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.