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Know Your Farmer
We feel strongly that sustainable agriculture is not about trying to have all things happening on one farm, but rather, that you collaborate with fellow farmers to bring the best products to the community together. Since the start of the CSA, we've been partnering with farmers to supply beef and even some pork when needed, Schneider Organic Farm and Grandpa's Best Pork, respectively. This year, we're continuing to grow our offering through farmer partnerships for beef and lamb, and are happy to bring on Bloom Beef as another beef option for our CSA Members and farm customers.
Why Partner With Another Beef Producer?
Why add another beef producer you might ask? The answer is simple— variety and community support. Scott Bloom is a 3rd generation farmer who's been working on developing his beef herd, through extensive bloodline crossing, for over 30 years, and has developed some of the finest beef we've ever had. He's 10 miles away, as the crow flies, and one of the most open and giving farmers we've met to date.
One of our tenets at Ham Sweet Farm is to not only provide high-quality and amazing tasting product, but to also educate our CSA Members/Customers and expose them to product variations. As part of that education and exposure, we feel it's important to bring multiple styles of beef production to our customers.
How Is The Product Different?
Schneider Organic Beef is 100% grass-fed and -finished, with no grain provided. Scott raises his cattle on grass as well, but also provides them free-choice access to all-natural grains to supplement their diet. This provides a greater distribution of marbling and a different texture than what you see in 100% grass-fed beef. Both products are 100% non-GMO and naturally-raised.
What's The Difference Between 100% Grass-Fed and Free-Access Grain Beef?
Flavor and texture. It's not a comparison of "better or worse," they are just different products with their own merits. We love both producers and rotate both producer's products for our personal consumption, and we think you will do the same.
For tips on cooking the perfect steak, refer to our post from last CSA season here: http://www.hamsweetfarm.com/blog/2015/04/meat-csa-april
We are so excited to kick off our CSA for the 3rd year, and even more excited to be heading out of the winter months and into one of the most beautiful seasons in Michigan, Spring. We're already hearing sandhill cranes in the distance, a multitude of songbirds have been visiting our feeders, and our horses are even starting to shed. The first day of spring is just 2 weeks away, so close we can taste it.
The taste of Spring is a good segue into this month's share, as we'll be kicking it off with what we do best. Pork, pork and more pork. Warm weather isn't reliably here yet, so we're not going the grilling products just yet either. Instead, we're going to be providing a beautiful pork roast for you to cook up for you and your family. As such, we wanted to provide you with two recipe options for the roast, both sure to be a crowd pleaser for you and your family.
Slow Roasted Pork
- 2 tbsp Brown or Maple Sugar
- 2 tbsp Salt
- 2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1/2 - 3/4 cup of good dijon mustard
- 1 - (4 - 8 lb) pork roast
- Preheat your oven to 225 degrees
- Place a rack inside a roasting pan or cast iron skillet
- Brush pork generously with mustard.
- Blend or mix spices well and sprinkle generously all over pork roast
- Cook approximately 30 - 45 minutes per pound, until you reach an internal temperature of 130 - 135 degrees.
* historically the FDA has suggested cooking pork to 150 to avoid trichinosis. Not only has there been no cases of trichinosis from pork in dozens of years, but that temperature absolutely destroys the meat. Our preference is to cook to the range above, allowing for some carry-over cooking to have the final temperature end at 135 - 140, slightly pink in appearance.
- Baste the roast with the released juices every hour or so.
- Remove from oven and let rest for 15 - 20 minutes.
- Serve with some roast vegetables, or better yet, creamy grits.
Whiskey Braised Pork
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp fresh ground black pepper (or to taste)
- 1/2 tsp coarse ground mustard seeds or dry mustard powder
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 Sprigs fresh Thyme
- 4 Cloves Garlic, Rough Chopped
- 3 of your favorite root vegetables, rough chopped (carrots, onions, parsnips, etc.)
- 1-1/2 Cups Rye Whiskey
- 2 Quarts Chicken or Pork Broth. If you don't have broth, use water and amp up seasonings a bit.
- 1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil
- Generously season the pork roast with salt, pepper and brown sugar.
- Heat heavy-bottomed pot on medium-high heat and add in oil, as well as preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Sear all sides of pork to a deep brown, taking care to not let it burn, but still develop a deep brown crust.
- Remove pork from pot and set aside.
- Add in rough chopped vegetables and sauté until caramelized, about 5 - 7 minutes.
- Add in garlic and thyme and stir until fragrant
- Remove pot from flame and add in whiskey. Stirring well to scrape up all the brown bits off the bottom of the pot. Reduce whiskey by half.
- Add back in pork roast along with broth or water and bay leaf, making sure to cover roast about 1/3 - 1/2 way up.
- Cover and roast in oven until temperature reads 130 - 135 degrees.
- Remove from oven and let rest for 15 - 20 minutes.
- While meat is resting, strain pan juices and skim off any fat. Add back to pot and reduce by half.
- Slice and serve with grits, rice or wilted greens. Top with reduced pan juices.
This week has been a stern reminder that fall is here and winter is just around the corner. You can see your breathe and a sweatshirt is a requirement. Now that the days of shorts are just about over and harvest season is in sight, it's time to switch from outdoor recipes to bone sticking indoor cooking and that means braises and roasts. This share is a kickstart to fall with the inclusion of chicken and duck, both a great option for those stick-to-your-bones meals we mentioned.
Chicken in Milk
This is perhaps one of the best recipes for chicken I've ever made and, on top of that, it's dead simple. This recipe gives you an easy way to bring a roast chicken to the table, while also providing enough food to last a few days an extend the reach of the bird. If you're so inclined, we save the bones after eating and use them in stock, only furthering the use of the chicken and giving you more for the money.
Slow Roasted Duck
For us, duck is a beautiful meal in the fall. It's rich, it has crispy skin and the smell is just amazing. With the abundance of fat that is typically found on duck compared to chicken, roasting the duck with vegetables pretty much gives you a one-pot meal that's fit for a king. When it comes to how to cook duck, there is no one we trust more than Hank Shaw, who is not only a close friend, but also the author of Duck, Duck, Goose, veritable Bible for cooking any species of waterfowl you can think of. His recipe for slow roasted duck is a great place to start, and you won't go wrong.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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 smaller 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.
Such 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 with 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.
I've been wanting to write a post for quite a while on how to be a better consumer, but it wasn't until talking with a friend around Thanksgiving that it became a more clear how to answer the question. She and her boyfriend are looking to buy a side or whole animal (both pork and beef) back in Colorado and she expressed hesitation over making such a commitment. " How do I know if it's the right farm and they are doing it right? " she asked. This is similar to the question we get asked a lot, having worked on, and now owning a farm; " How do I know if the meat I'm buying is raised well? " The simple answer is always, " Just go visit the farm! ".
There is a problem with that answer though— most people aren't farmers. They are, at most, educated consumers, but by no means are they farmers or even owners of anything resembling an animal they'd eat. So how would they know? It's the same way I wouldn't know what a nice guitar is, I'm not a musician. I know which ones "look" pretty, but that doesn't mean anything to the end product. The only way to really know is to research the "supposed to." What is a guitar "supposed to" sound and play like? What are animals "supposed to" be doing?
That begs the question then, " How am I 'supposed to' know? " By taking a little time learning about how an animal behaves. For instance, let's take pigs:
- They love to root around and turn up the soil
- They are social animals
- They are destructive as hell
- They are smart
- They can't sweat
- They don't do well in the heat
- They can drink up to 5 gallons of water in a day
What does this mean to a buyer though and how does it make you a better one. When you show up at a farm, see a lush green pasture and pigs roaming around. It looks just like a postcard, so it must be perfect right? Well, is there shade for the peak heat of the day? Where is their wallow to bath in water to cool down? What about drinking, where do they get their needed water? In reality, if the farmer is going through the trouble to put their pigs on pasture, then they probably have those things. Knowing that they need them though, allows you to better assess the quality of the end product before ever tasting it. Garbage in, garbage out, right? It's information that allows you to be a little deeper with your product knowledge and provides you with the right questions to ask.
An area where I see the most disconnect around natural behavior with what consumers want is pastured poultry. Turkeys for instance, love to graze and walk around, but they also very much love to roost in high places. They also don't scratch like chickens do. So if I showed up to a farm and the turkeys were all scratching around, I would be wondering if they are getting the right feed. If I didn't see a place for them to roost, I'd be curious what they did at night. There is a nuance there that I'd like to point out though. I'm curious and wondering, not judging and running. The farmer could have sprayed scratch grain on the ground for them, prompting them to dig around a bit more. There is even a hay bale over there because the two toms like to sit together and watch over their harem. They could be there only for the day time and go to a large roosting pen at night to be protected from predators. Again, information doesn't allow you to judge, just better understand the "supposed to" and what to ask. Because, in the above instances, they are not only allowing the essence of the animal to be there, but they are encouraging it by going above and beyond standard care.
Now the question most people would ask, is, where the hell do I find this stuff? Use the Google! There are so many resources out there now, some would say too many, but it's there. A few places to check:
- Your local Agricultural Extension
- Your local DNR ( Most domesticated animals are descendants of wild animals. You can find a lot of documented natural behaviors here. )
- Your local butcher
- Your local farmer
But— and there is always a but isn't there— these resources and the subsequent research does not a farmer make. No amount of reading or movie watching makes you a farmer. You only get that by doing, and by doing it for years. The consumer -must- respect that. The consumer has to respect the fact that on single digit winter days, they are most certainly not carrying buckets of warm water back and forth from their house to various pens. That they are not running electrical cords to heaters and breaking ice. That they are not dealing with the inevitable death that comes with animals on a farm. There is no farmer in their right mind that partakes in farming to get rich. Farming is a commitment and, for most, an immense source of pride. You, the consumer, doing research gives you the ability to understand the "why" behind the farm a bit better. Why a farmer has spools in the goat run. Why the farmer hides nuts under trees in the pig area. Why there are downed limbs and branches in the turkey pastures. Most farmer will appreciate the questions and be willing to talk to you about what and why they did something. We definitely do. At the end of the day, farmers do the best they can with what they have. This includes the information, equipment, animals and, most importantly, money. There is no such thing as the perfect farm. There is always something lacking, and if you don't believe me, just ask a farmer. Regardless of all of that though, we are proud of what we do and there is no greater reward than an informed consumer who recognizes that and is willing to support us.
That brings us full-circle back to being a better meat buyer. If you take the time to research and learn about the above mentioned things, I can promise you this, it will not be lost on any of us. With so many cheaper and more convenient options out there, we are thankful for every customer we have. We appreciate the effort being made to better understand what and why we do what we do. Being a better consumer is as much about "paying it forward" and explaining to others what the essence of a pig is, as it is knowing it yourself. It's a relationship built on trust and respect. Do the research and learn, but enter into the relationship with a farmer with an open mind and a willingness to listen. Share in the curiosity that is farming with a healthy, but respectful level of inquisition and even offer to help now and then. After all, if both sides uphold their end of the deal, it will be a long relationship and not just a transaction.
[Edit: I added local butcher here as that's an obvious choice. Butchers work hard to source the best product and are a natural option to learn more from. ]
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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? "
These are the questions we continually get about our farm, and quite frankly, it's beyond annoying. These questions are almost always asked by people who don't farm, have never set foot on a farm and more often than not, completely their concerns.
Welcome to the Farm! Virtually at least. We're a little farm located in Williamston, MI. Just moved out here from Colorado. Kate and I have always wanted a farm and out in Colorado, given the limited water and cost of land, we knew we needed to move back to her home state, The Mitten. After searching for a house and going through a whole bunch of drama, we had some unexpected good fortune. We came upon this property in Williamston and bought it sight-unseen. Yup, you read that right— we bought a 30 acre farm without setting eyes on the property. In full transparency, we did have Kate's mom and our realtor go through it first before we bought it.
The house is pretty much the perfect house for us. A 100 year-old rambling farm house, a wrap-around porch, a full Michigan basement, 3 outbuildings and absolutely beautiful pasture and woods. To say we're lucky would be an understatement. Lest you think we don't need the room, we did have an entourage that came with us in the way of 3 dogs, 1 sheep, 1 goat and 2 horses. Since being here [about 2 months now], we've accumulated a few more creatures: 3 heritage turkeys, 17 chickens and 14 ducklings. Coming in the next week are also 5 pigs and 2 more goats. Life is busy to say the least.
Kate and I both work full time jobs, so the goal for the farm is to sustain itself and be able to provide local area restaurants and residents with a high quality set of products that are cared for on a micro level. We are not striving for quantity, it's all about quality of life for the animal and quality of the end product. We plan on having a variety of eggs (duck, chicken and quail), heritage turkeys, free range pork as well as pastured lamb and goat. That's the initial plan at least, but obviously we're still getting the infrastructure set up, so it'll probably be beginning early next year (2014). We do expect to have chicken eggs and duck eggs this year, as well as turkeys this fall. If you're interested, please contact us for availability and prices.
We couldn't be more happy with where we are and the life we have. We're proud of what we're doing and would love to share that with anyone who's interested.We welcome anyone to the farm to see a tour of what we're doing and enjoy a cocktail on our porch anytime you want. We juts ask that you give us a heads up before you head out.
You'll continue to see updates from Kate and me over time, so keep checking back to check in our latest project.