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.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

First week of harvest, oh the greenery!

For our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)* members who showed up on a rainy Wednesday for their first pick-up, I hope they were pleasantly surprised when we handed them a box filled to the brim. It is not uncommon for the first few weeks of distribution to be a little on the lacking side, it is after all the first week of June, but our boxes were filled with three types of head lettuce, scapes, turnip greens, radishes, kale, spinach, parsley, rainbow swiss chard, and raab.

Our garden is not very large, just over an acre, so the way we handle our distribution is to spread it out over a week. We break up the 55 member CSA into three groups, Monday, Wednesday and Friday group. In the morning of each distribution day we pick only for that specific group so the plant has a chance to grow and produce again for the next distribution day.

Because our gardens are located on two spots on the farm, only two people can go in the golf cart to harvest in one of the fields, the other two stay at the CSA shed and pick whatever is in the fields there and start washing in the large rubber maid tub. We rinse all the vegetables once to get a decent chunk of the dirt off and dry them for a few minutes before packing them in the individual boxes.

At 3pm members start rolling in and picking up there shares. Pick-up is from 3pm to 6pm for the next 20 weeks. When people are pleased with their share its a nice reward but I still think harvesting is the best part because to me it feels like I have come full circle. All those days of digging, weeding, planting and hoeing pay off in one beautiful bunch of curly kale or rainbow chard. I immediately start thinking, what will I make for supper?

* CSA model is where people pay for a share of the harvest to the farmer upfront and in return receive vegetables weekly for a certain period of time. A great way to support farming, access fresh local food, and to connect with the seasons. Plus, its kinda like Iron Chef, you have to think of the different ways you can prepare kale before becoming utterly bored of it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

CRAFT visit to Sprout Creek Farm. Yum Cheese!

All four Glynwood interns, the gardener and one volunteer crammed themselves into Nicole's (fellow intern) station wagon for a road trip to Sprout Creek Farm. I had been eagerly awaiting this visit since I first got the CRAFT schedule. First, they have a cheese booth at my local farmers market, second, I have limited experience with dairy operations, and third, I knew I would sampling lots of cheese.

Ladies waiting to be milked

All the farmers in training were ushered into the milking/barn area and the cows were led in one by one to their milking spots and secured. Sprout Creeks dairy herd consists of a variety of breeds, Jerseys, Normand, Holstein, and Shorthorns. Mike, who was leading us on the tour, mentioned that they don't really like Holsteins because they are lazy and don't like to walk, but she given to them by a Greek man who owned a restaurant not too far away who was raising her on the restaurants leftover salad bar. She calfed and they named the girl Princess Feta in tribute to him.

Once all the ladies are positioned and secured they are fed out their ration of food. Currently the pastures are not green enough to fully supply the cows with all their nutritional needs but eventually they will able to reduce how much additional feed they give them in the summer. The fields are sowed with clover, timothy, sorghum, and teff among other grasses. Once they are busy eating the workers go around to each cow and they start pre-milk process where they squeeze and squirt out some milk from each tit to stimulate the milk to start flowing. At the same time, the milk is collected in a black container and the workers can check for any discoloration. If the the milk is discolored that cows milk will not enter in with the rest of the batch. Then each tit is dipped in an iodine solution for 30 seconds before it is wiped off to disinfect the tit before the milking attachment go on. After that the machine does all the hard work and the white liquid flows through a tube into where it goes off into another room into a collection tank.

The cows are on a strict milking schedule, 6:30 am and 3:30pm and produce around 50lbs of milk a day. To give you an idea of how much cheese that would make, it takes two cows daily production to make 10lbs of cheese.

Sprout Creek also milks a small herd of goats, a mixture of Nubians, Toggenberg and Oberhasli. Unlike cows, goats have a limited milking season that basically lasts from Spring to Fall and they cannot lactate year round. The dairy goat kids are absolutely adorable. When the workers asked if any of us wanted to go in the kid pen the Glynwood crew instantly jumped at the opportunity to play and cuddle with them.

After our farm tour we met with head cheese maker Colin, a CIA grad, who was very enthusiastic about cheese making. They make 15 different varieties and get all their enzymes and cultures from a place in Wisconsin (who turn get it from France.) Apparently Wisconsin is the gateway to all things cheese. Colin likes experimenting with size of molds, depth of molds, and duration of aging to tease out new flavors and textures. Fortunately for us, we got to try several varieties. There were the soft cheeses, one from goats milk one from cows, the semi-hard cheeses, and the hard cheeses made from raw milk like Ouray, Toussant, Eden. All were delicious.

The interesting thing about Sprout Creek farm is that they are big into education. They run day and overnight camps all summer long for kids and teens. Not only are they learning how to care for animals but they are also learning about where there food comes from. They have a small vegetable garden, laying hens, ducks and guinea fowl. Mike mentioned that they plan to process the layer chickens with the teenagers at some point so they can really make the connection to their food.

I loved the whole concept. Part of me wished I could be a kid just to go to camp there, the other part of me wished I could just get a couple of dairy goats and start my own operation. But, of course I would get my goats in the habit of being milking around 9:30 am...none of this waking up at 5 stuff.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Who says toys are just for boys

A Bob Cat, dump truck and a tractor may not be a girls, or even a guys, definition of fun. But when my boss asks who wants to use them I have to use all my self-control not to jump and down and yell, I do! I do! For the past three days I have been playing around with them. And let me tell you, it feels like going Disney Land. Then again anything that involves machinery and a break from weeding and hoeing seems like a vacation right now. We recently had a compost pad built (a flat, level, and graded square pad, pictured on the left) that can and handle a whole lotta crap. Before we even started dumping manure on the compost pad we put down a bed of wood chips. The logic behind the wood chips is that it provides a bit of a buffer between the compost and gravel so when we turn the pile we are not scooping up gravel. Also, wood chips help aerate the compost which helps it breakdown faster and it means we don't have to turn the pile as often.

On Tuesday I spent five hours using the Bob Cat and dump truck. My mission was to move as much goat and cow manure to the compost pad before the storm hit us. Which it did right around lunch time. It was not easy. First, the terrain where the manure pile was located was either hard and bumpy or soft and muddy, making parking the dump truck a bit of challenge. I had to choose between getting stuck in the mud with the truck or not being able to access all three sides of the truck to dump my bucket loads with the Bob Cat. I needed to get at all three sides to evenly distribute the load. After a bit of maneuvering I found the perfect spot for the truck. In the Bob Cat I used the controls to prod and scoop up bucket loads of crap, the smell left much to be desired. Once I successfully filled the bucket, I would rotate 360 degrees and drive over to the dump truck and simultaneously lift and tilt the bucket down. There is a careful balance here that must be met. Tilt the bucket up too much and you end up with a face full of crap. Tilt the bucket down too much and you lose your load.

When the back of the dump truck was filled I would climb onto the seat and blast the tunes, for some reason the station was playing nothing but dance tunes, as I drove towards the compost pad. Then I would reverse the truck over the wood chip pile and lift the bed of the truck until a wall of manure came rushing to the ground. The not so fun part was putting up the tail gate up afterward which was covered in manure.

Today, I got to try out a 70's relic, a bright orange electric tractor. This thing has 6 batteries that cost about $100 a piece! Electric tractors were made during the brief oil crisis in the 70's and quickly fell out of favor as oil prices settled again. I find it interesting that there hasn't been a large resurgence in demand for them now. Although one downside is that they are a bit of heavy so rotatilling can be tricky, on one hand you loosen the soil on the other you may end up compacting it. But it can also be used for cutting the grass which is precisely what I did with it. My one complaint is the speed is seriously lacking. It goes like 5 miles an hour. But its green, and green is good! And it was my first official tractor driving experience. I still need to learn how to use the Landini, Kubota and zero turn mower. My co-worker Lise thinks its hilarious that I love using machinery but I can't help it, I wanna play with the boys toys.