable to tap water.

The Lagoon Pond Association (LPA) has a fertile idea. LPA is holding a rain barrel sale and making available the “Ivy” 50-gallon model at $75, made of 50 percent recycled plastic, for pickup on Earth Day 2013. Features include, among others, bug-proof screens and built-in overflow ports. For more information, e-mail This is a great opportunity; I would love to see more homes with rain barrels beneath the downspouts.

Hope for Vineyard composting in 2013

Perhaps in 2013 the island of Martha’s Vineyard will acquire municipal composting. Trudy Taylor is not the only one who points out that Nantucket has the jump on us with its municipal composting operation, but she is the one who berates me as if it were my personal failing that we lack it and my responsibility to accomplish it.

And Trudy is right, I do have this column for a platform and should be applying pressure continually to all Island Boards of Health, MV Commissioners, and elected officials to make Island-wide composting a reality. Nantucket’s composting operation was jointly conceived and implemented by the town of Nantucket and Waste Options, Inc. in 1996, and up-graded in 1999, so you can see that the Vineyard has really lagged behind in this department.

What is happening — or not happening — here? Some infer the problem is having six different towns, but since many other services and operations are organized and provided by town governments, it may instead be a question of marginalizing composting’s importance in the overall scheme of things.

That is a big mistake, to dump what may be usefully or even profitably reused. Two significant environmental benefits arise from establishing composting facilities: creating rich, healthy soil, and easing the expensive burden on landfills. With the addition of anaerobic digester containment composting, one of the most useful sources of decentralized energy generation, energy and fuel may be captured from the composting process to offset high energy costs.

Apart from ecological precepts, which strongly suggest that all organic matter be returned to and digested where it originated, there is a good market for topsoil and mulching compost on the Island. Landscapers and private gardeners such as myself are numerous, and all imported supplies cause costs to rise.

In the Netherlands, where composting is widespread, municipalities collect organics, compost and return them to the taxpayer as a benefit. The enormous greenhouses, where your colored sweet peppers (and much more) originate, are powered by anaerobic digesters in combination with other alternative energies, such as geothermal and windpower.

Numbers of home vegetable gardens are increasing; compost makes them more productive and raises the quality of what is grown in them. The concept of carbon capture alone makes it incumbent upon everyone, everywhere, to focus on the importance of municipal composting. Markets for waste streams must be developed because at some future point we will be unable to discard as we currently do, such as by incinerating.

After the feast, homegrown soup

The holiday diet makes bellies long for something less rich but comforting. I make the following recipe for ribollita, adapted from Lori De Mori’s beautiful “Beaneaters & Bread Soup,” entirely with ingredients that I grow or make, apart from the olive oil.

Twice-Boiled Tuscan Bread Soup

400 g/2c. cannellini beans, soaked in cold water plus 1 tsp whey overnight

6 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra to drizzle

2 garlic cloves, unpeeled

4-5 sage leaves

few black peppercorns

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 onions, chopped

2 carrots, thickly sliced

2 celery stalks, thickly sliced

2 potatoes, peeled and chunked

1 bunch Tuscan or other kale, coarsely chopped

1/2 small Savoy cabbage, coarsely chopped

1 large bunch Swiss chard, coarsely chopped

400 grams canned, or equivalent, tomato product

300 grams day-old coarse country bread

Drain the beans, place into a heavy-based cooking pot with 2 quarts water plus 1 tsp. whey, 2 Tbsp olive oil, garlic, sage, and peppercorns. Cover and cook over low heat until the skins are tender and the beans are soft, about two hours. Season with salt three-quarters of the way through cooking. Set aside about half the beans. Pass the remaining beans through a food mill or purée in their cooking water using an immersion blender.

Heat 4 Tbsp. olive oil in a heavy-based cooking pot on medium-low heat and cook onions until soft and translucent. Add carrots, celery, potatoes, and leafy vegetables. Stir for a couple of minutes then add tomatoes. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.

Stir in the puréed beans and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are very soft, about 1 hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Break the stale bread into pieces and add to the dense soup with the reserved whole beans. Simmer until the bread softens. Remove from heat, allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight. The next day, ladle the soup into a casserole and bake at 350F, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 45 minutes. Allow a light crust to form. Ladle into bowls, drizzle with olive oil, and serve.

Happy New Year 2013!