Sunday, November 29, 2009

Healthy eating - a lesson on digestion, short version

My earlier post is so full of information that your eyes may have glazed over quickly, so here is a shorter version.

This is not so much about your digestion as that of the cows and why it is important to us humans.

I was a vegetarian for 15 years.  Continued slips in overall health finally got my attention and I started reading something besides books that supported my views.  At some time, we have to be brave enough to examine opposing views.  My poor health pushed me to be brave.  If you are a vegetarian, I hope you are brave enough to continue reading this post.

Let's start with the biggest myth and the one I am focusing on today - that it takes sixteen pounds of grain to make one pound of beef.  In truth, it takes ZERO pounds of grain to make a pound of beef.  Cows and steers live on grass if allowed to do what nature intended.  They can live quite comfortably on marginal land that could only support cultivation of row crops through the use of fossil fuel fertilizers, or massive amounts of compost that will only work over time if it is mixed with animal manure.  And remember that worm castings are worm manure and the dead bodies of the worms.  Worms are not vegetables.

While the cow or steer is grazing on this marginal land, it is defecating and urinating copiously, adding nutrients to the soil and actually creating more topsoil than the grass it's eating will utilize.  The myth about how much water a cow needs completely ignores the fact that the cow puts the large majority of the water back on the ground, but now it is full of nutrients.  And the gas from cow belches pales when measured against the gas produced by wetlands. 

Let me add that I am not talking about factory farming in which animals are cramped together, fed grain, and live in filth.  I am talking about small family farms that use rotational grazing and take care of the land.  But there are factory farms that are not raising meat animals; there are factory farms that are stripping the land of nutrients to grow lettuce, tomatoes, corn, oats and wheat, then replacing them with fossil fuel fertilizers.  They are using heavy machinery that runs on diesel fuel, and their farming methods kill hundreds of animals in the process of plowing, cultivating and harvesting.  Factory farming feeds a lot of people cheaply, but it is not healthy for our planet. And please do remember that factory farming undoubtedly produced your soy burger.

I'm going to stop there regarding digestion.  If you want to read the nuts and bolts of how ruminants operate, and more about vegetable farming vs. animal farming, then go to my previous post.  Healthy Eating - long version  But I hope that by reading even this shorter version, I have give you some food for thought.

I have come to believe that it is some innate fear of death in our culture that leads us to poor decisions in land management and food production.  We are part of a circle of life.  At some time, we will be predators and we will be fodder.  We will eat living things, whether it is a carrot or a steer.  And we will eventually be eaten by the microbes that comprise a good percentage of our soil.  Our acceptance of this circle will help us to accept that something must die so that we might live.  To say that the carrot's life is less important than the steer's, that the weed's life is less important than the carrot's, to create some hierarchy of life that is linear, implies that we are on top, that our lives are the MOST important.  Remembering the circle, whether it is the circle of life or the circle of the seasons, will help us to live better, and to accept death as part of life.

Healthy eating - a lesson on digestion

This is not so much about your digestion as that of the cows and why it is important to us humans.

I was a vegetarian for 15 years.  Continued slips in overall health finally got my attention and I started reading something besides Vegetarian Times and books that supported my views.  At some time, we have to be brave enough to examine opposing views.  My poor health pushed me to be brave.

In part, I was a vegetarian for ethical reasons, believing that vegetarianism led to best use of the soil (it doesn't), that it was a sin to kill animals to eat them (it isn't), and that raising animals was "factory farming" and raising spinach wasn't (wrong in part on both counts).

If you are a vegetarian, you may be ready to quit reading right now, but vegetarians especially need to read this.  Be brave; read this opposing view.

Let's start with the biggest myth and the one I am focusing on today - that it takes sixteen pounds (or four pounds or six pounds, depending on which vegetarian publication you are reading) of grain to make one pound of beef.  I even got a letter published in Times or Newsweek, can't remember which, spouting this "fact" during my vegetarian days.  And they published it.  No fact checking there!

Here is the truth.  It takes zero pounds of grain to make one pound of beef.  Yes, that is right, ZERO pounds!  And now I get to my lesson on digestion.

Ruminants include bovines (often referred to as cows, but technically, "cow" only refers to the female bovine), goats and sheep, to name the three that most are familiar with.  Their systems are designed to process grass, which is cellulose.  I can't digest cellulose, you can't digest cellulose, but the female ruminant can, and then she very efficiently turns it into milk, which I CAN digest, and her brothers (meat producing bovines are steers, meat producing goats and lambs are wethers), efficiently turn cellulose into meat, which I CAN eat.

Here is how their digestion works.  Ruminants have four stomachs, the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum and the abomasum.  The last in line, the abomasum, is pretty much like our stomachs, lined with glands similar to ours, and secretions of hydrocholic acid and digestive enzymes, same as ours.  The three stomachs that precede it are the factories that turn the cellulose into something the final stomach can digest.

The first of these, the rumen, can hold up to 25 pounds of grasses.  Conditions are right for the growth of microbes that promote fermentation.  It is also the stomach that provides the "cud" that the cow will chew while resting.  Grain fed cows will not chew the cud as much, if at all, since the grain is small and not in need of further processing.  However, it is believed that cud chewing releases nutrients.  I don't think it is out of line to say that grain fed animals will not extract the nutrients from their feed that their grass fed sisters and brothers will.  And this may have something to do with CLAs (conjugated linoleic acids) being four to five times higher in ruminants fed grass only, CLAs that we need to boost our immune systems against cancer, diabetes and heart trouble.  

On to the next stomach.  The reticulum hopefully gets a very small workout in our animals here on my farm.  It is where nails and other indigestible sharp objects will drop out.  Heavy or dense feed would fall into this stomach; our cows don't get any of that, being strictly grass and hay fed.  I think it is significant that the stomach that deals with nails also has to deal with grain.  There is a message there.

The next stomach, the omasum, absorbs water and feed material - the hay and grass that has proceeded through the first two stomachs.  The feed material between the leaves of tissue that line this stomach will be drier than that found in the other compartments.

Then it is on to the abomasum, the one that closely resembles our stomachs.  By the time the fodder reaches this stomach, it has been converted by the actions of the previous ones into something that would be digestible even by non-ruminant stomachs.

If cows are fed grain, then this optimum system is put out of whack.  The grain will decrease rumination (cud chewing), and aside from the nutrient issues, I can tell you that a cow chewing her cud is a happy cow.  When the cows come into the barn to be milked, if they are chewing their cuds, they are calmer and much easier to handle. 

Eating grain affects the pH of the stomach, decreasing acidity levels of its natural state into higher pH levels that can support the growth of E. coli 0157:H7, or E. coli 57 for short.  Let me elaborate a little here and explain that there are many strains of E. coli, most of which are of no concern to humans.  But E. coli 57 that flourishes in the digestive tracts of ruminants that are fed grain is the one we definitely do not want in our diets.  While there are naysayers out there who dispute this claim, I have not found one study that looked at strictly grass fed animals with no contact with grain fed animals vs. grain fed animals.  The studies have looked at organic vs. non-organic (organic animals are often fed grain), or at grass fed animals that were mixed with grain fed animals and so were exposed to their feces.  Neither is useful in ascertaining the levels of E. coli 57 in grass fed animals.  To my knowledge, there have been no incidences of E. coli 57 from animals on small rotational grazing operations where animals are never fed grain and are not mixed at any time during their lives with grain fed animals.

Back to digestion.  This marvel of ruminant digestion works hand in hand in the circle of life of which we are a part.  Here we have an animal that can live on land that is not fit for cultivation, eating the grasses that we could not eat, spreading manure and urine on the ground while she eats, and over time, improving the soil and increasing our precious topsoil.  And do not overlook the fact that grazing cows can move without diesel fuel.

Bovines need about an acre of grasses and legumes on which to subsist, and they provide enough fertilizer for three acres, a pretty good return, don't you think?  They will increase the depth of the top soil, rather than decrease it as row crops (corn, beans, wheat, spinach, tomatoes, i.e. vegetation) do.  Polyface Farms in Virginia lays claim to increasing the depth of topsoil by inches per year, through intense animal rotation.  Lest you think this is a ho-hum statistic, be aware that vegetation eats top soil.  When you put a seed in the ground, it must eat nutrients out of the soil in order to grow.  It is not some magic; remember that matter may neither be created nor destroyed.  And so the plant builds itself through the absorption of the nutrients in the top soil.  Those nutrients must be replaced or the depth of the topsoil shrinks.  In the Midwest, where I live, the topsoil when the buffalo were running free was about twelve feet deep.  Today average depth of topsoil here is about four inches.  When it is gone, what will we do?  We must farm using methods that increase rather than decrease topsoil.  Enter the cow, with that 3:1 ratio.  Without animals in our circle of life, eventually there will be no life.  If you are dead set against killing animals for food, then partake of milk, cheese, eggs and honey in abundance.  Bees, goats, cows and sheep are all workhorses that improve our land.  Let them be part of it; don't elevate them to some holy realm where the product of their labors must not pass our human lips!

If these marginal lands that are ideal for grazing were to be farmed for grain or vegetables, they would have to be heavily fertilized.  If the land is not organic, it will be fossil fuel fertilizers that are used.  If organic, it will have to be fertilized with complete compost that includes animal manure or it will wear out.  Pure vegetative compost does not contain enough nutrients to feed the soil.  When I pointed this out to a vegetarian, she told me that she didn't use manure and her soil was fine.  I asked what she used, and she said she used worm castings.  I gently pointed out that worms are not vegetables, that she was in fact using worm manure.  And whether organic or not, it will be farmed with machinery that is powered by fossil fuels.  Hundreds of small animals will die as the farm equipment plows, cultivates and harvests. 

I have come to believe that it is some innate fear of death in our culture that leads us to poor decisions in land management and food production.  We are part of a circle of life.  At some time, we will be predators and we will be fodder.  We will eat living things, whether it is a carrot or a steer.  And we will eventually be eaten by the microbes that comprise a good percentage of our soil.  Our acceptance of this circle will help us to accept that something must die so that we might live.  To say that the carrot's life is less important than the steer's, that the weed's life is less important than the carrot's, to create some hierarchy of life that is linear, implies that we are on top, that our lives are the MOST important.  Remembering the circle, whether it is the circle of life or the circle of the seasons, will help us to live better, and to accept death as part of life.

Friday, November 27, 2009

My $3,500 breakfast

The chickens are old enough that they should have started laying by now.  I have been concerned that they are just laying their eggs in the woods, where I won't find them.  So I locked them in the Moop all day on Tuesday.  When I got home from market and let them out, there were four eggs in their nests.  My friend Pam tells me that I will have to keep them locked up most of the day for at least a week, and then they will get the idea what the nests are for.  She said after that week, they will come back to the Moop to lay.  I sure hope so!!  It requires a whole lot more cleaning when they are in all day.

Here is a rundown of my investment.
  • The truck, retail value at time of conversion, $2,500
  • Materials to convert it, $200
  • Chicks, $75
  • Organic starter feed and laying mash, $136.50
  • Fencing and posts, $60
  • Feeders and waterers, $35 (used)
  • Payment to shareholders who helped with conversion (in eggs), $425
  • Shotgun shells to scare off the hawk (didn't work), $15
  • Monofilament fishing line to keep the hawks out of the pen (did work), $3.50
They were excellent eggs!  I savored every bite, as well I should have.  I just keep reminding myself that I learn the best by doing, and I did it, didn't I?

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    Another kind of harvest - saving seeds

    I have been drying some seeds on a plate, tomatillo seeds and beans.  The beans are Aunt Ida's Italian Pole Beans, and they are my favorite bean ever!  When I see ads that talk about the "beany" flavor of beans, I think to myself, "Well, what are they supposed to taste like?  Beans are beans!"  While there are differences between Italian flat beans, French mini filets and the ubiquitous Blue Lake beans, they are all good and they all taste like beans.

    And then there is Aunt Ida's Italian pole beans.  Oh, yes, now that is beany!  I just can't get enough of them.  Frozen beans - ugh!  Canned beans, tolerable but a whole different animal, in my humble opinion.  So the joy of those few weeks in the summer when I can gorge on Aunt Ida's is appreciated, remembered and anticipated as the wheel of the year rolls around.

    I save my seeds.  Beans are so easy to save - just let the pods dry on the plant, bring them inside, shell and store.  A few years ago I discovered instructions for making seed packets, a sort of origami type envelope that you can make out of scraps of paper.  I usually find myself rooting through the waste basket in my office when I need another envelope.  The instructions were quite clear, I realized, once I had finally succeeded in making one envelope.  Talk about trial and error!!  This pic shows the left hand side finished, the right hand side still open so that I can insert the beans.

    Then once the beans are safely inside, the right hand side is secured and the beans are tucked in until next June, when they will travel back down to my garden.  Here is a pic of the beans going into the envelope.

    You can see the tiny tomatillo seeds on the top of the plate, kind of behind the envelope.  Aunt Ida's seeds are the big fat tan ones on the plate.  And that reminds me - most beans don't taste all that great boiled or steamed once the seeds start to expand - if you can see the outline of the seed in the bean, then they are past their prime.  Not so with Aunt Ida's.  The seeds lend their own spectacular flavor to the beans.  They are still good to steam when they are fat with seeds!

    And here is the picture of the finished envelope of bean seeds, along with my Thanksgiving Day greeting to you.  There will be no time for blogging tomorrow.  I'm cooking up a storm already, and it will be frantic tomorrow.  I hope everyone has a wonderful day, filled with family, laughter, minimal family tension, and pumpkin pie!

    Happy Thanksgiving from the chickens, three dogs, one cat, eight milk cows, one happy bull, three heifers, three calves, and me, the Accidental Farmer.

    Sunday, November 22, 2009

    Asparagus, atriums and chickens

    What do these three things have to do with one another?  Absolutely nothing.  They just represent three things that caught my attention today.

    The Dark Side of Asparagus . . .  Do you love the look of spring asparagus on your plate?  Maybe with some Hollandaise sauce, or perhaps just some butter and lemon?  Or how about raw, with a good mayonnaise based dipping sauce?  It is such a fleeting treat, those few weeks in spring when the new shoots pop up overnight.  Sometimes it seems that if we look closely, we will see them growing!  And then, poof! they are gone.  Well, not really gone, but the spears get thinner and thinner until it is time to let them go.  What happens to the plant then?  If you have never seen it, it is hard to believe.  The asparagus makes a big plant as tall as me, with fern-like branches, and some with small red berries.  They need to be allowed to grow to provide nourishment for the roots.  Properly cared for (or maybe even ignored), asparagus beds can live for 50 years; however, the average life of a plant is about 15 years.  Sometimes spears will reappear in the fall, but if you cut them, you risk decreasing the life span of the plant, so just leave them alone.  The plants are actually pretty when they first rise up, especially on a foggy morning.  But in general, they are leggy, dry, full of prickly bits, and ugly.  I leave mine until spring, when I clear them off and weed around the roots to make room for the spears in the spring.  And so the cycle begins anew. 

    My Beautiful Atrium . . .  It may have been foolish to build a passive solar house on the east side of Lake Michigan, but I am far enough south that I get more than the 65 insolation days per year that South Bend gets.  Today was one of those days when it earned its keep.  It was only 32º this morning.  My house was pretty nippy - I keep the thermostat on 62º - but it wasn't cool enough to warrant building a fire in the stove.  I turned up the furnace for just a bit while I enjoyed my morning espresso.  By 9 am, the sun was pouring into the atrium, and I opened the doors and windows between it and my main living space.  There wasn't a lot of heat to start with, but before long I could feel it rising into the living room. 

    It's a good room.  I don't use it often, but sometimes on a very sunny winter day, with the snow bouncing the light into the atrium, I haul my chaise lounge out there and take a sun bath.  And today, it brought the house to a comfortable 72º, with the only expense being the effort it took to open and close the doors and windows.

    Chickens - They are Driving Me NUTS! . . .  The chickens think the garage is their second home.  They find my Prius to be a suitable roost.  Chickens poop while they are roosting.  I have had to put the bird seed in a tote to keep them out of it.  They hang around the bird feeder in the hopes of getting the scraps.  Since Campines are such good fliers, I fully expect to find them hanging on the feeder helping themselves one of these days.

    Tashi keeps them out of the garage when she is outdoors.  She lies on the concrete pad outside the garage, and that is enough to keep them at bay.  However, she was in the house for a good bit of the morning, and when I went out, they were all sitting on some cartons of canning jars stacked in a corner.  They did NOT want to leave.  I have mentioned a couple of times that these are flighty birds that will not let you touch them unless it is dark.  However, one of them just sat there defiantly, looking me right in the eye and refusing to budge from the seat of my bicycle.  I finally picked her up - in broad daylight! - and carried her fat little body outside.

    Tonight, there are still 15 chickens, in the Moop where they belong, and all other animals are accounted for.

    Saturday, November 21, 2009

    Our milk association - the nuts and bolts of it

    Let me tell you a little about how our milk association runs.  I have touched on some of this in previous posts, but it's time for a refresher.  (To that end, I will remind you that when a cow has a calf, she "freshens.")

    Indiana does not allow the sale of raw milk.  I will not get into what they imagine they are saving us from by depriving us of this wonderful food.  The law is the law.  Fortunately the law does not prohibit imbibing in this white magic if one owns the cow.  Many farmers have devised a way to accommodate potential customers by allowing them to buy a "cow share," which entitles them to come to the farm to pick up their milk and pay a boarding fee for their piece of some cow in the amount of so much per gallon for the milk, the assumption being that if you need more milk that week, then you need to pay higher boarding fees for your chunk of a cow because you need a bigger chunk of it that week.  Okay, it works.

    I participated in three such cow share programs over three or so years.  Each one was an improvement over the last - first one had a problem with freshness, fresher milk at the second farm because of state of the art cooling system, glass jars at the third farm instead of the ubiquitous plastic.  But none of the three were certified organic, and they all fed grain.  Grain boosts production.  Never mind that it also reduces conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs) dramatically, by as much as 80%.  Sorry if I am repeating myself, but we are sorely in need of those CLAs.  They boost our immune system to help us fight heart disease, cancer and diabetes.  So I wanted milk from grass fed cows.  I just couldn't find it.

    When I did find it right in my own neighborhood, the farmer didn't want to do these "loophole" cow shares, especially since he was shipping to Organic Valley and didn't want to compromise that relationship in any way.  In the end, we bought two organic cows from him and rented his milking parlor to get our own milk.

    One would think that there are not that many people willing to make such an effort to get those three things - organic milk from grass fed cows packaged in glass jars.  I didn't think there would be.  But in no time all of the shares were sold, and we had seven shareholders lined up to milk. Eventually we moved the cows to my farm.

    We are unique.  Steve suggested that we put together a contract that was on the lines of one he had with his former partner, so we used that for a springboard.  Then we called the Weston A. Price Foundation to get some legal advice.  They pointed us to their lawyer, and after many phone calls and emails with him, we had an agreement that met the law in both letter and spirit.  We are wholly owned and operated by the shareholders.  All of the milk is distributed to the shareholders each day, each shareholder receiving milk one day a week.  To make the math a little easier, we chose to sell seven shares per cow - as we add a cow and sell seven more shares on her, we can keep the number we fill each day equal on all seven days of the week.  This is plenty of milk in the spring and summer.  However, in the fall, when the cows are all pregnant again, a lot of the fodder they are taking in is going to grow a baby instead of making milk.  Production drops, and rather precipitously once the cold sets in and the pastures are providing no grass at all.  Hard to graze on a paddock covered in snow!

    So we have this huge variance in production - more milk than we know what to do with in the summer, and not nearly enough by January and February.  We have dried them up on February 15 the last two years.  They need a two month rest  before freshening again, and since most of the herd freshens in April, it makes no sense to keep milking only a couple of cows that may not be due until June or July.

    During the good months, shareholders make and freeze butter, mozzarella and ricotta.  If you leave some headroom in the jar, the milk freezes quite well, and it is sure better than store bought milk, come February.  We have gotten used to this rhythm in production and no one complains.  That is just how it works.

    This year, Steve butchered two young cows and asked me if I knew of anyone who wanted to buy some of the meat.  I posted a note on our e-board and was able to help him sell quite a bit of it.

    Steve called me a couple of weeks ago and asked if I wanted to take in one of his cows because she freshened late (August 31) and he was going to dry up his whole herd mid-November.  Would we milk her all winter and then send her back in the spring?  I reminded him that we quit milking in February, so I thought that would be that.  Then he called back and asked again if I wanted the cow.  I said, "Since we will dry her up in February, what's in it for you?"  He said he wanted to say thank you for my having helped him sell so much meat.  Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather!  I jumped all over that one.  It would cost us about $500 for hay, and $2.50 a day to milk her.  So down she came.  She is a great milker, producing nearly 50% of what our whole herd was doing.  Then Steve called again.  One of his cows just freshened, is just as good a milker as Phyllis, would we take her, too?  Would we?  Forgive me for waxing poetic.
            Does a pig oink?
            Does a cow moo?
            Is ice cold?
            Is the sky blue?

    I posted a poll to our e-board and asked if the shareholders were willing to pay a one time hay assessment to feed these two girls in exchange for getting a lot more milk.  Then I asked the milkers if they were willing to give up their two months off in the February to April dry time.   Everyone is on board!  Milkers are lined up.  Delilah came down with her calf in tow, and even with the calf taking his six to eight quarts a day, we are swimming in milk again!  Rosie, Buttercup and Lucy freshened late, so we can milk them through those two months.  It is certainly worth it to keep milking when there will be five cows still giving milk.

    These shareholders are hardy souls, willing to go along with whatever the cows give, showing delight when their totes are chock full of milk in July, and giving thanks for the extra cream they get when the fluid milk production goes down in late fall.  They deserve this wonderful gift!  Make hay while the sun shines, and make butter while Phyllis and Delilah are here.

    There are 15 chickens in the Moop tonight, one snoring old black dog beside me, one yappy little one, one young black one, a white cat purring on my lap, three heifers in their proper paddock, three calves in their pen, one bull, and not seven but NINE cows!  Oh, yes, and one little five day old bull calf, hanging out with his mom, Delilah.

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    Busy day . . .

    Today we brought another cow down from Steve's place.  Her name is Delilah.  Steve never names his cows, and when we had our first three cows down at his place, he would scoff about the names.  I would say something about Rosie, and he would say, "You mean 930."

    The other day I left him a message and told him we had named the first cow he sent Phyllis.  I expected to take some heat for it, but when he came down today after Delilah was delivered, he actually referred to Phyllis as . . . Phyllis!  When I told him the one we got today was Delilah, he just chuckled.

    Delilah came down with her calf.  That is good.  It is a strong little bull.  He will stay here for a few weeks, until he goes to the sale barn.

    Steve is not easy to get to know.  He has always seemed pretty removed from the emotional end of farming, as evidenced by "930."  But he told me that he didn't want to ship the bull calf to the sale barn just yet, please keep him with the cow for three weeks or so.  It surprised me.  He actually said that he hated to part them too soon.  It is not what I would have expected from him.

    I don't mind keeping the calf for awhile.  It is bothersome to me as well.  When we separate our calves from mom, the calves are in a pen near the barn, and the mothers can stop and talk to their young 'uns on the way in to the milking parlor.  It does seem to be a good thing.  There is much lowing, and often some nose touching through the fence. 

    Steve said we needed to keep the cows on rotation in the pastures, even though I didn't think there was any decent forage in them.  He said that wasn't true, there was plenty and it would make serve as a catalyst to help them absorb the nutrition in the balage they are now getting every day.  So I went to #12 and #13 to set up the gates for tonight.  I knew the electric fence wasn't sending out much current, but the animals were staying in, so I hadn't gone looking for any problems.  Well, there were problems in #13!  The fence had gotten completely knocked off a corner post.  That had to be deer.  The cows haven't been in that pasture for weeks, and I would have noticed it.  The fence was touching metal in at least three places.  I got that taken care of, used the fence checker and found a heavy draw on another piece of fence.  It was a long walk, but I found a broken insulator, and on another post the fence had popped out of both insulators.  In all cases, there was electrified wire  against metal.  The insulator problem meant walking back to the barn to unplug the fence, pick up tools and replacement parts, than another walk out to the fence - almost at the far end of the pastures, of course.  I got everything fixed, then hiked back to the barn with the tools and broken parts.

    I'm making sauerkraut and ribs tonight.  It smells divine.  So do the four loaves I baked for market.  But I still need to make a batch of lip gloss and some organic yarrow cream for market so I can't quit just yet.  By the time I get to those ribs, which are in a very slow oven, they will melt in my mouth!

    Well, back to the Moop.  Henny Penny didn't want to go in yet, so I have to make another trip.  Oh, and Buster is doing his thing.  Gosh, that is a violent act with chickens!  There may be some little Campines running around here in the future.  Wasn't in the plan, there weren't even supposed to be any roosters when I ordered the chicks, but who am I to mess with Mother Nature?  I got what I got, and they're doin' what they're doin'!

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    Lucy update

    Lucy is having some problems.  The automatic milking quit two days ago, and I have had to hand milk her again.  She really fights it, the milk is slow coming out, just a few drips, and then it lets loose and she calms down, lets me milk her out.

    Tonight I noticed some lumps in it again, so there must be a little mastitis in there.  It will clear up, just have to be very diligent about milking her out each evening for awhile.  I'm not sure that we will be able to milk her with the milker at all during this whole lactation.  We will see.  The healing is progressing slowly but surely, and hopefully the whole teat will be covered with skin again soon.  Then I shall try one more time to put the milking machine on her.

    It's been dreary, rainy, but warm for November.  The calves lie out in the rain even though they have a shed to go into.  Their winter coats are very heavy.  I wonder if that is a sign that we will have another winter like the last.  It was brutal, worst morning -26º.  All I can say good about last winter is that we had nearly continuous snow cover, and that is good insulation for any perennial plants.  I think that really helped our pastures.

    With the new cow, Phyllis, down here, I have enough milk again to make cheese.  Made cottage cheese tonight, and should have enough to do another five pound wheel of Gouda this weekend.  I'll be cutting into my first Gouda for Thanksgiving.  It will be interesting to see how it turned out.  I did one with mustard seeds, another plain, and a third with hot peppers.  Maybe I should quit with the Gouda until I know that what I'm doing is working.  That is the thing with hard cheeses - it takes a lot of patience.  And a cheese that is dipped in cheese wax is a complete mystery until you cut into it.  I will let you know next week if it turned out well.

    There are 15 chickens in the Moop tonight.  They will be very happy tomorrow.  They love whey, and there are a couple of quarts from the cheesemaking to take out to them in the morning.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    The other part of my job . . .

    I had a show at the Holiday Inn in South Bend this evening.  I haven't done shows in years, and I found it cumbersome to have to load my car with my products.  Of course, I forgot something important.  But it really didn't matter.  Sales were very slow.  The clientele was completely different from my friends and customers at the Farmers Market.  There were a couple of Farmers Market regulars there, and I laughingly said to one guy, "Well, I think it is a good thing I didn't bring kale tonight."

    He replied, "I would bet that there is not one person in this room who would have been able to identify it."  Quite right!

    I was able to get the word out about my holiday gift giving deal - buy 12 bars of soap and I will design a label just for the customer, let them pick out a picture or provide one of their own, make their own message.  Soap is a good gift.  It's disposable.  For those who read this blog every day, you will know that my mother considered toilet paper to be a fine gift - you don't need wall space or space on the coffee table for it, you don't have to dust it, and eventually it will be all used up.  All that could be said of soap.

    I got home well after dark.  The chickens were nicely lined up for the night.  I parked the car where the headlights would cast some light so that I could count.  Yes, there are still 15.

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    Harvesting the last of the root vegetables

    Clay came down tonight and we worked in the garden.  Hard to believe it is November 17 and it is still bearable to be in the garden!  It rained today, pretty windy this evening, so it was hardly what I would term bucolic out there, but still, gardening in the second half of November?  I'll take it!

    I picked my last lovely large head of buttercrunch lettuce, and I am going to eat the whole thing for supper.  Note the large worm who is having his last supper as I write this.  I have peppers and onions from the garden to top it, and will use some shredded homemade Caerphilly cheese mixed with sour cream and mayo for the dressing.

    For the first time since I moved out here and started my garden, I have deer damage.  My Nero de Toscana winter kale must have been just too tempting and tender.  It is quite young, planted from seed in late August, and is supposed to mature mid-December.  They are leaving the big stuff alone, but they ate the tops off about half of the Neros, and also ate little shoots of dill.  Or maybe it was rabbits.  I don't know.  But the party is over.  They are now protected by a row cover. I don't mind sharing with worms - they really don't eat all that much.  But a deer or a rabbit can do quite a bit of damage in a short time.

    I got out the potato fork and Clay grabbed a couple of buckets when we were done with the row covers.  I loosened the earth around the remaining carrots and beets and he pulled them and knocked off the dirt.  I had some big carrots in there!  I also had some that were not what I thought I planted, namely some round ones.  But that's okay.  We found a lot of wild carrots in the row, threw most of them away, but there was one that was quite nice.  It's the long skinny white one in the picture.

    Here's a picture of Clay, just before we started washing the vegetables.  He does a good job in the garden.  This is his fourth year of working down here, and he is a really big help.  I couldn't do it without him.   

    Well, it's already time to button up the chickens.  These short days just keep getting shorter.  But soon.  Only 34 days until the the Sun God takes over for his half of the year.  I am looking forward to sunny snowy days in January, with the orange of the setting sun spilling over the snow a little later each day.  That is when I will be hunkering down at the computer to update my greenhouse plant catalog for 2010.

    Off to the chickens, then back to the house for that fantastic salad!!

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    Winding down . . .

    It has been a stressful few days.  We moved a new cow onto the premises - look for a future post about Phyllis - and it has caused a bit of extra work.   Just in case I wasn't busy enough, I decided to bake a couple of loaves of bread for the market Saturday, since the laws in Indiana have finally changed back to the way they were about ten years ago, and I can sell baked goods from my own uninspected kitchen.  I made two braided loaves late on Friday so that they would be as fresh as possible.  I was hoping to get orders for Thanksgiving, can do about eight loaves in my non-commercial kitchen, and they are fun to make.  I am a light sleeper; I still cannot believe that I dozed off and slept through a timer than rings for two full minutes!  I awoke to the smell of bread - very well done bread.  The loaves were dark.   I am reminded of the scene in "Julie & Julia," in which Julie sleeps through a timer reminding her to take her casserole of Beouf Bourguignon from the oven.  "That is not real," I thought at the time.  "No one would sleep through a timer, especially when preparing something as important as a meal for a food critic!"  Hah!  I now believe.  Strange how that works.

    The loaves were on the ragged edge.  Could I take them in or not?  I woke up a couple of times in the night (and a short night it was), each time thinking about the damned bread!  At  4 am, I was lying there wide awake and thought to myself, "There is time to make two more loaves."  So I hopped out of bed and got with it.  When they were done (and perfectly done, if I do say so myself), I observed that they didn't look all that different from the over-baked ones from the night before.  So I bagged up the dark loaves, put the newly baked ones onto a cooling rack in the car and took off for market with all four, sure that the dark ones wouldn't sell.  I told my friends Julie and Annemarie at the next booth that we would divide up whatever didn't sell by the end of the day, expecting to pass on to them at least half of one of the loaves.

    First one of the new loaves, warm from the oven, sold.  Then a dark one, then another dark one!  Go figure!!  Wouldn't have guessed it.  Annemarie came back from a walk around the market laughing.  "Your bread must be good," she said.  "I saw a woman pulling chunks off of one of the loaves and eating them while she was strolling along."  What a compliment.  I was very happy about that.

    After market, I went to our annual service auction at church.  Clay was coming over to button up the chickens, so I didn't have to run home.  When I got to the church, I parked, put the seat back and took a nap.  When I woke up, much refreshed, I tried to turn the car on, and I got nothing.  This is the second time this has happened with my Prius.  And just let me say that when it dies, it dies!  The wheels lock, it cannot be put in neutral, it cannot be towed, and if put on a flatbed tow truck, its locked wheels must be dragged unless the tow truck has this handy device designed for hybrid cars that allows them to run just about long enough to drive them onto the flatbed.  (Funny that the person at the garage told me this has never happened,  yet there is a handy gizzy-whiz designed for hybrid towing jobs.  Hmmm!)  Okay, I'm whining again, but it really put a pall on the evening.  Everything was closed and would be the next day.  I was 30 miles from home.  Mary said they had two cars, would take me to their house after the auction and I could drive to the farm in one of them, then return in the morning and pick her up for church.  Dealing with car problems is far easier in the morning, in daylight, so I took her up on it and did my best to enjoy the evening.

    I went home and fell in bed.  I'm a light sleeper, and a long night is six hours.  I got up at 7 to do a little business, let the chickens out of the Moop and laid back down for a short rest.  The phone rang at 9 am, waking me!  Wow!!  Ten hours!!!  That is a small miracle for me.

    I got to church a bit late (sorry, Mary), then after church got a ride to the rental place at the airport, went back to my dead car to move the totes full of clean, empty milk jars to the rental car, stopped at the garage with the key and a long letter (I did hold my temper, didn't figure it would get my car fixed any faster to lose it) asking them to get the right towing service there in the morning and call me to let me know what was up.  Then I headed home, fed the dogs, picked up a cooking magazine and promptly fell asleep.  Ayn Chee's sharp little barks woke me up a couple of hours later.  Okay, that makes twelve hours of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz's in the last 24.  Yup, today Farmer Susie is winding down . . .

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    More on food - a bit about organic standards.

    I have been struggling to write this blog for three days now.  If you are interested in learning more about how to shop for organics, read on.  It is not as straightforward as one might think.  Otherwise, I'll see you later.

    What comprises a "good" diet?  Good question, difficult answer.  Our bodies didn't come off an assembly line, and we metabolize our food differently from person to person.  There is no single best diet, but there are some dietary guidelines that everyone would do well to follow.  Most people could improve their health by cutting down drastically on carbohydrates.  If you get 10% of your calories from carbs, that allows you a baked potato now and then, lots of good green leafy vegetables, and if you go to 15%, maybe an ice cream cone every once in awhile.  You can keep track at  FitDay  to get those percentages with very little work.

    But first and foremost, for everyone, whether omnivore, vegetarian or vegan, whether a low carber or a pasta and bread lover, eat organic and local.  It is possible to do both, no matter where you live.  Farmers markets are so underrated, although I think that is changing. Between 1994 and today, the number of markets has exploded, growing by 250%!  That is good news, because you can get to know your suppliers and producers, and I believe that is the #1 most important thing when you shop. 

    It you buy "organic" and it is from a large corporation a few thousand miles away, I'm not sure you have accomplished much.  In the first place, that carbon footprint is pretty big given the fuel it takes to get it to you.  In the second place, you can't check up on the company that grew it.  You have to wait for the investigative reporting to hit the internet, and then you can try to figure out who the good guys and the bad guys are.  At a farmers market, you get to know the person who is growing it and selling it.  She knows that if she doesn't take care of her customers, there is someone else with a booth who will get some of her business.  He knows that if he treats his laborers shoddily, he won't get his crops harvested on time.  There is no one person to talk to in a corporation.  If the company is big enough, it will have a customer service department with canned speeches, and it can afford to hire lobbyists - those in charge know it is easier (and cheaper) to get the rules changed than to change the way they do business

     Let's talk eggs.  There is no legal definition for "cage free," although that should be obvious.  Free range does have a legal definition, and it is troubling.  It sounds like agribusiness got involved in this one.  The law states that the chickens "must have access" to the outdoors, but can be raised in houses and need never set foot outside - they just need to be given the opportunity.  Most of these housed chickens have a tiny little door with access to a tiny little yard, and it is doubtful if more than a handful spend more than a few minutes in the yard.  Yet you will pay more for those "free range" eggs.  You are not getting what you think you are getting.

    If you are buying from Eggland's Best,  you can do a little research.  Here is what I found out -- they are not free range.  They are cage free, and that means that they are not in cages inside a building, but they ARE inside buildings and do not ever leave them until they make their final trip to Lipton's.  I'm not knocking Eggland's Best, but I'm not endorsing them either.  I use this as an example to make a point.  It is good to know the source of  your food, and since I don't know Mr. or Ms. Eggland, I'll get my eggs from Barb, who is a shareholder in our milk association.  Her chickens run free and I know it - she sends me pictures.  I get one with a blue shell every now and then, too. That is always fun and entertaining.  The yolks are a lovely dark orange, and those egg whites stand at attention!  They are FRESH - almost as fresh as Barb.  Getting to know your producer can be fun and entertaining, too.

    If you are buying from the local farmer, you can go to the farm and inspect the premises.  I let people do that here, and most farmers will oblige you if you ask.  Isn't that great, to be able to see the source?  When you buy a gallon of milk in the grocery store, you have no idea where the milk came from, or how old it was before it was processed.  But you do know that it was pasteurized - so you can rest assured that you are getting dead milk.  Yum!!!

    As for the organic issue, ask your producer how the crops are being raised.  "Do you spray?  What products do you use?  Are your beef steers fed grain?  Do you raise any GMO (genetically modified organism) crops?  Do you raise hybrids or open pollinated?  Were your plant starts raised in organic potting soil?"  My personal belief is that most farmers will be absolutely honest with you.

    So it isn't necessary to have that USDA organic stamp.  However, I do get concerned with farmers who say they are "same as organic."  When I ask them if they have downloaded and read all of the many MANY pages of the organic standards, they always - I mean every time - say no.  So my question then is, if you do not know what the organic standards are, how can you say that you are meeting them (which is what is implied when you say you are "same as")?  That is when it is good to get informed yourself, and then you know which questions to ask.  Few farmers are aware of all of the rules and regulations.  "Organic" is more than not using bug spray, hormones or chemical fertilizers.  I had to put a few rows of my garden into transition because my potting soil was not organic.  Regular potting soil's wetting agent is a petroleum product, I didn't know it, and there you have it.  It's a big faux pas that many gardeners make, and I'm pretty sure that they have no idea that they are putting their gardens out of reach of organic standards (at least for three years) by using plants raised in standard potting soil.  Says something for those of us who like to put the seeds right in the ground.  No foul there!

    There is a thing called self-certification, and I think it is a very good thing.  USDA certification is going to cost even a small farmer a minimum of $600.  How can you recover that if you have a one acre garden?  So most states allow a farmer to do self-inspection.  This means that they must download those onerous rules, read them, and then go to a certifying agent such as OEFFA and send in a paper acknowledging that they have read the standards and are meeting them.  They send in $50 or so, and they can advertise that their products are organic, by SELF certification.  They cannot call them "certified organic."

    So you are asking, big deal, if they do their own inspection, is it valid?  Yup, I think so.  They have done the work, they know where they need to improve, they then know about the organic potting soil and 50 other things that are new to them, and then, when they meet all of those standards, they can look you in the eye and say, "We are same as organic.  We are self certified and meet all of the standards of the organic program."

    If you have slogged through all of this, I'll say one more time - do your body a favor and feed it with organic food.  Pay the extra price.  Put down that expensive sweater.  Be happy with 100 channels and give a pass to the 200 channel package.  Carpool to the family reunion, even if you have to listen to Aunt Maude blather on and on (so long as she doesn't smoke).  Take a vacation close to home --  have you REALLY explored all of the beauty that is within 100 miles of where you live?  Then take what you saved and spend it on good food.  Start with a big plate of organic vegetables and some baked organic really truly free range chicken for dinner.  Bon appetit!

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Quality control in your cupboards and fridge

    I have touched on this subject before, pointing out that the US (as a percentage of income) has the lowest food costs and the highest medical costs in the world.  I do not think it is a coincidence.  In our quest for cheap food, we are willing to eat just about anything!  We want QUANTITY, not QUALITY!!!

    We are the only nation in the world that has a single digit cost of food at  9.3%, next nearest being nearly 12%.  And yet I hear people complain about the cost of food all the time.  I watch people at the Farmers Market, where I have a booth, walk across the aisle to buy non-organic produce to save ten to fifteen percent in cost.  Do the math - at 15%, if they paid 15% more for every bite of food, it would increase their cost as a percent of income from 9.3% to 10.7%.  That means they are willing to eat chemicals to save 1.4% of their income for what?  Sometimes it is truly a necessity, but for many, most I would guess, it is for cable TV, or gas for the SUV, or for that second or third car for convenience.  And with some of them, I can see what they are spending it on by taking a good look at them - expensive jewelry and clothing, a pack of cigarettes in purse or pocket.  No problem.  They find the money for all of those unnecessary things, and for something as necessary, as critical to their health, as good food, they complain about cost.

    I have a long history of working in heavy manufacturing.  Tough gig for a woman, but I loved it.  And one of the things I watched was the quality movement.  We got our butts whupped by the Japanese in the '80s, as well we should have.  I worked in a GM stamping plant just outside of Chicago. We were getting rid of presses because we thought they were incapable of making good parts.  Japanese auto companies bought our junk, fixed them, and made great parts.  How'd they do that?

    "A prophet is without honor in his own land."  Edward Deming's main thesis regarding quality was that it could not be inspected in at the end of the line, but must be designed in at the beginning. No amount of inspection can make good parts  Inspection just finds the bad ones after the fact.  After the US's initial rejection of Deming's theories, he went to Japan with his message.  We know what happened, and we finally got on board.  

    You may well be asking what all of this has to do with diet.  Let's apply Deming's principles to our diet.  Medical care is the inspection at the end of the line.  We turn to medicine because we are not healthy.  Medicine may return us to our previous good health, and while it has its place, it is there to fix us because we are in some way broken.  And all too often, the medicines we take have side effects that lead us to other health problems.  Isn't it better to stay healthy in the first place?  Isn't it better to design health into our diets?  What are we doing to make sure we do not get sick?  Very little, in my opinion.

    I see much misguided advice on what we need to do to prevent illness.  Most of the bad information started with Ancel Keys's Seven Country Study.  He is the reason that my mother's very good Food Wheel, which resided on the inside of a cupboard door, got thrown out for the pernicious and HORRIBLE Food Pyramid.  He is the reason that fat, especially saturated fat, became maligned.  Just as an aside, he lived to be 100, but I am thoroughly convinced that he was sneaking butter!  He had a hypothesis - the lipid hypothesis, a.k.a. fat is bad for us - and he would prove it, facts be damned!  He started out with 22 countries, and if their data didn't fit the trend line, out they went, until he was left with data from only seven of the original 22 countries, thus "proving" his hypothesis. Not one study has ever supported this hypothesis, but we took it and ran with it, and our increase in heart trouble, obesity, diabetes and cancer dovetails nicely with our increase in carbohydrate consumption. Yes, we replaced fat with carbohydrates.

    A friend has cancer.  She told me that she had decided to eat better, which she believed meant cutting out fat.  I asked her what she was replacing it with.  She looked at me blankly.  Something most people forget is that if you eat less fat, you must replace those calories with something else, unless you are obese, which my friend is not, and that something is almost always carbohydrates, protein being your only other choice.  Cancer loves carbohydrates.  Even unrefined wheat flour.  It's a carb.  And the only thing that makes whole grain wheat flour better than white flour is the oil (yes, the FAT!) that's left in the wheat when it is not refined.  My friend probably needs to eat better fat, not less fat.  She needs to eat butter from organic grass fed cows.  She needs to eat organic coconut oil and lard.  She needs to cut out as many carbs as she can, and the ones that remain should be - you guessed it - leafy greens, like collards, cabbage and kale.  And they should be topped with some cream (raw, organic) and butter (raw, organic).  And some sea salt, or even better, Himalayan pink salt because it has the perfect balance of minerals that our body needs.

    Hopefully you will imprint the following sentences on your mind so that they are with you every time you shop.  
    1. If we do not get protein in our diets, we will die.  
    2. If we do not get fat in our diets, we will die.  
    3. #1 and #2 are unequivocal facts, cannot be denied.  Ask your doctor.
    4. If you never ate another carbohydrate - I mean not even one gram of carbohydrates a day - you would live.  We do not need carbohydrates to live.  Ask your doctor.
    5. Read Gary Taubes's well documented book Good Calories Bad Calories just in case your doctor is misinformed.  Even Dr. Andrew Weil is coming around, and supports this book.  Watch Dr. Weil here   Dr. Weil supports Gary Taubes's book.
    But you are saying, "We wouldn't be healthy!"  Yes, we would.  This is getting way too big for a daily blog.  I'm going to quit now, but will parse this up into bits.  If you are interested in food and health, if you want to read more about how to apply Deming's quality principles into your diet, then stay tuned.  Otherwise, I'll see you later, when the subject matter changes to "Tilapia - my next project."

    Sunday, November 8, 2009

    Apple pie

    There is a new vendor at Purple Porch.  Gene, or Pa as he is known to most, brought in fall produce from his garden, appropriately named Pa's Patch.  He has some fantastic hot peppers that I used in a big pot of chili last week.  Gene isn't certified organic, but I know him, and he uses old fashioned methods on his crops.  I trust that his fruits and vegetables are pretty much chemical free.  It's hard to raise worm-free apples in the Midwest without the use of chemical sprays.  I asked him how he managed to get apples with no worm holes.  Was he spraying?  He said no he wasn't, then added, "Well, yes I do spray, but not with chemicals, no bug killers."

    "So what do you spray them with, Pa?" I asked.  He replied that he used a combination of mouth wash and apple cider.  Okay, not sure about the mouth wash, but we do put it in our mouths with no ill effects (at least no immediate ones), so I went with it and bought a bag.

    I like a crisp apple or two in the fall, but I'm not all that nuts about them.  So I've been looking at the remaining seven apples and wondering why I bought them.  The dogs won't eat them.  The cows won't eat them.  The chickens would, but I know I feed them too many treats already - they will gorge on them and ignore their nutritionally balanced organic chick starter feed.

    I rooted around in the freezer and found a frozen round of homemade pie crust.  I incorporated a little fresh butter into it and rolled it out.  There was enough crust left over to make a bit of decoration on the top, but not enough for a top crust.  Okay, what to do.  Then I remembered an apple pie recipe with a crumbly topping I had created when I had a restaurant.  It also had sour cream in the filling, and there is a container of sour cream that is due to be used in my fridge.  (Do you know how many creative recipes are made when the chef stands in the cooler and looks over the stuff that is going to expire tomorrow?  Some time I'll post my puff pastry creation.  It's one of those "use it or lose it" recipes.) 

    So it was off to the races!  Just enough to generously fill the crust with thin sliced crisp apple slices that had been tossed with the requisite sugar and flour, plus cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg, a sprinkle of salt and LOTS of sour cream!  Then for some flour, butter, brown sugar and walnuts - a quick whirl in the food processor to combine them - sprinkled over the top of the apples.  For the final touch, I made an apple with a stem and a twig and a couple of apple leaves out of the last bit of crust.  One does NOT throw away excess crust.

    It's baking away in the convection oven right now.  I checked it a couple of minutes ago, and it is beginning to brown nicely.  There is a quart of cream in the fridge, and I'm debating on whether I need to make that into some vanilla ice cream, or will that be overkill?  What to do, what to do . . .

    Okay, pie's out of the oven.  I am not waiting for ice cream.  Maybe tomorrow.

    Saturday, November 7, 2009

    Busy Saturdays

    It was very busy at market today.  Nice to have the cash register full at the end of the day, but it was hard work, don't think I sat down more than a couple of minutes all day.

    It is dark so early now, with daylight savings time over.  I buttoned up the chickens at just a little after 6:00 p.m.  There is one girl that is always running around outside until the last minute, but I convinced her to hop in so that I didn't have to make a second trip out.

    Lucy and another cow (Buttercup) decided they didn't care to be milked tonight, so I had to go out and help the milkers round them up.  I don't know what their problem was, but I do seem to have a Pied Piper effect on them, and after a few minutes of them walking past the door instead of through it, they finally did their thing and went in to be milked.  No brownie points for them today.

    This weather is absolutely beautiful!  It must have gotten to at least 75º today.  We have started moving the cows back out to pasture, new paddock each day, taking advantage of the last bits of fresh grass before they go on their "hay only" diet for the winter.

    Well, I'm calling it a day.  There will be more time to write tomorrow.

    Friday, November 6, 2009

    Time off - wrapping soap

    I'm taking this afternoon and evening off.  I spent the afternoon going through collard recipes, and I'm taking a big pot of collards and kale with bechamel sauce, bacon, heavy cream and garlic to a women's potluck this evening.  Who said collards can't be gourmet food?

    Clay is coming down to button up the chickens.  He promised to get here a little earlier than he did the other night.  It was so dark that he couldn't count the chickens and was sure there were at least six of them missing.  I was pretty sure they weren't, although I hadn't counted when I let them out in the morning.  He was so worried about it that we stood in the drive and counted them as they picked through the weeds in a little stand of trees.  Have you ever tried to count chickens while they are busy foraging?  It took awhile, but finally we agreed that there were in fact still 15.

    This morning I wrapped soap.  It takes about five weeks for the pH level of cold process soap to get down to the proper level.  You see, I want my soap to remove dirt, not the top layer of skin!  I have the neatest curing rack.  Previous to my trip to the bread store, I was curing them on any kind of rack I could find, putting papers down in the spare bedroom so I could put the racks on the floor.

    I read in one of my books that lining rectangular molds with silicon paper assures that the soap will release, and the book suggested going to a bread store where more than likely the owner would let me buy a few sheets.  I hardly needed a full order of them, as most of my molds are decorative, not flat.  Two or three would do.  While I was waiting for the manager to come out to talk to me, I noticed these big racks for the packaged bread, you know, the kind that are used as end caps in the grocery store.  Wouldn't that work as a curing rack?  I asked about a lot more than some sheets of paper when he finally arrived at the counter.  "Would you by any chance have a bread rack for sale?" I asked.  He said not at that store, but at the store at the south end of town there was one.  It just so happened that I lived about three blocks from that store.  How perfect could it be?  For the paltry sum of $50, I got a bread rack with 20 trays, in pretty decent shape.

    To add to my joy, I found that each tray was just big enough to hold one batch of soap, 32 to 38 bars, depending on how big they are.  Here is a pic of my find.  In the full pic, you will see that most of the slots are full.  (The trays on the bottom left hold molds.)  I need to make seven batches of soap, and there are only three empty slots.  I wrapped soap this morning just to empty a couple of them, and four more trays are cured and waiting to be wrapped.  So that is what I will be doing during the Bears game on Sunday, to make room for the holiday soaps that really MUST get made this week if they are to be cured in time for gift giving.

    And by the way, what better gift than soap?  It's unique, it's useful, and it gets consumed.  My mother used to say, once she had reached about 80 years old, "Please do not give me something that I can't use up.  No live plants - fresh flowers that I can enjoy until they wilt, and then throw onto the compost heap.  No knicknacks - I will just have to dust them and I have no more room on shelves.  No pictures - I'm out of wall space.  How about toilet paper?  I always need that, and it gets used up."  That was my mother, infinitely practical.

    Well, no chicken count now.  That is Clay's job.  I'll let you know tomorrow.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    All milk is created equal - or is it?

    I have posted a few times about the value of raw milk, for our health and for our taste buds.  If you have been following my blog, then you know my views on grass fed versus grain fed animals as well.  This is probably not a taste thing, but definitely a health thing, grass fed dairy products having four to five times as much CLA in them.  Since CLAs support our immune system in particular to help prevent cancer, heart disease and diabetes, that is a very good thing.

    So let's look at this from the top down.  I'm going to assume all of my readers understand the value of organic products, so we will also assume that I am talking about organic milk for all of these various steps. 
    • At the top level, you choose between raw and pasteurized.  If you do buy pasteurized milk, you can get what is called "cream line" milk, which means that it has not been homogenized, and that is one tick better than pasteurized homogenized milk.  I will address that in a later post.
    • Next, if you have chosen raw milk, you can choose between milk from grass fed or conventionally fed cows.  It is very hard to find raw milk from grass fed herds, because if the farmer is not selling 100% of the milk to private shareholders and is depending on the commercial market for the sale of most of the milk, then the farmer cannot really afford to have a grass fed herd.  It reduces production by about 30%, and even though the shareholders might be willing to pay a higher price for that milk, the commercial market puts absolutely NO value on grass fed.  Really, if you said "CLAs" to producers, processors and consumers, 99.9% of them would have a pretty blank look on their faces!  Odds are, you will have a hard time finding grass fed raw milk even if that is your choice.  You have to find a crazy farmer like me who thinks quality should come ahead of quantity.
    • Finally, you have found a few sources for grass fed raw milk.  Good news!  Can you look any further?  Well, yes.  Are the cows producing A1 or A2 milk?  Say what?  There's more??
    If you are a farmer who wants to get into the grass fed raw milk business, you can take any old herd and convert them.  It does take awhile, because cows that are used to grain will take a year or two to adapt to grass and hay diet only, but it can be done.  If the herd isn't organic, then you can put them into transition.  After nine months, their milk is organic, and any calves born to them are organic.  The cow will always remain a transitional cow, which means that if butchered, the meat may not be called organic.  But the milk is organic.  Pretty easy, huh?

    However, no matter what you do, you cannot make an A1 cow into an A2.  It is genetic, and it goes with the cow and its milk (and half the genetic components of its offspring) until death.

    Let's talk about why you as a consumer might wish for an A2 herd.  At some point in the evolution of the domesticated dairy cow, a gene that is part of the genetic makeup of casein mutated.  Casein constitutes 25% to 30% of cows' milk proteins.  The A1 varient of this gene has been implicated as a potential factor in Type 1 diabetes, heart disease, schizophrenia and autism.  The A2 variant has not been implicated in these diseases.

    But implicated by whom?  This remains a hypothesis, still to be proven by any of the tests conducted to date.  One of the problems is the economic implications involved.  If it were to be proven that A1 milk is detrimental to our health, then the large commercial dairies will be in big trouble.  Holsteins are about 95% A1 milkers.  Holsteins are heavy producers, and so the breed of choice for factory farms.  The cost to convert from Holsteins to Jerseys, Guernseys and other heritage breed cows is tremendous.  Then add to that the lowered production, and the cost is staggering - to the consumer as well, because the retail cost of milk will surely rise.  Large, rich factory farms have the money to conduct tests of their own, and of course, these tests show that there is nothing in this hypothesis.  The consumer will be ready to agree because they don't want more expensive milk.  (I am saving a future post for the high cost of cheap food.)   On the other end of the spectrum, the tests that show the health benefits of A2 milk were conducted by a company that holds a patent on equipment used to check whether milk protein is A1 or A2, so they too have a financial interest in the outcome of the tests. 

    Right now, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) is in process of reviewing the allegations from both sides.  Hopefully they can remain independent.

    I am not ready to implicate A1 milk as a culprit that is causing many of our health issues, especially since it might lead people to substitute milk in their diets with less healthy drinks, or even soy milk, which I cannot even term "less healthy," as it implies there is some value in soy milk.  Soy milk needs to be avoided at all costs.  If you must eliminate cow's milk, then try rice milk or almond milk.  As you have read in my earlier posts, soy blocks the absorption of iron, calcium and zinc. 

    In the meantime, I tend to think that we have corrupted much of what Mother Nature gives us, at the end of the line with manufactured "food," and at the very beginning with hybrids, genetically modified grain and produce, and cloned animals.  My instinct is to stick with the old breeds and wait until the jury is in.  Our herd here is composed of all heritage breed cows.  With the exception of Brown Swiss, heritage breeds are predominantly A2 cows.  We have Milking Shorthorns, Dutch Belteds, Jerseys and Normandies here.  In addition, I bought a Guernsey bull.  Guernseys are at the top of the heap, with a whopping 95% of them giving A2 milk. 

    My recommendation to you when you are buying milk is to get raw milk from an organic grass fed heritage breed herd, of course.  In order of what you might have to give up,start with heritage breeds, then give up organic (yes, less important than grass fed), then grass fed, then raw, then cream line.  Now you are buying in the store, and if you are doing that, then at least go back to organic.  You then have the assurance that they are not filled with antibiotics, bovine growth hormones and genetically altered grains.

    Good luck!

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    Collards, broccoli, cabbage and kale #3

    If you haven't been following this blog from the start, you might enjoy reading the first one I wrote about my four favorite vegetables and see why I think they are so great.

    Today I went out to the garden to harvest for my Purple Porch co-op deliveries tonight.  It is just so easy to harvest at this time of year!  The garden is in slow motion, so if I don't get down there for a week, no harm done.  And the temperature is the equivalent of keeping everything in the fridge.  I'm still harvesting lovely leaf lettuce.  None of the lettuces are bolting in this weather, so it is quite safe to ignore them.  Each week, there are more orders for my Russian kale.  I think it is gaining a reputation.  And well it should!   Did you know that you can make crunchy kale chips?  Remove the ribs from a leaf of kale, spray it lightly with olive oil, kiss it with a bit of sea salt, cut in 1" to 2" squares, put on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350º oven for a few minutes.  They are delightful, and much better for you than potato chips. 

    I wouldn't have eaten kale when I was a kid if you had paid me.  I never even tasted it until I moved out here to Indiana.  Where I came from, we just didn't eat greens.  It wasn't "our kind of food."  Isn't that funny?  My mom and dad were certainly not prejudiced, taught us that everyone was equal, until it came to meals.  The hired man ate all of his food with a knife, even peas.  It was quite a trick.  We were all fascinated but were instructed not to stare, and also not to try it on our own at the supper table.  We were to understand that Tony didn't know any better.  But what is "better" about eating your peas with a fork?  It was as if there was some measure of our social worth in how we pick up our utensils.  And greens, well, they were poor people's food.  If you you were a landowner (we were, but we were hardly rolling in money), then you didn't eat cooked greens -- lettuce was okay, and maybe even spinach because my mom knew it had a lot of iron in it.  But collards?   Never.  And I never even heard of kale until I was an adult.

    Kale fascinates me, kind of like Lucy milking herself.  It's almost as if it has a very special vegetable brain.  Kale doesn't just grow, get harvested and it's all over.  It grows and grows and grows.  As you pick off leaves, more come to take their place.  I don't think kale bolts - at least I have never seen it happen - so it's okay to ignore it.  (When a plant bolts, it sends up flowers and makes seeds.  The flavor of the leaves become very bitter, pretty much inedible.)  Kale changes its flavor over the season.  It is good in the summer, but it is even better in the fall, getting sweeter after a hard frost or two.  It's obviously not afraid of the cold, and I have harvested it in December.  I'm going to use row covers this year and try for some January kale.  Now here is the very best part.  It will regrow next spring.  The old plant appears to be dead, but if you just leave it alone, it will sprout and begin providing leaves all over again.  This means no little round seeds to plant, and it also means that you will have kale even earlier in the season. 

    And in case you think kale isn't a gourmet food, try making kale and white bean soup.  There is just nothing better.  The next time you are down to the rind of your Parmesan cheese, save it and go to, look up their kale and white bean soup recipe, which uses that rind, and enjoy! 

    Sigh . . .  I just love kale!

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    A good day . . .

    Today was a good day.  Good days are really rather boring, I guess, which may be why some people "stir the pot" when things are going too well. I have been guilty of that over the years.  I am smarter now.  I enjoyed today, every minute of it, and I have no intention of stirring any pots. Age has its advantages. Most of us do learn to live in the moment, to enjoy what we have right now, or anyway we do a better job of it in our golden years than we do when we are 30 or 40 or 50.

    My friend Marj used to say, "I wish you an ordinary day."  And so I pass that on to you.  May tomorrow be an ordinary day for you, and may you thoroughly enjoy it.


    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    Remembering Mom

    Many believe that the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest on November 1, and we still remember it today on All Hallow's Eve, or Halloween as it has come to be known.  Kids dress in ghost costumes or as skeletons, sure reminders of its association with the dead.  Christians celebrate All Saint's Day at which time they honor the dead (well, only those who went to heaven), and Mexicans celebrate El Día de los Muertos, or All Souls' Day.  Neo Pagans often celebrate Samhain (pronounced Sow' en) by holding a Dumb Supper, or Silent Supper, with places set at the table for the departed; no one speaks while eating, in the hope that their departed loved ones will join in the meal.

    It is hard to be separated from those we love, but it is good to remember them, whether that memory brings laughter or tears.  Last night we celebrated Halloween in our own way.  About a dozen of us gathered to share a meal and to share stories about those departed souls who had an influence on us.  Some of us dressed up like an ancestor.  Mike is a native American and shared many stories about his ancestors, most of them unsettling.  Peggy told us about several women in her life, strong and independent women who were well educated in an age when it was very unusual.  Her great-great grandmother was the first woman to attend the University of Kansas.  Melanie said she doesn't need this day of the thin veil to talk to her loved ones; she keeps one wall of her house filled with pictures of them, and she converses with one or another of them daily.  And so, as we went around the circle, people shared their stories.  It was a good evening.

    I dressed up as my mother.  Mom died a little over two years ago.  We were very close, and the evening before she died, we had a great conversation on the phone, laughing and chattering for about a half hour.  Just a few hours later, the nursing home called and told me that they had called an ambulance.  I was nearly four hours away, and by the time I got there, she was gone.  I dressed up like her in the hope that her voice would reach me.  Alas, it was not to be.  But in a way, she did speak to me, sending me an "aha!" moment.

    I dressed in a blouse of Mom's that my sister handed me when we were cleaning out her closets.  And I have her beautiful diamond wedding ring.  So I put on both of those.  Then I added black shoes with a Velcro closure, the kind she wore because arthritis made it hard to tie her shoes, black pants with elastic waist like she wore so she didn't have to deal with buttons, and overly large glasses like hers that helped a bit with her failing vision.  I finished with a spray of gray on my hair.  What I found interesting was that the black shoes and pants are from my own closet.  The glasses were mine, too, and while admittedly quite old, look very much like the last pair my mom wore.  And if I would quit buying hair color, my hair would be quite gray.  I don't need to dress up LIKE my mother; I AM my mother!  It is sobering and amusing at the same time.

    So I guess my mom talked to me after all - not in words, but through the dawning realization that this acorn surely didn't fall far from the tree.

    If your mother is still with you, pick up the phone and tell her hello while you still have her.  I wish I could.