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Friday, January 29, 2010
Coincidentally, I received a promotional email from Localharvest promoting various member growers and their winter specials. I can't remember the last time I acted on a promotional email, but after some quick research we decided this was just what we were looking for. We ordered a full bushel mix of Honeybell oranges and Ruby Red Grapefruit. I don't even know what citrus goes for in a store, as we almost never buy it, but the price (including shipping) worked out to about a dollar a fruit. This seemed reasonable to us to support a more sustainable grower (by their claims) than store fruit was likely to be, assuming the fruit was actually good.
The order went in just before the big, damaging freeze down in Florida, so we figured it would be a while before it came through as all the growers were scrambling to harvest or protect their crops. The box finally did come, delivered right to our door, packed with oranges and grapefruits.
And oh...my...are these good. The oranges are thin-skinned, seedy, and rather messy to eat by hand, but wonderfully juicy and sweet. They'd be great juiced, though so far we haven't bothered as they're good enough out-of-hand. The grapefruit are just amazing. The best grapefruit I can remember eating, a perfect balance of sweet and sour. These were well worth the price, and it's nice to know that the money went almost all to the grower, rather than being diluted through a long chain of middlemen. Scurvy, begone.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
Our annual seed order is always a long and complicated task, as we attempt to balance a wide variety of factors and plans. Considerations include short- and long-term crop rotations, market plans and demands, efficient use of growing space, compatibility of varieties (either interplanted or in succession), up-front cost & expected profits, labor demands and timing, input/resource needs, cover-cropping plans, and so on.
There are also many variables with the order itself, including balancing cost & reliability from various suppliers, availability of varieties overall, availability as certified organic seed, shipping costs, efficiency of ordering, and so on.
Preparing the seed order is a major step in the development of the farm plan for 2010. We set ourselves a deadline of January 15 for this, to ensure that it wasn't put off, and to help ensure availability of varieties that can be in short supply. The growth in small farms, and gardening, has been outstripping the existing network of seed growers in the past few years, and shortages are an increasing reality. This is especially true for certified organic seed and heirloom seed, our two primary foci. Indeed, by NOP regulations, we have to use certified seed unless we can document that the desired variety cannot be found certified. Establishing this documentation takes a fair amount of time for a farm that grows hundreds of varieties and a high percentage of heirlooms.
The process gets more complex every year as the farm grows, especially this year as we're expanding our growing space nearly 3x. Joanna is the primary seed-planner, and she has spent many, many hours surrounded by seed catalogs, reference books, and scrap paper. We find it easier for one person to do most of the planning with consultation of the other as needed; it's more efficient and minimizes conflicts. So I work on my own projects while being available for questions and discussions, while also taking on certain subsets of the order (such as cover crops & animal feeds).
When we're nearly finished, we sit down together in front of the computer and go through everything, revisiting the various factors going into each choice and confirming amounts and sources. Then it's time to submit each order to the various seed companies, some of which have excellent online interfaces while others are brutally obnoxious (this, too, affects our purchasing plans). And, of course, we always find that someone is already out of something, and have to scramble repeatedly to find another acceptable source or alter our plans.
We hit our deadline exactly this year, sending in the last order by the end of the day, January 15. Of course, we're not truly done, because there will be a few more small orders later in the year to take care of changes or forgotten items, or to get items that aren't available until other seasons. But fundamentally the wheels are in motion for 2010, and we're already preparing to start the first onions indoors within a few weeks.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Thank you for your email. I like to know that there are people like you in Missouri. Last year my bill did include other dairy products but it was opposed by the Farm Bureau, State Milk Board, Dairy Farmers of America so I downsized it to raw milk and cream. See below the bill I filed in 2009.
I am still interested in allowing the small farmer to sell directly from the farm any product. I am exploring another bill that addresses all products off the farm and direct sell to consumers. I also know of a person that sells her own cheeses and she has a small operation, I will find out how she does what she does.
Rep. Belinda Harris
Here is the original wording she used, that was successfully stymied by the above-mentioned groups:
an individual may purchase and have delivered to [him for his] such individual for such individual's own use [raw milk or cream] dairy products from a farm. Any person selling dairy products under this exception shall be exempt from the requirement to obtain a permit under sections 196.931 to 196.959, or any rules promulgated thereunder. Any rule or portion of a rule promulgated under the authority of section 196.939 or this chapter shall not be enforced in a manner inconsistent with the provisions of this section. For purposes of this section, "dairy products" include but are not limited to raw milk, skim milk, butter, cream, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, kefir, and yogurt.
The law as it stands just covers raw milk or cream. What an economic and entreprenurial boon the original wording would have been to start-up, part-time, small-scale dairies in Missouri! Alas, we're too afraid of giving people the right to support their neighbors and make their own choices about food.
It is encouraging that she's still interested in helping find ways to support direct-market farms. I sent her this piece, too, as a basic law that could help. Nothing may come of this, but we're grateful to have an elected representative (even if she's not ours) who thinks like this.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
As is well known to the wise in their generation, traffic in Shares is the one thing to have to do with in this world. Have no antecedents, no established character, no cultivation, no ideas, no manners; have Share. Have Shares enough to be on Boards of Directors in capital letters, oscillate on mysterious business between London and Paris, and be great. Where does he come from? Shares. Where is he going to? Shares. What are his tastes? Shares. Has he any principles? Shares. What squeezes him into Parliament? Shares. Perhaps he never of himself achieved success in anything, never originated anything, never produced anything! Sufficient answer to all; Shares. O might Shares! To set those blaring images so high, and to cause us smaller vermin, as under the influence of henbane or opium, to cry out night and day, "Relieve us of our money, scatter it for us, buy us and sell us, ruin us, only we beseech ye take rank among the powers of the earth, and fatten on us!"I don't take this as a literal rant against all investment. Indeed, many Americans are involved in investments in their more basic and useful forms, whether through retirement accounts, inheritances such as life insurance, or more. The passage above is an indictment of a culture in which money and influence are created from thin air, without the achievement of anything tangibly useful or productive. That, to me, is at the root of many of our current troubles. When work, value, and reward are no longer linked, we end up with a culture in which the most useful and valuable work has little return, while the most frothy and speculative endeavors carry rewards far beyond their actual value. We're all trapped in this system, and few have the courage or ability to completely check out (hands up all those who don't want a retirement account), but who knows how to keep the system rational and relevant to those who are irrevocably tied to it?
Off-topic for this blog, perhaps, but we can't help notice that of all the things we could choose to do with our lives, gifts, and intelligence, farming is one of the least rewarding in terms of financial and legal stability. I suspect we'd be far better off, from a coldly rational point of view, spending our days studying business magazines and market reports, and making a killing on eTrade. And that fact reveals much about the nature of our system today.
Monday, January 18, 2010
I put in a call to the Missouri State Milk Board last week, with several intentions. I wanted to clarify once and for all that I couldn't make any kind of sales of our cheese or yogurt without having a full-scale commercial facility, and I wanted to ask whether we were allowed to compensate farm employees with those products. Sure enough, the answer was quite clear that we're criminals if we sell our cheese to anyone, and the fellow I talked to implied that it was even illegal for us to give it away in many cases, especially if the gift reached the general public. For example, I can give it to our neighbors for home use, but if I give it to them to take to a church potluck, that's distribution and we're in trouble. For the same reason, we can't give it to our employees as compensation, because it's not an otherwise saleable product. We can give it to them as friends, out of the goodness of our hearts, but not as employers, in thanks for a job well done. Even if they helped take care of the animals and saw how the cheese was produced? Nope, came the answer, it's dangerous.
By the way, if you want a quick headache, go read through the stacks of regulations and guidelines for dairying. Then never complain about the price of milk, cheese, cream, or butter again, from any source.
So in conclusion, by direct communication with those in charge, we can pay our employees in raw milk, but not in cheese. What an absurd system.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Missouri State Representative Belinda Harris has been working to protect and support raw milk issues in the state, most recently speaking at a meeting of the Missouri State Milk Board, noting that products like raw milk allow small and start-up farms a way into business that might otherwise be too expensive. It's worth pointing out that even the Board's own data, as presented in a chart on their front page, clearly show that dairy in Missouri is rapidly declining. Yet our officials seem to be circling the wagons to protect a shrinking and narrow field, instead of opening up to new and innovative ways to connect consumers and farmers.
I know I'm hitting this hard lately, but wanted to share the letter I sent recently to Belinda Harris, because I think it relates a larger point that is often forgotten in the fight over just raw milk:
Dear Representative Harris,
My wife and I run a small, certified organic vegetable farm in northern Boone County, selling at farmers markets and to local restaurants. We also keep dairy goats for our own home use, and regularly make cheese and yogurt, though we do not drink the milk raw. I also spent 2009 working one day a week at a local goat dairy to gain more experience in full-time dairy management. I have noticed your efforts in the past to support legal raw milk in Missouri, and was prompted by the latest round of news to write you.
While we do not drink our own raw milk, because we think there are some dangers associated with it (and prefer cheese & yogurt anyway), we are adamantly in support of farmers' right to sell it and consumers' right to buy it. We do not feel the government has the right to prohibit a willing transaction between adults when there is no harm beyond those conducting the transaction. We also feel that the dangers of raw milk are really no worse than raw meat or fish, which are legal to sell and consume in Missouri (think sushi restaurants and rare steaks). A customer can legally order a bloody rare steak in a restaurant with no knowledge of how the meat was raised, butchered, handled, or prepared in the kitchen, with only a simple government warning on the menu that meat should be ordered well-done for safety reasons (the same is true for sushi). Yet the same customer is told that raw milk is inherently dangerous, even when purchased from a known farm with known methods. This is thoroughly illogical; why can't the same warning labels used on meat and fish be used on milk, and give customers and farmers the same rights as diners and chefs?
I also want to call your attention to another, usually overlooked, aspect of this debate. While raw milk sales are currently legal in Missouri, that's all you can do as a small farm. We are forbidden from selling pasteurized milk, yogurt, cheese, or other milk products without having a full-scale certified dairy operation. This, despite the fact that making yogurt and many forms of cheese inherently pasteurizes the milk (through heating), while others can be aged sufficiently to eliminate pathogens (per FDA standards) thus rendering the final product safer than the raw version. I have a long waiting list of people who have begged to purchase the cheese we make in our home, yet are always denied because we insist on following the law, however absurd. I can give my cheese away, but the second my neighbor gives me money for it, I become a criminal and a threat to public health. This is absurd.
I noticed that you have argued for raw milk sales as a way to support and grow small farms. I agree. However, I believe this needs to be taken a step farther. I would like to see legal changes to allow small and part-time producers like myself to make and sell dairy products direct to the final consumer without needing inspection or certification, just as the raw milk law is written now. This is the way small farms operated for generations in America, and centuries in Europe, without killing off the population. This has been proposed in several other states (I believe Maryland and Vermont), as a way of encouraging small producers and farmers to get a start in the business; it could easily be written to enact further restrictions as the businesses grow to a size or distribution model where inspection and regulation is more relevant.
In the meantime, small farms like are forced into a set of unappetizing choices if we wish to make all or part of our living from dairy animals. We can sell the most (relatively) dangerous of all dairy products, raw milk, but nothing else. We can sell nothing at all. We can go black-market and attempt not to get caught selling perfectly safe cheese and yogurt to the many customers who want it (I'm quite sure this happens regularly). Or we can invest massive amounts of time and money building fully certified dairy facilities which are not practical at our scale, especially for part-timers or those just getting started. None of these are appealing or beneficial to Missourians or our rural economy, and some force honest people to not make a living or make it illegally.
In conclusion, I thank you for your support and advocacy for small farmers and dairies, but please consider the overall situation in small Missouri dairy and not just raw milk. Please help us make a living selling cheese to willing consumers who know our farm and our methods better than the government does. Please help remove the label of criminal and public health threat from those of us living and farming in the ways of our ancestors and those who built this state and country.
Eric Reuter Chert Hollow Farm, LLC
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
We do have a potential option to pursue. IRS rules allow farms to compensate workers with non-cash wages consisting of farm products, and such wages are not subject to all the withholding that creates so much paperwork headache. The worker is still responsible for paying income tax on the cash equivalent value of the wages as income, but it saves hassle on both ends. Also, it allows us to pay in currency we do have on hand.
So here's our proposed model. We would like to hire 3 or 4 part-time people, each for about 4 hours a week. At minimum wage, that equals about the cash value of a typical full CSA share. So our employees would be spending one morning or afternoon per week on a regular schedule working on the farm in exchange for pay in the form of truly farm-fresh produce.
We don't want any given person to work more than four hours, because then the produce-pay becomes more than they can likely use, and we would have to pay them in other ways. Plus this keeps us from being too reliant on one person and it keeps any one person from getting too bored with repetitive tasks. Overall, more people will have the opportunity to come out and enjoy some weekly farm work.
The work days would primarily be focused on weekdays; we don't really need help on weekends. We definitely would like to find one or two people who can work on Friday (in preparation for market). Other days are fairly flexible. We anticipate needing help as early as April or May, and the work arrangement could extend into October or November. (We wouldn't necessarily rule out someone on an academic schedule, though.)
Paying in produce might have some kinks that we have to work out, especially in terms of assigning value to items. We often have an abundance of "seconds": produce items that aren't don't meet the market standards of perfection but are nonetheless edible, nutritious, and delicious. (We eat largely seconds, so we should know.) Employees would certainly be encouraged to make as much use of seconds as possible, but with a reasonable balance of "firsts" and possibly some special items that we grow for ourselves but don't normally sell. Of course, the employees would get plenty of choice on what to take any given week, creating more flexibility than many CSAs, and would also likely have the option to "save up" their pay to get larger amounts of produce in canning/freezing quantities if desired.
We're curious if any readers have thoughts on this model. Are you interested? Know someone who would be? Think it's crazy? Know of a legal or regulatory hurdle that we've missed that might throw a wrench into the whole thing? Post a comment or email us with feedback. We want this arrangement to be fair to all sides, as well as legal and practical.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Water doesn't stay liquid long at these temperatures, so we simply shuttle buckets back and forth from the house, where the ice melts enough to be dumped and refilled. This may sound uncomfortable, but overall I don't think I spend any more time outside doing basic animal chores than a commuter walking to and from a car at home and work as well as running errands like shopping. So I figure it's a wash, since I can come back in to a hot wood stove.
Friday, January 8, 2010
ABOUT THE INGREDIENTS
2 quarts poultry or vegetable broth
2-3T soy sauce
Thursday, January 7, 2010
The roll above (left open for photography) uses a very easy-to-make flour-based wrapper, using a recipe from Moosewood Sundays. It's not quite as authentic, but easier to make and stronger. Plus it doesn't use cornstarch. Any sort of equivalent wrapper can be used. The ingredients are simply egg, flour, water, and salt; I cook them on a cast-iron crepe pan and each one takes about 30 seconds.
Fillings are quite variable. In this case, it's finely chopped goat meat (very traditional) sauteed with garlic, then simmered for a long time with cashews, sweet potatoes, sunchokes (a good stand-in for water chestnuts), and calamansi juice. That filling is topped with shredded daikon radish and shelled edamame.
So far we have a fairly typical egg roll from many different cuisines (other than the calamansi). It's the sauce that marks this one as Filipino. I use an adobo-type sauce, relying on the basic combination of soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, black pepper, and garlic. These are simmered slowly and thickened with flour or cornstarch, then either poured into the roll or the wrapped roll dipped into the sauce. There are lots of possible sauces, but this one is lovely. And any leftover sauce is perfect flavoring for fried rice the next day.
I have this tagged as a winter recipe, as most of the ingredients are non-seasonal or easily stored (like edamame). We make these any time of year, though, with whatever fresh ingredients are on hand and a variety of dipping sauces to keep things interesting.
For this New Year's Eve meal, I paired the lumpiang with a pot of caldereta, a meat stew delicious over rice, but they're quite sufficient on their own.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
For those who didn't know, both my parents grew up in the Philippines, and my father's side is now one of (if not THE) longest-continuous-residence American families in the country, having been there since the beginning of the last century. I was raised on lots of Filipino cooking, stories, culture, and so on, in the manner of many second-generation immigrants, though both parents are ethnically American. My mother in particular grew up in the rural southern Philippines and absorbed a great deal of culture and cuisine which she passed on to me. So I've always done a fair bit of Filipino cooking, ever since I was away at college, homesick for real food and making simple batches of pancit in a ratty dorm-basement kitchen.
Many of the ingredients needed for Filipino cuisine can be found or approximated from typical Asian groceries, and I've muddled my way through just fine in all the states I've lived in. But when I walked into Meechu's, I immediately told Joanna it smelled like home. They have a kitchen in the back, making fresh pandesal (soft rolls) and fresh desserts like cassava pie and halo-halo. The store is stocked with specialties not found in other Asian stores, and it just felt & smelled right. The owner is very friendly (as are most Filipinos) and immediately wanted to know my life story when I started asking about obscure ingredients. Right away I gathered a small crowd, with another young man really excited to meet a new second-generation person (his parents are Filipino but he's raised here with perfect English). I called my mother as soon as I got home and shared stories, including asking what I could send her from here that she couldn't get back in NY (answer: Polvoron, little flour-milk candies that were always a Christmas treat when she could get them).
My best find so far was a package of frozen calamansi juice. Calamansis are a unique Filipino fruit, like a small lime but with a wonderful taste. They're very hard to get here, especially of decent quality. My mother has a small calamansi tree in a pot that she has babied for decades to get a few fresh fruits each year. The frozen juice was pure, with no additives or other impurities, and has about as good taste as you would hope for. It's been adding the right (and missing) flavor to many dishes for the past few weeks.
So swing by Meechu's if you're feeling adventurous. Filipino food is unique and wonderful, and you pretty much have to make it yourself in this country. It's worth a try.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Our favorite bulk ordering location is Hy-Vee. Through the Health Market department, we can order almost anything else we need in large quantities, getting a 10% discount from retail. This saves us meaningful money, and Sara there is very professional and helpful. We had tried several other outlets, but were not pleased with the quality of the customer service or the products. We gave up each after a few rounds. Hy-Vee is far preferable to us (at least the Broadway location; we haven't used the newer stores).
Our standard purchases include laundry & dish detergent, coconut milk, soy sauce, raisins, nuts, rice, flour, and so on. It's worth looking into for anyone trying to save money or be more efficient in their shopping. Rather than a weekly trip, once every few months we make an order and show up a week later to pick up our shopping cart full of boxes. Everything is already tallied on a printed order sheet with a single bar code; one swipe of the cashier's unit and we're rung up and paid. The time saved alone makes it worthwhile, much less the money and bother. The look on the cashier's face is usually priceless as well; clearly planning ahead is a concept foreign to modern culture.
It does blow a hole in the monthly budget, and that needs to be planned for. We view it as a kind of import-CSA; every so often we pay a lot, then save up the next few months for the next round. Overall, you're not paying any more than you would otherwise (less, with the discount), and you have the items always on hand, rather than having to think about weekly shopping lists.
Monday, January 4, 2010
Many folks think of winter as the "hungry" time for households like us; it's actually spring. Lots of items will store into the new year, but won't last until March. Yet it's not until April or even May when substantial new produce begins to be available again, so we have to plan our food stores to last that long. This is why we're so glad to have made it into January without touching our preserved stock. We've also stopped milking now, meaning the fresh cheese and yogurt is gone, and we'll have to be more stingy with our purchased milk.
Here's an overall look at what we have put up for the remainder of winter through spring, everything grown/butchered/made by us, except for the fruits, which were picked locally in season, and some of the canned tomatoes, which we purchased fresh from a friend to supplement our poor harvest.
IN THE CHEST FREEZER:
Broth (duck, venison, goat, chicken)
Fruit (blueberries, strawberries, peaches, raspberries, elderberries)
Prepared (various chutneys, soups, relishes, and more)
Vegetables (peas, corn, edamame, green beans, okra, zucchini, roasted tomatoes, greens)
Meat (Venison, goat, chicken, venison sausage)
Tomatoes Tomato juice
And, of course, there are still dried beans, cornmeal, garlic, and the like. But we're pretty happy with this diversity of farm- or locally-sourced food put up for the rest of the non-growing season. We do use a variety of storable purchased items like noodles, flour, rice, spices, and so on, but the base and bulk of our diet throughout the winter is our own food. The supplies above make for wonderfully tasty and variable menus for months, and we're pretty independent from a store in any given week.