Monday, November 22, 2010

Turkey Time

Mouse in the House
This afternoon I was washing dishes when I heard a rustling by the stove. I looked over and saw a mouse's little paw stuck in the mouse trap. The trap was flopping around and I thought to myself this isn't good. I can't just leave it there. I took a broom and brought the trap into the middle of the kitchen. I called my little Shiba Inu into the kitchen in hopes she might kill it but it turns out she is all bark and no bite. She cowered in the living room. The mouse's beady black eyes bulged in fear and was staring up at me. Little did it know I was staring back at it in fear. What do I do now? I picked up the phone and called my husband. I told him of my predicament. Should I kill it? I asked him. He answered in a hushed tone, he was on his cell phone on the train, "No don't kill it." He said " just release it into the woods." But I can't I whined, its dark outside and what if it runs after me?" Trying hard not to raise his voice, for fear of what the train passengers might think of this strange caller, he said into the phone "but you just killed turkeys yesterday. Think of it as a little turkey." We hung up and I took a deep breath and grabbed a broom and dustpan. I swept the mouse onto the dust pan and ran over to wood pile and placed the trap on the ground and released the mouse. Ok, not so bad. But nothing like a turkey.

Turkey Processing
Yesterday I went to Glynwood to help with turkey processing. I thought processing turkeys might be harder than processing chickens, I like turkeys better, but surprisingly it didn't bother me. Instead of killing them in the steel cones like we do with the chickens, because they are too big for the cone, the turkeys were killed out in the field. This was accomplished by rigging hooks to the tractor bucket so the turkeys could be hung by their legs. Then their throats are slit and they are bled out. They don't really make any noise when they are upside down, the only creepy part is when they are dead and start spazzing when all the nerves are firing off.

The rest of it, scalding, plucking, and removing the innards is the same process as for the chickens only the turkeys are much much bigger. They go into a scalder (around 140F) into a plucking machine and then onto a table where we remove the feet, head, and everything inside the turkey, I struggled to lift the turkeys in and out of the cold water baths and onto the stainless steel table where I "operated." I could have sworn they weighed 50 pounds or more. Out of curiosity we threw one of the cleaned turkeys on the scale and it read 30 pounds.

It took 6 of us to process 40 turkeys in just over 5 hours. We were a well oiled machine. I broke down four turkeys by myself but I still don't quite have the feel for finding and removing the crock. And I feel extra nervous trying to remove the bile duct from the liver. I always end up taking a large chunk of the liver off with it just to make sure I don't burst the bright green nasty liquid all over the liver. But the rest of it is fairly easy.

I won't say that its my favorite job on the farm but its not the worst either. And it helps that I get to bring home a turkey for Thanksgiving. A delicious heritage Bourbon Red turkey. It seems like only yesterday I was feeding them raspberries and apple cores. Rest in peace turkeys...your life will not be in vain.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My agriculture class: Trawling the 200's in NYC, looking for milk.

At 9:30 am, two weeks ago, on a Wednesday morning I took a taxi from 125 street to 215 street on the upper West Side to some research for my agriculture class. Besides passing a live poultry market what is in the 200's that is agricultural? Well, nothing really. My project technically has more to do with the outcome of agriculture, the consumption side. Our whole class was undertaking a project to map out food availability in Manhattan. The map of Manhattan was divided into 24 parts and each student got a section. I was to walk around and record every store where you could buy food (can't be just prepared) with a minimum criteria of selling milk. I found the majority of food was sold in convenience stores and small grocery stores with a few super markets located in high traffic areas. Below is a blog post describing the project from the NYU Steinhardt website.

With Ambition and Walking Shoes, Students Catalogue Organic and Local Food Availability Throughout Manhattan

Carolyn Dimitri, visiting associate professor of food studies and an applied economist, is interested in the question of whether access to local and organic food influences consumer demand. To find out the answer, she and her graduate students have embarked on a yearlong study to assess the availability of local and organic food at groceries, delis, outdoor food carts, and other establishments that sell fresh food in Manhattan.

Using a simple data collection sheet, students from the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health's Food Systems classes will canvass every Manhattan neighborhood to note whether the store sells organic or local food from a variety of categories, including dairy, produce, and meat. Dimitri will analyze the data to create an index for each store, ranging from 0 to 100, that captures the availability of organic or local food.

"This is a vast undertaking, given the large number of stores in Manhattan," Dimitri says. "Fortunately, my students have responded with great enthusiasm, and have offered useful suggestions about the best way to divide Manhattan in sections to facilitate the data collection process. Last month, Krystal Ford and I collected data on store types and in Inwood. We identified about 50 stores in our assigned area. I was rather surprised to see the odd mix of products carried in the majority of the stores."

The class' research will also shed light on whether demand for organic food is greater in higher income neighborhoods or in neighborhoods with a greater concentration of stores that sell such foods.

"Research suggest that consumption of organic food tends to be a function of how well educated a consumer is, as opposed to his or her income level," Dimitri says. " The problem with estimating a consumer's demand for such organic and local foods has been the difficulty of measuring access."

The data collected will provide a more accurate measure of access to organic and local food, that should allow Dimitri to improve existing models of consumer demand for these products.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Buying a farm

Four months ago my husband and I started seriously farm shopping. We decided to see what was available on the market. A real estate agent showed us four different properties in upstate New York but we were particularly interested in seeing one, a 46 acres property, which seemed pretty good on paper. It turns out it was the best one. But it was also the one that needed the most work. We loved the mixture of 30 acres of pasture and 16 acres of forest, with access to a river, a small pond, and multiple outbuildings, including an 1860s farmhouse and barn.

We put an offer on the farm and it was accepted. We will be closing next week. My husband has started a blog to chronicle our Farm Makeover. And he has already put up pictures of the house and property.

Honestly, I am both nervous and excited about buying the farm. Nervous about depleting our savings, nervous about how much it might cost, nervous about how much time and energy it might take. But I am excited about what my husband and I will be able to accomplish together. Completely renovating an old farmhouse by ourselves, and with the help of friends and family we can manage to harangue. Most of all I am excited about the possibility of making it the site of our future homestead.

Our first plan of action is to clean the house out. This will make it easier for us to figure out what we need to do first and what we tools we need to buy. We are also contemplating buying a used camper to put on the property. The house in unlivable, no heat, no electricity, no running water, and probably a decade's worth of mouse and insect feces. Though I loath the idea of spending so much money to stay in a hotel every time we go to work on the house, I haven't exactly embraced the idea of living in a camper. I am a farm girl not a trailer park girl. I realize that makes me sound like a bit of a snob but we all have our hang-ups. The problem is my overactive imagination is picturing living in some 2o year-old trailer that smells of cigarette smoke, polyester, and vinyl. Maybe the trailer will be lovely. Who knows. We are going to check out a camper next week and I will try to keep an open mind.

One thing is for sure, we are about to embark on a new adventure.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Garlic planting!

Last Monday I went to Glynwood to help with garlic planting. Driving down the mile long driveway the scenery was different from the last time I was there not so long ago. Lower tree limbs were looking bare and the remaining foliage, clinging stubbornly to the branches, were an assortment of oranges, yellows, and browns.

I stepped out of the car and could faintly see my breath. The tips of the grass were frosted. I had smartly worn tights under my Carhartts and a wool hat. Dave, Dayna and I loaded up on seed garlic, hand tools, and the dibbler ( a tool that is used to make 3 holes in a bed every few inches apart.)

It was 8 am in the morning, the sky was blue, the air was crisp, and we were ready to go. Only one thing got in our way, the top layer of the soil was frozen. We stood there looking at the ground and then at each other. Well shit. We gotta wait until it warms up. So I helped them harvest some beautiful looking broccoli crowns and then went home.

At 1:30 pm I returned to the field for take two of garlic planting. The beds were smoothed out with a rake and then holes were dug a few inches apart. One clove was put in each hole with the pointy tip up. Seed garlic is just regular garlic, but you try to select the biggest and nicest looking garlic to be your seed garlic. One head of garlic could have 6 cloves, which means you get 6 plants of garlic from one plant. After all the cloves are in the ground we lightly rake soil over the top completely covering the holes. The fun part is mulching the garlic. We take bails of straw and sprinkle it heavily all over the bed to help protect the garlic and suppress weeds in the spring.

Garlic planting (at least in Northeast) takes place in the fall because it gives the plants a bit of a head start. It gives them just enough time to put on some roots before going dormant. In the spring it is off to the races and will be ready for harvest in July. You could technically plant in the spring but it may not be ready until August or September. It's important to get a bit of head start because it takes so long to cure garlic (about 6 weeks.) Curing garlic is what gives it the ability to be stored a long time.

If you plant garlic too early in the fall it could put on too much growth and start popping out of the ground and then it dies when the frost comes. So to be on the safe side Dave waits until after Halloween to plant garlic.

Planting garlic feels like I have come full circle, but in reverse. Typically you plant and then harvest. But this time I harvested and then planted. There is no doubt that the season has come to an end.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Going Freelance

The last two weeks I have been as busy as ever. As I mentioned in the last blog post I found work helping an older woman in her garden, and throw a birthday party. It was a little intense but fun. The party was on Sunday but we began preparations on Friday. I drove her all around our little village to buy food and supplies at grocery stores and markets.

Saturday we made a short visit to the Cold Spring Farmers Market and purchased some last minute items; some beautiful plump mushrooms, brightly colored winter squash, fresh baked bread. All day long she cooked while I prepped. She handed me vegetables to chop, dice, peel, eggs to whisk, oranges to slice and juice, and glasses of sangria to taste. We made big batches of red and white sangria with slices of oranges, orange juice, wine, and cointreau. Every few hours we took a tiny ladle of the sangria we made to check the flavor, it was initially too tart so we added honey to each batch.

The day proceeded with praise and scolding. "Good, good. No! What are you doing?" That was good for chopping the tomatoes nicely. Bad because I like to rinse things like my knife or bowls under running water without a container underneath to catch it. She has this obsession with saving water (not a bad thing especially if you live in the desert) but she lives alone, has a well, and lives next to a stream. But at the end of the day we got a lot accomplished and we get along very well.

Sunday is party time. Most of the food was cooked the day before but there was still last minute things to prepare, steamed bok choy, stratas, and croissant sandwiches stuffed with smoked salmon. The party was from 3pm until 10pm. She planned to serve lunch and supper, buffet style. I was given strict instructions that dishes are hidden away and not left around or put in the dishwasher. I was to put them under the sink or in her laundry room. As the party progressed the urge for me to do the dishes grew stronger and stronger especially when we were running out of utensils, plates and glasses. (around 8pm I couldn't take it anymore and when she was out of the kitchen I put a load of dishes on.) At 9pm, I had been there for 12 hours and I was tired. My cue to leave was when I dropped a bottle of Champagne, while trying to open it, on the floor in front of all her guests. She was a good sport about it, no doubt my prize winning pie, I brought two that disappeared in minutes, had helped.

After a long weekend I was ready to rest, but Monday morning I found myself with a shovel digging up plants known as Obedient. I had been asked to help another woman in her garden. So Monday and Tuesday I spent a few hours helping dig up plants, finding homes for those plants, and planting bulbs of alliums, tulips and narcissus.

While digging, the neighbor of the woman I was helping came over and chatted with us. He asked me if this garden work was something I was looking to do regularly. Sure, I thought. Why not? The wheels were turning in my head, maybe my next job is to help people in their gardens. I can call myself the Personal Garden Assistant.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Life post farm internship

It's been one week since I left the farm. How have I adjusted? For starters, I am wearing my engagement ring again, I didn't want to risk losing it or having it so crusted with dirt and other debris that it looked like a piece of rock salt. I have switched from wearing loose ripped jeans and Carhartts to tighter fitting jeans and jeggins ( jeans + leggings, they look like jeans but are really tights). My husband can't wait for me to abandon that trend. Don't worry, a few months without farm work to keep me in shape should put a quick end to my infatuation with tights. My next trend may be over sized sweaters with sweat pants. I go to bed at 10:30 pm and sleep in until 7am. I enjoy getting up in the morning and taking my time to make breakfast and check the interweb. I would say I am adjusting pretty well.

I already found some work. I am helping a woman, who lives 3-minutes from me, clean-up her garden and property and sometimes we do a little bit of work inside. She is the wife of a famous photographer, Leonard Freed. We work for a few hours in the morning and sometimes she feeds me lunch; or we have pie break. She loves food as much as I do and she asked me to help her prepare for her husbands birthday party this weekend. Even though Leonard passed-away a few years ago she still throws him a party and invites their friends and people who worked with him. I find it incredibly endearing.

I spent quite a bit of time trawling the internet last week for research and newspaper articles for my agriculture class at school. I am doing a research paper on Canadian and American dairy policies, specifically looking at policies that foster sustainable dairy production. And I have registered for the Stone Barns Young Farmers Conference this December.

Just to reassure you that there are more adventures to come at Farmer Chic, my husband and I are in the process of buying a 46-acre farm that needs lots of work. I will definitely have plenty to share if we end up buying it.

Agriculture is such a part of my life that even when I am not working on the farm, I am thinking about a farm. I shouldn't get used to wearing my engagement ring, or my jeggins; it seems I am destined to have dirty hands and Carhartts.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Last week on the farm

On a cold February day, four interns checked-in for the ten month internship, one checked-out in July, another in August and now I am leaving mid-October. I didn't quite make it to the end, but I felt I had reached a good stopping point. School is starting to take up more of my time and the garden less and less. But that doesn't mean my last week was a walk in the park, in fact it was one of the more physically active weeks I've had in a while.

On Tuesday we put the rest of the remaining rock dust (to increase soil mineral content) in the garden. The rock dust is conveniently packaged in a 2000lb bag, fortunately half was used already. We had to shovel the rock dust into the bucket of the Bobcat, dump the load by garden, and then scoop up the rock dust and lightly sprinkle it on the rows. The technique I use is to slightly rotate the handle up and down so I can control how much amendment I put down. It didn't take long before my forearm was feeling the burn.

Later that day I spent three hours hoeing the muddy ground, after four days of sunshine the ground still stubbornly refuses to dry, trying to incorporate the rock dust into the soil. It is a challenge to hoe wet soil as opposed to dry soil because it sticks and there's more friction. It was pretty slow going and there were many glances at my cheap neon green watch that afternoon.

Dayna (the last surviving intern for 2010) and me

Wednesday after harvesting for CSA we sowed winter rye, a cover crop, in the same garden we put down the soil amendments. Winter rye puts down roots in the fall but really only starts growing in spring. When it's tilled in the spring it adds a lot of green matter to the soil, plus it prevents soil erosion in the winter.

Thursday we stepped up our sowing big-time. The five-acre area we had been discing these past few weeks was ready to be cover cropped. We had 500lbs worth of winter rye, 100lbs per acre. No fancy equipment was used to sow our seeds. We are old-school. Two kitty litter boxes were filled with seed and Dave and I split an acre into two halves and proceeded to sow our seed. It took us three hours to cover five-acres and we probably walked 6miles up and down the field.

Friday morning was a little sad because it was my last day least for 2010. The cattle adjacent to the field were in a frenzy. They sounded like a bunch of 12 years old handed brass instruments. I thought they were vocalizing what everyone on the farm was thinking, "how we will we ever go on without Krystal?" But alas, that was only my imagination. The cattle were really just upset because one of them broke out and was freely grazing above our garden (it was quickly put back in with the herd.)

My going away gift, lots of yummy squash!

When I was asked how I felt about it being my last week I didn't have this feeling of finality. I knew I would be back, I was already planning to come back in November to help process the turkeys and build the high tunnel. Plus, I can volunteer at anytime. So I really don't feel like I am leaving. After eight and half months it will be hard to imagine not being on the farm five, sometimes six, days a week. We'll see how I feel when this actually settles in...stay tuned for a life-after-the farm analysis.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Season's winding down, but harvest is going strong

It's week 18 of our CSA distribution and some might be surprised to learn the boxes are not filled just with kale or arugula. This weeks share is both beautiful and diverse. Boxes are packed with broccoli, cabbage, carrots, kale (of course), chard, lettuce, leeks, peppers, eggplants, hot peppers, turnips, an assortment of herbs, celeriac, potatoes, tomatoes (albeit just a handful) and pumpkins! Now that's impressive.

When I was harvesting the cabbage in the field I knew I had to make Borscht this weekend, a potato, cabbage and beet soup. While there are a variety of things to harvest, it doesn't take us very long to do it. Tomato picking used to take 2hrs now it takes 20 minutes. The pace of our day has slowed down considerably and it is almost a shock to go from working so much to having very little to do. This time of the year we start cleaning tools, organizing sheds, removing hoses from the fields, removing dead plants from the field that can't be turned in, draining the oil out of the rototiller, and tackling the small projects we don't have time to do in the summer.

One such project was insulating the root cellar. On a gray drizzly day we assembled in this root cellar to insulate the ceiling. A root cellar needs high humidity but not so much that it drips condensation on top of the produce. Root cellars are a great way to store potatoes, beets, carrots, apples, winter squash or other storage hardy vegetables for the long winter months. To insulate the ceiling, our resident handy man Mark helped us measure the panels, cut them, and then using an air gun bolt them to the cement ceiling. It was going swimmingly until we ran out of insulation..guess that will be a project for next years interns.

In the livestock department, things haven't been going so great for the goats. In the past few weeks we lost two bottle babies, one kid, and two older goats. We think the younger goats may have been infected by a worm or parasite. To prevent any further loss the livestock crew separated out any goats that looked weak, including our first bottle baby Lady, and put them inside a pen for shelter and so we could keep an eye on them. Lady seems to be healthy, which is encouraging. I love that I can see her more often. She is a little escape artist though, jumping out of her pen constantly. Sometimes she would wander over to the fence by the garden and call out to us. I really want to take her home and make her my second dog.

Photo by: Frankie Kim

One of our bottle babies that passed away, rest in peace Shrimp Salad

Yesterday I walked into barn where the goats and sheep are kept and I smelt a pungent cheese odor. I thought it was odd but then I saw Hollywood, the buck, in the pen with the sheep. I had been warned that a buck in rut smells pretty bad but I never experienced it firsthand. When bucks go into rut, male version of going into heat, they are completely different creatures. For starters they smell, and touching them by default will make you smell. Plus, they do some pretty gross things, one of them is drinking their own urine, the other I don't even think is mentionable on this blog. Ok, when have I ever held back? He sticks his, schlong, in his mouth. The reason he was separated from the herd of goats is because Ken, farm director, hasn't been pleased with Hollywood's offspring, mostly their poor survivor rate, and wants to try a new buck. A new one will be arriving next week. In reality we already have two bucks. However the other buck, Whopper, is special...I don't think he knows he's a buck, or if he does, he is clearly not interested in his female companions.

Autumn is a beautiful time on the farm and it is hard to believe that exactly one year ago I was interviewing for the garden intern position. I was in awe of the beauty of the farm then, and I still am 8- months later. Hard to believe I will be leaving soon. I think I really could enjoy having my own farm someday.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pie contest at Stone Barns

Harvest fests, Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving are all fall celebrations deliciously centered around abundance and gorging. I fully enjoy taking advantage of those occasions. While food is always important for a moment I will dwell on the beauty of fall. Nothing compares to the clear bright blue skies, warm days, and the crunching sounds fallen leaves and acorns make as you walk. Just as the beauty of flowers and vegetables fade away the trees enthrall us with an artists palette of yellows, reds, and oranges.

Naturally I say all this coming down off the high of a beautiful Saturday spent at Stone Barns for their Harvest Fest while conveniently forgetting about the cool rainy days we had last Thursday and Friday and again today. It wasn't just the old stone buildings, the smell of roasting Berkshire pork over an open pit, or the live music that had me excited, it was the fact I was entering the pie contest. The first time I ever entered any recipe contest.

Weeks ago I started experimenting with Delicata squash as the main ingredient. It happened to be one the squashes we grew at Glynwood, but I had never eaten it before. I thought to myself, if you can make pies with pumpkin why not with other winter squash? The contest theme was seasonal pies with local ingredients. I had that one in the bag. Four out of my five ingredients were all locally sourced and two of them from the farm I work at. I will fess up right now though, I did not make the pie crust. Even though I have access to wonderful local flour, from Wild Hives, pie crusts tend to be one of the few shortcuts I take. I could probably blame my crust aversion on my mom, who like myself makes a lot of things from scratch, but always used pie shells. But my reasons for avoiding making them is because its time consuming, I don't always get a consistent end product, and it doesn't look very pretty when I am done with it. That being said, I should just suck-it-up and practice. In the future I promise I will try and make the pie crust as well.

The first pie I made with just maple syrup as the sweetener and then I made another pie with half maple syrup and half brown sugar. I actually liked the combination of maple syrup and brown sugar better because I think the brown sugar helped the maple flavor stand out more. The color was a beautiful golden yellow and texture was firm but creamy, almost in between the texture of pumpkin pie and mousse. I brought in a slice for my fellow Glynwood co-workers to try and they all gave it the thumbs up.

The night before the contest I made two pies, in order to give them enough time to cool and set overnight. I unfortunately filled the pie shells right to the brim, even though part of me said I should stop before they get too full, as they cooled they formed two tiny fissure in the center of both pies. In the morning I racked my brain trying to figure out how to cover it up because I couldn't submit ugly amateur looking pies, I quickly dismissed whipped cream (it would change the flavor profile and would be a cop-out) I definitely couldn't bake two more in time for the contest, in the end I decided to bake another Delicata with brown sugar and quickly blend it with a touch of cream and used it to fill in the tiny cracks. The pies were looking in much better shape and I didn't have to sacrifice the taste. I was feeling a smidge more confident.

At 1pm we sat in the courtyard near the stage and I watched nervously as all the pies were brought out. I grew more anxious, and said to my husband "maybe mine was too simple, maybe it wasn't pretty enough." He told me to stop worrying. Easier said then done.

The guest judges were Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs from the website Food52 (take a look at the slide show and short video of the harvest festival and pie contest.) I highly recommend checking out the website. It's not your typical recipe website, this actually feels like your joining a cooking community and is geared towards the home-cook enthusiasts. You can post recipes, get feed back on recipes, ask questions, and enter recipe contests. Best of all the winning recipe from each week gets compiled into a cookbook, hence the name Food52 for 52 weeks of the year (note-to-self, gotta get in on this.)

Over the moon with joy, accepting my gift bag

The contest had prizes for four categories, Most Beautiful, most inventive ingredient combination, most seasonal, and best pie overall. I won most seasonal....then I also won best overall! I jumped up like I had just won an Emmy. I was so excited it was like a total adrenaline rush. Wow, someone besides my husband, friends and family, likes my food, I felt vindicated.

Amanda Hesser, me, Merrill Stubbs

Truthfully my pie wasn't fancy at all, it was just a simple combination of really good quality ingredients, and the fact that I was genius for putting them all together. Maybe the next pie I make will have to make is humble pie...

Maple Delicata Pie

by Krystal Ford

Makes one 9-inch pie

  • 1 (9-inch) pie shell
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon brown sugar (divided use)
  • 1 delicata squash (about 1.5 pounds)
  • 1 cup Ronnybrook cream
  • 1/2 cup Lanza Farms maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 Glynwood eggs (or free-range eggs from a local farm)

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Cut delicata squash lengthwise into two halves and scoop out seeds.

3. Divide a tablespoon of butter and brown sugar between the squash halves and bake for 30 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork. Set aside until cooled and turn oven down to 350 degrees.

4. Scoop out squash (1 1/2 cups worth) into a blender. Add cream, maple syrup, and remaining brown sugar and blend until smooth (about 1 to 2 minutes).

5. Pour squash blend into a medium-sized bowl. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

6. Mix in eggs, one egg at a time.

7. Pour filling into pie shell.

8. Bake for 1 hour or until set.

9. Allow pie to cool and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tractors, owls and high tunnels.

If riding a tractor is like riding a horse, I want nothing to do with either one of them. I had my first tractor experience on Friday and I was still feeling the effects of it on Saturday. My introduction was slightly more traumatic than it should have been.

For starters, we were discing five acres of previously unused pasture. Dave, the CSA manager, and another intern, Dayna, had done a good deal of discing before me so the ground was nice and torn up. When I got on the old Landini I had the pleasure of being jostled over peaks and valleys on a machine with no suspension. My butt spent one second on the seat and two seconds in the air while I swayed to the left and right trying to steer the tractor straight. I yelled out to Dayna, who showed me how to use the tractor, that I think I was going to flip it. She yelled back " you won't." I screamed out "I think I may fall off." She just told me to go faster.

After an hour and a half I was more than ready to get off the tractor. Towards the end of it I was standing up more than I was sitting down.

I was switching with Dayna when we realized that one of the hitches on the three point hitch was no longer attached, part of the pin had broken off. That put an end to our tractor work. We removed the implement and I said I would bring the tractor back down to the garage. As I was driving it out of the field the wheels would not turn to the right, no matter how much I turned the wheel, I almost ran right into the gate. I reversed and turned to the left, and decided to try again and found myself again almost crashing into the gate. For some reason the wheels would only turn left. After several attempts I turned the tractor off, and muttering a few expletives, walked a mile to the CSA shed to get Dave's help.

It turns out the hydraulic fluid was leaking and steering had completely failed all together when they got up there. I was slightly relieved because I half worried that I had done something stupid. At least it was the steering and not the breaks.

Sunday chores were quite adventurous. In the morning, as I was letting the meat birds out of their coops in the orchard when I pretty much came face to face with an owl. The owl, who must have gotten in through a tare in the plastic, was sitting quietly next to its carnage and staring right at me. His talons were as big as my dogs legs. I opened up the door and the owl spread its wings and gracefully flew out. I was left with his mess. Three headless chickens lay in the coop while the rest of chicks must have been quietly shitting themselves.

This morning in the pouring rain, yes rain, that elusive thing we have seen little of this summer, a large tractor trailer showed up carrying our high tunnel kit. A high tunnel, also known as a hoop house, is an unheated greenhouse that is technically not permanent. They are useful for season extension (can grow greens longer into the fall or start crops earlier in the spring) or they can be used for your heat loving plants such as tomatoes or melons. We already have one, but we plan on building a bigger one. That will be a project for us in October.

Dave had to go to a meeting, so us three girls went to offload the high tunnel kit. Well as I tried to fine a place to put the Bob Cat, I took one look at the items on the palettes on the truck and I was like hell no, I am not going to be responsible for dropping $4000 worth of materials. Cale, the livestock manager, showed up to help and so did one of the contractors who was in the middle of leveling out the pad where the high tunnel was going. The boxes were very long and awkward and one of them weighed over 2000 lbs. They needed chains and a crain to get it out of the truck. It was a tad bit more involved then we thought it would be!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fall is here!

Wow, September is flying by. I haven't had the chance to put pen to paper, or rather, fingers to keyboard in a few weeks, and there is so much to share. I will give a quick recap of the past few weeks.

Labor Day we harvested all our winter squash. Our pumpkins were deep orange globes of various sizes, our acorns were dark green, delicatas were yellow with faint orange striations, and the hubbards were big and bluish gray. A real feast for the eyes. Visions of soups, pies, and roasted vegetable dishes danced in my head. All the harvested squash was put out on tables in the greenhouse to cure them (so they can store longer.) The field looked bereft with them gone and I felt a twinge of sadness knowing the season was coming to the end. (I will try not to go Wendell Barry on you.) Our CSA members quickly noticed their absence and panicked that they might have missed the distribution of them. We reassured them that there were plenty of squash (it was a great year) and they would be seeing them again shortly.

When I think of Fall foods I picture squash, pumpkins, cabbage, potatoes, beets and of course, turkey. The new hierarchy on the farm (of animals that I love the most) is now goats, pigs, turkeys, cows, sheep, chickens, then lastly, rabbits.

I love our heritage turkeys, Bourbon Reds. They have been a source of entertainment for the three to four weeks they were in the apple orchard near the garden. Their funny little gobbles, the way the Toms puffed up their feathers to make them look like the turkey you see on Thanksgiving decorations, and best of all their love of raspberries.

One day while picking raspberries I decided to throw some of the rotten ones over to see if the Turkeys would eat them. The result was four or five turkeys would chase after the one raspberry. So I started throwing a few more and they all started running around after them, sometimes even fighting over one. Every couple of days I would throw them some raspberries and they started to get used to it, so much so they would call out when one of us was near by, probably in hopes we would throw some more raspberries. The best way to describe how the turkeys react to raspberries is to imagine a bride throwing her bouquet to a crowd of single
30- somethings..that's pretty much what it looks like, minus the hair pulling.

The first week of September we were racing to make soil amendments and put down our cover crops. We had a few thousand pounds of rock dust to put down (using only a Bob Cat and four shovels) which is full of minerals. After the rock dust we then sowed field peas and oats wherever the soil was bare and under-sowed some of our current crops. This cover crop will be left over winter (it will actually be killed by a hard frost but will leave a nice layer of green-matter preventing soil erosion and put nutrients back into the soil.)

Last week I was away on vacation, enjoying the fruits of someone else's labor for a change, though the vegetables paled in comparison to ours.

This week the pace has slowed down remarkably. All of sudden weeding takes two hours instead of 8, and tomato picking takes 30 minutes instead of 2hrs. The temperature is pleasant and they days are sunny with blue skies. I can't think of a better time to be outside then right now.

The winding down of the season reminds me of when I finished the marathon last year; While you're running it you think, "wow, this is kind of intense" but you grit your teeth and pull through it. Two days later you think, that wasn't so bad after all, and a week later all you can remember is the feeling of accomplishment and the memories of pain and discomfort disappear.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Seed Saving

Some peoples' summer reading might include The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Sarah Palin's book, for a good laugh I imagine, or whatever Oprah or the New York Times tells them to read. I, on the other hand, chose a book about how GMOs are going to destroy this planet. Okay, the book may not be as doomsday as that but I am in chapter five of Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds, by Claire Hope Cummings, and the future looks pretty grim.

This past Monday however I felt a glimmer of hope. I went to a seed saving work shop at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project. To be honest, I know nothing about seed saving and my knowledge of plant biology is embarrassing to say the least. I vaguely know the difference between hybrid and open pollinated, and self-pollinating and cross pollinating. If you are like me and also fell asleep during plant section of your Biology 101, see my note below.

We were taken on a tour of the garden grown just for seed collection and I was struck by how different the plants look when they are allowed to go to seed. The lettuce, arugula, chard, and kale were unrecognizable. According to City Seeds Seed-Saving Resource Packet plants that are grown just for seed have to isolated by distance, time or physical barriers to prevent any genetic contamination from other plants of the same species. Isolation requirements could be as little as 20-50ft for selfers up to 5 miles for wind-pollinated crossers, for example corn.

If saving seed requires so much thought and planning why bother? The reasons are numerous and can include seed integrity, preservation of varieties that seed companies might decide to drop at a whim, saving seeds from plants with desired traits such as maturity, color, flavor, disease resistance, or adapted to certain regions climate, it can help save money and it is a tradition that is rapidly being lost and forgotten.

You don't need to grow all your own seeds, you could choose to grow a few and trade them. Fortunately, there are seed swaps happening all over the country.

As someone who keeps well informed about food issues even I have overlooked the importance of seeds. But as I have read in Uncertain Peril, most of our seeds are now controlled by a handful of corporations and they are profit driven. If the flavorless hybrid tomato is the money maker then the delicious and beautiful heirloom varieties could be dropped. If we want to maintain control over our food the first step is to control the seeds we use.

*Hybrids are a cross between plants that are genetically different, they are good for one growing food one time but should not be saved for seed because they do not breed true to type. Open pollinated varieties breed true to type as long as they do not cross-pollinate with another variety of species. The difference between self-pollinating and cross-pollinating is that the self-pollinators contain both the male and female parts and can pollinate itself, a few examples include tomatoes, lettuce, and eggplant. Cross-pollinating plants rely on insects, wind, or humans to transfer pollen, examples include beets, cabbage, pumpkins, and watermelon.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rest in Peace, Pig.

I can handle killing animals for food. In fact, I just killed a chicken on Tuesday at Stone Barns with no remorse. But when one of our yearling Old Spot sow, Laverne, died all of sudden last week, and then a few days later another sow's one and only piglet died, I have to admit it got to me. Then again, seeing the sow nudge her dead piglet and then just laying by it, completely ignoring the food I put down for her, could bring a bad-ass biker to tears.

Losing an animal is not the same as killing one because the latter is the expected outcome of raising animals, and the former causes you to stop and reflect. Am I being a good animal husband? Or have I let the animal down? We have an obligation to feed, provide shelter, ensure they remain in good health without suffering. We care a lot about our animals on the farm and we try to provide them the best care. But when an animal dies suddenly we owe it to them to stop for a moment and analyze our practices. For the most part we may not be able to prevent death, maybe they have a disease or infection that shows no signs or symptoms. But sometimes if we were just a little more in tune, maybe we could have intervened. The point is to recognize when you make a mistake and then learn from those mistakes. In the future, precautions can be taken.

Death happens on the farm or in the wild. It is a fact of life. What I take away from this experience is that raising animals is not something you take on lightly, its a big responsibility. When I have my own homestead or farm I will try to remember the importance of being a "good husband" for better, or for worse.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The ant and the grasshopper

From childhood onward I have read, or have had read to me, well over a hundred books. Many stories are forgotten, but there is one story from my childhood that I keep thinking of lately, Aesops fable, the Ant and the Gasshopper. The grasshopper played and fooled around all summer long while the ant worked diligently to store food away for the winter. When winter came along and there was no food to be found the grasshopper was begging the ant for food. I think the ant said no dice, and in the end the grasshopper died from starvation, or something along those lines. The point is, these days I feel like an ant. While millions of Americans are peeling off the plastic from their microwaveable supper I am diligently washing, chopping, peeling, seeding, canning, freezing and vacuum sealing my food away for the winter.

I won't preach about the virtues of cooking from scratch, frankly, I am too tired from working in the garden and all this kitchen prep to climb onto my pedestal. But I will share with you why and how I became so obsessed about preserving things. It all started with blueberries.

I am no stranger to canning, I like to can salsa and occasionally I try my hand at pickles. Mainly though it's been a once-a-year occurrence. But this year I started making jam. My husband and I found a wild blueberry patch 20 minutes from our house. We have picked there several times, even dragging my poor dear mother-in-law along, in the blazing sun, when she came for a visit. We accumulated enough blueberries to make 10 jars of jam before the drought cut the season short. Then we found a black raspberry patch and red raspberry patch withing walking distance, so we made another 6 jars of jam. Because I was getting the berries for free, the jams were only costing me the price of sugar, the jars and my time. It was like buying organic jam for a little over a $1.00.

At work we often have one crop in abundance at any given time and there is only so much zucchini or cucumbers we can unload on our CSA members. The wheels in my head go into overdrive thinking of uses for our vegetables. One time I decided to take home the lemon cucumbers and make pickles. I made up the recipe and put lemon and basil in the pickling juice. They were so beautiful looking.

My co-worker Lise asked me why I didn't freeze more. Personally, I like my salsas and jams in jars. Its easier to transport and convenient to use. But we both agreed that canning can be quite time consuming. She introduced me to the vacuum sealer and I will be forever in her debt. The first thing I vacuum sealed was beans. I quickly learned that grated zucchini must be flash frozen before being vacuum sealed because there is so much liquid being sucked out that the seal can't form.

Being obsessed with preserving the summer bounty can be quite stressful at times. All day I am thinking about what I have to do when I get home. A few weeks ago I went peach picking with the Glynwood crew at Fishkill Farms, really great U-pick farm that uses IPM, and brought home 15lbs. The next day I was expecting a friend from Montreal to visit with me for the weekend. I rushed home after work on Friday and started making peach salsa and peach and blackberry jam. I was in a frenzy trying to use up the peaches because there was rock salt on them, the rock salt was in the trunk next to my peach bag and I accidentally knocked the bag over. The peaches were super salty, even after soaking them for 12hrs in water, and couldn't be eaten raw anymore. Just as my jam was beginning to boil the power went out. I was in the dark thinking to myself, are you kidding me? It's August, I have salsa ready to go and my jam has reached a critical point and the power goes out. Turns out a tree fell on a power line. Lucky for me, my husband set-up our outdoor propane stove to I could finish canning.

This week has been especially tiresome. Every day I have been coming home with bags of tomatoes. Monday I made a quart and half of rich and flavorful tomato sauce, Tuesday I froze whole skinned tomatoes, Wednesday I made ratatouille and more tomato sauce. Today? Taking a break, but I will be back at it tomorrow. Maybe I will roast them in the oven this time...see, even when I am writing about food I am thinking about food.

Deep down I know this is all worth the effort. In the middle of winter, when the power goes out and the we are thigh deep in snow, I can reach deep into my freezer and pull out the ratatouille and I'll be able to re-live the taste of summer. The most delicious and freshest, organic, local, wholesome summer.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Urban Agriculture: A trip to the big city

Yesterday was jam packed with activities, but none of them required me getting my hands dirty. In the morning we hosted a group of local teachers. We gave them a tour of the gardens pointing out all our sustainable practices and gave them a hand-out, we created it on a rainy day, that included the definition of sustainable and pro's and con's of conventional, organic, and sustainable agriculture. The groups aim was to somehow incorporate agriculture into the curriculum at school.

After concluding the tour we hurried to grab some lunch before making the long trek to New York City.
Added Value, Red Hook, Brooklyn

Entering New York City the landscape suddenly seemed devoid of color. The sky was as gray as the buildings looming over us. Only a few hours earlier my scenery was green and lush, and now it feels like I have suddenly stepped into a black and white film. Its hard to imagine that I lived here a year ago.
Added Value, Red Hook, Brooklyn

The first urban farm we visited was Added Value in Red Hook. We were told to meet by the Ikea. So we follow the signs for Ikea on the road. After left turns and right turns and u-turns, we finally see the monolithic yellow and blue building come into sight. On our right, a garden appears out of nowhere. Entering the chain link fence, its former purpose as a park is still evident. Asphalt peeks out where soil is not laid and there is a batting cage in the far right corner.

We meet with the Added Value crew by the baseball diamond and sit in a circle. Ian Marvy, Co-Founder and Executive Director, gives us a little history of Red Hook and of how this place came to be and what its all about. To quickly sum it up, Added Value is a farm/park/youth program/CSA/market. As Marvy put it, "they aim to affect the teens' mind, heart, and hands." The teens are not the only beneficiaries though, at their market on the weekends they accept FMNP coupons and have an EBT device allowing them to accept credit cards and federal benefits.

The teen leaders gave us a tour of the farm and I was very impressed with their knowledge of farming. They built their raised beds with compost and had drip tape in the rows to directly water the roots and prevent runoff. Their compost system included wind rows, bins, and vermi-composting. People from the community could drop-off food scraps in one of the compost barrels, add a handful of wood chips, and give the handle a few spins to mix it. They also collected compost from restaurants that they sell their produce to.

The types and varieties of produce were impressive; tomatoes, okra, collards, corn, melons, salad mixes, herbs, peppers, cucumbers, squash, to name a few.

I could see how easy it would be to drown out the sounds of trucks and horns, to erase the piercing image of Swedish consumerism, and focus on the contrast of soil and greenery. A slice of paradise carved out in an unlikely place.

Our second urban farm visit presented us with another vista, the East River and Empire State building. Walking up the stairs of a non-descript warehouse you would never guess the roof was housing a farm. We met with the energetic Annie Novak, one of the founding farmers, for a tour of Eagle Street Roof Top Farm, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Eagle Street Roof Top Farm, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

The 6,000 square foot green roof farm was started in 2009 and produces food for restaurants, CSA members, and their own farm market open on Sundays. Growing on a roof with limited space presents a lot of challenges. It is much harder than growing on land or asphalt even because weight is a concern. The growing medium is comprised of compost, rock particulate, and shale. The beds have a soil depth of 4 to 7 inches. The plants looked a little stunted which is not surprising given the conditions, no wind breaks and shallow soil depth.

The roof top also boasts a modest flock of chickens and four bee hives. Novak recounted how one time the chickens, spooked because of rabbit, flew the coop. The image of chickens flying off the roof and into traffic below is both comic and terrifying, for the cars in the street below that is.

My overall honest impression of the farm was that, while I loved the idea of growing food in cities and even more so on a roof, it is not an equivalent substitute for growing on soil. There are varieties that just cannot grow in those conditions and those that do may not reach their full potential. The CSA share was very small, the share of vegetables is what I would basically eat for snack or lunch, a handful of tomatoes, cilantro, some cut lettuce. I also wondered about fertility of the soil. But considering the constraints, I applaud her effort. And I imagine the CSA members support her cause regardless if they receive bounty in return.

Farming is part science, part intuition and the rest is trial and error. I look forward to seeing how the rooftop farm progresses over the next few years.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Intern swap: Stone Barns for a day

Darien and I, last December at Blue Hill

Light rain and gray clouds could not diminish the beauty of Blue Hill at Stone Barns. As we slowly drove down the driveway, with mobile chickens coops on the left and Angus cows on the right, the gardens came into view. We rounded the corner and the stone buildings with their attached stone silos tower over us in an awe inspiring way. I love this place. It's enchanting with its combination of beauty, agriculture and haute cuisine.

I will disclose that I have eaten at Blue Hill, located in Pocantico Hills, Ny, three times over the last couple of years. The first two times my husband and I were living in New York City and were desperate for a country experience. We are also food enthusiasts with a passion for local food. This restaurant, while a bit pricey, far surpasses those expectations. When we moved north of New York City, and finally got a car, I applied to be an apprentice in the greenhouse at Stone Barns, Stone Barns is the agricultural side of the of the equation, growing food for both the restaurant and market, but was told the position was already filled. But I lucked out and got a position at Glynwood.

Me, in front of the greenhouses last year for my Birthday dinner

Dayna and I pulled up to the expansive greenhouse. It was 8 am and we were ready to begin our day of work as interns at Stone Barns. Two of their employees were at Glynwood replacing us. The morning was sticky and warm, a foreboding sign of what lay ahead. In the greenhouse I met with Sara, the greenhouse apprentice. We spent the morning cutting lettuce, varieties like totsoi, speckled trout belly, and arugula. They mix the cut lettuce and sell the mix at the weekend market they have on site. I asked jokingly if they washed and dried their lettuce by putting it in a mesh bag and swinging it around like we do. Alas, they have a washing machine and they put the lettuce through the spin cycle.

At 11:30 am a man named John working in the compost department asked if we wanted to see how they made bio-char. Of course we did. The wood was cut into small pieces and placed inside a re-purposed gallon drum which is then placed in another drum with wood pieces shoved tightly in between the two. Dayna and I were tasked with splitting the wood into small pieces. A half an hour later my right bicep was throbbing. After packing the drum with wood we started a fire using some hay, biodiesel, and regular diesel then placed the smoke stack on. Bi0-char can be used in the garden and the charcoal was being used by the chefs in the kitchen.

After lunch I "helped" harvest potatoes. I say this rather loosely because the only thing I did was dig out half a dozen potatoes. Stone Barns harvests potatoes a little differently then us, they used a tractor with an implement to dig up the potatoes and they had about 20 eager kid volunteers to pick through the soil. Sure beats using a pitch fork. What took them five minutes on the tractor would have taken us an hour. They are big into education, hosting many school tours for kids of all ages, and they run a farm camp in the summer. Before the potato harvesting began though me and another farmer were serenaded by the children. One of the counselors played the ukulele and the kids sang a song about potatoes.

At 4pm it was quitting time, an 8 hr work day! We were invited to have dinner with them. Every Thursday the restaurant invites the farm staff to participate in family meal. I almost feel guilty walking into the kitchen in my dirty clothes. A bowl of steaming pasta with tomato and eggplant is placed next to toasted baguettes slices with a pesto on a stainless steel table. I try to quickly scoop up the pasta and move on as the line behind me grows longer by the second. A big bowl of mixed fresh cut lettuce is placed on another table. On a terrace overlooking the garden the restaurant staff and farmers congregate, separately, and hungrily eat their meal. The clean, crisp uniforms of the restaurant staff contrasted with the dirty, sometimes painfully fashion challenged, interns and apprentices.

Nena, the woman who helped organize the intern swap between Glynwood and Stone Barns, introduced us to the crowd. A few other workers spoke provided updates from the different areas of the farm. I thought it was great that they were trying to keep the restaurant staff in the loop. As the greenhouse manager was speaking I spied out of the corner of my eye Dan Barber appear out a side door, dressed in his immaculate chef whites. I had secretly hoped all along I would catch a glimpse of the sustainable food god. He didn't say anything and quickly retreated back to the kitchen when the speeches were finished.

I really enjoyed working with the Stone Barns crew and found everyone to be really enthusiastic and an absolute delight to work with.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Quick field update

This week we harvested our first row of onions. They have been laid out on tables in the greenhouse to help remove some of the moisture before we put them in the attic of the barn to dry them. As of last week we have harvested all our garlic and it is has been bunched into ten, tied with twine and hung from the rafters in our barn. We have over 2000 heads and they will take 6-8 weeks to cure. We started digging up our potatoes, Norland Reds and this purplish color potato, not sure the variety, and have dug up over 300 lbs worth. The drought spell has finally been broken and we have had over three inches of rain the past few weeks. Tomatoes, squash, beans, cucumbers, beets and carrots are plentiful and we have another round of head lettuce ready. The summer is flying by and I can't believe August is upon us.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

SOB: Son of a Bee

I have a confession to make. I am afraid of bees. Its a rather embarrassing confession one that merits further exploration. We'll skip the obvious question of why I am afraid of bees for now and delve right into the real question, why on earth would I want to work in a garden then? Because, I actually never realized how many bees our acre and a half garden would attract. The tragedy for me is that having bees in the garden is a good thing, and I feel guilty wishing there would be less of them. Bees are the pollinators. Without bees there would be no crops. But every time I hear the hum coming from the rapidly beating wings it sets my heart pumping.

I learned quickly as a child that bee=sting=ouch. Every time a bee invaded my personal space I wigged out and would scream and run away. Unfortunately, little has changed today.

The slow realization that farming=lots of bees didn't kick in until the squash and cucumbers blossoms made their sunny yellow appearance. A cacophony of buzzing sounds all around me and as I am reaching in to harvest squash and I spot four bumble bees sitting in one blossom. They are several blossoms per plant times by the number of plants per row were talking a lot of bees. Sudddenly harvesting became and act of bravery and a source of anxitety for me. I would move the heart shaped leaves aside with my harvesting knife and brace myself for a bee sting in the face.

Ironically, the only time I have been stung was a few weeks ago when I was removing t-posts in the pea bed. All of a sudden I felt a sharp pain in my stomach. I looked down and saw a bumble bee on my shirt. I first ran over to my co-worker Lise screaming for her to get it off me. Then, a rapid fire of expletives followed. Bees really bring out the worst in me. People always say they only sting if they feel threatened. What did I do to that bee? I was just removing a post and was no where near her flowers. Secretly I think they are all SOBs.

While the sting did initially hurt and throbbed a bit for 20 minutes it is not the worst pain I have endured. On my list for most painful experiences is tattoos, belly piercing, jelly fish stings, vaccinations, and then bee stings. Logically I know I shouldn't fear them because most of the time they don't bother us, and even if I am stung, it really isn't that bad.

I have to get over this fear. I have considered several options, one is to get hypnotized, another is to go on Dr. Phil and talk my fears to death, and the last one involves getting a bee suit. My colleagues find this all rather amusing and take great pleasure in reminding me that my future farm will have to consist of crops that don't bear fruit from flowers.

Today I may have found a new ally, Dave my boss, was stung by a bee on the chin. He is mildly allergic to bee stings. We predicted he would have a chin like Jay Leno but he actually grew a double chin an hour later. He also broke out in hives on his hand. This is the second time he was stung this summer and the reactions are getting worse. Before Dave left for the day I asked him if I should order two bee suits. He said he wanted his with wings.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Field trip to the mobile slaughterhouse

Meat, potato, and veg. A rather boring trifecta that makes up the backbone of many Americans' diets, and once made up mine. But what if that meat on the plate was grass-fed and sustainably raised? and the potato and veg were organically grown? Well, now were talking about a whole new meal. Packed with flavors, texture, and a whole lotta love.

The meat part, sustainably raised, has been for me, the hardest to come by. Depending on where you live it can be quite challenging to find grass-fed, local meat, and when you do, it is often prohibitively expensive. Right now, the consumer demand for sustainably raised meat is out pacing the supply. If you picture a hour glass with farmers at the top and consumers at the bottom, the middle is the infrastructure, or lack thereof, slowing everything down. Slaughtering and processing (the act of killing and breaking the animal down into its neat little parts) may not be sexy or even appetizing to contemplate, but its crucial. And here in New York, and all over the US, there is severe shortage of those facilities. Without USDA inspected facilities, meat cannot be sold to the public.

However, the cries for more slaughterhouses have not gone unheard. In 2008, Glynwood created a task force to address this issue. Fast forward to the spring of 2010 and the Modular Harvest System (MHS) was opening its doors for operation in Delaware County. The MHS is dubbed the next generation mobile slaughterhouse by Glynwood. To read more about the Modular Harvest System check out Glynwood's Blog, The Glynwood View.

Last Friday Lise, Dayna, and I hustled to finish our morning harvest so we could hop in the car and drive 125 miles to tour the MHS. I have been curious to see the set-up since I started reading about mobile slaughtering units this past spring. The last hour of the drive the scenery can be summed up as farm after farm with their dilapidated buildings set amongst a backdrop of green rolling mountains. This is real country.

We pulled into a vacant lot in front of a building with a sign that read Eklund Farm Machinery. The first docking site for the Modular Harvest System is located on the Eklunds property, a family that raises dairy cows among other things. Four white trailers make up the MHS and were parked in the yard. They looked rather unremarkable and provided no clue to what goes on inside. We stepped inside one of the trailers. The son, of the Eklund family, explained to us the process. The cow is led inside the chute and stunned, hooked, and bled out, it moves along on a rail system and is trimmed of its hide, split in half with a saw, and then the sides hang to cool in another trailer. A third trailer is used to store the meat after its reached proper temperature and the contents are hauled away to the nearest processing facility to be broken down into steaks, burgers, and what not. The whole process of killing and breaking the animal down can take about an hour, they kill about ten animals a day, and they are operating only one day a week under USDA inspection.

The hope is that in the future, more farms throughout the Hudson Valley will build docking sites so that the MHS can move around to different areas, and stay for a week or a month. Having a slaughterhouse nearby saves farmers time and money, they no longer have to drive long distances or wait 6 months or more to book a kill slot.

The lack of infrastructure is a complicated issue but a very important one. Consumers and farmers are counting on its success. I may never be a meat and potatoes person, but when I do eat meat I want to know it was humanely and sustainably raised, and I would like to have the option to make that choice.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


The model strides confidently over to the greenhouse. She is sporting dirty beige shorts, from Target, with a ribbed chocolate tank top, 3 for $20 at Costco, and worn-out Saucony's, 300+ miles of running later. Cameras snap multiple pictures as she fills the trays with freshly mixed potting soil. She doesn't glance at photographers, she is concentrating on counting out two lettuce seeds per cell. More pictures are snapped, she tilts her head and gives a coy smile, playing with the camera.

Ahh, life as a model. If only it were that easy.

Last Thursday and Friday we had two photographers following the garden crew around trying to capture some of our sustainable practices. While the outfit I described above is completely accurate, my response to the photographers was somewhat different. I vacillated between goofy, awkward smiles, reminiscent of my early teenage years, to outright ignoring the camera. The photographers took over 1000 pictures. They shot us seeding, harvesting, fertigating, using the refractometer,and driving the electric tractor. It was both a fun and nerve racking experience, I kept wondering how I should react. Should I try and act natural? Ham it up? Smile? but not too big of a smile, right? The anxiety it caused me has squashed my budding daydream of becoming a model. Too bad, I really liked the idea of putting farmer/model on my business card.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rain on

Last week while driving over the hills in the golf cart to collect eggs from our mobile chicken coops I felt like I was on safari. I am not referring to jostling about as we drive on our bumpy pasture (a very important lesson I have learned was to ALWAYS hold the bucket of eggs, otherwise you end up with egg soup.) It is the vista that has changed dramatically, instead of lush green, we have grass that is yellow and dry and some tree leaves have begun turning red. A clear sign that nature was fed up with this intense sun and heat. Well nature isn't the only one pissed off. Working in 100F heat is no fun. Plus there is the added task of juggling overhead sprinklers and drip tape between the rows of our plants every hour and a half trying to keep them from dying.

Our plants are holding out as best they can but there is a concern that we may not get a second cutting of hay this year. Last year we had too much rain and this year not enough.

Last Thursday though it was like Christmas in July. I was hoeing in the afternoon and felt a few sprinkles on my face. A tease I thought to myself, it will never fulfill my desire. Ten minutes later that light drizzle turned to steady rain. It wasn't hard or fast but felt like standing a few feet away from a sprinkler. I have never been so glad to see rain before.

Over the weekend we got a bit more rain, but not enough to reverse the several weeks of deficit. Tuesday it rained again, on and off in the afternoon. People who are not farmers may complain about the change of weather, I would have too, funny how your perspective changes when you deal with the natural world. Who wants to be inconvenienced with umbrellas, soaked feet, and gray sky?

In the end though, my wanting it to rain is still selfish. I don't like switching irrigation every hour and most of all I don't want the crops to become exhausted by August. I just want it to rain about an inch or two a week. Is that too much to ask?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Farm Olympics

The sun has really kicked it up a notch. We went from a pleasant mid-80s on Friday to a blistering mid-90's on Sunday. A little bit of sun didn't stop me from celebrating the 4 of July, farmer style! A bunch of farm interns from around the Hudson Valley area gathered at Phillies Bridge Farm, in New Paltz, Ny, for Farm Olympics.

Our host, Anne, had several "events" planned. The first event was to catch as many chickens as possible in two minutes. We could grab their legs or pick them up by the wings. We were instructed not to scare them too much so they could still lay eggs the next day. One person from each farm team stepped over the fence into the chicken yard. I volunteered to go, feeling rather confident after all the chickens I caught for our chicken processing a few weeks ago.

These beautiful Light Brahma chickens had no idea what was about to go down. Anne shouted go and we ran around chasing after the chickens. I was slipping and sliding all over the place in my flip flops as I ran round in circles. My technique involved cornering them and picking them up. I managed to get ten in total. The winning team got 11, only because a rooster is worth 3 points and they picked up two. I, on the other hand, avoided the roosters at all cost. Seeing as how I am afraid of our roosters, I wasn't about to have my ass handed to me in front of an audience.

Next came the pitch fork toss. The goal was to throw the pitch fork as far as possible but it had to stick into the ground. It was much harder than it looked. After three groups tried and failed to stick the pitch fork into the ground my team tried and purposefully through it short so it stuck in the ground. We thought we were pretty clever and had it in the bag until another team out shot us.

After the toss came the relay race. One team member hopped to the make shift finish line, a piece of hose, in a potato sack handed the baton, a cardboard paper towel roll, to the next team mate who ran to the cast iron sink and bobbed for beets. After securing a beet the team mate ran to the field for transplanting. Two people were allowed to transplant a flat of rutabaga 12 inches apart. Dayna dug the holes and I placed and covered the plant. Unfortunately, we were dead last in this area, rather embarrassing. In my defense I was being very thorough and delicate with them. We didn't even get to complete the last leg of the relay, running with an egg on a spoon, because I was still transplanting.

The fourth event was to decide was a competition of which farm has the largest vegetable. One farm brought out the big zucchini, but we brought out a large lemon cucumber and head of soft neck garlic. I think we got points for originality.

Fifth event involved interns lining up and showing off their farmer tan and the audience voting for the best, or worst depending on how you look at it. One guy had major below the bicep tan, one girl had the ultimate sock tan, and another guy had what he called the "oreo", dark on bottom, light in the middle, dark on top. I am really not quite sure how he farms but I am guessing it involves a Speedo.

The last event involved sharing intern horror stories. One guy cut his head open with a post pounder and had cell phone pictures to prove it. Dayna, had a scar on her forearm from a third degree burn she got from a water pump. The post pounder guy obviously won.

The winning farm, not us, won a beet on a necklace. The golden beet! The host farm won the Olympics. Some interns, in jest, cried foul play. We were all gracious winners and losers and after the games we shared a lovely potluck meal.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bring a goat to work day

Since I have been working in the garden full time now for two months I rarely get to hang with the goats. They are usually out in the fields busily munching on our multiflora roses. Today though we snagged five goats and put them in the garden area to help us clear our poison ivy problem.

Brian, the goat intern, set up an electric fence around the problem area, particularly around the tap we use to hook up our hoses to water the beds. So far, I am the only person not to get poison ivy but it may be only a matter of time as I become more exposed to it and become reactive. When we released the goats into the area they fanned out, like the pro-eaters they are, in search of the good stuff. They started in on the rose bush, some unknown tree, grass, but barely nibbled on the poison ivy. After four hours they had consumed all they could and were settling down for some quiet chewing of the cud. Our ivy stood taunting us above the tap. Hmmm, maybe tomorrow morning they will eat it if they are hungry enough.

Our CSA shares are looking pretty colorful and plentiful lately. We are now putting in lemon cucumbers and regular cucumbers, carrots, yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, sungold cherry tomatoes, on top of shelling peas, cabbage, lettuce, chard, kale, scallions, basil, and beets.

Aside from the wonderful vegetables I am bringing home, my husband and I have been busily foraging for wild blueberries and black raspberries. On Sunday, in the middle of the day with the sun blazing down on us and high humidity Darien and picked blueberries. I turned to Darien and said "how is it that I am doing the same thing I do at work as I do on my day off?" But it was completely worth it because we picked almost a gallon of blueberries. Then I spent the rest of Sunday making and preserving jam.

I am really loving the bounty of June...I can't wait for July!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chicken Processing

Thursdays are killer, literally. Once again I find myself in the position of the undertaker but this time it is chickens. But before I processed them I first had to catch them.

Usually we leave the chickens in their coop overnight (no access to food to clean out their system) and go in the morning to pick out the plumpest. In a small confined space it makes catching them very easy. However that was not the case. The chickens were let out because they didn't have any water in their coop and it was thought to be too cruel to deny them water more than 12 hours ( in retrospect we should have put some waterers in the coop with the chickens last night.) No matter, Brian and I grabbed our chickens catchers (metal sticks with a hook at the end) and started running after the chickens while trying to hook their legs. Our meat birds (Bard Plymouth Rocks, black and white stripes) have giant feet, compared to the laying hens, and they run/waddle like a fat kid with their heads down and their elbows out at their sides. We catch 24 chickens and place them in a crate.

Back at the Dairy, the building where we do our chicken slaughtering and processing, everything is ready to go. Whitey, the longtime farm manager, asks me to hand him the chickens one at a time so he can place them in the killing cone (exactly as the name implies, a cone where the chickens are killed.) The chicken is placed head-down in the cone so that its head is sticking out at the small end. The upside down position calms and quiets the chicken. The first chicken I pick up to hand to him excretes a hot liquid that runs down my leg and then inside my rubber boot. We just started and already I have excrement on me.

Whitey takes a knife and slits the jugular vein and the chicken is bled out. After five minutes of thrashing caused by the the nerves firing off one last time (there is definitely truth behind the saying 'running around like a chicken with your head cut off!') when they stop twitching they are placed in a hot water bath of 150F and scalded for 30 seconds.

From the scalder they are placed in a big round machine, kind of like a washing machine, with rubber finger like projections. The chickens are spun round and their feathers are removed. I was tasked with holding a piece of plywood to guide the chickens as the door unlocks and they come flying out the machine into the bath of water beneath. I am not exagerating when I say flying, they really do come out at quite the speed. I know this because we put the chickens in and didn't have enough time to set up the board and I was hit with six chickens and the feathery water.

The chickens are then put in a cold water bath and any stray feathers are picked out by hand. Meanwhile, three people were working on the stainless steel table gutting the birds, while another was cleaning the gizzards. I cleaned and gutted four birds and it went well but I was slow and cautious. I was worried that I might tear the skin, pop the emerald green bile duct attached to the liver, or leave behind unwanted parts like the lungs, gullet or esophagus. But I think my chickens looked pretty decent.

After being gutted they are rinsed and placed on a rack to drain and then chilled and bagged.

This whole process took about five hours and we managed to slaughter and process 72 chickens in total. I was quite dirty and smelly but overall had no problems with the processing. I even picked out a chicken to take home, I am thinking BBQ, and this time I have no doubt I will be thoroughly enjoying it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Update from the fields

June 19, I picked and popped a Sungold Cherry tomato in mouth. Delish. Can you believe its only June and I already had my first tomato? This spring/summer has been hot and fairly dry and our plants are loving it. Well, most of our plants are. Our lettuce, spinach and radishes can't take this heat and have been bolting. We had a rather disappointing radish harvest, most of them tasted woody. Our lettuce is great except for the fact that all four hundred head were ready at the same time. There is only so much lettuce one human can consume in a week before rebelling.

Last week we started picking zucchini and yellow summer squash, beets, scallions, and shelling peas and this week we added Chinese cabbage and broccoli. On top of our chard, kale, lettuce, and turnips. Scapes (the flower part of the garlic plant before it actually flowers, tastes like a cross between garlic and scallion) and spinach are finished for the season. But the cucumbers are looking promising, they may be ready this Friday.

It is really amazing to see this garden take shape over night. Everyday the plants are getting bigger and flowers and fruit are appearing right before my eyes. Harvesting and packing the CSA shares is my favorite thing to do. Not only are we putting together an array of beautiful, fresh, local produce, its a labor of love and lots of sunshine.

Hopefully I wont jinx anything by saying this, but I think we may have a bumper crop this year.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Part 2: Farm to Table. The rabbit is braised.

Flashback 17 years ago. "Mom, this doesn't look like chicken" I said. "It is. Just try it" my mom replied. I put a forkful of the BBQ'd mystery meat in my mouth and cautiously chewed. My sister and I looked at each other and knew that we were eating rabbit. The very same rabbit my parents were raising in cages on the top floor of our shed.

I have had rabbit only once since then. A few months ago my husband and I were eating at an Italian restaurant and I was feeling bold and ordered a rabbit and grappa stew over tagliatelle. The rabbit meat was shredded and was pretty tasty but I couldn't get the image of eating an actual rabbit out of my head.

Yesterday my loving husband took on the task of cooking up the rabbit I killed on Thursday. We found a recipe for red-wine braised rabbit with sage polenta on Epicurious's website. He cut the rabbit into six pieces and lightly dusted the pieces in flour. Instead of braising indoors for an hour and adding more heat to air-conditioning free house, Darien cooked everything outdoors on a propane stove. I sat watching him under an umbrella drinking a margarita while rehashing the whole rabbit processing on my blog.

Darien presented me with a leg on a bed of polenta surrounded with the sauce it was braised in. It looked great, now for the taste test. It tasted like chicken but tougher. It was good but I still wasn't able to fully enjoy the experience as much as I would have liked. Mean while, Darien was enjoying his leg with gusto. Something about eating rabbit still nags at my conscious. Guilt? No. Taste? Could have been braised a tad longer, but the flavor was nice. Psychological? Absolutely. For some unexplained reason I just haven't fully accepted that it is OK to eat rabbit. Part of me acknowledges how ridiculous this sounds because its just protein. The only thing I can do is keep trying. Maybe one day I can see past what it was, and enjoy what it is.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Part 1: Farm to Table. Krystal kills and cleans a rabbit.

As I pulled up to the farm at 7pm the pop song Beautiful Monster, by Ne-Yo, was blaring and I thought to myself how appropriate. I am about to kill an animal for the first time.

I always envisioned the first time would be a chicken but I was not overly bothered by it being a rabbit. Yes, rabbits are cute, but they have no personality unlike goats or pigs which I think I would have a much harder time with.

The rabbits were sitting quietly in two yellow crates as Mark and Brian sharpened their knives. The most humane way to kill a rabbit is to snap its neck which is accomplished by pulling the head with one hand and the legs with the other. This can be a bit tricky so to aid us with the neck snapping Mark has made this killing contraption, set up on a shelf, that is essentially two metal bars that form a V at a roughly 25 degree angle.

I removed the black and white rabbit from the crate by the ears and scruff and wedged his head between the two bars. Then I held the legs and yanked down to snap the neck. The first time I did it I was unsure if I had actually killed it because it kept moving and twitching. I kept asking Mark, is it dead? Are you sure? But that movement was merely the nerves firing for the last time. Then Brian held the rabbit by the legs over a bucket as I cut off the head close to the skull. The blood was bright red, I thought it would be maroon. An incision was made in each front paw and I then hooked the rabbit up so I could skin and gut it.

Using a sharp razor blade I cut just above the joint around each paw, then I made a V from the back paws to the below the anus and cut off the tail. At this point I should have been able to pull the rabbit skin off but I finagled with it a bit, cutting and pulling, cutting and pulling until I finally removed it by giving a good yank down. I cut off the paws, which we keep for luck I guess, in case any rabbits decide to get together and form a rebellion.

Next comes removing the entrails. I cut down the front of the rabbit paying attention not to cut the bladder, intestines, and poop sacs. The organs come spilling out as I cut, I am both fascinated and horrified. There is something about seeing poop trapped in the colon, like Hans Solo in Star Trek, that makes it creepy. Quickly I remove the unwanted bits and then I carefully remove the kidneys and liver. I carve out the bile duct and toss it in the gut bucket. Fish around and remove the lungs and then the heart. We keep the kidneys, liver and heart. Mark generously offered me some to take home, I am not an offal person so I hope that my husband will eat them.

I had the honors of killing the last rabbit and I as removed him from the cage a Boston song came on the radio. I yanked down on the rabbit and herd a crack and let go. The rabbit's legs were bouncing up and down and side to side for a good 30 seconds. It looked like it was dancing to the song. Our laughter at the situation was more of distraction for our mind then a display of our barbarity, an attempt to distance ourselves from an unpleasant situation.

Did I mind the killing, skinning and gutting? To be honest, it didn't really bother me. It's all part of the circle of life, eat or be eaten. Maybe we are beautiful monsters, deep down inside.