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Pure Michigan

Summer is here and that means grilling

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Summer is here and that means grilling

FINALLY! After a dreary spring and mild winter where mud was more prevalent that the shine of the sun. No need to dwell though, as summer is here now and it's time to fill the air with the scents of BBQ and grilled meat [and some veggies too— life is all about balance]. For our CSA members, June is the month of the grill and you'll have a great variety to play with, but we wanted to make sure you had a few ways to step up your grilling game and try some new things.

Burgers

Burgers don't just have to be patties with cheese on top [not that there's anything wrong with that!]. They can be great vehicles of flavor when different methods of cooking and seasoning are involved. Here are three tips to get you started, but feel free to add more to the comments section.

Fish Sauce

Are you crazy? Generally, the answer is yes, but in this particular case, no. Fish sauce is an umami bomb and when combined with smoke and char, it's pretty much the perfect bite. You can use any fish sauce, really, but if you're more adventurous, head to your nearest Asian market and look for some of the more obscure ones with the entire small fish packed in. You won't be disappointed. Simply drizzle some atop the burger and sit back and enjoy the umami explosion.

Clinching

  • Clinching is a method of cooking that trades the ease of a grill for the flavor of the coals. If you ever look at the traditional Argentinian-style cooking, this is a popular method of cooking all kinds of meat. What you want to do is create a nice hot bed of coals and then cook the meat directly on them. While I could go into detail explaining, this video by Adam Perry Lang describes it better than I can: http://www.weightwatchers.com/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=214431&sc=3022   [ editors note: We are not advocates, nor haters, of Weight Watchers. We're simply using their video explain our suggestions.]

Low Temp

Low temp cooking is a new(ish) method that involves cooking meat or vegetables in water for a period of time that ensures even cooking throughout, without the risk of over- or under-done. This method allows you to take the burger and sear it hard in a hot pan or hot grill, or even with the above clinching method, and still avoid undercooking the meat. This will give you a beautiful blend of even doneness with a hard sear on the outside. Amazing flavor and texture is the result and more information on the method can be found here: ( http://anovaculinary.com/what-is-sous-vide/ ).

source:  Wikipedia  

source: Wikipedia 

 

Brats and Other Sausages

Low Heat

One of the common "issues" with cooking brats and sausages on the grill is that they break and/or split. More often than not, this is because they are placed under an extremely high heat, and the high temps cause the casing to contract to quickly and rip open. Some people are completely ok with the ripping, and if you're from the East Coast, you're well aware of "rippers" or deep-fried cased meats that "rip" open and are crispy and charred and delicious. For those that are not into the ripped casing, what you want to do is cook your meats on a low, indirect heat. A medium heat is likely fine as well, but you'll need to play around with your threshold based on the cased products you have. What you're looking for is a fully cooked-through brat that hasn't ripped. The cook time obviously varies by temperature of cooking environment, but indirect heat will give you a nice crisp, snappy casing and sausage.

Cook and Split

Growing up on the East Coast, we cooked our sausages a bit different than is typical here in Michigan, and quite frankly, most of the country. What we ended up doing was cooking our sausages half way through and then splitting them, or butterflying them, down the middle. From here you had a partially cooked and bound sausage that had these "rough" edges that were primed to take on a beautiful crispy char. So, here's how we do it. We cook the sausage over high heat for about 2 - 3 minutes per side. This allows the meat to set and bind up into something you can split without it becoming a Sloppy Joe-style mess. Once you've cooked both sides, remove from heat and slice down the middle, taking care not to slice through the other side of the casing, so that it butterflies out. At this point, flip and cook through over high heat on the exposed, split sides. This will yield a crispy and charred, albeit well done, brat that will be reminiscent of the East Coast boardwalk sausages.

Low Temp and Clinching

Low temp again. Yes, as you might guess, it's the same method as mentioned above and the benefits are exactly the same. By low temp cooking the sausages, you're cooking through, evenly, the cased meat, ensuring that the end product is an even doneness. By starting the cooking process this way, it opens up a couple of different options for finishing the cooking, one of which is any high heat method. Because you've cooked, and set, the sausages during low temp cooking, you can now sear and char over a very high heat without risk of the casing breaking into an unrecoverable mess. My preferred method of post-low temp cooking is clinching. As mentioned above, you'll be cooking directly on the cherry coals and utilizing the high heat to sear in flavor via char and smoke. With sausages, this is no different. Over hot, cherry, coals, place the low temp cooked sausage onto the coals and sear, hard, for one to one and half minutes per side. Remove from the coals, let rest and enjoy the most amazing sausage you've ever had.

All in all, cooking on the grill isn't rocket science. It is the most primitive and simplistic, of cooking methods. Wood/Coals, fire and food. It's been around since the dawn of time and our job as cooks is to leverage its inherent possibilities. Smoke, char and ash are all the elements that come to the table when cooking over fire. Hopefully we've given you some tips to take the ordinary into the extraordinary. Impress your friends with your new techniques and change the perception of what a "simple burger" or "Brat on a roll" can be.

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Where's The Beef?

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Where's The Beef?

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

bloom-steak

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Spring Is Almost Here— And The Start of the CSA Season!

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Spring Is Almost Here— And The Start of the CSA Season!

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.

Pork Roasts

Pork Roasts

 

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
  1. Preheat your oven to 225 degrees
  2. Place a rack inside a roasting pan or cast iron skillet
  3. Brush pork generously with mustard.
  4. Blend or mix spices well and sprinkle generously all over pork roast
  5. 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.
     
  6. Baste the roast with the released juices every hour or so.
  7. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 - 20 minutes.
  8. 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
  1. Generously season the pork roast with salt, pepper and brown sugar.
  2. Heat heavy-bottomed pot on medium-high heat and add in oil, as well as preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  3. Sear all sides of pork to a deep brown, taking care to not let it burn, but still develop a deep brown crust.
  4. Remove pork from pot and set aside.
  5. Add in rough chopped vegetables and sauté until caramelized, about 5 - 7 minutes.
  6. Add in garlic and thyme and stir until fragrant
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Cover and roast in oven until temperature reads 130 - 135 degrees.
  10. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 - 20 minutes.
  11. While meat is resting, strain pan juices and skim off any fat. Add back to pot and reduce by half.
  12. Slice and serve with grits, rice or wilted greens. Top with reduced pan juices.

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It's Officially Autumn

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It's Officially Autumn

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

Copyright - http://www.thekitchn.com/
Copyright - http://www.thekitchn.com/

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.

Jamie Oliver's Chicken in Milk

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.

Slow Roasted Duck

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September is National Fried Chicken Month

As you may have guessed from the title, we at Ham Sweet Farm have officially declared September, Fried Chicken Month. Now, no one should ever need an excuse to cook fried chicken, but this now makes you unpatriotic if you don't partake. So, why fried chicken you might ask? Why not? This month's chicken is the last batch of the season (we do still have a ton in the freezer) and represents the oldest birds we've processed for meat to date. They were approximately 16 weeks old and the breed was Speckled Sussex. They are a heritage breed that is incredibly active and were often found sprinting around the farm getting into trouble. All this activity, combined with their older age, came together to produce a supremely flavorful bird that we couldn't be happier with. These birds are smaller birds and as such make a fantastic fryer bird. You'll be getting the bird cut into 8 pieces, just how you need it for Fried Chicken Month.

Adobo Fried Chicken

 

Never made fried chicken? No problem, because we have the most amazing recipe for you. We tested this recipe a couple of weeks ago and everyone involved remarked that it was the best fried chicken they had ever had. I would have to agree, as the flavor and tenderness were superb. So, what's the secret? It's arguably sacrilegious, but the secret is par-cooking, or cooking until almost done at low temperature so that when you fry it, there is no worry of it being uncooked. The recipe comes from Ed Lee out of Kentucky and is easy peasy to follow.

Little pro tip to plus up the chicken. Heat some honey in a pan with a few berries of all spice or juniper until fragrant. When the chicken is plated and ready to serve, drizzle the honey over the top. You won't be disappointed.

In addition to the chicken, you'll have some great steaks and brats for the final months of grilling season, so make sure you enjoy the nice weather while it's still here.

Adobo Fried Chicken

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4ZkeajFPig

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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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Thanksgiving Day Prep

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Thanksgiving Day Prep

Turkeys in the field
Turkeys in the field

If you were to ask people, "What is your most feared meal?", chances are it would be Thanksgiving. The meal is always a large one, usually with many people around the table, all eyes on the pièce de la résistance. This is what we think of when we think about the Thanksgiving table, and no one wants to be remembered as the one who ruined an avian centerpiece. The fear is unwarranted, however, as with a few steps ahead of time and some careful planning the day of, you should be able to avoid a dry, tasteless turkey and have something remarkable for your guests and/or family.

Heritage vs. Broad Breasted

One of the main reasons people fear cooking a turkey is because conventional turkeys have been bred to the point of massive breasts and overall unnatural size and growth rates— weighing in well over 20lbs when they are processed! If there is one thing that's certain in this world, it's that a wild turkey or any heritage breed turkey, will rarely, if ever, weigh in past 20lbs dressed weight. You see, while the Broad Breasted Whites are the Kardashians of the turkey world, our heritage breed birds are far more in proportion, with a whole lot more flavor to bring to the table (pun intended). They have smaller breasts, much more proportional bodies and higher distribution of intramuscular fat [not to mention being far less obnoxious and way more useful than any Kardashian, ever]. All of these things mean that we need to cook these turkeys differently, but when done right, you'll be met with some superb flavor. If this is your first time having a pastured, heritage breed bird, well, you are in for quite a treat.

Snoozing on the job
Snoozing on the job

Cooking and Prep

Cooking a turkey is not difficult in the least if you pay attention and think it through. It all starts with the prep of the animal, and as far as I see it, there are three basic options as to how you begin the Turkey Day ritual. Lets take a look at these methods now.

Brining

It seems that the most popular way to prep a turkey is to brine it. Brine is simply a solution made up of water, salt, sugar and various other aromatics to impart flavor and water into the bird. Notice I said flavor AND water, which is key to understand. The water is what keeps the bird seemingly "moist", however it's a bit of a misnomer, as it's not so much moist so much as it is wet. When meat is tender, it's because of the fat, the protein breakdowns, etc. Think dry-aged beef for instance— it's the fat and the protein breakdown from the aging that improves the texture, not a brine. The same is true for turkeys.There is 0 shame in the brine, so long as you're aware of why it works and what it's doing. If you do happen to take this path, make sure to pull the bird out of the brine with adequate time to let the bird come up to room temp and for the skin to dry. Do not cook from cold, as this will both slow down cooking times, as well as begin the horrible uneven cooking process.

If you're interested in detailed science and studies around brining (I know this is odd), here is a fantastic article on it:  http://www.genuineideas.com/ArticlesIndex/brine.html

Turkeys Up Close
Turkeys Up Close

Pre-Salting

If we're keeping with common tradition and going to put a whole bird on the table, this is my go-to method. It's also incredibly simple, yet so very effective. Take 1/2 to 1 tbsp of salt per pound of bird, and very generously salt the skin of the bird. Place on a wire rack over a plate or pan in the fridge for 24-48 hours. About 2 hours before you're ready to cook, remove the bird from the fridge to allow it to come up to room temperature and then begin the roasting process. This prep method has proven to create the most crispy skin and evenly seasoned bird of the methods mentioned here. I use this very same method on pretty much any bird I cook, except duck, but that's a post for another day. What happens here is that the salt helps to pull out the moisture from the skin, as well as break down some of the protein in the muscle, creating tenderness, as it migrates throughout the bird.

Deboning

If you can get away from the traditional mindset of a whole turkey, trussed and stuffed, the absolute best way to cook a turkey is in rolled form. One of the biggest challenges with cooking a whole turkey is that different parts of the bird do best at different temps and different lengths of time [think legs vs. breast]. When cooking a whole bird, you're really in an exercise of compromise, trying to find the happy medium. However, if you modify your cooking shape, you can  unify the cooking times and create a much more evenly-cooked turkey, but in a non-traditional form. I know that boning out a turkey may seem daunting, but with a little bit of patience and a sharp paring knife, you can accomplish it with no problem. Here is a great video for deboning a chicken, which is exactly the same as a turkey, just on the obviously smaller scale. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAekQ5fzfGM

Temperature Control

Now that you have a prep method, you're going to need to make sure you cook it to the right temp. If you read any conventional cooking method instructions for typical turkey, they will suggest pulling the bird at a temp of 160 - 180. If you happen to hit anywhere near that temp with a heritage bird, which has smaller breasts, you will have a beautiful mount for your wall, rather than a delicious heritage bird.  Don't do it!  For a heritage bird, you want to cook to 145 degrees. A meat thermometer is essential, and for a whole roast bird, you're looking at 6-8 minutes per pound at about 400 degrees. When you pull the bird, you'll get carry over of about 10 degrees, leaving your dark meat at about 155, which is perfect. You can go lower temp if you choose, but the time per pound will obviously increase (325 is 12 - 15 minutes per pound). Invest in a good instant read thermometer to monitor the thigh and breast meat, they are indispensable. You'll want to ensure that your thigh is cooked to 145

Nike and Birds
Nike and Birds

Stretching the Bird

No, don't physically stretch your turkey out!  People splurge on holiday turkeys, we all know this, but there are way to extend your purchase beyond Thanksgiving dinner and Leftovers sandwiches. Save the bones and gristle that's left over and make a stock. Take that stock and remaining meat and make some pot pie. Save the bones again and make a remoulage.

Recipes to get you going

[Photograph:   Jessica Leibowitz  ]

[Photograph: Jessica Leibowitz]

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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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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.

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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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Welcome to the Farm

Our Farm 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.

Porch

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.

Pastured Chickens

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.

Barn at Sunset

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.

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