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It’s pigs

Picked up our first batch of feeder pigs yesterday from the Natick Community Organic Farm.  And they are very pink, and yes, I’ll admit, they’re very cute.  But, I promise they stop being cute right about the time they tip the scales at 200 lbs.  And to go from 20 lbs to 200lbs in 6 months, they need to eat.  A lot.  Help us pay the grain bill and sign up for a 2015 Pastured Pork CSA Share!

If you want to try some sausage (or restock your freezer), place an order for pickup on Monday.

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Spring

Kind of a gray and rainy day today, but even so… what a difference a week makes!

Last week, it really seemed like all hope was lost, but things are looking up.  After a number of beautiful bright sunny windy days, we’ve gone from soupy mud to just plain wet mud around the barn.  The grass is greening up, and looks like it’s just about ready to start actually growing.  The cows are intent on getting that first bite of green in their small piece of winter pasture, to the extent that they even ignored a fresh round bale for a little while yesterday.  The peepers are peeping, and there’s just a hint of a yellow haze on the forsythia.  We’re still probably a solid two weeks behind, depending what the weather brings…. but at least now it seems possible that we might get out and do some tillage before the end of April.

Grilled Bratwurst
The secret to good grilled brats is to simmer them in beer first.  Simmering helps to seal the casing so that you don’t lose all the delicious juices in the coals.

Bring a couple of cans of beer to a boil in a medium saucepan and then reduce to a simmer.  Be careful when heating up the beer – it will want to boil over, so pay attention.  Drop your brats in the beer and simmer gently for 5 – 7 minutes.  Remove brats from saucepan and finish on grill with indirect heat – this should only take a few minutes.  Serve with sauerkraut and grilled onions.  Do the onions first, they take awhile on the grill.

 

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Falling behind

Gratuitous Barley picture is from this time last year.  Note the greening grass and distinct lack of snow.

They’ve been doing a series on WGBH radio this week called “What Winter Did.”  Some intrepid local reporter has been going around talking to experts about the effects of the extremely cold and snowy winter that just passed.  (Or has almost just passed – was not thrilled to find a good coating of snow and ice up on the hill this morning.)  There were pieces on the impact of the cold and snow on wildlife, and fishermen, and farmers.  It’s official, and has now been documented on public radio – this has been a tough winter, and we are weeks behind in the growing season.

Now, you can be forgiven if you’ve tuned out my sky-is-falling attitude about the weather, and if you’ve learned to just skip over the parts of the newsletter decrying the wet, heavy soil on our north-facing slope.  Especially for spring-time newsletters.  Every year, I just about give up hope that the soil will ever dry out enough that we might get out in the field and get to work.  This year, it seems real.  It’s mid-April, and it just barely feels like mid-March.  Normally, at this time of year, I’m contemplating turning the cows out into a cover crop of 6-inch-high winter rye to give them their first taste of spring.  This year, the rye hasn’t even begun it’s spring growth spurt.  It looks like a stretch of good weather is heading our way (finally!), but it’s going to take a lot more than a few seasonable days to get things back on track.  That said, as the sun gets stronger by the day, things can change in a hurry, and so we continue to hope for the best.

While the first harvest of spring greens may be a ways off yet, you can support the farm now by signing up for a Pastured Pork CSA Share.  If you were considering signing up for a share, please send in your deposit sooner rather than later.  Your deposits will really help the farm get through this frustratingly slow-to-start growing season.

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Freeeeeeedom!

The snow finally melted enough that Paul and I could get out in the barn pasture and fix the electric fence.  So much snow had buried the line, pulled it to the ground in many places, and broken a bunch of the plastic clips that secure the fence wire to the posts.  Paul tells me that the cows were very happy to be free of their winter quarters.  He opened the gate and the whole herd did their spring ritual of galloping around the pasture, with even the old girls bucking and kicking like heifers.  Sadly I missed one of my favorite sights – as I was clearing Phragmites from one corner of the fence, a shard of reed buried itself deep in my thumb, deep enough that a trip to the ER seemed like a good idea.  Talk about an invasive species!  Yukyukyuk.

Thanks to all who came out on Monday to get sausage.  There’s plenty left, but it’s going fast.

Finally, I’m finalizing the details this week for this year’s Potter Hill Pastured Pork CSA.  Please let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll send you an order form as soon as it’s finished.

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More sausage

The time has come to make another batch of sausages.  We’re sticking with the hits – Hot Italian, Bratwurst, and Maple Breakfast.  The recipes come from friend and meat magician Dave V, and Dave and I make the sausages ourselves from our own pork and other high-quality ingredients.  I’ve been making it a point to taste sausages from other farms and meat processors, and I have yet to find anything that compares to ours.  And I’m not biased, or anything.  Sausages will be available for pickup this Monday, so please place your order as usual through the website.

In the veg department, pickings are getting slim.  Basically….. it’s beets!  Plenty of beets to go around, with the Cylindra having held up especially well in storage.  As for carrots, this is REALLY the last week.  Whatever’s left at the end of the day on Monday are going in the private stash.

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Still, snow

Spring is here!  Wait… spring is here??  Could have fooled me.  May not be much more snow in the forecast, but there’s too much on the ground for my liking.  Even with all the melting, there’s still too much snow in the pasture behind the barn for us to get out and fix the electric fence.  Looks like the cows will be cooped up for a little while longer.

I think it was two years ago that we had an incredibly mild winter, almost no snow.  I was out in the fields on the tractor in the last week of March, turning the soil.  This year, we’ll still have snow on the ground in April, and who knows when the ground will firm up enough for tillage.  The good news is that our first leeks and onions are sprouting in the greenhouse.  Let’s hope for some heat so that we can get a home ready for them in the garden.

As long as winter intends to stick around for at least another week, you may as well do some more roasting and braising.  We have several different cuts of beef and pork that would be great in the oven or crock-pot.

We should have some carrots this week, but the supply may be limited.  Either way this will be the last week for carrots, still just $0.75 / lb on account of their rough outside appearance.  Also, note that pickup will be at the Brigham Hill Community Barn FROM 3PM TO 6PM through the end of April.

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Human cost

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I read a very impactful piece of reporting last night, and I am ashamed that my eyes are only now opened to this particular dark side of modern agriculture.  The series of stories in the LA Times was about the workers who pick and pack the produce grown on giant corporate farms in Mexico.  The long and short of it is that these people are horribly taken advantage of – minimal pay (often withheld until the end of their contract), company stores that leave many workers in debt, poor living conditions, child labor.  These people are working on farms that export their goods to the USA.  To Walmart.  To Subway.  One bit of irony that hit me pretty hard was the fact that US concern for food safety has meant that these farms have state-of-the-art greenhouses and packing facilities.  And yet the field workers live in squalid camps.

Clearly, this isn’t OK.  I don’t know what the answer is – if we stopped importing produce from giant farms in Mexico, the supermarket shelves would be bare of fresh produce at many times of the year.  I don’t think that the local farming infrastructure could really pick up the slack in production anyway.  And the fact is that we live in a fast-food culture.  As an American, it’s hard to completely step outside of the agri-industrial complex that rules our food system.  Maybe it’s time to focus on Fair Trade being just as important as organic.  Why isn’t there such a thing as a Fair Trade organic tomato?

It strikes me that a lot of emphasis is placed on food animal welfare in the local food “scene”.  We decry the fact that beef cows must live in horrible conditions as they are fattened in the feedlot.  And, god forbid, pigs might live in barns, on slatted floors, above their own manure.  These are not good things – it’s not good for the animals, and it’s not the way to produce high-quality nutritious meats. And we recognize that the decision as a society to invest in factory farming bears environmental and even cultural costs.  But what about the human cost, the social cost?  We yearn to see cows on pretty green pastures, pigs rooting in the dirt, but what of the workers?  Where is the concern for the people who picked that “ripe” tomato found on shelves year-round at the supermarket?

Well, isn’t that a cheery way to start your weekend….

You can read a short summary of the LA Times story from Harvest Public Media.  Or read the entire four-part series here.

Back here in Grafton, we are finally reaching the end of carrot season.  We still have plenty left to sell, for now, but they are starting to show their age.  Still great for soups.  And horses.  75 cents / lb.  The beets and celeriac have held up incredibly well.  Tons of beets left, but we nearing the end of our celeriac supply.  Anyone have a good borscht recipe?

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February homegrown dinner

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Made dinner last weekend, looked at the plate, and realized that everything was home-grown. Even at the end of February.  Skillet pork chops, oven-steamed balsamic beets, mashed celeriac and carrots, sauerkraut.  For the beets, I used one very large Cylindra beet that yielded dinner for two with plenty of leftovers for a cold beet salad.  Seems to me that the Cylindra beets take a bit longer to soften up, and are even good with just a bit of crunch left to them.  Great flavor.  If crazy big long beets aren’t your thing, the Detroit Dark Red round beets will do just as well.

Nothing fancy, not more than two or three ingredients per dish.  But so good.  And it’s taken me longer to write this than to actually do all the cooking.

Do the beets first, then the chops so you can just turn down the heat in the oven when the beets finish.

Oven-steamed Balsamic Beets:  Heat oven to 450F.  Peel and chop beets.  Place beets into some kind of baking dish that can be covered.  Add salt, pepper, a few tablespoons of olive oil,  and a lot of balsamic vinegar.  Add enough vinegar to get to the point where you think to yourself, “Man, I think that’s too much vinegar.”  Cover the beets and bake until tender, about 45 minutes.  Stir them around a couple of times during baking.

Mashed Celeriac and Carrots:  Peel and chop 1 medium celeriac and 3 large carrots, so that you have about equal amounts of each.  Bring a pot of slated water to a boil, add chopped roots, cook until tender.  Pour out the water and then mash roots with a couple tablespoons of butter (or a few, but several might be overdoing it), and enough milk (or cream, or half and half) to get the consostency you want.

Perfect Pork Chops: Heat oven to 350F. Liberally salt and pepper both sides of a couple of chops. Really, don’t be shy with the salt. In a hot skillet, sear one side of the chops for 1 minute. Flip them over, and sear the other side for another minute. Put about a teaspoon of coconut oil on top of each and finish them in the oven for 6 minutes. Remove from oven, move to plate or platter, and let them rest for 5 minutes.

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Oh, Betty Rose

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Ah, just look at that pretty girl, lounging in a pile of food.  That there heifer in repose be the beeeeyootiful Betty Rose.  So much sass and just enough class.  She’s Abigail’s girl, hence the good looks – you know she doesn’t belong to Lois.  Her daddy was a Dexter bull, so that means she will probably be petite her whole life.

I’m really interested in what good might come from crossing the small breeds (i.e. Dexters, Lowline Angus) with hearty Scottish and English breeds like Galloways and Devons.  With grass-fed beef, we want animals with good carcass yields that efficiently convert grass to mass.  We don’t really need to hang the biggest steer on the block.  (One of the USDA auction reports down in PA last week listed a slaughter steer that weighed over 1700 lbs on the hoof.  Holy what?!?!  Looks like someone decided to take Paul Bunyan’s ox to the abattoir.)  The proof is in the pudding, of course, but these very intriguing numbers come from the Lowline Angus website.

lowline-tableTwo things to note: 1) Stocking rate is almost double the average of 6 other large/medium-framed cattle breeds.  2)  Retail Meat Yield for small cattle is 66% higher than the average of the 6 other breeds.  Also consider that these small cattle have 1/3 the nutritional requirements of larger animals, although that seems like a very low number and might be Lowline voodoo.  Maybe someone can do the math for me, but 66% more yield per acre seems like a good thing, even if you’re feeding twice the number of animals one-third of the feed.

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Hey, hay buffet

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Busy morning today.  Up to Tufts to grab a round bale for the cows, but now they are all set for the next few days, at least.  Paul and I spent some time trying to rake the snow drift off of the barn roof, to make room for more coming.  Looks like some snow – just a bit – this weekend, but hey, at least it will be mixed with some rain.  And then possibly some more mid-week, but we’ll have to wait and see how that plays out.  One thing is certain – this year, we’re going to have one heck of a mud season.  Might have to invest in a pair of bog waders just to get anything done during the month of April.  But spring will come, one way or another, and we better get ready.  Time to get the seed order finished, and to start tracking down some animals to stock our pastures.

More snow may be in the forecast, but it looks like we are in the clear for Monday.  Plenty of carrots, beets, and celeriac to go around, and still a decent selection of beef and pork.