In today's industrial food system, chicken is raised by farmers who don't own the birds, only the infrastructure used to raise them. Or at least they own the debt as the agro industrial poultry corporations require farmers to build facilities to their specifications on their own dime, carry the debt of hundred's of thousands of dollars while the corporation has the right to cancel their grower's contract with a thirty day written notice, leaving them with expensive empty buildings to pay for. The feed that is used is heavily made up of subsidized corn and soy grown in depleted soil propped up with synthetic petroleum nutrients and sprayed with herbicides all of which end up in the food chain. The subsidized grains mean that the taxpayer is footing the bill for these less than nutritionally valuable food products and the corporations are able to buy them for less than it costs to produce them. The finished birds are then rounded up and shipped to processing plants where underpaid workers are hired to process them. The parts are then shipped out to the domestic and global market. If all this wasn't enough, the chicken is then often plumped up with saline injections to repair moisture and flavor compromises during growing and increase market weight.
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Spring is here and that means we have chicken again! There is also lots of spring goodies that are only around for a very short time in the farmers markets like garlic scapes, flowering pea sprouts, just about anything flower I love, and also spring onions which taste good just cut in half and drizzled with oil, a sprinkle of salt and cooked for a couple minutes on the grill or under the broiler. I like mine to have a tiny bit of char on them.
I wanted to share a recipe I wrote for Garlic Scape Pesto, it goes well with roasted chicken, tossed in with a bowl of radishes, or right on top of some sunny side up eggs. Garlic Scapes are not as strong as garlic and have a nice tender texture like asparagus not to mention they just look really cool. Over on our Facebook page we will have a short video about how to butterfly a whole chicken and then use the garlic scape pesto to season it. Its really tasty and this way of cooking a chicken keeps the meat nice and moist. Seriously I have never had a chicken dry out when I cook it this way, its fool proof even for a novice like me. For a side salad I chopped up two bunches of spinach put them on top of a warm bowl of pearled couscous (about 2 cups cooked) and drizzled it with the fat and pain juices from the roasted chicken. Then I added 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, a sprinkle of salt and tossed it before I added fresh flowering pea sprouts to the top. All of the veggies and inspiration came from our friends at Whistling Train Farm in Kent.
Garlic Scape Pesto
10 Garlic Scapes chopped
1 Heaping cup of Fresh Basil chopped
1/2 cup pistachios
1/3 cup grated parmesan
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 cup of Olive Oil
Put all ingredients in food processor and blend until its a consistency you like. I like mine a little more on the course side so you can still see chunks of pistachios and scapes. I have been eating this pesto all week on everything and next up I am going to try to talk Farmer Matt into making his tasty pizza dough so we can have a pizza night with it!
We have been working on putting field fencing up around the perimeter of the farm for over 9 months and we finally finished this week. I would say it's time to celebrate but there are too many things to accomplish to get the farm fully functioning before we can crack open the bubbly. The fencing will help us utilize all of our pastures and we will be a little closer to fully realizing our rotational grazing farm model. One other step in this process is getting a more efficient irrigation system installed. The farm has received two grants for the project but because of the sequester everything has slowed down dramatically. I am not complaining because I feel incredibly grateful to even have the grants and there are so many other things that have lost their funding that are much more essential. We had been planning on breaking ground this month but we are still in the review part of the process. The grants will allow a small farm like ours to use all of our pastures and to grow good quality grass during the months of the year we don't have any precipitation. Right now when we use our irrigation water it runs through a series of ditches and most of the water gets wasted and over waters creating bad quality grass that is not good for foraging. Most of our precipitation comes during the winter months so being able to use a small amount of water during the dry months in an efficient way will make it possible for us to practice our grass based farming in a way that needs fewer inputs (feed for chickens and hay for sheep) from off of the farm.
Another way to practice rotational grazing that creates healthy soil and healthy food is to have the right amount of animals grazing for the size of the farm. Right now we don't have quite enough animals to keep up with all the grass we are growing. We are adding on one more flock of laying hens, expanding the number of breeding sheep we will have year round, and looking for a couple bull calves to raise. So what else makes us different from conventional farms besides the fact that our animals are not caged and we don't spray pesticides on our pastures? We keep the number of animals we raise low to create healthier soil by not over grazing and in turn the soil gives us healthier eggs, meat, and someday milk. We produce less food than a conventional farm and we will do it by using fewer inputs (subsidized soy and corn feed) and instead use our own labor moving animals around on pasture. So we produce less food and we need more man/woman hours to do it. What does this mean? It means in no way can we compete with the prices that conventional farmers sell their food for. They are basing their farm models on an economy that relies on cheap subsidized feed and that doesn't give them much room to care about the health of animals and people. In every aspect of our farming decisions we take into consideration the health of the animals, the farm as a whole, the people who eat our food, and the long term health of the environment. So how do we accomplish all of this, farm the way we want and make it economically sustainable? We will have to spend time educating people, taking the time to talk to them about the way we choose to farm and why it is worth their hard earned money to pay more for food. We will also have to make sure we are paying close attention to economic forces and utilizing all the resources we have at hand. It is also why we pay close attention to the breeds we choose. The Icelandic sheep are tri-purpose which means you can get Fiber, Milk, and Meat from them and it will make our farm that much more economically diverse. When we pick a breed of Cattle we will make sure we have one that grazes in a way that will work best with our farm model. We will also be growing the vast majority of our own fruits and veggies (utilizing all the great compost we were able to make with a winters worth of sheep manure) this year and selling what we have in abundance at the farmers market along with our eggs and meat.
Now that all of our serious business is out of the way we can move onto all the great moments from our first lambing season. It's technically not over because we have one ewe still pregnant but I can't resist sharing this special time with you. In addition we have our bottle fed lambs back and a shelter set up for them near the house. We moved the other sheep into a small paddock nearby so Lulu could keep an eye on everyone and well the grass was starting to look like it needed some four legged mowing anyways.
I had this absurd notion that once the baby arrived everything would calm down and we would have many days of quiet and rest. There is no such thing on a farm, especially one with so many animals depending on you every day. Our family of 4 has now become 5 and we're all in love. It's as if the new little guy can sense how busy we are and has decided to be the most easy going baby he possibly can be. He spends most of his days eating and sleeping while we juggle how to get everything done both inside and outside of the house. We have been fortunate to have Matt's mom here for the last several weeks so now that I am all healed up and she is headed home the real test begins.
We have been playing around with the sheeps feed and mineral supplement, because of where the Icelandic sheep originate they do better with a much higher amount of minerals than most sheep. The more we learn about natural care of the sheep it seems as if you can keep their reproductive health at its optimum, prevent illnesses and parasites all through the right balance of minerals. Our fingers are crossed that they're all healthy enough to breed and that we'll have many lambs running around the pastures come spring. All due to the second new arrival on the farm.
The Ram made its arrival at the farm about a week after we came home from the hospital. He is at least twice the ewes size and with his huge coat of black wool a formidable presence on the landscape. Their first moments of being introduced were like a small dance, the flock fled his approach and then slowly approached him as a group and fled again. This little sequence was played over and over again. They eventually got used to each other but Lulu, our pyrenees puppy, is still skeptical and doesn't want to be in the temporary paddock we set up for the Ram's time on the farm. Luckily there is still a large part of the paddock that Lulu can have to herself and one of the shelters for her to sleep in at night.
The farm was covered in four inches of snow yesterday and we started to worry because the hoop house where the chickens will winter is still not done. The side vents are finished and the wiggle wire we used to frame the plastic arrived and was installed around the door frames but we are still without doors. The chickens didn't seem to mind the snow and it mostly melted away by the afternoon so hopefully we can get them into their new shelter before the real deep freeze sets in.
We had been searching for a Llama to guard the sheep for weeks but all of the leads were dead ends. Then we started contemplating the idea of a puppy but with a baby on the way we were worried it would be too much to handle. Everything we read about the Great Pyrenees breed seemed to fit exactly what we needed. They are an older breed that has been used for hundreds of years by shepherds, and also good with children and a family dynamic. We found a breeder in Spokane that had three female puppies that had grown up in a barn with sheep and chickens. So we made the leap of faith that this would be a better decision in the long run and we haven't regretted it for a moment. Her first day on the farm was full of trepidation, mostly on the Sheeps part, but soon she was a part of the gang.
A week has gone by and there were definitely moments we were worried that she was going to bond with us more than the sheep, but she now spends most of her days and all of her nights with the sheep, happily even. She is far from full grown and we are not sure how she would hold her own with a coyote so everyone is still locked up at night. We are hoping in the future we will be able to leave her and the sheep to roam their paddocks and not need the gates and electric fencing to keep them safe at night. This means we will be able to use the pastures farther away from the house, but it also means we have more fencing and irrigation projects to start. More to add to the to do list but its exciting to be able to utilize more of the land and see our plans become reality.
Our path to farming was not purely based on our desire to farm but more so our love of cooking and wanting the most delicious and healthy food for our family and friends as we possibly can produce. My husband and I met in art school both majoring in painting and printmaking but it's really our shared desire to learn about new foods and cooking together (or more often collaborating on how a meal will come together) that fuels us. My husband spent years working as a cook in an Italian restaurant before he went to art school and I have been working in catering, restaurants, and natural food since I was a teenager. One thing I miss most about my job at a natural food co-op is connecting to a community and both getting to share my knowledge of food and health but also receiving a wealth of knowledge in return. So in trying to keep that connection I will start sharing some of our adventures in cooking as well as farming. Bread, Sauerkraut, Pickles, Sausage, Kombucha, Bacon, Jams, Relish, Hot sauce, and Ice cream have been some of the things we loved making on a regular basis in addition to our normal family meals and hopefully our farming schedule will allow us to keep experimenting and be an influence on how we farm.
I'm trying to work on some summer staples like salad dressing and popsicles to reduce waste, save money, and partly just for the fun of it. I have always made oil and vinegar dressings but those are not the kids favorites. They like the thick ranch dressings or the tasty tahini based Goddess dressings. So I started making a dressing with some of the staples we have around. I started with some Milk that I add a couple tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar to thicken it and sour it like Buttermilk. Then I add equal parts Nancy's plain yogurt because I love the tangy taste and am convinced it must have more live cultures in it. Then I just add whatever fresh herbs I have around, salt, pepper, and caraway seeds to taste. It's been popular even though it's not quite as thick as the store bought stuff. We have an abundance of veggies this summer so I have been adding it to a mix of chopped up raw veggies and TruRoots sprouted Rice and Quinoa mix(that cooks in 20 minutes!) and it is now one of the easiest and most filling summer dinners we make. I have not been as successful in the popsicle department so if you have any recipes that you love please send them my way.
It's a word that's used frequently lately, and I used it a lot myself working at a natural food co-op for over a decade. I always had a vague idea of what it meant when it was describing the way something was produced or the general idea that we were all trying to lead a more sustainable life and leave a smaller foot print, but when we made the decision to farm the idea started to become more concrete for me. We want and need to make the farm sustainable in itself in the way we choose to farm and also make living on a farm financially sustainable in what we choose to spend our money on. The best thing we can do in farming practices would be to bring as few of what is commonly called inputs onto the farm. So we will be working towards breeding all of our animals and eventually growing our own hay. In the small amount I have read about farming and experienced at other farms I have a feeling the more diverse your farm is as far as what you grow and the many different kinds of animals you raise can not only enrich your soil and the overall health of your farm but help in its long term sustainability. Those are all goals that we will chip away at overtime but in the immediate future we want to grow as much of our own food as possible. We are missing the abundance of veggies we had in our city garden so even though we were planning on just doing cover crops this year, someone couldn't wait and tilled additional garden space around the cover crops we planted so we could get a little something started. It was nice to finally have something we could do together as a family, even though it was much more challenging then planting in our little raised beds we had in the city.
It took us awhile to figure out how to all work together on such a large project. There was a lot of arguing about who was going to do what and lots of little feet stepping on plants but eventually everyone found their own task, and when things got out of hand there was a berry eating break. By the looks of these photos it seems like we are getting a lot of free child labor but I swear there is no reason for the feds to come knocking on our door.