Teste Situations

November 8, 2017 in Food, Home

Yesterday was another milestone here on the farm. Yesterday we sent our first lamb to freezer camp. Well, Troy actually did the deed. I was indulged in a state of panic getting product ready for market, as is the Monday norm.

In between filling containers of body butter I glanced out the window towards the barn to take in the progress. Movement inside the barn, then a wheelbarrow tipped out the door, then the sound of the tractor moving towards our water source and the area where we’ve been dressing carcasses. I put down my containers and ventured outside. I’d have been happy to avoid the whole scene, but it didn’t seem like the right thing to do, and so I went to see if I could help.

There was Troy, standing in front of the lamb that hung from the tractor bucket. I stood alongside him and joined in the stare. At eye level an enormous set of testicles confronted our gaze, and neither of us needed to say anything. Troy had made an initial cut into the belly, but I could tell he was a little thrown off by the dangling participles punching him right in the eye. We’ve slaughtered and butchered chickens and pigs and turkeys. None of those beasts had a set like this. I could hear Troy’s brain going through the motions. Where to cut? How to separate the goods from the goods? My brain couldn’t quite do the math, either.

I walked away and left Troy to Google sheep balls. As luck would have it, our neighbour (who is a sheep farmer and very experienced in these matters) drove by, saw that something was up, and stopped in. Under his watchful eye and instruction the carcass was castrated. Today we cut and wrapped our lamb. One more box of food for the winter – almost 60 pounds, we figure. We didn’t keep the testicles, something else will enjoy them.

Never in a million years did I think a dinner conversation might go something like this:

Him: Next year if there’s a ram lamb we’re castrating it early on. I just didn’t know what to do with those balls, did you see the size of them?!?

Me: Yeah, I wondered how we’d deal with those.

Him: When I was Googling sheep testicles I thought about keeping them. It sounded like they might be good.

Me: Yeah, I don’t think so.

My progressive female self wants to pull out all the symbolism, the Freudian and Jungian triggers, the social significance of dealing with testicles through death and cuisine. My other self wonders what sort of god-forbidden redneck I have become… I not only went through this, I thought it was interesting enough to write about.

In the end I think it comes down to the fact that neither of us feels good about killing things, even if it is to sustain ourselves, but humans are omnivores, and so are the animals that will end up enjoying those balls. We are all just meat, from head to toe, and eventually we too will be eaten by something.

Might as well make a note of it, after all, it might be on the test(es).

 

The Price is Wrong

July 14, 2017 in Home, Uncategorized

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 6.33.06 AMIt’s veggie season again and that means those of us who sell produce at market have to step away from the fields and weeds for a few minutes every week to research prices. Consumers look for the best deals and selling any commodity requires competitive pricing on the part of the seller. There’s a fine line, however, between asking too much and not enough, and that line changes from week to week as things come in and out of season.

For those of us who sell at farmers markets pricing is always a struggle. We want to offer consumers a fair deal and encourage them to buy from us instead of the big chain stores. But we also need to make a living, to pay for seeds, market fees, fuel, and all the other costs that come with growing and selling. It’s all too easy to undervalue a product just to sell, and that seems innocent enough on the surface. After all, customers love a great deal! In the grand scheme of things, however, under-pricing creates a vicious cycle that undermines everyone, especially when multiple vendors have the same product.

If vendors don’t charge enough for their items:

  • The market becomes unprofitable for the vendors and they don’t return. The market fails.
  • Consumers develop an expectation that the product has less value, and therefore become unwilling to pay a realistic price. Farms fail.
  • Consumers end up with less choice when it comes to buying local. The local food system fails.

Determining a realistic and fair price for an item doesn’t have to be an an onerous task. There are multiple ways to choose fair pricing:

  • Organicpricetracker.ca  averages regional prices for a multitude of produce types. It’s a quick and easy-to-use resource for up-to-date data on market, wholesale, and bulk pricing.
  • Looking around at supermarkets and other farmers markets can provide a guideline for the average price of items. Of course it’s important to compare organic to organic, weight to weight…  lettuce shipped from Mexico cannot be considered the same as no-spray lettuce picked from a farmer’s field an hour before market.
  • Talk to other vendors and agree on a fair price.
  • Consider the value that product has to you, the vendor! There comes a price point where I’d rather take an item home and feed it to the pigs than sell for less. After all, pig food costs money too. Don’t have pigs? If your tomatoes went ballistic and you have way too many, instead of selling them for nothing why not donate them to a food bank or soup kitchen?

Dumping of product at unrealistic prices isn’t good for the vendorship, it isn’t good for the market, and in the long run it isn’t good for the consumer, either. Farmers markets aren’t flea markets… they are venues for local producers to sell quality product at fair prices, and make a living in the process. We need to cooperate to ensure that we CAN make a living. We also need to engage consumers and make sure they understand how and why prices are determined, and why sometimes our products are worth a little more than the chain store “equivalents”. If we undersell ourselves we’re underselling a whole local economy, it’s that simple. Make sure the price is right!

 

Meat is Murder?

November 4, 2016 in Food, Uncategorized

WARNING! THIS POST CONTAINS SOME GRAPHIC PICTURES OF MEAT PRODUCTION THAT SOME PEOPLE MAY FIND OFFENSIVE OR HARD TO VIEW.

Meat is murder? Well, that depends on which definition you use, and which meat you’re referring to.

Murder refers (according to dictionary definition) to the killing of another human. But the dictionary also describes “murder” as “to kill or slaughter inhumanly or barbarously”. I presume that when people claim “Meat is murder”, that’s the definition they’re using.

Moving the carcass from the pig pen

So yes. Some meat, undoubtedly, is murder. And that is exactly why we kill our own animals.

Now, if you’re a strict vegetarian or vegan, I’m not going to convince you that what we’ve done is right. I am speaking to the omnivores and carnivores amongst us, all who hold some responsibility for the death of animals to produce food. There are 270 other carnivorous species of animal on the planet and 670 species of carnivorous plant, so it’s a wide audience, even if I don’t include my hamburger-loving friends.

A few weekends ago we (and by “we” I mean Troy and I) killed our pigs.

Sides hanging after skinning and gutting

It’s easy to make light of the product of that killing (mmmmm, bacon) for the sake of easing the reality of what we did. But when you’re standing in front of a live animal literally holding a gun to its head, when you’re choosing the exact second that its life will end, and then when the life is bleeding out of it from the slit in its throat, it is anything but easy. It is the hardest thing that a compassionate human being will ever do.

And that is exactly why we do it ourselves.

Death is not easy. Death is not pretty. Death sucks. But every living thing dies, and some things live specifically for the purpose they serve after they die. Many farm animals would never have any life at all if they weren’t being raised for the purpose of producing food. How one lives and how one dies are both important attributes to one’s existence. We believe that if we’re going to eat meat we have a responsibility to make sure that both the life and the death of that meat are as good as they possibly can be.

Removing the organs

It would be easy to load our pigs into a trailer and haul them to the abbatoir, picking them up days later neatly wrapped in butcher paper with no sign of entrails or other telling pieces. The pigs would be stressed by the trailering and the drive, the arrival at the slaughterhouse and the ensuing activities leading to death, but it would certainly be easier for us. (I’m not implying that abattoirs are bad – some of them might be, but there are some that are run by people who care as much about animals as we do). We also don’t fault the many small farmers who use those facilities, as the current food safety system doesn’t allow for meat to be sold unless it’s killed in an inspected abattoir. If you’re making a living selling meat you have no choice but to do it that way.

We raise meat for ourselves, so we can kill it where it was raised. When the time comes, we throw some feed on the ground and as the pigs eat and snorfle in the dirt we put the gun to their head and  pull the trigger. There is no stress, they don’t know it’s coming, they die instantly. There are no strange people, no strange places. Just us, the people who scratched their backs and brought them apples every day of their lives.

It’s the hardest way for us, but it’s the easiest way for the pigs. That is why we do it ourselves, even though we both hate every second of it.

I am not looking for sympathy from the anti-meat brigade. Rather, I hope to give animal-loving meat eaters an understanding of how we can bring ourselves to do the deed. We are the same people you are; the people who always insisted that we could never kill anything, the people who have nightmares leading up to the day, the people who would much rather buy a pound of pork at the farmers’ market so that we don’t have to look it in the eye while we pulled the trigger. In the end, though, food production on any scale is a responsibility to the environment, the animals and ourselves. Knowing how something lived, and how it died, is a part of that process. We kill our own animals because we feel it is the right thing for us to do. It’s not because we don’t care about them, it’s because we love them.

An opportunist hen taking advantage of an easy meal

Every time we kill an animal I am forced to reconcile my feelings about causing that death with my own desire to eat meat. And yes, I will fully admit that it IS a desire, but I also firmly believe that biologically humans are designed to be omniverous. I remind myself that humans are the only animals on this planet who can or will make a conscious decision to eliminate a certain kind of nutrient source from our diet. It doesn’t make the killing easier, but it does remind me of why I am not a vegetarian or a vegan. As an animal lover those lifestyle choices would be much easier for me to digest mentally, but animals would still die as byproducts of the production of my food – it would just be easier to tune it out.

Killing does not feel good to me and it never will, but food security feels amazing. With scary things about to happen across the border, with an increasing world demand for intensive agriculture that destroys the environment and our health, with rising food prices and decreasing nutritional content in the products we buy, it feels good to know that I have 3 freezers full of meat and vegetables that came from here and my neighbour across the road. It feels good to know how my food grew, and exactly what went into its production. It doesn’t make the killing easier, but it does remind me of why we are doing it. It will be just as hard next year when we do it all again, but I wouldn’t change it for the world, and as the world changes, I suspect a lot more people will be doing the same thing.

Not all meat is murder. Some meat is just doing a hard thing for all the right reasons.

What’s “Too Expensive”?

July 9, 2015 in Food, Uncategorized

imageOver the past month it seems I’ve been overhearing more comments than usual about the price of food – in particular the price of local and organic foods. Those comments bounce off my radar somewhere between  irksome and downright aggravating, but then I have to stop and remember that before I was in a position to call myself a “producer” I thought the same way.

So here’s why chemical, antibiotic, hormone, steroid, and abuse-free food costs more, and why you should dig deep and buy it, despite the price tag.

The easy answer is that it costs more to produce food without syntheimagetic chemical assistance. If bugs decide to make lunch out of a crop, the easy way out is to spray the heck out of them with poison. Often you can apply the pesticide once and the problem disappears for the rest of the season, but even if the infestation requires multiple sprayings, it’s a heck of a lot less time-consuming than the alternative. What’s the alternative?

Hand picking.

Non-spray growers have a limited tool kit for dealing with bad creepy crawlies, and hand picking is near the top of the list. While organic pesticides do exist, so do studies that show these may actually be more harmful in the long term than conventional pesticides. The only way to get rid of bad bugs and have absolutely no impact on the good ones is to pick them off the plants, with your fingers, one by one. Last year I picked hundreds (if not thousands) of squash bugs and cucumber beetles. It takes a lot of work. Covering plants with agricultural fabric before the bugs become a problem can save a lot of trouble, but then there’s the problem of monitoring for maturation so the plants can be uncovered at just the right times to let good bugs come and pollinate. Then everything gets covered up again, hopefully before anything bad gets in.

Diatomaceous Earth is another popular way to combat bugs. It consists of fossilized algae shells ground into a fine powder, and it’s abrasive to some bugs, cutting them as they crawl over it when dusted onto their favourite plants.That dusting is also labour-intensive; in order to be effective, leaves must be dusted top and bottom, and the DE has to be reapplied every time it rains.

imageSuccessfully growing produce without harmful pesticides require good soil- in other words, soil with an appropriate pH level for the particular crop in question, soil that retains moisture but also drains well, and soil with lots of nutrients. This miracle soil is easily attained by pouring on chemical fertilizers. Unfortunately, such fertilizers are often highly acidic and therefore kill the bacteria in the soil that help make nitrogen available to the plants. Organic fertilizers take longer to feed the plants, and are required in higher quantities to achieve the same results. Organic fertilizers are usually things like manure and kelp – things that take time to compost before they can even work as fertilizer. Unlike synthetic chemical fertilizers, however, organic fertilizers actually help to build good soil rather than simply providing an instant growth hit. Building good soil, like everything else about organic and no-spray growing, takes time.

imageAs if the intense labour required to grow no-spray food weren’t enough to raise prices, there is also a much higher rate of discarded product when growing without chemicals. When pesticides are implemented all the potential bad bugs (and most of the good ones) are killed, so there is no opportunity for an insect to cause blemishes or damage to the produce. Ugly produce doesn’t sell, so if bugs have the slightest opportunity to cause blemishes, that food will likely end up in the garbage instead of shopping carts. For this reason, a lot of organic and no-spray produce never makes it to the table, even though it’s perfectly good and nutritious food. I was told of a local broccoli producer who discards up to 60% of their crop each year because it doesn’t look perfect and the chains won’t buy it.

The typical supermarket peach is like a person who’s had a little too much plastic surgery. Sure it may look good, but those looks come at a cost (not a financial cost so much as a cost to the environment and personal health). Looks aren’t everything, especially when it comes to food. Unfortunately we’ve been conditioned to believe otherwise. The local no-spray peach that you get at a farmer’s market may not be as pretty, but it will likely taste fresher, every insect in a 5-mile radius won’t have died to put it in your basket, and you’ll be able to eat it without wondering what other things you’re ingesting at the same time.

Why is it that a plastic clamshell of “Spring Mix” lettuce which traveled from California or beyond, can easily fetch $6 at the grocery store, yet if someone at a farmer’s market asks $3 for a head of no-spray lettuce, pulled from the ground that very morning, they are accused of trying to rip the consumer off? With a shelf life of about 2 days before slime starts setting in, California should be paying us to take their lettuce. I have bags of greenery in my fridge that I harvested over a week ago and they still look as good as the day I picked them.

Yes, buying locally produced products costs money. Buying anything costs money. The difference is that the money spent on local products goes right back into the community instead of getting transferred to California or Mexico. If people supported the small businesses in their communities they might not have to fly to Alberta to get a job. They might not have to ask why rural economies suck. They might not have to wonder why businesses are closing and forcing them to drive further and further to get what they need.

Next time you think a spray-free cucumber is a rip off, think of me on my knees between rows of plants surrounded by hundreds of beetles which I’m squishing between my fingers, one at a time. Think about how many hours you’d be willing to do that to avoid blasting your plants with poison. How much would you be willing to pay NOT to spend time doing that?

Probably more than the price of an organic cucumber.

 

 

Reconciling Pigs and Fall

November 10, 2014 in Everyone Else, Food, Home, Uncategorized

imageIt’s that time of the year. A few leaves still cling to the branches, afraid to make the jump. Night pushes its luck each day, seeing how much more darkness it can get away with imposing. The temperatures fluctuate from nipply to sweaty, but only because it’s impossible to know how to dress. Autumn is well underway and it won’t be long before the first snowfall insists we are done for the year.

The garden has been stripped. Aside from a couple of rows of lettuce that I planted last month and a handful of scrappy leeks, the only things growing are weeds. Good intentions dictated that cover crops would fill the spots where veggies used to thrive, but other priorities such as barn renos and seasonal craft fairs slammed that window of opportunity shut. I’d feel bad had procrastination been the culprit, but there just aren’t enough hours in a day. Likewise, our planned riding ring construction and walipini dig will probably move down the list to become next year’s projects. Soon the ground will freeze, rendering earth-related projects difficult to impossible.

The things that have to happen before winter comes knocking are not as daunting as they were, but there is one thing we have to take care of that I’m not looking forward to -the pigs must go to freezer camp.

In the spring, in keeping with our ideals, we purchased two bottle lambs and two piglets with the idea of raising them to market weight and filling our freezers with meat. The sheep got off lucky. We hemmed and hawed about whether or not to keep the ewe for breeding. Once Troy named her Stella, she was pretty much off the hook. Chopper (as in “lamb chops”) was freezer bound until a woman came by interested in purchasing him as a stud for her own flock. Knowing we could buy lamb from John across the road, we took her money, saved ourselves the hassle, and decided it would be just as acceptable to fill our freezer with meat that was just 150 meters less local but raised on the same principles as ours.

The pigs, however, won’t be so lucky.

I think it’s ok that I’m having a bit of a hard time reconciling the fate of Edgar and Mitchell. I’ve gotten to know them a bit, despite having made efforts not to get attached. I remind myself that they’ve had a good life, eating bucket after bucket of apples and treats from the garden; moving from one fenced spot to another again and again, digging for grubs and pulling up roots until the once-grassy spaces look like bombs went off. I remind myself that the whole reason they came here to live was so that we could know what we are eating, and what it ate. The difficulty in knowing that the animals who will feed us have enjoyed their time on this earth is knowing that you’re ending that animal’s happy days rather than ending the suffering of a feedlot beast. Irony at its most brutal.

It’s an irony that’s made me reconsider my dietary choices more than once. I’ve been a vegetarian before, and frankly, my body didn’t react well. But the big picture takes into account so much more than the life of an animal ( or person). While a boatload of studies exist showing that a vegetarian diet is less harmful to the planet than one that includes meat, I’ve yet to see one of those studies that takes into account how that equation changes if the meat is raised sustainably in one’s own back yard. It’s mostly assumed that meat comes from a huge industrial farm, and fair enough, most of it does. On the other hand, there are also studies showing the negative impacts of monoculture farming ( a method that has taken over the veggie side of industrial farming). It’s a method of growing things that depletes the soil quickly, throwing off the balance of natural insects and micro-organisms in the process. As a result, the soil and plants need more help to grow – more fertilizers, more pesticides, and more water. Not to mention the fossil fuels that go into processing and transporting vegetarian protein substitutes such as tofu and TVP. It doesn’t take much fuel to transport my grass- fed pigs, chickens and turkeys from the fields to the freezer.

No matter how much I work through the hows and whys of food production, however, my final thought always comes down to biology and evolution. We have canine teeth. We evolved as omnivores. It only seems natural, then, to eat meat, and so I choose to raise my own, and eventually send it to slaughter. Call me what you will, an ethically- minded consumer and producer or a selfish, murderous asshole. Just know that my decisions are not reached without contemplation and some pretty heavy soul searching.

Before winter comes blasting in, pigs will be converted to pork chops and hams, and those last leaves will take the plunge. With a woodshed more than stuffed, and freezers loaded with turkeys, chicken, lamb and pork that we’ve produced ourselves, there will be comfort in knowing that we are prepared to make it through the darker months. In the spring, new piglets will likely arrive, the garden (now twice as large thanks to the pigs) will be readied for another round, and the cycle will repeat itself. This is the path we have chosen. Will next year’s killing of the pigs be any easier for me? I hope not. This life we’ve bitten off is as much about appreciating what it takes to make food as it is about the actual making of it. The heartache and discomforts are all part of that appreciation. I’m okay with that.

 

 

 

 

Carrot Tops

October 11, 2014 in Food, Uncategorized

imageCarrot tops -they’re not just for horses and the compost! Instead of throwing them out, try turning the greens atop your carrots into one of these tasty treats.

carrot green chimichurri

(from http://www.loveandlemons.com)
Yield: about 1 cup

Ingredients

1 cup finely chopped carrot greens (preferably organic)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon salt
a few grinds of pepper
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil (a good fruity one)
Instructions

-Wash and dry your carrot greens well.
-Roast carrots in a 450 degree oven for 10-15 minutes (or until tender but not mushy).
-Finely chop your carrot greens and mix them with all of the dried spices and minced garlic. Stir in the vinegar and olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings. (tip: taste it with a carrot or a piece of bread rather than by the spoonful)
-Serve with roasted carrots (or other veggies), toasted bread, or over grilled fish or meat.
Notes

Store in an air tight container at room temperature. It’ll keep for quite awhile, but will not look as vibrant green after a few days.

If this is too oily or vinegar-heavy for you, dilute it with 1/4-1/2 cup of lukewarm water. Mix well and spoon it onto whatever you’re serving it with, rather than dipping into it.

The original recipe calls for parsley instead of carrot tops, an additional 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1/2 cup water, 1 additional clove of garlic and 1 additional teaspoon of sweet paprika.

 

Blueberry Carrot Top Smoothie

(From http://barefeetinthekitchen-recipes.blogspot.ca)

1/2 cup orange juice, plus water or more juice if needed
Green leafy tops from about 1/2 lb of carrots, this was a large handful
2 small bananas
1 1/2 cups blueberries
optional: 1 tablespoon chia seeds

Layer the orange juice, carrot tops and bananas into the blender. Puree until completely smooth. Add the blueberries and blend again until smooth. Add chia seeds if desired and pulse to combine. Enjoy!

Makes (3) 10 ounce smoothies
Carrot Top Soup

(from http://alstedefarms.com)
Yield: 6
1 c Black-eyed peas, soaked overnight
1?2 c Dried split peas
1?2 c Pearl barley
3 qt water
1 T Cold-pressed olive oil
1?2 large Onion chopped
2 medium Carrots sliced
4 Carrot tops (greens only Stems removed, chopped)
1 large Mustard greens chopped
1 Leeks sliced
1 c Green beans broken into sections
1 large Potato, unpeeled, diced
1?2 Bay leaf
1?4 t thyme
1?4 t tarragon
1?4 t Savory
1 tsp Salt
1 pinch Pepper
1. In a large pot, place the black-eyed peas, split peas, pearl barley,=20 and water and simmer until the beans are tender, about 45 minutes.
2. In a skillet heat the olive oil (or other liquid).
3. Add the onions and saute, covered, 10 minutes or until the onions begin to brown.
4. Turn off the heat under the onions and pour about ½ c of the bean cooking water into the skillet and mix well.
5. When the beans are cooked, add the onions and all the other ingredients to the bean pot and cook another 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
6. Serve in large soup bowls with generous servings of fresh whole wheat or black bread.
Carrot Greens with Sesame Dressing

(from http://www.melissaclark.net/)

1 bunch carrot greens, washed and stemmed

3 tablespoons toasted and ground white sesame seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sake

1/8 teaspoon sugar

1. In a large pot of lightly salted boiling water, parboil carrot greens for 2 minutes then shock in ice water drain and squeeze dry. Place in a new bowl of cold water and refrigerate overnight, changing water 2-3 times to eliminate bitter flavor. Drain and squeeze again, then cut into 1/2 inch lengths.

2. In a medium bowl, dress carrot greens with sesame seeds, soy sauce, sake, and sugar. Allow greens to sit and marinate at least 1 hour before serving.

Farm Harder

August 7, 2014 in Uncategorized, Us

image

I made a comment on Facebook a few days ago that “now I have to farm harder.” In many ways it was a dialogue between my philosophical side and my inner comedian, but it seemed to strike a chord with a lot of people.

Farm harder. What does that even mean? I’ve already alluded to the fact that my farming life is a lot of work… full-on-work-my-butt-off, physically, mentally, intellectually, and emotionally, from sun up to sun down, whatever that may be. Farming is hard, well d’uh! I may not have years of experience, but I definitely know that for a fact, knew it before I even started.

When I typed the words “farm harder”, a lot of things were in the wings. The Facebook status,  in the most literal terms, was precipitated by the fact that on Friday of last week I did something most folks would consider to be insane, selfish, and completely incomprehensible. I drafted a letter, typed the word “Resignation” in the subject line, and then let NSCAD University know that I wouldn’t be returning to my fairly decent paycheque and reasonably stable job.  This time last year I was our main breadwinner. This time this year I have condemned myself to a paycheque of pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, eggs, milk, veggies, sweat, blood, and tears. Farm harder? You’d better believe I have to.

On another level, however, “farm harder” is an ideal inspired by my sorta hero Joel Salatin.  Troy and I have bowed to the notion that easy is not always better. I turned our new garden with an ancient tiller and a shovel, not a tractor . We milk by hand. We weed by hand. We farm organically, which means hand picking thousands of bugs instead of blasting them with a chemical killer, and fertilizing by digging for well-rotted manure instead of spraying with a MiracleGro-esque cocktail. Oh, we “farm harder”, alright. We don’t do anything the easy way. But we love it.

“The turkeys got in the house this morning while I was loading the car for the Farmer’s Market, a grand chase ensued, and Milo almost caught a couple”, is a much better story than “While loading the car I could hear turkeys calling from their pen.” Yes, returning them to their rightful enclosure and getting my butt out of the driveway was harder than it needed to be, but over Thanksgiving dinner I’ll have a much better story than “turkeys were on sale at Sobeys this week for $1.99 a pound.”

Farm Harder. I think it’s the solution to a lot of the world’s problems. I think it’s going to be our farm’s new slogan. I know it’s going to be an adventure, and  I know we’re going to kick ass. Stay tuned for tee shirts. We’re gonna merchandise harder, too.

Cocks

January 29, 2014 in Chickens

1526968_10153619735775117_402176070_nThis thing right here. This is a cock. Cocks are great if you limit yourself to one. But the more cocks you add, the more problems you’re gonna have… it’s a fact.

Keeping one cock makes for pleasant morning wake ups. You’ll never sleep in with a cock nearby. One cock ensures a boisterous wake up call, but much more tolerable than an alarm clock. Many cocks make 5 am  a headache. You’ll want to Bobbitt them all.

If you have just one cock, he’ll protect his ladies. He’ll make warning noises when threats swoop in, he’ll fight to protect their honour. If you have several cocks they become useless. Suddenly more interested in one-upmanship than gallantry, they’ll turn into real pecker heads, fighting at every sideways glance, and preferring to rip the eyes from a peer instead of attacking outsiders.

No cock is a gentleman when it comes to sex, but if there’s just one at least he can take his time. One cock may make it last for 20 or 30 seconds. Add more cocks to the mix and they’re all jumping in for a piece of the action. The poor ladies come out looking battered and beaten, their feathery finery ripped from their flesh. More than one cock is a surefire gang rape for every hen in the house.

So how do you avoid a surplus of cock?

If you hatch your own chicks it’s a problem. It’s bloody hard to tell a male from a female until the bastard opens his mouth and utters his first pathetic crow. That crow usually sounds like someone playing a Jethro Tull record backwards while scratching a broken needle across the vinyl. Once cocks realize that they’re not hens, they usually spend a few months running from the older cocks. Cocks can be real chickens.

You can buy sexed chicks from a hatchery, but we all knows what happens to the male birds there. Nothing like being tossed live into a grinder. Even cocks don’t deserve an ending like that.

For a while I was successful at finding homes for our excess cocks using Kijiji. Everyone loved a free cock, and if I photographed them just right, people always wanted to take them home.

But now we’re trying to make a living at this, and a free cock is no longer a good cock. Plus, it seems EVERYONE has 8 surplus cocks. You can’t give the damn things away. Therefore we’ve decided to eat our cocks . Most of them are lean in the meat department, but they do make good curries and soups.

Troy killed his first cock a few weeks ago. It went into a pot and became a fine Indian butter chicken. With 8 cocks in the henhouse however, that was just the start of things to come.

I feel bad for the the cocks, but I suspect it’s better to kiss the hatchet than to get pecked to death. I feel worse for me. The merciless and terrible jokes about cock soup and  cock nuggets make me cringe. There are cock feet hanging from baling twine all over the big barn. Troy seems to think he’s going to get rich drying them and selling them to people to dangle from their rearview mirrors.

Cocks. What do you do? I’m open to suggestions.

 

This is food?!?

November 15, 2013 in Food, Us

I am not a fake food virgin. I grew up with Lik’em Dips, Bottle Cap Candy,  Pixie Stix, and Kikapoo Joy Juice. And yes, I liked those things and even today I have nostalgic reverence for their sugary flavours and novelty.

But that was then, and this is now. When I was growing up smoking was cool, not deadly.  Nobody was allergic to peanut butter, and cancer, diabetes, heart disease, ADHD (did that even exist?) and  other maladies were not linked undeniably to the food choices we make.

Now things are different. Now we know. Yet it appears that we are still hellbent on killing ourselves with food.  I don’t understand.

imageFeast your eyes on this abomination, which showed up today on my Facebook feed. This, apparently, is the “Crunchy Cheesy Bites Pizza” from Pizza Hut. (Note that they had to use the word “cheesy” instead of “cheese”. I wonder why. )

I’ve witnessed the Baconator and the 14 patty T-Rex from Wendys, the KFC Double Down, and Taco Bell’s Fries Supreme  (with only 32 grams of fat per serving). I shouldn’t be surprised. But for some reason this thing disgusts me beyond belief. The perfect slivers of green pepper could be nail clippings from Shrek. Those things around the edge look like diseased sexual appendages from some alien life form, with crusty growth on the outside and ooey gooey processed blaghhhh oozing from within. How does anyone consider this food?!?

Is this what it takes nowadays for parents to get kids to eat?  It’s no wonder that today’s kids don’t know where milk and eggs come from… nothing they eat resembles anything that grows in the natural world. Would it be such a crime to put something on a plate that looks like a vegetable and tastes like it, too? Does cheese really have to come as strings? Does fruit really have to be rolled up?  Why are people so afraid of real food?

To every parent who’s ever purchased a Crunchy Cheesy Bites Pizza (or reasonable facsimile), I offer you this challenge.  Take one hour this weekend and go to a farmer’s market. Buy real cheese, buy pepperoni, buy a green pepper and some mushrooms ( yes, you’ll have to cut them up yourself, I’m sorry). If you can find someone who makes pesto, BUY IT! Heck, even buy some spinach. Talk to the people who produced it and find out what goes into making wholesome food. Take your bounty home. Get the family together and MAKE a pizza (don’t worry, I’ll give you an easy recipe for the dough). Load it up with the good things you bought at the market, including the spinach. Savour the time you spend with your kids; shopping for the ingredients, learning from the producers, getting your hands dirty and making your own food. Let your kids tear smiley faces into the pepperoni. Eat your pizza together with the TV turned off. I double dog dare you!

Your kids won’t go to school the next day and talk about how awesome that Pizza Hut pizza was. It will be long forgotten before it even makes its way through the digestive tract (if they’re lucky not to suffer the consequences). But the trip to the market and the cooking lesson, now those are things they’ll remember. Teach your kids that food doesn’t come from a box. They have a right to know, and so do you.

Easy Peasy No-Rise Pizza Dough

Preheat the oven to 475°

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cups warm water (warm, not hot)
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon yeast
  • 2 cups  unbleached all-purpose flour (you can also use 1 1/2 cups of white and 1/2 cup of whole wheat if you’re really adventurous)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil

How to make it happen

  1. Stir the honey into the water. Sprinkle the yeast on top.
  2. Put all the other ingredients in a big bowl and mix together.
  3. When the yeast is frothy (and it will get frothy), stir it into the water.
  4. Stir the yeast mixture into the dry ingredients.
  5. Get your kids to stick their hands in the bowl and mix everything together like crazy.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it some more. When all the lumps are gone and it feels nice and even and stretchy, it’s ready.
  7. Roll the dough out nice and thin, place it on a pizza pan or cookie sheet and then top with pizza sauce or basil pesto.Grate some cheese and place half of it on the dough, throw on the toppings of your choice (or arrange artistically, up to you), then sprinkle with the remaining cheese. NOTE: Unless you absolutely insist on drowning the pizza in cheese, you can get away with a lot less by layering like this.
  8. Put the pizza in the oven on a middle rack and bake for about 12 minutes. Turn  the pizza around at about the 6 minute mark so it can cook more evenly.
  9. Let your pizza cool a few minutes before slicing. Pour yourself a locally brewed craft beer. Enjoy!

Inspected or Infected

January 14, 2013 in Food, Uncategorized

As I approach the move to officially growing food for other people’s consumption, I am finding myself a little bit boggled by the red tape and regulations that go along with production. On the heels of yet another barrage of radio reports about  people getting sick from mass produced food, I have to shake my head as I fill out forms to apply for licenses.

I fully understand the need to ensure that food being sold to others is of good quality and free of pathogens. But is the government really the best regulator? I wonder at what point we decided that it was better for the people in Parliament to control what people ingest than it is to let people decide for themselves. Obviously the government inspection system isn’t working. People are still falling ill, people are still dying. Shouldn’t we be concerned that this system is creating a false security, a belief that if it’s been through a government inspector it must be safe for consumption?

The current food regulation system contributes to a vicious circle. It works for the mass producers, the factory farmers, and the big plants, and it handicaps small producers and entrepreneurs in a meaningful way.

The Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture claims to support and encourage new farmers as upstarts, and they do have programs that make it seems as though farming is a real and potentially profitable choice. But start the paperwork and discover how quickly complications rear their ugly head.

Take poultry as an example. Chickens, turkeys and eggs are all regulated by boards that determine how you grow them, where they are slaughtered, how you market them, and how many you can produce. The quota for a first year free range chicken producer is 500 birds. Last year our chickens averaged about 4 pounds after processing (because they were allowed to run around they also didn’t gain weight as fast as crate-bound birds). Selling them at $3 a pound we made $12 a bird total. Now, take $6 off that amount for our expenses in raising the bird and you’re left with a $6 return. If you’re only allowed to produce 500 birds in your first year of operation,  your net profit will be $3000. Better not try to make a living on chickens right away!

To raise and sell meat birds I have to conform to two different sets of regulations. There are different regulatory bodies for turkeys and chickens. To sell either I need a license and a quota, but I have to make two separate applications. The rules for raising turkeys are more stringent than those for raising chickens. Is it because free range turkeys are more vulnerable to disease than chickens or is it just because two different bodies came up with two different sets of rules? To sell chickens I have to get approval for my label. If I don’t want to buy labels from the Chicken Board, then I have to ensure their logo is on the ones I produce. To sell turkeys, I need to be certain that they’re housed with 1″ poultry netting, no bigger, and that their feed and water are covered. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all about doing what’s best for the birds, but when it comes to housing chickens and turkeys it appears that the regulatory boards involved don’t agree that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

It is illegal for me to sell unpasteurized eggs or milk, even if I advertise them as such and people are buying them of their own volition. The benefits of pasteurization are indisputable, but there are also benefits to unprocessed milk that seem to be ignored. As far as I’m aware, there are NO health benefits whatsoever to smoking tobacco, yet the government supports its sale to the public, even though it’s been widely proven to kill people. Could the money the government makes from regulation and taxation have something to do with that?

My personal belief is that the best regulator of food production and quality is the consumer. Large factories and plants can afford to have an  E Coli. incident every few years. Sure, a few people get sick and die, and the profit margins drop for a while, but those companies always bounce back. It’s never too long before you hear about it happening again.

Small farms have much more at stake. What small farmer in his right mind is going to cut corners on food safety when he or she knows that one infected patron would be devastating to the business? Allowing consumers to visit the farm and see where their food comes from is, hands down, the best regulatory practice available. It’s obvious why factory feedlots don’t offer tours and open houses!

If the government can’t afford to put more inspectors into the large processing facilities and the factory feedlots where problems are bound to occur, I have a solution. Lay off nickle and diming the little guys and move your manpower to where it really counts. If consumers don’t think farmer’s products are safely produced they won’t buy them, simple as that. If you really want to encourage more people to farm for a living, laying off the regulatory bullshit is a great place to start. More small farms are better for everyone, regardless of whether they have the government’s stamp of approval.