Thursday, July 26, 2012

Misunderstood Nutrition

At the farmer's market every week, I get customers that ask me about FAT, and want to know the fat content of our cheese. Fat is a word that, in this society,  has received a bad reputation. It is a misunderstood building block to life, in which all living things are made up of and rely on for nourishment.
In the creamery, we pull over the milk after the morning milking and start heating it in our vat. There is nothing done to it between that process. The pure raw whole milk from cows that are grazed on rapidly growing grass contains every essential vitamin and mineral in an easily absorbable form. The milk of grass-fed animals are rich in good fats, notably, omega-3 fatty acids, which have been found to reduce blood pressure, improve heart health, support the mind - fat is needed for the brain to function properly and to achieve and maintain a balanced mental state -, helps improve the body's defense against fight cancer, balance hormones, and improve energy and stamina (Enig, 1999). These fats are absorbed into the body and utilized for energy, support adrenals and hormone production, and fat is utilized in almost every organ function in the body.  The good fats found in grass-fed meat and dairy are not stored, but instead utilized. Consuming a lot of these animal fats prevents cancer, arthritis, supports the immune system response, heals the gut, and prevents mineral deficiencies, which are the root cause to degenerative dis-eases and mental imbalances.

Fats are essential for the proper absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and all minerals. When we consume fat with minerals, the absorption is slow and steady, which also keeps you full longer. In our raw milk, cheese, and butter from our pasture-raised cows, there are high amounts of Vitamin A, D, E and K as well as varying amounts of all essential minerals.  In traditional societies that consumed dairy, butter, cheese, and seasonal milk was prized so highly for its nutrient content that is was given primarily to expecting mothers, nursing mothers, and children. 
We make full-fat cheese, by which I mean we use whole milk fresh from the cow to make Maggie's round, Tobasi, Cricket Creek Fresh and Berkshire Bloom. We allow our cheeses to age out and form a natural rind that we take care of in the aging rooms. Our cheese are made by hand and we are making them with the intention of nourishing our community. If you are ever in the area, we make cheese in the mornings on Monday, Tuesday, and Fridays, and Wednesdays we make butter. Stop by and take a look in the cheese room. We welcome you to watch our process.

As far as fat goes, I eat as much animal fats from our farm as possible - cream, butter, lard, tallow, cheese, and yoghurt. It sustains me all day long. I trust what the cow has to offer over what the industrial food system is producing. It has only been within a few generations that this mindset has changed, but the traditions of food are alive and well here on the farm.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Thinning beets, Cucumber Beetles, Harvesting the First Summer squash

As I am thinning in the garden, I am contemplating life. Thinning plants happens once the seedlings get there true leaves, which is between 2-3 weeks. When I plant by seed, like my beets for example, many more plants come up in my row than I need. I have to thin these seedlings and only keep one plant every certain number of inches. My carrots are thinned to two inches apart between plants, versus my beans which are thinned to eight inches apart between plants. I am selecting plants and making decisions for what will grow. I think about this a lot, as I have thinned many of plants this season in my garden - turnips, beets, carrots, daikon radish, beans, basil, cilantro, calendula, nasturtium, spinach, kale. I hold the intention that the plants and the place have already decided this for me, in which case the plants that I chose have already chosen themselves. But I go through with my measuring tape or my hand length, and I pick a plant at every interval. I tell myself to have no dought, have only positive thoughts that this plant will prosper and yield a bountiful harvest. I am learning to trust my instinct. So far, so good, in the garden.
 One of my beds - beets in the back, carrots in the front

You might say this is a lot to think about when gardening, but the intention of my garden is not just to learn, it is my sustenance. I am growing food so that I do not have to buy food from somewhere else. I look at this challenge as survival, and I am grateful that if everything in my garden fails I can rely on someone else's garden for food. In the future, we might not be able to do that, but right now in this moment, we can. I am a planner. I have planned out this garden and know how we will be preserving everything it produces. We have a share with the organic vegetable farm down the road, Caretaker Farm. We trade raw milk for vegetables. The purpose for my garden is to preserve, so that we will have all the food we need over the winter and we will not have to buy it from the store. We will be canning, pickling, freezing, dehydrating, and cold storing.

The first heirloom summer squash, zephyr

The very first winter squash, delicata!

I do want to stress though that I am in this garden to learn, and learning I am. I am learning to trust bugs. I am learning to trust that even though I have cucumber beetles and flea beetles in my garden, they won't prevent me from having a harvest. We are sharing. The beetles eat a little bit of my squash, bean, and cucumber leaves, and I still get squash, beans, and cucumbers. I am learning that we can live together. In the past I have battled slugs, but I have always lost. Last year at GeerCrest Farm, for example, the slugs ate every single one of the first succession of broccoli plants that I grew in the greenhouse and then transplanted outside. I am very content with taking a break from the Pacific Northwest rain and their slugs. Here, I have a few slugs and a few snails in the garden, but they are not damaging much of anything. And I am taking the example from Caretaker Farm down the road, and learning how they deal with pests. They live with them too. This approach is comforting. I don't have to think about what kinds of organic pest management techniques I have to use. Just plain old fashioned hand picking and soapy water. Overwhelmingly, they are everywhere working on making holes in leaves, but I have started to harvest cucumbers and squash. Its all good. Lessons from this year's garden will stick with me forever.

A baby cucumber 

 My first batch of pickles from the garden, lacto-fermenting

Cycles of Life and Death on the Farm

This entry expresses in detail my experience of culling a chicken, and how I relate to life and death on the farm. I do not express much visual content, but I do explain what happened and why. If you do not feel comfortable reading about this, as it is a sensitive subject, please skip this entry. Thank you for understanding. I do still feel like is an important piece of farming, and I hope that all who do chose to keep reading understand my perspective and respect my way of life. 

 Let my love let your soul free

A few words about how farming has brought me closer to life and closer to death. In my experiences, I have helped birth piglets, calves, goats, and have watched eggs hatch into chickens and turkeys. The beauty in those moments has made me cherish what I am doing, to have such an influence in the first days of a animal's life. While also in my experiences, I have seen animals, in many stages of life, die. I have felt the confusion of wondering what I could have done better after staying up for 24 hours trying to nurse one of Ruby's piglets back to health, and still the baby dies. I cried when I had to bury that baby in the ground. I have wondered why Rhubarb's calf was still born, and what we could have done differently. I helped bury the old farm dog after she passed, a dog I had known and loved for a year. I cried the first time I watch the pigs I raised, from day old to butcher day, culled and processed in front of my eyes. But I cried in respect, in honor, and in understand. Death is an unsettling uncertainty, but it is part of my everyday life on the farm. I appreciate being so closely knit with the cycles of life, and I better understand my time here because of it. I raise an animal with conscious intention and respect for maintaining their health and well being, and I believe that the animals I raise understand their purpose, both in life and death, and that is how us farmers make it work. For me, culling an animal is a sacred experience, and I believe that I respect both the spirit and the body, in the process. 

On Wednesday morning when I went out to open the chickens in the morning, I noticed that one of the hens has a prolapsed vent. I was grateful that none of the other chickens has began pecking on her, and I separated her out to make a decision.  As viscous or as survival-oriented as it may seem, when another chicken is wounded, all of the other chickens will peck at the first sign of blood until she is dead and eventually they will eat her. This is part of the cycle of life and death. Everything is food for someone, and there needs to be so that nothing is wasted and everything turns back into soil. Without this process life would not continue. Since she was one of our older girls, it made since to cull her. I chose to do it myself. So I had a ceremony to celebrate her life, and then I ended it. The process of culling a bird has been practiced for so many thousands, if not millions, of years, that the process seems instinctual, completing the cycle of growing your own food and nourishment. Afterwards she went into the stock pot for chicken soup. When I eat this soup, I will think of this chicken, and blessings be upon her for all that she has done to nourish my family, thank you.

I hope you can appreciate this part of farming, and also be inspired by taking back the sacred in your life. Think of every step of the process to grow and raise your food, and let it nourish you, and have many thanks for feeling full and satisfied. True wealth is being nourished.