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June is Chicken Time

Have you ever heard the phrase, "You're no spring chicken"? People talk often about "eating seasonally" and how important that is. The idea is typically applied to the world of produce, but people often forget about it in the context of meat. The reality is though, meat is as seasonal as any produce. This is the reason that when people ask for pork or chicken in the winter, if it's not in the freezer, we won't be able to provide it. We choose to raise and harvest our animals when they are in their optimal environments, that being pasture and/or the woods in the fall.

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Specifically though, lets talk about chicken. It's our belief that chickens need to be raised outside and eating bugs. When large enough to be less vulnerable to predators from the sky, they need to be able to range beyond their coop, consuming bugs, grass, worms, snakes or any other items they may find throughout their journeys. Allowing them to range like this and consume this variety ultimately makes for a much better tasting meat. There is more intramuscular fat, more blood movement and subsequently... and perhaps most obviously, more flavor. This is how this month's chicken, and all future chicken through the CSA will be raised, as well as your upcoming Thanksgiving turkey.

In addition to pasture-raising the birds, we're also doing something a bit unique for our members as well. Historically, most people are used to what are called Cornish Cross chickens. These are fast growing meat birds to be raised to slaughter weight in 6 - 8 weeks. The birds we typically raise, called Pioneers, are raised to slaughter weight in about 12 - 14 weeks. However, there are thousands of different chicken breeds, all with their own merits. We wanted to expose our CSA members to this variety, and have chosen to raise 4 different breeds of birds this year; Cornish Cross, Pioneers, Turkens and Speckled Sussex. Throughout the remainder of the year, you'll be able to taste the variety of different breeds and learn just how much variety and flavor there is in Chicken.

Enough with the rambling, lets get to the cooking. The first bird you'll be getting will be the Cornish X, and because of it's younger age, large breasts and mainly white meat, we're going to need to bring in some flavor. Obviously, smoke and char is an easy start for flavor, so we'll be cooking it on the grill in a style known as spatchcock. Spatchcock chicken is probably the best way to cook a chicken on a grill, and it also happens to be one of the quicker ways to do so. Essentially what you're going to do is split the bird in half and and cook it flat on the grill. This gives you great surface area for flavor and heat transfer. Breaking the bird in half sounds tricky, but it's quite easy— rather than me explain it, check out this video on how to do it with a turkey, but the same applies to any bird:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhWf6RyT--I

Now, regardless of whether your bird is whole or split, everyone loves crispy skin and good flavor. The secret to great crispy skin is removing all the moisture you can from the skin before cooking.  Luckily, this is easy to do. 24 Hours before you plan to cook your bird, and after you've decided to split or keep your bird whole, generously salt the skin of the bird and place on a wire rack set in a cookie sheet, and place in your fridge for 24 hours. The salt will draw out all the moisture from the skin, and you'll notice that over time the skin will become dry and taut. This is exactly what you want.

Approximately 1 hour before you're ready to grill, remove your bird from the fridge so that it can come up to room temperature, and generously coat in ground fennel and sweet paprika. You can simply grind the spices together and generously coat the chicken in the spice seasoning on both sides. This is my go-to spicing for grilled chicken, especially when I'm cooking the bird spatchcock-style.

Once your grill is nice and hot, throw the bird, skin side down, directly over the heat and cook until nicely charred, usually about 12 - 15 minutes. Flip the bird and cook the remaining time with skin side up until the chicken hits an internal temp of 145. Once it hits temp, remove and let rest, as you would a steak, to allow juices to redistribute.  Cut and enjoy an amazing chicken.

One thing to note is that you may see a slight pink tone in the meat color. This is absolutely normal and typical in pasture-raised birds. Do not be put off by this and resist the temptation to keep cooking until it's gone. If you cook all the pink out, you'll be cooking the bird to 165-170 and it will most definitely become a great candidate for making stock or perhaps a new pair of shoes.

Save the bones in a ziplock freezer bag, until you're ready to make stock with them!  This is a great way to stretch your dollars, while also providing your family with excellent, hearty food.  We usually just start a gallon-sized bag, label it "chicken bones" [we always have separate bags going for chicken, pork, beef, duck and turkey bones, as you can just keep adding until they're full], and then keep it around until fall hits and we're ready to fire up the stove and make some stock.  Stock is very easy to make, good for you, and freezes well!

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A couple of other recipes for other items in your basket:

Brisket: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/texas-style-smoked-brisket-51175220

Ham Steak: https://grillinfools.com/blog/2012/12/18/grill-glazed-spiral-ham/

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Hot off the Grill - It's the May CSA

It's grill time people. IT'S GRILL TIME!!!! This month's share celebrates this by bringing you products that are meant to get you outside and over that open flame. IMG_3054

First up, the beef. In this month's share, you'll find some burger patties that are flat-out delicious with just salt and pepper, but also a flank steak. The most common use for flank steak is fajitas. While fajitas are a perfectly fine preparation, with a little bit of work and awareness of how to cut the steak, you can create a grilled steak that everyone will love. When cooking flank steak, we simply use salt and pepper, but this steak is well suited for any marinade or rub. When you're ready to cook, generously season the meat and then cook over a high heat for only a couple of minutes per side (depends on thickness of course). You want to be sure to not overcook the meat, as it has the potential to get tough if given the opportunity. You're also going to want to ensure adequate resting time, generally about the same amount of time that you took to cook the steak. Once well rested, slice the meat and serve to your family and/or guests. It's not your standard slicing though, as you're going to want to slice it -across- the grain to help tenderize the cuts. Here is a good video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_WF-aUCOCk

Once you're all set with the cutting, there's nothing left to do but open a beer or a bottle of wine and enjoy the beautiful weather.

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Pork chops are probably the best grilled item on a pig, at least in my opinion. They have great marbling (at least ours do ;) ), a nice fat cap and don't take too long to cook. That's where people go wrong with pork chops though— they overcook them. This country has been told for so long to cook pork to 150 or 160 or even higher, but really, the optimal temperature in our opinion is about 135-140. They'll be just a little bit pink in the center and absolutely perfectly juicy. With this being the first opportunity to try pork raised our way, I suggest using the opportunity to just do salt and pepper for seasoning so that you can clearly taste the difference. As for cooking, you're looking at 3 - 4 minutes per side for a room temperature pork chop and the same rules as above for resting. After that, slice and enjoy with a nice spring salad or even some smashed potatoes. There really is no wrong side when it comes to pork chops, so just enjoy the flavor with whatever you enjoy on the side.

Please remember that the fat on this pork is not the fat you know from the grocery store!  These pigs were finished on barley, which makes their fat snow-white, softer, more flavorful [some would say "nutty"]— you may even notice that it looks and feels different on your hands as you prepare it.  You may be tempted to cut the fat off, but this fat is partially unsaturated, like olive oil.  It's good and good for ya!  If nothing else, you can save it and use it when you're cooking something else, to grease your skillet or flavor a soup.  But, you might find that you like it just as it is, on the chop as part of the bite.

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Jasper & Sage

IMG_6281After the wild success of Christian's post about The $18 Chicken last week, we've been playing catch-up on calls, emails, comments and messages.  If you haven't heard back from us yet, we apologize... we're not ignoring you.  My phone died among some other things, so, ya know, try to get in touch with us again if would! The other, arguably more distracting thing happening here on the farm is the arrival of two very sweet baby goaties.  They were born 5 days apart, and are best friends.  Jasper is the brown w/black stripe buckling, while Sage is his wildly-colored and fuzzy half sister!  I could go out and sit with them forever, just watching them play.  They love to jump on and off of just about anything, including their mamas, the barn, and chickens!  Sage also loves to chase and butt the chickens.  Jasper is more interested in people.

There are few things as adorable as a baby goat, so we're just taking time to sit with them and enjoy it.  Soon they'll be big enough to get into trouble, and they won't be quite as cute.  Well, that might not be true.

Everything is but a hop, skip and a jump away when you're a goat.

Look at that face... <3

 

 

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Goodbyes and Bones

Winter waiting "My only complaint about the Old Spot breed of pigs we raise is that their amazingness and personable personalities make it even harder for me to take them to the processor. I say harder because regardless of the species of animal it will always be hard to transport them to the their end. The Old Spots have always made it too easy to love them with their playfulness and desire for human affection. These were my thoughts as I walked down the hill after having coaxed the group of pigs I am taking in tomorrow onto the trailer and closing the door behind them. The drive is beautiful on the back roads yet quite difficult emotionally."  —Donald M. Arrant, Jr., livestock manager at Glynwood Center

One of the best and worst things about having a small farm is your personal relationship with each animal.  Many people ask us, how can you name the animals you're going to eat?  We have so few animals here on the farm that, even without names, they would have names.  Whether we gave each pig a number, assigned each chicken a letter, or referred to each duck by their defining qualities, coloration, size... that would become a name.

"Oh, you wouldn't believe what Seven did today!"

If we didn't want to have these relationships with the animals, we wouldn't have them here.  But that doesn't detract from their ultimate purpose: meat providers, nourishment purveyors.  In their time here, they work for us in other ways, too.  Our pigs get to spend their days doing what they love best... destroying just about everything in their path.  We brought them here because of the untamed, poison ivy-riddled, burdock- and garlic mustard-filled, tanglewood old gardens left from 30 years ago when this place was a working farm.  Thirty years of untended gardens mean soft, fast-growing trees and weeds take over fertile soils.  One year of pigs means overturned earth, slowly girdled trees, and new beginnings.

Historically, pigs were kept by households as meat-producing garbage disposals.  Take them your kitchen scraps and garden waste, and they will create for you fertile garden beds and a winter's worth of meat preserves.  The onset of industrial agriculture meant more and more pigs, kept in IMG_4413smaller spaces, fed grain instead of scraps because what farmer can produce so many scraps for dozens or hundreds or thousands of animals day after day?

Despite efforts to turn pigs into "The Other White Meat," subsisting only in concrete barns, the instincts of a pig are incredibly strong.  A domestic pig, once escaped or turned loose, will revert to its wild roots in mere months.  Our boar Orson, who had never seen sunlight or dirt before coming home to our farm at the age of a year and a half, is an efficient rooter and joyful wallower.  He didn't need to be taught to root or wallow, he just needed to have the dirt in front of him.  At first, our plans were to let Orson do his boar duty [aka make babies] and then process him, but we enjoy watching him out in the world so much that he will probably be here to stay.

Kate & GoosieSuch is the nature of small farms.  Our decisions aren't always based in sound financial logic, but as a former boss told me once, "Sometimes you just have to give yourself that special animal."  Not every animal gets to stay for life, but every so often an extraordinary animal comes along to challenge your heart strings.  Our chicken Mother Goose is one of those.  She follows us around while we do chores, and even when I am working in the garden she is close by.  She will let you hold her, and eat swatted mosquitoes deftly yet gently from your hand, and maybe even snooze in your lap for a while.

On the other hand, we raised a batch of Freedom Ranger meat chickens this summer who were the most savage beasts we've ever had here at Ham Sweet Farm.  They pecked your arms with intent if you reached down for anything in their pasture, tore bits from my Muck boots as I waded through the flock, and refused to be contained in any sense of the word.  One actually met an early death after I removed it from Gnocchi's pen and it jumped back in while she was eating.  Gnocchi doesn't share, so when this chicken tried to sneak grain from in front of her, she swatted it away Chik'n DInnerwith her head, and caught it in the brain with a tooth.  Not exactly a USDA-approved means to an end, but we did eat it for dinner the next day.

For the animals who don't stay here forever, it's nothing personal.  But it is sad [with the exception of the Freedom Rangers, who we were happy to escort into our freezer].  You get to know the personalities of individuals as well as groups.  When a group of ducks reaches the age to be processed, you don't get to see them each morning dash out of their coop and beeline for the little duck pond.  No longer will they waddle around with wings folded across their backs like old Italian men in a piazza.  Maybe each duck didn't have a name, but "The Ducks" are their own character here.  They have a place, and when they leave that spot is open, empty.

There will be another group of ducks, more poultry, and other animals who might even live in the same place the ducks did when they were here.  It's the nature of farming, and necessary when you and your family, friends and customers eat meat.  It's the reason we save all of our bones, from every meal and every animal, and make stock and remouillage before the bones reach their final resting place, in our compost pile and then, once again, out on pasture.

 

 

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Piggy Fever

Sage in Bloom Wow.  So we meet again, blog space.  It's been a while!

Umm... so... we have piglets!!  They're 4 weeks old, robustly healthy and wildly polka-dotted.  Gnocchi has been a wonderful mother to them, and we couldn't be happier.  She was 5 days late so we did some major sweating and all-nighters while she remained cool, calm and collected and built a snug straw nest for them as she waited.

We will keep 4 of the piggies... one gilt, to breed, and 3 barrows to raise out for our next generation of pork.  Another gilt will be headed to Napoleon Ridge Farm near Cincinnati.  Two gilts will be headed Up North to live with fellow Grrls Meat Camp member Chef Lori Swonder.  The only boar we didn't castrate will be going to another local farm, Frosty Acres.  Looks like Gnocchi & Orson's babies will be taking over the world!

Gnocchi and newborn piggies

Mucca, 3 minutes old  <3

Piggie Butts!

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In Bloom

Last weekend we spent a rare weekend away, wining and dining our way through some of Chicago's best restaurants and bars, though there are many from which to choose— the storied Alinea, Nico Osteria, EL Ideas, Three Dots and a Dash, Billy Sunday, Avec.   You know, pretty much the exact opposite of our everyday farm lives.  It was wonderful to be there with my mom and brother, strolling along the city streets without many cares in the world.

But it is strange, too, to be away from the farm.  There's a feeling of being lost, when you realize in the hotel room that there's no dogs underfoot, no roosters crowing outside your window, no goats screaming for their dinner [even though it may only be 3 pm].  I couldn't help but watch people meandering as aimlessly as we were, wondering— what do they do with their time?  We've been making our dreams a reality at Ham Sweet Farm for a little over a year now, and I already can't remember what it feels like to wake up with nothing to do.  Even on our do-nothing days, chores are still happening in the morning and evening.  And when we're away, the desire to constant check in at home is almost obsessive-compulsive.  Oh, it's been 20 minutes, do you think so-and-so is ok or that goat jumped out the fence again?  Are the dogs behaving?  Did the basement flood?

When we left, buds on our fruit trees had been threatening to open, but weren't quite ready to commit yet given this year's wild weather patterns.  Nothing was really blooming, although the grass had started to green up.  But, oh, after 3 days absence...

Edible flowers everywhere!

It was a wonderful gift to come home to.  We will have apples and pears and maybe even peaches this year!  I guess life really does go on.  Mother Nature adapts far better than we ever could.  And on that note... we are officially on piglet watch!  Our beautiful gilt Gnocchi is due next Monday.  She has started to show the final signs of impending birth.  To say we are excited would be a vast understatement!  As a first-time mama, we will be watching closely to make sure things go as well as possible.  We'll be sure to keep you posted!

Gnocchi looking plump... beginning to bag up!

 

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Oh hi, it's me, Nike again

This is my morning face. Um, hi.  Typing is hard because, well, I don't have thumbs.  And I don't like things touching my feetsies.  But I like some things.  Not the biting fence.  The biting fence bites me.  Mom and Dad said to leave the biting fence alone, but I toucheded it once and then I ran away fast.  And I cried.  Now I don't go near the biting fence.

Sometimes they tell other hoomans not to touch the biting fence, but stupid hoomans touch fence anyway.  Just like me, Nike.  Um, hi.  DON'T TOUCH THE BITING FENCE, HOOMANS.  It's bite-y.  When you are here, maybe you shouldn't touch anything unless Mom or Dad says.  Because when you touch it it will bite you.  Or if you eat poop like my sister Pinot, they will yell at you.

Well I would love to stay here because I am on the couch, but I have some toys to squeak and some grass to roll in, and maybe I will find a sunshine spot for sleeping.  It's a ruff life.

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Strong Fences Make Good Neighbors

2013 Ice Storm damage

The pigs spent most of this bitterly cold winter in their huts, buried in a deep bed of slowly decomposing straw.  But now that Spring has decided to grace us with her presence, it was time to move the fences that, at 12 to 18 inches high, spent most of the winter under snow cover.

First things first... we had to make a serious dent in the downed trees, broken and twisted branches, and upended root systems that were bowled over by the ice storm that hit us just before Christmas.  We were incredibly lucky to keep power through the ordeal, but the damage done to dozens of trees around our property was impressive.  Somehow we managed to avoid any structures or animals being hit at the time, but the fences did not fare so well.

Ironically, many of the trees damaged were the much-maligned Box Elder trees, a quick-growing, shallow-rooted piece-of-garbage specimen that resides on our short list of things to remove in the coming years on the farm.  We had planned to remove them at a slower pace, but hey, no time like the present!  Christian and our friend John Beng fired up their chainsaws and we started making piles of wood as it was cut.  The pyres soon towered over us.  As everything leafs out in the next few weeks, I'm very curious to see what our former Forest looks like.  I'm guessing we could put

Now you see it... now you don't.

a full-sun garden out back this year if we wanted to!  We spread a mix of seeds in its stead, and will be watching to see what grows well in the coming months.

Christian and I have gotten rather proficient at pig-fence building.  It's a simple process:  1) pick your size, 2) unwire old fence, 3) place insulator posts and corner t-posts as desired and string with wire... and you can't forget the most important part!  Once your new fence is up and taut, tie your "flags"— plastic orange tape that alerts the pigs to the fence's location.  Pigs aren't known for their sense of sight, so the more you can help them avoid the fence, the better!  In the photo to the right, you can make out the wire in the foreground... but other than the insulator posts, as your eye travels down the line, there's no telling whether or not a wire is there.  In the background, you can see where I had stopped tying flags to take this photo.  The bright orange is hard to miss.  Once our pigs have been trained to these fences, they stay reliably inside of them even on a single strand of wire!

IMG_4478Once your fence is stranded and flagged and free of any snags, you're ready to hook it back up to the solar charger.  That, besides the flags, is the most important part.  And really, without the voltage, the flags won't do much good.  We keep the fence hot, around 12,000 Volts or so, and the pigs know it.

Voila!  Pigs in the woods.  So far they've been turning over rotting logs, digging up raspberry roots, and hopefully rooting up any remnants of last year's garlic mustard and burdock.  They love their freedom to explore, and we love watching them work.  Not to mention, it makes for some delicious pork.  Just don't tell them that.

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Spring is In the Air...

IMG_4452The chorus of birds has reached fever-pitch each morning as the sun breaks.  Not just our local songbirds, but the turkeys, and chickens, and ducks seem to awake just before dawn to start their daily warbling, crowing, quacking, gobbling, cooing and clucking. Long gone are the mornings when our alarm clocks would sound in what felt like the middle of the night, and we would rouse in pitch blackness, prying the dogs out of their cozy beds to venture outside for chores before winter's bleak dawn.  While that was our reality for eternity this winter, it has all been forgiven now that tulips are starting to peek out under mulch, and tree buds grow fatter by the day.  Wispy, watercolored clouds usher summer closer as the sunshine banishes all traces of Winter 2013-2014... We'll forgive but never forget!

IMG_4337There is a marked difference in the behavior of all the animals since even just a few weeks ago.  The chickens, who had barely set foot outside their coop since December, have been ranging all over our yard and the woods surrounding.  They're finding tender new shoots, sprouted seeds, worms and newly hatched bugs.  The color of their yolks has deepened already to a rich golden hue, and they just look healthier.  They even venture into the pig pasture sometimes, scrounging for spilled grain or grubs that the pigs have turned up while rooting around.

Everyone feels playful, too.  Finally, it's been warm enough for our chicks and ducklings to spend time outside.  When they haven't grown their adult feathers, even a chilly draft can be enough to sicken or kill them.  But in the sunshine, they strut and flutter and preen while learning to scratch around in the grass and dirt.

[click on a photo to view gallery]IMG_4344

There is a certain sense of serenity among the frenetic energy of spring.  We have so many projects to do, both inside and out of the house.  But just as our ducks are busy building nests in which to lay their eggs, just as the bees are slowly circling the property in search of those first blooms that will carry nectar to rejuvenate their hive, just as the grass reclaims its green luster from high summer, so, too, do we feel the need to build and create and maintain.

"A high windy day, with sunshine and the blue jays calling.  Snowdrops in bloom, first of all, and the bees active, finding something, I think, among the chickweed buds.  But the year has not yet come alive. . . . Blessed quiet, thinking and working." — David Grayson, A Countryman's Year

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Word of the Day

IMG_4305exhaustion |igˈzôsCHən|   noun  1 a state of extreme physical or mental fatigue: he was pale with exhaustion.

satisfaction |ˌsatisˈfakSHən|

noun;  fulfillment of one's wishes, expectations, or needs, or the pleasure derived from this: he smiled with satisfaction | managing directors seeking greater job satisfaction.

 

When eating dinner or taking a shower sound like more work than they're worth, it might be springtime on a farm.  I have nothing much more worthwhile to say, other than that it is past my bedtime.

"A remarkable springlike day, full of sunshine and running water— and a soft blue haze in the south— and a hungry unrest of the spirit.  I could not think of work, but of the sap running in maple trees, and the meadows coming bare, and the young things of the woods peeping out to see if winter is over and gone.  I think I never saw the sky so high and clear, or ever knew the wind so sweet."   — David Grayson, A Countryman's Year, c. 1936

 

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Start of March... Start of the Season!

Oh look.  More snow.

A tantalizing whisper of a change in season started a few days ago.

Last week, as I was headed to work in a whiteout blizzard after finishing morning chores, I cried. Because WINTER.  It was the snowflake that broke the farmer's back, I suppose you could say.  That day, Christian and I were talking about my melancholy and he confided that he, too, felt that winter had finally broken him.  The good news?  That's how every Michigander feels at the end of February.  The bad news?  A common saying about March is, "In like a lion, out like a lamb."

"So what does that mean?" a weatherbeaten Christian asked me.  It means we're not in the clear yet.  There are likely still freak snowstorms in store for us, and plenty of wet, cold, icy, muddy, unpredictable weather in our future.  But it does mean we're in the home stretch!  It means green grass will replace the two feet of snow and ice that has been here since Thanksgiving.  It means the front porch is open for business again.

 

Front Porch Snoozin'

 

The sun has put everyone in a good mood.  The dogs no longer jostle to get back into the house as soon as they've done their business.  The chickens have actually ventured out across the yard to forage in the newly-bared patches of earth and grass still nestled in between snow drifts.  The pigs have been sunning themselves on the edges of their huts, while the ducks have delighted in the puddles and mud everywhere.  Our tom turkey, Phil Collins, has been strutting around for days trying to impress his harem of hens despite breaking through the melting snow crust with his feet.  Our little soccer ball-shaped goat, Bootsie, couldn't be persuaded to get off her new lawn chair...

Things will be changing quickly around here in the upcoming months... baby animals, harvest dates, sowing, planting, reaping, weekend projects and Monday exhaustion.  All tenets of farm life.  We were able to devote half of the weekend to relaxation and the other half to outdoor projects, which felt so good after the bone-chilling winter weekends that have made even the most simple tasks burdensome in the last few months.  Sometimes the greatest reward for a day's work is a sore back and tired hands.

And, just one week after winter's wrath brought defeated tears to my eyes, I cried the other day because IT WAS JUST SO GODDAMN BEAUTIFUL OUT.  Michigan, you always make Spring worth the wait.

 

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A Farmer's Binding Contract

con·tract [n., adj.]noun 1. an agreement between two or more parties for the doing or not doing of something specified. 2. an agreement enforceable by law.

All farmers share in an underlying responsibility to be a diligent steward of the land they farm.  The philosophy of leaving this world better than when you entered it is nowhere more applicable than in farming. Whether you grow vegetables or raise livestock, the weight of the responsibility is significant, all of us entering into a binding contract, closely detailing the mutual relationship between you, the farmer and them, the produce, earth or animal.

Saying hi to Jack Sparrow

True, we have virtually no experience raising produce or crops at scale, but we do have quite a bit of experience raising livestock, both currently and in the past. So, speaking specifically about animals, this contract specifies a small, but weighty set of requirements that have a direct and monumental impact on the quality, quantity and longevity of your relationship with the other party.

 

  1. Pigs in the Woods

    It is the expectation of the livestock to be provided with adequate shelter, quality feed and ample hydration.  They expect to be provided with these necessities on a daily and routine basis to ensure adequate growth rates and quality of health.

  2. It is the expectation of the livestock that they will be handled with a level of force that is commensurate with their size and personality.  No undue stress or force shall be pushed onto each animal than is absolutely necessary.
  3. It is the expectation of the livestock that they are allowed to exist with natural behavior. The farmer shall provide an environment that ensures both adequate freedoms and safety to support stimulation.
  4. It is mutually understood, that as most livestock exist for the provision of food, that the farmer ensures a quick and painless death.  Post-mortem, it is expected that life of the animal and the former relationship be honored and minimal, if not zero, waste is produced.

It's by these basic rules and stipulations that we try to abide daily.  While mistakes are an inevitable part of the process, working in an earnest and honest fashion towards these principles is non-negotiable. It would be the same expectation that any human being would expect from a positive relationship with another human.  It's much the same as how parents enter into the expectations of the life of a child.  While it's not nearly the same relationship, nor should it be, the overarching principles are the same— to uphold your end of the deal as best you can.

Blood and Axe

The impetus for this post was this past weekend's processing of chickens.  There was no drama like the previous post and really nothing remarkable to speak of. However, as we cleaned the chickens and saved out the comb, feet and innards I felt a sense of satisfaction, and yes, maybe even superiority over how the average person eats.  A badge of honor that I know how to not waste an animal.  But what I realized, as I thought about it over the next few days, was that this sense of superiority was unfounded.  This was us, simply upholding our end of the contract we entered. No pats on the back deserved, and certainly no entitlement to any other feeling other than doing our job. It's this part of the contract, the lack of waste of life, that is arguably the most important. You, the farmer, have the responsibility of thrift and respect that is the foundation for all farmer-animal relationships. This responsibility is perhaps the largest difference between a farmer and even the most conscientious consumer.  We have no luxury of ignorance. There is no ignoring the taking of a life, the waste produced and even the economic impact of making those decisions.

Hanging Chickens

In the end, the existence of farming is to produce an edible product.  In our case, to raise an animal for the purpose of food, a plate on the table for friends, family or our customers.  That's a heavy responsibility when you stop and consider it.  For the provision of food on the table, it is your agreement to provide them the best life possible, with respect for both the pre- and postmortem. It's simple, 100% doable and the first philosophical agreement one needs to have before even thinking about raising an animal for food. It's also one of the most difficult pieces for the consumer to wrap their head around, the idea of building such tight personal relationships and commitments with an animal you're going to eat.

It's in those times and discussions that I'm reminded of something told to me by a NJ farmer, Jonathan White of Bobolink dairy.  He told of a story where he was at a market and sharing some cured meats that he had made from one of his beloved cows, Gertrude.  I don't recall the exact place of Gertrude in the herd, but I know she was at least one of the oldest members of the herd, perhaps even the first.  The story went something like this:

Jonathan: " Try some of this bresaola.  " Customer: " Wow this is great.  Is this one of your cows? " Jonathan: " This is actually Gertrude.  She was one of our first cows and one of my favorites. " Customer: " How could you eat a cow you know? " Jonathan: " How could you eat an animal you don't? "

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