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Nearly Impossible?

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Local Produce? In the winter? Around here?

A few years ago I may have made that statement myself. Now, I know better. There was a long discussion on one of our local facebook pages, Clarksville Happenings. About rotten produce (and meat) at our community grocery store. Lamenting the apparent lack of quality control, and attention, from the big chain.

Lots of discussion about using Roots, Wegmans, Boarmans and Harris Teeter as alternatives to getting less than stellar fresh foods.

One comment struck me. A good thought. Using mostly local foods instead of those flown in from far away. Eating locally and sustainably. But, the caveat. That it was nearly impossible to find local produce in the winter in the Northeast.

Dark Days Homemade Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Dark Days Homemade Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Before I took the Dark Days Challenge in 2012, I didn’t know what was available locally. I signed up for a winter CSA. Lots of root vegetables and a few flash frozen fill ins. I found DuPont Circle, Silver Spring and Tacoma Park year round markets. You could make that once a week challenge meal using those sources.

Now, there are many more options for fresher better foods. I get 90% of my food from Friends and Farms (which sources regionally) and Lancaster Farm Fresh (which delivers a CSA to Columbia while dropping off wholesale foods to MOM’s, Roots, David’s and Friends and Farms).

A December CSA Delivery

A December CSA Delivery

All my meat and seafood except for specialty items I get at Boarman’s. Dairy. Bread. Produce. Pantry items. Every week. Fresh from the greenhouses or high tunnels.

It means eating seasonally. There aren’t many choices for fruit. There are quite a number of flash frozen items to fill in the gaps. Still, I can eat most of my meals without going to a store. For those who are ready to use local produce, check out my local resources page. Besides my two current suppliers, there’s Breezy Willow Early Bird starting next month.

My carbon footprint is smaller too. Even if it includes citrus from Florida. Which is awesome by the way. Something about grapefruit in a salad that makes cold weather recede into the background.

lasagna 048

Well, time to check on dinner. In the oven on slow cook. The tri tip roast from F&F. Fingerlings from LFFC. Carrots and onions. A mushroom gravy I made from two weeks worth of mushrooms. That soup I made the other night. I thickened the leftovers and made the gravy for the roast. It smells wonderful up in the kitchen.

Local meals. In February. Not impossible at all.

The Dark Days

The time of year when the sun is in the opposite hemisphere, and our daylight hours get shorter and shorter. On December 21st, we here in Howard County only get 9 1/2 hours of daylight. Then, thankfully, the days get longer after that day.

A few years back, I did a food challenge. Called the Dark Days Challenge. The challenge, simply, was to make a meal once a week in the winter that used almost completely regional, seasonal items, and/or items you preserved from the summer.

I found out we had lots of sources here in Central Maryland. I didn’t have to eat food flown halfway across the country or halfway around the world. I learned about the Silver Spring, Takoma Park, and DuPont circle year round markets. I found farmers in the area where I could procure local meats.

I found a year round CSA. Bottom line. I changed how I ate. I changed how I cooked. I reduced my carbon footprint by using more and more local foods.

Last night, I made dinner. Afterwards, I realized how that dinner would have rocked the Dark Days Challenge. Almost all of it was local. And I didn’t even work hard to do it. I had just changed my food sources over the years.

lamb dinner 044

My lamb stew dinner. Using Mt. Airy Meats lamb. CSA potatoes, turnips, onions and carrots. Friends and Farms kale, garlic and rosemary. Trickling Springs butter. Secolari’s olive oil and balsamic. Wayne Nell’s bacon ends.

And the wine.

lamb dinner 014

A 1999 Linden Glen Manor from Virginia. Like inhaling cherries. Dark, delicious. Nowhere near its peak. A bargain back when we bought it. A treasure to be savored with the lamb.

My husband declared I now make a braised lamb stew that rivals those that Marc Dixon used to make at Iron Bridge. Falling off the bone lamb. Simply cooked in the oven at slow cooker setting, with the potatoes, turnips, carrots and onions in a chicken stock I made last month.

lamb dinner 001

Yes, I know I need to clean the oven. Ignore that. I did the stew in one pan. Seared it first, added the vegetables and stock and cooked it for four hours at the 250 degree setting in the oven.

lamb dinner 003

The kale. Started out with scallions from Laurel Amish Market. Olive oil. Bacon ends. Added the kale and garlic. Sautéed until wilted.

So easy to eat fresh food around here.

Mostly Local

Back when I first started writing this blog, I used participation in food challenges as a way to increase my awareness of local foods. I did the Dark Days Challenge, the Southern SOLE Food Challenge, another winter challenge, the Buy Local Challenges and found out how easy it is to cook with local ingredients here. I need to update my local challenge page to reflect the current status, but it is a great link to some sources of local foods, as is my local resource page.

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My first dark days luncheon in 2011. Locally sourced items for a salad.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped doing weekly challenges, as my refrigerator, freezer and pantry had quite a bit of local ingredients stashed in them. Almost every meal had something local in it.

Meat and dairy is simple here. So are vegetables from all the CSAs in the county.

Yesterday I didn’t even think about it. I took two dishes to the reunion. Both had local ingredients. I also took a few bottles of Big Cork wine. A winery just outside of Frederick. A Traminette. Perfect for those who loved the shrimp and the crabs, and the pulled pork. A spicy wine, similar to Gewurztraminer.

My contributions were tomatoes, goat cheese, basil over a bed of arugula. To be accompanied by McCutcheon’s dressing. Tomatoes. Mine. Basil. Mine. All the plants from Sharp’s Farm. Goat cheese. Cherry Glen. Just west of us in Montgomery County. Arugula. Love Dove Farm. Howard County.

My other dish. A four bean salad. Using wax beans from TLV, and green beans from my CSA. Yeah, the cannellini and garbanzo beans were canned, bought at Roots the other day.

Breakfast today. Love Dove eggs. Lunch today. Leftover salads from yesterday.

grilled lamb 002

Dinner tonight. One incredibly awesome sirloin lamb roast from England Acres, one of the packages from the half of lamb we bought in April. Potatoes, from the CSA. Peaches from Lewis Orchards. Love Dove arugula. Catoctin Mountain Orchards Peach Vinaigrette over the salad.

grilled lamb 004

My latest batch of ajvar on the side with some pita. Using CSA eggplant. My garlic, roasted. Yeah, I bought the red peppers at Harris Teeter, as we haven’t seen many nice red peppers. Hasn’t been hot enough this summer.

I really am thankful that we have our markets. We have many local farms open year round. We have year round CSAs. Making our meals that much fresher, that much better.

Thanks to our local farmers. They make it easy to eat locally and seasonally.


My SOLE Food Sisters and our Winter Eat Local Challenge

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For five years, a group of bloggers and blog readers took on a challenge to cook locally during the winter, at least once a week, and blog about it. We called it the Dark Days Challenge, for the dark days of winter here in the Northern Hemisphere. Ten of us, called the south region made it all the way through the challenge, and we bonded in our support for one another.

We continued our blogging together, setting up a Southern SOLE food challenge, using our gardens, farm stands, CSAs, markets and local producers for some staples, as a basis for cooking with our bountiful summer goods.

We decided we wanted to continue this winter and do our own Dark Days again. We will be keeping our google reader going with the participants, and our leader, Emily, from Sincerely Emily, is putting it all together right now. We will blog on Sundays or Mondays about what we made, from our freezers, our canned fruits and veggies, our dried herbs, a few local winter markets, some farm stands that are open year round, and let you know you can still find good things to cook in your own backyard, regionally. From places like Breezy Willow or TLV or Clark’s Farm, all open on Saturdays this winter.

Breezy Willow last January

Breezy Willow last January

What is SOLE food? Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethical. Pick two or three or all four for most of your ingredients. Eggs from free range chickens. Locally produced meats from animals that aren’t given hormones, antibiotics or fed grain to fatten. Seafood from the local waters. Winter veggies from farmers who don’t spray pesticides or use GMO seeds. Fruit from growers who practice IPM, and minimize what they put on their trees. Those types of things. We state up front that certain items like oils, spices and in our cases, citrus, beans and grains, won’t be local if we don’t have sources ever for those items. Chocolate, for example, or cinnamon. Salt and pepper. Olive oil. When I cook my dark days meal, I do use things like olive oil that have traveled a lesser distance, like my oils from California. Much closer than Spain, Greece or Italy.

my "local" olive oil

my “local” olive oil

It is a fun challenge to make a meal by minimizing non-local items. We will be running our challenge from December 1st until May 1st. I will be updating my food challenge page to follow it.

To kick off my week, I will be making venison chili this week with the venison I will be getting Tuesday. Newly processed. A freezer load of 50-60 pounds, to keep us in stews, chilis, soups and a few nice meals with the loin and the steaks. Out here in our neck of the woods, the bow season is fairly long and we are supporting the deer management practices, to lower the over population in our forests. In some of our watershed areas, they have done night counts that register 6-8 times the number of deer than the vegetation will support. If we don’t use managed hunts, we end up with large numbers of starving and diseased deer.

After providing deer meat to family and friends, many of our local hunters support FHFH (Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry) with donations of deer to be used as a nutritious inexpensive source of protein.

I will be using my frozen chunky tomato sauce and CSA veggies to make my meal. I will write a post about my dinner, and also link up with the others who are supporting the eat local challenge with me. A year ago, when I started this blog, my CSA and my locavore tendencies were my main source of postings. I do believe it is not that difficult to make one meal a week using something produced right down the road. Even if it is only a couple of eggs for breakfast one Sunday. Served with a walnut spelt bread from Atwaters in Catonsville. Spelt is a local grain, grown in PA.

silver spring and birds 036

Anyone interested in taking the challenge, add your name in comments here, and add your link, or your description each week as we go through the winter supporting our local farmers and businesses. Definitely a way to support the best that Howard County and the rest of the region offer us. Truly the Land of Pleasant Living.


My Cyber Circles

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I have been meaning to write a post about the three different circles where I travel in cyberspace, in other words, talk about my cohorts in posting. I started my blog in November 2011, mainly to document my CSA, and to learn how to use social media. Something we didn’t do all those years I worked for Uncle Sam. The Navy wasn’t keen on us using social media.

Now that I am retired and looking around to expand my circle of acquaintances I found this blog has triggered email correspondence, and in many cases, it has resulted in meeting people, as we do in the hocoblogs community.

I think we are due for another get together soon, as it has been awhile. Linking and reading each others’ posts is how I keep updated on what happens around here. Food, politics, social events and life in hoco in general. Plus, it got me into using facebook, and twitter, with connections made on both. Including Marshmallow Man and Gingerbread Girl.

The second circle is the locavore circle. I got into it, with a Dark Days Challenge, by attempting to find local meats, dairy, produce and staples during the down period when farmstands and farmer’s markets are not available. I learned that there is actually quite a bit around here in the county and surrounding Maryland counties, that make it easy to cook at least once a week using locally sourced items. My local resources page was built during that challenge.

Now, our group of ten women, who blogged all last winter, are continuing to read each others’ blogs, swap recipes, learn new techniques and keep in touch. The Soffrito, another hocoblogger, and I have met for coffee at the farmer’s markets and keep in touch by email. I have the list of all ten of us on my challenges page, and we have a file folder on the google reader, where we keep up with posts. Their blogs touch DC, VA, MD, SC, NC and TX. Rebecca at Eating Floyd is my source for learning to preserve foods. Emily at Sincerely Emily was our coordinator in last year’s challenge and kept us motivated throughout the long winter season. We intend to keep posting even if the Dark Days Challenge doesn’t materialize this winter.

AnnieRie Unplugged – me
Backyard Grocery Northern VA
Bumble Lush Garden near DC
Eat. Drink. Nourish. South Carolina
Eating Appalachia Blue Ridge VA
Eating Floyd Southwest VA
Family Foodie Survival Guide Northern VA
Sincerely, Emily Texas
The Soffritto right up the road in Woodstock
Windy City Vegan North Carolina

My third circle is the “What’s in the Box” circle. Started by Heather at In Her Chucks, this circle is the CSA and farmer’s market bloggers who link up weekly. I get a good source of information on what to do with strange new veggies, and have expanded my resources. Plus, In Her Chucks is a fun blog to read.

my CSA box

I almost feel like these blogging circles are the modern day equivalent of pen pals. I know that really dates me, to remember when we had pen pals and we, ***GASP***, sent snail mail, only we called them letters back then.

On November 2nd, my blog will be a year old. I am surprised that I still find enough to write about. Thankfully, there are lots of opportunities around here, and lots of inspiration. Thanks to the community here for linking us up, and spreading our thoughts around the area, and far beyond.


Even Though the Challenge is Over …

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… I am still cooking locally produced foods.

Today was one of those crock pot days. At the market yesterday, I picked up those beautiful short ribs from the Amish farm. Plus, chard to go along with my CSA mustard greens.

Add to that some stuff from the fridge and pantry.

I made a sauce using the organic fire roasted tomatoes, some tomato paste, and added tomato preserves, harissa and some honey. Added fresh herbs from the garden and garlic and spring onions. Used a turnip and a couple of carrots from the CSA, and put it all in the pot but the meat. The meat I browned first, before adding it to the top of the crock pot. Seasoned it with ground ginger and cinnamon, too. Smelled like Morocco in here.

I have been using the crock pot liners since I can’t lift and wash the insert. I know I could get my husband to clean it but it’s just easier to do it this way. They are an interesting invention, as I am amazed at how strong they are. I think more people would use crock pots if they used this easy clean up time saver.

After setting up the crock pot, I made a local breakfast for us. The last two pieces of chicken fried steak that I made the other night from the cube steak I bought at Wagner’s. Two eggs from the CSA. Atwater’s rosemary bread, toasted with fresh butter. Yum, steak and eggs for breakfast.

Back to dinner, after spending time cleaning out the pots outside so I can plant some chard and arugula, and messing around on the internet, I came down the cellar to look for wine. I needed a big wine to stand up to the beef with all those intense tomatoey, spicy notes. Ended up digging around and found a 2000 Linden Red, not one of the individual vineyard designations, but a blend of grapes from the three sites. 63% Cabernet, with more than 30% franc and the rest petit verdot. This was a big wine. It just goes to show that if you have the talent and the patience, you can make great wines in less than stellar growing years. This wine had gobs of fruit. Still dark, dense and chewy. I bet we paid around $20 for that wine, and it would stand up to a Cabernet from California that costs at least twice the money.

Dinner was equally impressive, even if it looked a little messy.

The salad was nice, too. We used some of the Cherry Glen goat cheese, the Monocacy Gold, with CSA greens, plus arugula and tomatoes from Mock’s Greenhouse.

I am finding it very easy to make good meals using local items and no processed foods. Check this one off as something I will make many times.

Scrapple: The Last Frontier

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OK, I am truly becoming my dad. I have gone over to the dark side and made my own scrapple. But, it isn’t my fault. It is Mark Bittman’s fault. Darn that “How to Cook Everything” App on my iPad.

You see, I needed to make breakfast for the last week of the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge. I had one pound left of Woodcamp Farms sausage in the freezer.

I was actually looking to make sausage patties with some interesting seasonings, and maybe do pancakes with the rest of the local buckwheat. But, opening the app and typing in sausage, it came up with lots of boring recipes, and SCRAPPLE!

OK, not everyone loves scrapple, but being almost 100% German background, and growing up with the scent of scrapple a normal Sunday morning wake up call, as my dad fried it up crispy and served it smothered in ketchup, how could I resist making my own.

We used to buy our scrapple at Lexington Market. My dad worked downtown as a policeman, so Saturday he brought home scrapple. Made from whatever was left of the pork. Still, nothing in the grocery stores approaches that scrapple.

I was hooked. I needed to try this. I even made it local. And, you could make it even more local than I did. I had cornmeal on hand. Not from up the road, but from PA. You can get cornmeal from Union Mills in Carroll County. But this is all I had.

This is the cornmeal I used in this killer polenta a few weeks ago. The Bittman recipe calls for grits or cornmeal. We don’t have local grits, so cornmeal it was. It also calls for making a double recipe of the grits. Don’t do it. Too much cornmeal and not enough sausage. Next time I make this I will use about 2/3 to 3/4 of the amount called for in the grits recipe.

You can see when I cut it this morning to fry, there is way too much filler for the pound of sausage. If you are trying to eat less meat, it works but it is off a little on proportions. You can also see the little bits of fresh sage from my herb garden.

Cook it all up with a couple of local eggs, and serve. The recipe is after the pictures below.

It looks pretty good, and it was tasty. My husband thinks it needs a little more kick, but this was an eat local challenge and Tabasco isn’t local. It also fell apart as I was plating it.

Local Sources: Trickling Springs for the butter to fry it. Zahradka Farms CSA eggs. Woodcamp Farm pork sausage. Burnt Cabins Roasted Cornmeal. Sage from my garden.

To make it even more local and mostly from Howard County, use: Bowling Green Farms butter, Breezy Willow eggs, TLV Tree Farm sausage, and Union Mills cornmeal, available at Breezy Willow. This way it would be almost 100% Howard County sourced, with the exception the cornmeal from Carroll County.

The recipe, courtesy of How to Cook Everything –

Make the cornmeal polenta, or use grits. The recipe calls for 5 cups or water, boiling. Whisk in two cups of grits or polenta. I believe you should make this with 3/4 of what they call for. Cook, covered, and occasionally stirring, until smooth. Add water if necessary to keep it from thickening too much. You will know if it is too thick. You can’t stir it. Add salt and pepper and butter to taste while making. Be careful tasting. It is molten.

In the meantime, cook the sausage until done. You need at least two cups of cooked sausage. One pound will just get you there. I would go heavier on the sausage the next time I do this.

Mix the sausage into the polenta and add at least a tablespoon of fresh sage. I used close to two tablespoons, because there was so much polenta made. Maybe grits would cook down more but the polenta was really thick and there was quite a bit of it.

Pour into a buttered loaf pan and refrigerate overnight. Cut in slices and fry in whatever you want. I used butter to keep it local. Serve with eggs, any way. I like sunny side up when I have fresh eggs from the CSA.

My husband had a piece of Atwater’s bread, toasted, with his. I didn’t think it needed the toast, as the scrapple is hearty.

So, Dark Days are done. I made it all the way to the end. Now, it will be easier to cook with local foods as we get into growing season.

Try making scrapple this summer. Everything is right up the road, at our markets in Howard County.


The Final Week of the Eat Local Challenge

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In November I signed on to prepare at least one meal a week for sixteen weeks using locally sourced items. Locally being defined as within 150 miles of your home. The Dark Days Challenge is the Title. Over 100 people signed up. About 30-40 of us made it through the challenge.

Highlights to me of my meals included learning to make sweet potato gnocchi, making roasted cornmeal polenta, and using turnips far more than I ever did in the past.

These ingredients produced this soup. Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, apples and turnips. Thick, rich and satisfying.

The South Region, which included participants from MD, VA, NC, SC and TX, was one of the most active regions. Not surprising because it is fairly easy to source local items year round here. The northern participants struggled more.

This last week had a theme for us. Make breakfast. So far, I did eggs one day, but I intend to finish the challenge before Sunday with pancakes and sausage patties. Not going to go out without putting forth some real effort. Eggs are too easy.

In Howard County, we are lucky to have a year round CSA deliver. We also have access to meats and dairy from local farmers. We can also get produce from Amish markets in the area, and three year round farmer’s markets in Tacoma Park, Silver Spring and Dupont Circle. A Saturday morning visit to Silver Spring yielded enough fresh goodness, plus my Friday CSA delivery, to make Giant or Safeway superfluous in my life. Like the week shown below.

Friday Delivery CSA – beets, onion, sweet potatoes, celery, microgreens, broccoli, and Angus ground beef.

Saturday morning at the market – including chorizo, bread, mustard, high tunnel grown tomatoes, bibb lettuce, and not pictured, fresh basil.

Those of us who garden had put aside some frozen or canned items to use. I ran out of almost everything in my freezer, with one pint of turkey stock left. I used my last pickles in egg salad a few weeks ago. I still have half a jar of concord grape jelly from my neighbor, and enough frozen veggie items to make one more batch of veggie stock.

It made me think about what to do in the future. I intend to use Larriland Farms and Butler’s Orchards quite a bit this year to augment my garden and freeze/can items to use. I will also make good use of the summer CSA and farmer’s markets to get items to put away.

Why, you ask? Because, for me, eating fresh foods keeps my allergies at bay. It also limits my exposure to GMO vegetables, and to meats full of antibiotics and hormones. I feel better when I do this. Besides, serving fresh food to my friends and husband, prepared by me with love, is one of the things I enjoy best about being retired. Yum, TLV Farm kielbasa with CSA veggies, Canela bread from Boarman’s, and Black Ankle Syrah. Goodness, from Howard County and the surrounding area. Doesn’t get much better.


In Search of Salsify

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Back in December, in our fall CSA from Sandy Spring, we got salsify in the box. A fuzzy strange looking vegetable.

I had no idea what to do with it, but went on line and started reading. It turns out that it is in the sunflower family, and the vegetable we see is the root of the purple salsify plant. It isn’t very common around here, but has been cultivated in other parts of the world to a greater extent.

It tastes like oysters, believe it or not. I went and found a huge collection of recipes on this site, vintage recipes. For one of my eat local challenge meals, I made the simple fritters recipe from the Boston cooking school cookbook of 1896. Cooking all of what I had from the CSA, and wishing afterwards that I could have had more of it.

I started searching for it. Found some really hard, gnarly ones at Harris Teeter in Maple Lawn. They were OK but not as flavorful as the fresh ones. It is going to be a quest at the farmer’s markets to ask if anyone does plant them. Since they are the root of a sunflower, I am guessing it will be pretty late in the season for me to see local ones, if at all. I may just have to identify a source and buy it in the fall or winter when it is ready to harvest.

If not there, I will also be checking out whether the new Wegman’s will have them. They did not at the Wegman’s in Frederick, although they have another root veggie I like, sunchokes. That is a topic I will write about sometime in the future. I find it a fascinating byproduct of the CSA, veggies you would not pick up on your own and make.

Anyone ever found salsify around here?


Winter CSA Week Thirteen, and Dinner from the Box

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Over nine pounds of veggies. Six items. $18/week which includes home delivery. This week was one of the heaviest hauls of veggies in the CSA for the winter. Zahradka Farm is a vendor at the Glenwood Farmer’s Market so everyone can partake of their fresh veggies for at least six months a year. Joining their CSA allowed us to experience home delivery for the rest of the year.

The six items are a half share. A full share would have been ten. We choose from an on line ordering form. Over the weekend they put up a list with what is ready to pick. This is what I ordered and received, with weight in ounces after item received:

collard greens (12 oz)
carrots (34 oz)
onions (24 oz)
beets (26 oz)
radishes (14 oz)
new potatoes (40 oz)

We also received skirt steak from JW Treuth butchers, as our weekly meat selection, and this is the week for my biweekly dozen eggs, all colors and sizes.

Some of the eggs are a deep brown, although the pictures don’t do them justice.

I already put one of the carrots in the leftover cabbage from St. Paddy’s Day, with last week’s white potatoes. Topped it with a fresh kielbasa from TLV Tree Farm. They are just down the road from us. We go out to the farm on Saturdays when they are open from 10-2. Last week we picked up this fresh kielbasa. Just like the kielbasa made in my husband’s home town in PA.

I opened a bottle of wine from one of the closest wineries to Howard County, Black Ankle. Interesting that this 2006 Syrah had a musty nose, which disappeared after a while, but I wonder how the other couple of bottles in the cellar are doing. Tasted great, though. I wanted a bigger but not huge wine to stand up to the kielbo and the mustard.

This dinner came from less than 25 miles away, if you discount the ramp mustard, which is from Spring Valley Farm and Orchard, in Augusta WV. I did buy it at Dupont Circle Market, which is 25 miles south of us.

A really tasty dinner, right from our proverbial back yard.