Saturday, August 28, 2010

Another deadline - organic certification

The organic inspector will be here Monday afternoon.  I need to do a lot of neatening up of my paperwork prior to her visit.  We talked on the phone at length, and she sounds pretty sharp, willing to teach where I need some guidance.  That is good.

Tomorrow is cleanup time.  I have been stacking paperwork on my dining room table, not just organic certification stuff, but two months of credit card charges and a bunch of filing for things other than organic certification.  It all needs to be done.  I have found out one thing, with my crunch schedule this year - the most efficient way to do this sort of things is to do a full month at a time.  I used to do it at least once a week, sometimes as soon as I came home with the charge slip in my purse, or as soon as I finished the on-line order for organic greenhouse seeds and supplies.  But that was a luxury I didn't really have this year, and so I found myself entering a whole month's worth of items after I got my credit card bill.

Who knew?  It is really more efficient this way.  I do keep the credit slips clipped together, sorted into piles by billing period, and by credit card company.  Then when I get the bill, I make sure I have a slip for each charge.  No sense in putting it into the computer and then finding out when I get the bill that I put it on the wrong card, or some other such mistake.

It does require making notes on the charge slip, since it might be a month before I am entering it into my accounts.  But that is a small effort, and takes seconds while I am standing in the checkout line.

This mess on my dining room table will be cleaned up by tomorrow night.  No Sunday nap this week.  Then I will be sure that I have all of the stuff for the inspector put together into a binder.  It does make a difference.  The easier it is for them to get at information, the less apt they are to start digging.  It is not that I have anything to hide.  I just do not want to go on a treasure hunt.  So the pile for organic stuff must be at least minimally organized by Sunday night, and then I have until 2 p.m. on Monday until she arrives to pretty it up.  I am sure I will be ready, but I am also sure that I won't have too many minutes to spare before she arrives!

Yup, that's the stuff that has to be in order for the inspection.  And of course, paperwork is just half of it.  Androo did a great job of cleaning out the area of the barn where the chicks are residing, and Allen will spend the morning with the weed whip cleaning up here and there in the calf pens and paddocks. 

I'm glad this only happens once a year.  Lots of stress.  But Monday night, it will be over, and hopefully I will not have too long a list of things to correct.  Then I can heave a sigh of relief and put it out of my mind until the process starts all over next spring.

Organic certification is important.  It means consistency from farm to farm.  It clarifies just exactly what "organic" means.  I do admit I resent it when I hear a farmer say, "I'm not certified, but I am same as organic."  My first question is, "Have you downloaded and read the organic standards?"  I know the answer to that will be no.  Next question is, "Then how do you know you are same as organic?"  I am always surprised by the little things I have missed.  And some big ones!  I did not know that potting soil, if not labeled ORGANIC, has a wetting agent that is a petroleum product.  Now I do, and of course, I use the proper soil in my greenhouse.  But until I read through the requirements, I wasn't aware of that.

I will say this - if you suffer from insomnia, you might want to download them and read them at bedtime!  It's about 50 pages of small print, and unbelievably detailed.  But those rules mean that you can rest assured that you are getting some pretty good food when it is labeled "Certified Organic."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Losing chicks

I am so sad.  I lost three Campine chicks yesterday.  I am not sure why, but I think it may have been because their waterers got filled with bedding and they couldn't really drink as much as they should have.  Two of them were caught in the fencing, and I wonder if they were trying to get out of the pen to find water.

I feel so bad!  If I had checked the waterers closely when I went out to the barn, I would have known, but I could see that they both still had water in them, and their food trays were full, so I just told them goodnight and didn't even go inside the pen.  I thought the waterers still had so much water in them because it had been a pretty cool day.

I noticed something unusual when I got the chicks.  The new little ones separated into two groups - the Buckeyes went right for the feed, and the Campines went right for the water.  So water must be very important for Campines, much more so than for other breeds.

Now I know.  It is hard to learn lessons at the expense of a little life.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Low carbing

Earlier I said I would talk a bit about my low carbohydrate diet.  Enough people are noticing the changes in my appearance so that I am getting a lot of questions.

"How did you do it?"
"Aren't you worried about eating all that fat?"
"I couldn't do it! I don't have the will power."

I will give you an overview of how I ended up losing 28 pounds.  But first I will tell you WHY I lost it. 

Most people would have said, upon observing me last January, that I didn't have to lose any weight.  I had gained 10 pounds over the holidays, and I went onto Atkins induction to get rid of it fast.  But I didn't want to just see-saw and gain it back, so I joined several yahoogroups boards for a little moral support.

Finally, I found a board that worked for me.  Plenty of moral support, but also good and thoughtful answers.  These people cared about what they were putting in their bodies, and there were many links provided so you could see for yourself why they were eating the way they were.  Very few mentions of faux sweets.  No diet soda (my one sin, and I'm working on it), with emphasis on good, unprocessed foods.

When one eats an extremely low carb diet, at least some of the carbs that you cut out have to be replaced with either fat or protein.  Okay, you might just want to cut out calories, but in my case, with only ten pounds to lose, and becoming convinced that low carbing might just be the best way for me to eat for the rest of my life, I had to look at how I consumed at least some of the calories I was giving up when the bread and lemon meringue pie left my diet.  All of our dietary choices are composed of fat, protein, and/or carbohydrates.  Those are our only three choices.  One's first instinct might be to replace the carbs with protein, but it turns out that protein is not the best choice.  Fat is - and (gasp!) saturated fat is the best of the fats out there.  Fats are very satisfying.  You will stop eating sooner, and you will not be going back to the kitchen later. 

Later, I'll discuss the merits of saturated fat and the unfortunate Seven Countries Study that pointed a finger at saturated fat without any proof. But not yet.

Here is how this way of eating works.  When one eats very few carbs, the body begins to burn fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates.  This state of affairs can be detected by a simple urine test, which I do every morning.  If I am throwing ketones, then that means that my carbohydrate intake is low enough that my body is going to fat for fuel.  When we are throwing ketones, it means that we are in ketosis.  Many people confuse ketosis with a serious state called ketoacidosis, which is not good.  However, when one is in ketosis, especially if you are at "trace" for your measurement, then there is little danger of reaching ketoacidosis.

For now, I want to talk about why I am still on a very low carb (VLC) diet, even though my weight is normal.  On the support board, mention was made of kids with epilepsy who have been cured - yes, CURED! - of epilepsy by staying in ketosis for two years.  Then they can eat anything they want, and a cure seems to have been effected in about a third of the cases.  Another third have greatly reduced episodes, in both number and severity, and the last third don't seem to get any help at all.  This has been known and used since the 1920s.

I have been on a medicine that is used for epilepsy.  I have been diagnosed with mild bi-polar disorder, and the medicine I took did help a great deal with episodes of depression.  But it didn't seem to help much with agitation or with my hair-trigger temper.  I also developed a skin rash, which is a serious and sometimes fatal side effect of Lamictal, the drug I was taking.  So I had good reason for wanting to lower my dose or get off of it altogether.  Why do we take the same meds that work for epilepsy?  There is some speculation that bi-polar disorder is actually a form of epilepsy.  Our episodes are not in the same form, but episodes they are, and they are pretty much uncontrollable.

Anyway, I asked the question of my support group, "If a ketogenic diet helps kids with epilepsy, what about adults with bi-polar disorder?"  Well, what do you know, it is being used for that, and I was put in touch with a psychiatrist at the University of Louisville who was looking for people to participate in a study.

I got on board in February and since then have provided the doctor with a weekly report, which consists of my keto reading and a sentence or two to describe my moods each day.

I have been out of ketosis exactly once in that period of time, and I suffered the effects.  For nearly a week, even though I immediately went back into ketosis, I was agitated, angry and depressed.  It was a real wake-up call!  I have not been out of ketosis since. I want to stress that point.  If this was just for weight loss, I would be cheating.  This is my peace of mind that is being affected!  Peace of mind OR a cupcake is not a hard decision to make, at least for me.

On July 1, I tried to give up my prescription altogether.  I lasted 36 hours.  Then I tried again, lasted a week, had an emotionally upsetting episode and went back on the meds.  On July 25, I took my last pill.  As the doctor said, there will be withdrawal symptoms, no matter what, so just be prepared.  The third try was the charm.  I feel good.   My temper is in check - actually for the first time in my life.  My agitation is gone.  And my weight continues to drop.  I now weigh one pound less than I weighed when I graduated high school.  And as for me thinking that I was thin enough last January after losing the ten from the holidays, well, I am hitting the racks at Goodwill!  It is fun to shop.  Just about everything I put on looks fine, when I'm not worrying about covering up lumps and bumps.  I can even wear white.

People remark almost daily on the changes, how healthy I look.  I want to stress that they usually don't mention the weight loss, but rather my health.  I am sure my emotional stability has contributed to my look of well-being.  While I didn't set out to lose this much weight, I'm glad I did.  And there have been other unexpected benefits as well.
  • No more headaches - not even one - since I went into ketosis.  I used to get two or three dillies a month.
  • I have ditched my blood pressure medicine.  Blood pressure is normal without it.
  • My triglycerides are 58, while most people are struggling to keep their reading under 100!
  • My creaking joints (which I chalked up to old age) are gone, and I bounce around like a 20-year-old.
Okay, there is a little excess skin here and there that I'm working on, but I have found this diet to be amazing!  I asked the doctor whether I could stay in ketosis for two years and then resume a "normal" diet, but alas, he said it doesn't work that way with adults.  And why would I want to, come to think of it?  So I can resume my headaches, see my blood pressure rise, and feel old and creaky again?  The ketogenic state of my body is now my medicine, and if I go out of ketosis, I can expect to have to resume my meds.  So I guess I will focus on what I CAN eat, rather than on what I CAN'T eat.  Now I am going out to the kitchen to get some pork rinds and a little sour cream to dip them in while I watch Antiques Roadshow.  :)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The raw milk wars

The meeting held this morning on my farm with five Amish raw milk producers went very well.  First I must say that many Amish farmers in this community have been very generous with their help to me as I was getting started with my dairy operation.  It was my turn to give back.

The Amish keep things simple.  Their cow share programs consist of having a customer lease a portion of a cow, then paying board on the cow they are leasing, a fee that correlates with the amount of milk they are getting.  Very simple, but the state says this is exchanging money for raw milk, which is illegal.  Our association is set up so that we collect a flat fee from our shareholders every month for their fair share of the expenses, and they get their fair share of milk each week, with no connection between the two.  They pay the same monthly fee whether they are getting a gallon and a half a week, or three gallons.  It is the main thing that keeps the government out of our hair.  But it is a complex system, a bit hard to manage.  In addition, in order to be legal, you must truly give up ownership of your cows, and the shareholders must participate in the operation, both by making business decisions as a group and by doing the physical work, such as milking, digging thistles and in our case, spreading biodynamic organic fertilizer over all of the pastures spring and fall.

We do all of those things.  Unless they change the laws in this state, under the terms of our agreement, we can legally distribute raw milk to those who choose to include it in their diets.

What we are doing is a far cry from the Amish farmers' cow shares.  There is no way they can just use our agreement as a boilerplate to adapt their business.  However, they left with a copy of our agreement in hand, along with our brochure, which outlines our cost structure and tells potential customers why we think our milk is the best around.

I bounced one idea off them which did at least get some nods.  I told them I would be glad to work with them in order to look at what kind of a structure would make sense for them and for their customers.

I believe that raw milk needs to be available to those who want it.  The danger of raw milk is getting it raw from a factory farm.  I have been in many Amish barns, and I wouldn't hesitate to drink the milk from any of them.  They feed this milk to their families, and they take care in how the milk is handled.  Factory farms do not care, and are allowed outrageously high bacteria counts, because after all they are going to cook the milk and kill them all anyway.  (Yum, yum, store bought milk with lots of dead bacteria floating in it!)

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  Right now, since the state has not been successful in putting the Amish farmers out of business to date, they have taken a different tactic - one large milk processor has taken a huge grant from the government, and now suddenly is asking (no, demanding) that all of the dairy farmers who ship to them to sign a paper swearing that they will not produce milk for raw consumption under a cow share plan.  The wives must sign the paper as well.  So all of a sudden, if they do not comply, they do not have a place to sell the rest of their milk.

That means another barrier has been put up so that you, the consumer, no longer have a choice.  And it should be your choice.  If you do not want to drink it, no one is making you.  If you do want to drink it, no one should be standing in your way.  Lest you think that the government has a right to save us from a "dangerous" food, here is a list of deaths from various things in our diet or our environment since 1992:
  • Deaths from raw milk - 2
  • Deaths from radish sprouts - 3
  • Deaths from spinach - 5
  • Deaths from PASTEURIZED MILK - 620
  • Deaths from tobacco - 7,250,000
Availability and consumption of raw milk does not constitute a health hazard.  The government needs to back off.  They are bowing to the pressures from agribusiness, and believe me, Monsanto, ADM and ConAgra do not have your health and well-being on their minds!

I'm back

My computer crashed - a bad one!  The operating system had to be reloaded, and anyone who has gone through that knows what that means.  All of my software had to be reloaded as well, my internet bookmarks are gone, all of my personal settings in programs had to be redone.  Outlook is really a bear to work with, and I estimate that it took about 15 hours in total to get it installed and running correctly.  Fortunately, all of my data was saved onto a different drive, so I was able to recover everything.  I use my email like a humongous filing cabinet, maybe not such a good idea, but very handy.

I am in the process of reloading my camera software as I write this so that I can upload some new pics, including one of our new little bull, Roscoe!

So you will be hearing from me again soon.  Here are a few things that I will be covering in the near future.

Small farmers - you will meet two families who have small spreads and are making the most of them.

Low carbohydrate diets - what has worked for me, and what might work for you.

Update on the raw milk wars in Indiana - I am meeting with several local Amish farmers this morning who are considering giving up their cow share programs due to harassment on the part of government officials who are "protecting" the health of their customers. 

Until next time - which will be soon.

Monday, August 9, 2010

May she rest in peace . . .

Tiny came to me in the second batch of chicks.  I could tell by about the third day that she wasn't quite right.  She fell behind in growth, and by the time the nine little chicks were two weeks old, she was about half the size of the others.

I brought her in the house, but she was very lonesome and was only happy when she was on my lap.  I finally took her back to the barn.  It was very unusual that the bigger chicks didn't bother her or pick on her.  The pecking order is no joke, it is fact.  But they were rather careful of her, or as careful as chickens can be.

The little chicks, being three weeks younger than the first batch, were kept in a smaller pen inside the big pen, and Tiny did just fine.  One time she got out of the pen, and I found her crouched in a corner, but still okay, none of the bigger birds picking on her.  Anyone who has had chickens will tell you that such behavior on the part of the older chicks is just short of miraculous.

A few days ago, she got caught in some netting, and I thought she was a goner.  But I picked her up and held her for a few minutes.  In no time, she was back on her feet.

And speaking of her feet, her little body, small as it was, seemed to be a bit much for her feet and legs, and she spent most of her time sitting down, sometimes in the food tray.  Every now and then her head would jerk around.  There were neurological problems.  I knew she didn't have long for this world.  Every time I went out to feed them, I would be so happy to see her, still going, still picking at her food, still being respected by the other chicks.

This afternoon I found her dead in the middle of the small pen.  It was a peaceful death, I think, because there were no marks on her.  She wasn't caught up in netting or pushed into a corner.  She was still warm when I picked her up.

I do not bury my chickens.  They go into the compost heap.  It is different with this little chick.  Tiny is in her own little grave in the middle of my herb garden, the spot marked by three small rocks.

Tiny, this courageous chick, lived from June 21, 2010 to August 9, 2010.  I think it was a good life.  May she rest in peace.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Busy time!

This past week has been very busy.  I met a new friend at a raw milk conference in Madison, WI last spring, and he asked if he could come out to the farm to learn to make cheese.  Bernie lives in Milwaukee, and that is a long trip for a cheese making class, but I said, "Sure, why not?"

One of our shareholders has a lot of excess milk, and he said he would contribute it to a cheese making class if I would have one, so Sunday it was.  Bernie arrived Saturday evening, and we started with his lessons right away.  I decanted a quart of kefir and showed him how to make a new start before we turned in for the night.

Sunday morning, we checked our kefir and he saw just how easy that is.  Then we moved on to yogurt.  Although I am a fan of raw milk, I do heat the milk to 180º and hold it there for five minutes, because I make Bulgarian yogurt, which is really the best, in my opinion.  And if I want to preserve the Bulgarian strain, then it is important to kill off any other bacteria in the milk before making it.  So we got that mixed up and put into the yogurt maker before the other guests arrived for the Cheddar making workshop.

About 1 p.m., we got started making Cheddar.  There is a lot of "wait" time while making hard cheese, so in one of those times, I showed the group how to make sweet cream butter.  The participants all got to help press the water out of the finished butter, which assures that the butter will stay fresh a bit longer.  Leaving any buttermilk in the butter contributes to it going rancid, so it's an important step.  Even if one is very careful about washing the butter, sweet cream butter is only good for a few days.  Culturing the butter makes it last a couple of weeks, but we didn't have any cultured cream to work with.

One of the by-products of cheese making is whey.  If you heat whey to 200º within two hours of draining the curds while making cheese, then add some vinegar to precipitate out the remaining curds, then drain it through some butter muslin, the end product is ricotta cheese.  It is so good!  One of the shareholders turned me on to adding some cacao nibs and fermented walnuts to a bowl of ricotta.  For us "low carbers," it is a dessert made in heaven!  I can pretend I'm having a chocolate sundae, with just a tiny bit of carbohydrates.  (I'll be talking about my low carb diet in another post soon.)

I showed everyone the cheddaring process - yes, that is what makes Cheddar cheese Cheddar cheese! - and then I got some help with my least favorite thing to do when making Cheddar.  This lump of cheddared curds has to be cut into tiny slices, which is tedious at best.  But with five of us there, it was short work.  Then these slices were tossed with salt and packed into the mold.  The mold full of curds went into the press, and the bulk of the work was done.

All of the guests but Bernie left at that point.  No sense watching a cheese press for twelve hours, hey?  But Bernie and I weren't done.  Now we got some cottage cheese started.  I make mine the old fashioned way, using no rennet to set up the curd.  So that means it has to sit for at least 20 hours after heating the milk to 70º and adding some special bacteria to it.  We got that going and turned in for the night.

Monday we enjoyed another farm breakfast of bacon and eggs (no toast - that low carb thing), while Bernie chided me for drinking coffee and I chided him for drinking water out of a plastic bottle.  We foodies do tend to get a bit carried away at times!  I showed Bernie around the farm - first chance we had to do that - then he tended to his consulting business (lap tops and cell phones make portable offices) and I took care of emails and other farm duties.  After lunch, we finished the cottage cheese.  Then Bernie asked, "What next?'

Okay, what next?  I decided to make paneer, an Indian cheese that is pretty quick start to finish.  So we got that done and pressed it lightly.  For supper that night, we had Saag Paneer, a very tasty Indian dish made with cubed paneer sauteed in butter with onions, and then spiced with cumin and curry powder.  Saag - better known as spinach - is then added, but I don't have any in my garden, so we did kale instead.  Very tasty!  So I guess we had Kale Paneer, didn't we?

I hope Bernie enjoyed his dairy product marathon!  I sent him home with samples of most of what we had made.  In a couple of days, he learned first hand how to make butter, kefir, yogurt, ricotta, cottage cheese, Cheddar and paneer.  That should keep him busy with his own raw milk for quite some time!