Monday, December 21, 2009
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
For Thanksgiving we went all out and bought a heritage turkey - one of a number of older style breeds that have been made obsolete by the modern super turkey - the Broad Breasted White. Heritage birds take 6 months to reach maturity whereas Broad Breasted Whites take only 4 and half.
WHY BUY A HERITAGE TURKEY??? I thought you would ask. Buying a heritage turkey preserves older breeds that will go extinct if people don't keep raising and eating them. Their longer life and the fact that they live on pasture eating grass, bugs, etc. - makes their meat much tastier and healthier. Modern mass produced turkeys live indoors their whole lives eating grain and breathing poop dust in overcrowded conditions.
Here is my pappy with a Bourbon Red (not the one we bought, this one moved out and has a place of his own now).
The turkey we purchased, Tom, was a Narragansett. Here is a video of us processing poor ol' Tom - *viewer discretion advised! Spurting turkey blood ahead!*
Before Tom went in the oven - we rubbed him inside and out with maple butter and rosemary and cooked him over white wine reduction, Tom's neck, and veggies. I cooked him at 400 degrees for 1 hour, then dropped it down to 350 for 1 hour. The thermometer said he was done so I panicked and pulled him out. In retrospect he could have used another half hour.
After Tom came out, we used the pan drippings to make gravy. I wish he could have been here to enjoy this.
And here is our Thanksgiving spread!
Monday, November 2, 2009
This Sunday was my first successful bake in my hand-built earthen mud oven. It was a traditional sourdough made with a starter of wild yeast which I've cultivated since my arrival here in Georgia mixed with whole rye and wheat flours. The firing took nearly three hours of maintaining an efficiently burning fire. I used pecan wood gathered from our orchard here. After about 20 minutes of baking we cut into two 2lb loaves that proved to be fantastically delicious and fresh.
Here's a photo of the oven. You can see it was a gorgeous day.
Let me detail a little bit about the process and principles behind the oven. The site had to be cleared of weeds and rubbish before I dug a small foundation. On top of that I built a support bricks stacked around a couple old tires. Inside the tires I piled rocks and cracked cement I found laying around for oven stability. Then I placed several layers if insulation consisting of wet clay mixed with sawdust on which to build the firebrick floor. On top of the firebrick I built a mound of oven mud, a mixture of clay and sand and water, a.k.a 'cob' which I mixed by foot. All in all the oven cost me $24 and a few days of hard but enjoyable work.
Here is the beginning fire, and as you can see it is small but bright. The beauty and challenge of cooking with an earth oven is ensuring high fuel efficiency. From only an armful of small twigs I was able to keep the fire stoked strong for over three hours for the firebrick and mud to hold heat thoroughly. The fire itself does not cook the sourdough, but rather the heat from the fire soaked into the material. Thus you must build with extremely porous but strong material. Clay has provided humanity with warm food for as long as we have known how to exploit fire. Whether burying food in the ground with hot coals or building an oven such as this, this process utilizes the beautiful and generous heat absorbing ability of one of earths most abundant resources.
Now comes the transformation at the heart of this traditional cooking method. The beginning, as with all life, is good soil. Here the wheat seed germinates producing, hopefully, a bountiful harvest. Given good soil, environmental and harvest conditions these seeds can be transformed into flour which, when combined with water, wild bacteria and yeast, creates the amazingly complex yet humble bread we know as sourdough.
Here is my sourdough after nearly a day of cultivation at room temperature. Here the dough is ready to be divided into loaves which are then allowed to sit while the oven is fired.
After the oven is fired and the heat has thoroughly soaked through the thermal mass, I let the hot coals sit for about one half hour in order that the heat inside the oven can equalize. The coals, especially at night, look like a little burning galaxy inside the dome.
Then finally, the most important transformation, the dough is placed inside the cleaned, heat soaked oven. There the wheat-water-yeast mass is heated at extremely high temperatures causing the yeast to explode, more or less. This causes the dough to rise into the fluffy, open texture that characterizes well-made bread.
I'm deeply grateful to have eaten and savored the fruit of such a patient, humble and traditional method of cooking. I know that I am participating in a long line of women and men who have taken wheat and water and time into their hands to give both nutrition and flavor to those they love. Indeed the very beginning of our 'civilization' as we know it 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent was founded on people harvesting, grinding and cooking wheat.
Apart from the harvesting, transporting and grinding of the wheat, this process was completely fossil fuel and electricity free. I am saving money from selling the bread at market to buy my own hand powered mill to grind wheat which we grow ourselves. Until then, I will continue to learn from the oven and bread what real nourishment, art and patience are.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
After protests against the initial plan to drown it in a 5-gallon bucket Angel 2 is welcomed to the Farm Team.
If you follow the blog you will remember that Angel Cat was run over a few months ago. And now we have been blessed with Angel 2, I guess its true what they say - God doesn't miss a 7-10 split without allowing the snack stand to open a little early.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Farming in the South has taught me that food is political. By design, obviously, it is first biological; the fruit of soil, rain and sun providing our bodies with nourishment for living.
In an economic structure that regards food as a basic need of life ,rather than a commodity, what we put in our bodies is also of principle importance in our society. Yet the great difference between our current market based system and a decentralized, fair-trade food economy is the alarming relationship which food now has to political power and violence.
In a matter of decades the worlds dominant cultures have revolted against once widespread viable networks of stable and diverse food production. In their place they have established a monoculture of eight industrialized crops to provide for 3/4 of the worlds food. This shift, though sudden, was not without dramatic and immediate consequences.
This drastic change resulted in a national food policy that forced family farmers to surrender their land if they could not compete with federally subsidized commercial crops grown for corporate profit. An astounding number of farmer suicides in the 1970's and 80's followed. This same process continues today in India where indigenous farmers are killing themselves at intolerable rates in reaction to global policies which drive down the price which the market will pay for their once valued products and labor.
Food is now another weapon in an undeclared but very real war on biological and cultural diversity that 'civilization' wages, or so it claims claim, to feed the hungry and bring stability to the 'developing' world. In reality, it is clear that international food policy, as dictated by groups like the World Trade Organization, is designed for the monetary benefit of a world-wide class of elites whose livelihood is derived from the exploitation of the land and those who bring forth its fruit.
According to food scientist and author Devinder Sharma, in the year 2008 alone riots broke out in over 37 countries to address the unequal distribution of food. We force other countries to import our over-produced and over-subsidized grains while demanding they accept a culture of serfdom in the place of once lively and beautiful local economies. Thus economically 'poorer' countries of the world are increasingly threatened with famine and social unrest.
The relationship between food and the political state of our world is impossible to overstate. Our current means of production and distribution with its inexhaustible need for petroleum is worsening the divide between ruling and exploited peoples. Under the current design, rich nations will continue to profit from the very process which is impoverishing rural cultures and soils worldwide.
A network of smaller economies committed to bringing health, nutrition and life from the soil for all people is needed now more than ever. If food continues to be exploited as commodity, poverty violence and hunger will grow as the wealthy classes continue to fight over increasingly scarce resources. It is exactly because food is so political that building bio-diverse food communities is now the work of freedom and the human right of cultural and culinary self-determination.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Here's a pic of our half-grown broilers at 4 weeks. I had intended to do a week-by-week picture update to chart their growth, but alas...the last photo shoot we did with these birds was at 3 days old. What you expect to do and what you actually accomplish are not always the same when you work on a farm. I'll try and do better in the coming weeks...
Our first batch of broilers grew larger than we expected--some around 7.5lbs dressed out (a small turkey). Turns out that they have no sense of restraint, and will eat whatever you put in front of them. So with the batch above, we're going to stock less per pen, feed them less grain (to encourage more foraging and exercise), and hope for smaller chickens. They were, of course, still tender and delicious...but big, honkin' birds. We materialized our first local meat fantasy tonight...fried, pastured chicken. Holy crap--it was good!
Expect a future post from Elliott and I on our adventures in bringing the birds to South Carolina for processing.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
An entire sky of rain has settled over the farm today, and I'm celebrating by pouring down my thoughts. Rain makes you look out the window and see more than just grass, chickens and trees - but all of them, woven together within a texture of life which is creations magnificent gift to us.
Being from Iowa, at a young age I was constantly told that farming the land was hard, dirty and poor-paying work. Farms were gigantic acreages managed by one man with a squadron of expensive green machinery. I only came to understand later that this was all part of a national shift in agricultural practices manufactured by corporations like Monstanto, Cargill and DuPont, whose Capitalistic principles caused the average amount of land worked by farmers to balloon from 50 acres, in 1950, to 200 acres in 2000.
The traditional farming culture that made such hard work sustainable through creative, humble, and principled living, was soon destroyed by an economy designed for the benefit of CEO's and bosses. In a shamefully short series of decades, the 10% of the U.S. population once involved in agriculture in 1950 plummeted to less than 1% in 2000. Today, there are more blacks imprisoned in the United States (2.1 million) than there are farmers (900,000).
We have created a wasteful and unfair system of production which pits farmers against a board of directors whose profit margin forces them to produce as much food for as little pay as is possible. No wonder the majority of the world's youth want nothing to do with agriculture. As it is currently organized, it degrades both human and soil health; replacing once rich and independent rural cultures with a way of life founded on the exploitation of the land and those who work it.
Enter the screwdriver. Recently, while Elliott and Ari-Anne were off the farm, I was faced with the task of removing some tin roofing from one of our pastured broiler pens. While digging through the shed for enough extension cord to reach the opposite side of our pecan orchard, I found the perfect Phillips head screwdriver in a pile of cobwebs on the shelf. The sun was beaming strong and the air was crisp and sweet, so I said, "why not?"
Instead of lugging a power drill along with 100 foot of cord, I stowed the humble screwdriver in my front overall pocket and enjoyed the stroll across the orchard. While working, I felt the aliveness of birds, grass, trees and clouds. Rather than an electric drill whirring, I sung along with mocking birds. Instead of the hasty and begrudging attitude which typically accompanies work in our culture, I passed a quiet 10 minutes twisting my arm, feeling that delightful tinge of muscle pain that lets you know you are getting stronger and using your body well.
That one simple choice taught me that working with the body is a joy; as opposed to burdening it with resource-intensive tools that often do more harm than good. Now to be sure, the drill is a welcome innovation on the farm most of the time. But in the context of the problems facing agriculture in my home and across the world, I use the screwdriver as a metaphor for the potentially most egalitarian solution that we have.
The tools and people exist right now around you to create a community independent of exploitation. Despite the hegemony of Capitalism over our lives and food, we are still truly powerful. They depend on a divided and disorganized rural culture, one that values money over real, authentic life. Its up to us whether we will give it to them or not.
Let's replace their destructive and wasteful machines wherever we can with creative, intelligent and dedicated bodies. Let's organize the production of food such that it not only brings a viable economy and culture back to the countryside, but that it also be nutritious, shared, and most importantly, part of a design for life which recognizes the fullest potential the human body has for meaningful labor.
For now that looks like poultry for us. Though simple creatures, the culture which market forces have created around chicken products is extremely complex. Ever since the 1980's, corporations have been contracting more and more factory farms to mass produce chicken. And as before, the farmers work for extremely low wages, and so to scratch out a living must produce an extremely unreasonable amount of product which the corporations then turn around and sell at unrealistically low prices. Thus everything related to chicken (eggs, meat, by-product, etc) has been cheapened to an extent that for us to make a respectable living raising poultry is tough.
But we do it anyway. And despite an increasingly stale political atmosphere, we have freedom enough to make our food the way we want it to be. There is no better way to begin a long term process of transformation than to build a well nourished community.
Our dream is to care for the soil, care for our relationships, and determine how to share the bounty. Join us as part of a growing generation emboldened to live lives of real substance, importance and health.
Friday, October 2, 2009
The Farm Team
--sturdy work boots
--hats (wide brim, breathable, but secure)
--fencing (2"x4" galvanized, electric poultry netting)
--AgriSupply gift certificate
--Seed Savers gift certificate
--perennials (trees, shrubs, herbs, bulbs, vines, etc. - preferably edible)
--truck (diesel, 4wd, good on the road long distances)
--canning supplies (jars, lids, etc.)
--Brighter Day Natural Foods gift certificate
--large glass bowls (for baking)
--walkie-talkie set (6.5 acre range)
--Amazon gift certificate (for gardening books, etc.)
--Red Mill or King Arthur Flour
--electric flour mill or "Country Mill"
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
College, if nothing else, was an environment of ample free-time. And I give thanks that a handful of strong people helped me to radical shifts in consciousness through study and dialogue. But for the vast majority, college functions as a factory for the next generation of consumers who will live under the rule of ciphers, debts and bosses.
Most of you reading this know a young person who, by choice or necessity, is desperate for a safe, comfortable and lucrative career. As well they should be; no one needs the social and economic stigma attached to outstanding debt. Yet through this very process our youth, our education and our dreams are treated as the property of an economy that profits through co-opting our values and selling them back to us. Many young people are waking up to the truth that such a design has been based all along on an illusory and hopeless relationship with the world.
The degree of radical change needed in our economy and culture can, and should be, argued. But any sensitive person knows that we long ago lost the wise balance which has traditionally kept humanity healthy, happy and humble. Nowhere is this reflected as clearly as in our work; how we make wages in order to eat, live and survive. Most work today is organized by one ruling principle; the endless exchange of the dollar. But if our communities are to achieve any sustainable harmony, we must have work that seeks much more than a Capitalist economy can offer us.
What that looks like should be determined on a decentralized and creative basis. But good work always responds to a real, material need of humans attempting to live healthy and connected lives. My experience farming has taught me that the most vital piece of this multi-faceted solution is the production of healthful food on bio-diverse and modestly scaled farms. When what and how we create can be nourishing for our bodies and our soil, we can also meet peoples fundamental need for a socially purposeful freedom. Instead of mass-production, we can have production by the masses; thus allowing us to eliminate or minimize environmentally and socially destructive agricultural inputs.
With this in mind, food is much more than nutrition. It is a means by which we secure health, sustainability and the strength to face hardship. As long as our food system is dominated by a cash economy, I believe we will remain an endangered and undernourished people.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
Also, we have a few birds in the older flock we like to call "free thinkers," in that they prefer an idle life of grazing on the edges of the property and in our gardens, far from the other birds. We suspect they have liberal political ideas. This is one in particular has decided to make our kitchen porch her roost. She's slept here with Devil Cat for the past week. And though it's a bit inconvenient to have chicken poop on the porch, she's too cute to turn away...
(...this is the part where I realize we are crazy chicken people...)
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Here's a quick video of our new brooder facility, which is a "remodeled" 100 year old chicken coop. It's big enough to fit two 8 ft x 4ft brooder boxes (each holding 100 chicks) made out of plywood and a 2x4 frame, with chicken wire on top to keep out predators. These birds will be out to pasture at 2 weeks old, and then harvested at 8 weeks. These are our last chickadees for this calendar year, but we'll be starting up again next spring, and plan to produce at least 200 tender, delicious birds every month from March through November.
The farm team is pretty healthy, but let's face it: we could do better. We're unusual, Mark, Elliott, and I (Ari-Anne) in that we eat mostly (80-90%) local foods, most of them vegetables. Meat does happen, but it tends to happen responsibly, usually once or twice a month from local farms. In many ways, I have to affirm what we already do--compared to the average American family, we seem to come from a whole other universe. But the thing is, I want to do better.
For example, Elliott has a bit of a sweet tooth and an affinity for junk foods, especially when we're stressed. And though I know the Klondike bar or the bag of sea salt and vinegar tasties represent an industrialized food system I want no part of, they can be so damn tantalizing. Rationally, I don't "want" the food, but if it enters the house it whispers incessant eat-me messages from the cupboard or the freezer. This is especially difficult to deal with when I'm on my cycle, feeling vulnerable and generally uncomfortable.
Another place we splurge is at the modern southern-style dinner*, where there's always a dazzling array of high fructose corn syrup, Crisco, Velveeta, country crock, refined sugars, etc. You know the typical fare: extra sweet tea, fried Claxton chicken, ham, bacon, mashed potatoes, bar-b-que, macaroni and cheese, more ham, fried chicken, biscuits, casseroles topped with bacon, pork chops, and don't forget the potato salad with copious amounts of mayonnaise. I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy this food, and the fact that I grew up on it makes it a comforting, nostalgic experience. But to be honest, the comfort only happens on the way down. We usually spend the rest of the day in and out of the bathroom, wondering if the 20 minutes of taste bud bliss was worth it. This is no exaggeration--the stuff shocks our systems. But it can be pretty darn difficult to turn down, especially from a social standpoint.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about asceticism here. I do think that food should be an enjoyable experience, even comforting from time to time--but we, the farm team at least, can start doing better at it. We don't have to eat outside of our values to have enjoyable experiences. The food that we produce, "we" being a community of farmers here in South Georgia, simply tastes better. And food that's good, clean, and fair should taste better. But why the slippage from time to time? Convenience is a big part of it. Social convention. Upbringing. Opting for something else is easier said than done.
Lying in bed in the middle of the night with a stomach ache after one of these southern-fried binges, I realized that true health is the best marketing accessory we've got--for the eggs, the chicken, the bread, and for local foods in general. If I don't project an image of health, then my message is lost. From a business and a personal perspective, no one will want the Kool-Aid that I'm selling if it doesn't make me look and feel great. And what we're selling here isn't just food, it's un-industrialized thinking, it's chemical free, it's local economy, it's interdependent communities, it is health--all part of a future we want.
*Let it be clear that I respect southern food traditions, and often cook southern recipes in my own kitchen: field peas and rice, stewed tomatoes, potato salad, etc. But what I'm referencing here is not the food of our forebears, i.e. the food that came from small, diverse family farms, served up fresh. What I'm talking about is southern convenience food, made with ingredients that come from factories and large, monoculture farms far from right around the corner.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
This is the next generation of Farming With Elliott. I wanted Farming With Elliott and Friends but was shouted down. You can still see all the classic posts there.
To kick things off here is a video of our 4 week old broilers on pasture. For reference, here they are at 2 weeks -
Here is the video:
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
And here is the first succesful use of the oven - pizza! It was awesome and had a flavor like it came from a commercial wood fired brick oven. Fantastic! Unfortunately the only picture we have of it is this blurry one, but you get the idea.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Monday, August 17, 2009
These are our 6 day old broiler chicks. They are just McNuggets now but will be 3-5 lbs in 8 weeks and delicious. We have 200 of them brooding in the dining room, they'll be moved out to pasture when they are about 2 weeks old.
Monday, August 10, 2009
They are VERY heavy, probably 1500 LBS and sit on top of runners, we have to pull them with a truck and they have the added bonus of being poorly designed and falling apart.
In order to get them into the orchard we had to lever them up with a 2x4 and a cinderblock and push rollers in, then replacing the rollers as we went, pull them about 100 yards, turn a corner, pull up an incline into the orchard, turn another corner and then go another 50 yards. The first 2 went relatively easily except for one unfortunate squashed hen. The third one took us getting behind it and pushing it before the pulling wire failed. We came back the next day, attached a new rope and got it in. When we started pulling the 4th one we broke the first runner, then the second, so that it for pulling it. Our neighbor with a trailer came over to help us with and it got a bit interesting. The plan was to use a winch to pull the coop onto its side on top of the trailer and then drive it over. Sounded good. Well we wound up with the coop lifted 7 feet of the ground, propped up on cinderblocks with 100 chickens underneath it enjoying the shade as the side of the coop started collapsing. We managed to drop it back down without injuring ourselves or any chickens but I learned from that, this lesson:
If something seems like a bad idea, it probably is.
We ended up converting the busted coop into a feed storage shack, and taking the coop we had been using as a feed shack and turning that back into a coop (having to move 2 tons of feed to do so).
Anyhow, the chickens are much happier in the orchard and can stay outside all day in the shade instead of sitting around panting in the sun so it all worked out.
These are the Black Astralorps at 3 weeks of age in late June, at this point they were getting a bit big for the space and were regularly flying out of the brooder and immediately looking around wondering if flying out had been such a good idea after all.
That's me on the left showing off my Farmer Heroin Chic look. This is a lightweight (relatively, it still weighs ~150lbs) moveable pen based on a design by Joel Salatin, a farmer in Virginia. It is really for broilers (meat chickens) but we figured it would work well enough for hens as well and since we are raising broilers now it would be a good investment. Anyhow, it is made of pressure treated lumber that is cut into thin sections to cut down on weight. The outside is covered in chicken wire.
The left half has 2 removeable top pieces so you can access the inside. We used leftover wall covering for a roof which works reasonably well except it is pretty floppy.
A friendly disagreement.
Welcome to the world of grass!
At first they were a little hesitant about their new living arrangements but they promptly realized how great it is being outside and started eating grass, catching bugs, and generally having an excellent time.
The finished product (minus top pieces.)
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Following that is our tomato patch, Kale and other stuff, and corn and potatoes.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Here's the link - http://www.connectsavannah.com/news/article/100800/
100 new chicks arrived today, they are Araucanas and will lay blue and green eggs. We haven't finished the next set of accomodations for our other chicks so their place is not as nice as chick stadium. Sticking with the previous theme of chick arrival pictures -
More pictures of Mother Hen and her babies...