Food prices rise while package sizes shrink– do you feel inflation sneaking in?

A recent conversation about the rising cost of bacon provoked a few thoughts about the subject. Roughly 10 years ago, we purchased a popular thick cut brand of bacon for $3 per lb. Last week at the local Walmart, that same bacon was $13 lb for 12 ounces. Same bacon. Smaller package. Huge price increase. I could say the same about many staples– laundry detergent, cheese, paper towels, bread… the list could go on and on. Most of the everyday food that we buy has gone up dramatically in the last decade. In many cases, the sizes are far smaller or the packaging (say, in juice) has changed to give us the illusion that we are still getting a good deal.

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Bacon is a well-loved staple at our house!

A recent article in Fortune explained that prices for common household goods are set to increase in 2019. What is a budget-conscious person to do? Is it possible to eat well even if you are on a special diet? The Keto diet is especially popular these days, but meat can be particularly expensive.  Purchasing meat from butcher shops is a wonderful way to save money while supporting a local business. (Not to mention you will know exactly where your meat comes from. Food recalls anyone?) Several butchers that we know routinely offer specials for bulk pricing. Even their “by the cut” prices are reasonable. Ground chuck for $3.50 lb, bacon for $4.50– these are great prices that simply can’t be matched in the grocery store.

Purchasing meat directly from farmers is a great way to connect with your food and get a bargain. Farms that offer animals by the whole or half are also cheaper than the grocery store, and some even offer seasonal CSAs (a kind of buying club) that include diverse cuts of meat. Purchasing pastured chickens in season is a great way to stock your freezer, too.

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EnterWhile Tarheelbilly Farm doesn’t offer a full CSA, we often have extra produce to sell.

Vegetables and fruit present different challenges, but now is the time farmers are planning their crops for next year.  Many people shop at farmer’s markets, and that is a great way to purchase food. It may be worth considering investigating joining a produce CSA, which may offer consumers a good way to share in the farm’s bounty throughout the season. Some farmers would be happy to accommodate large purchases or blemished “seconds” for people who can/preserve.

Don’t know how to can? Call your local cooperative extension office! Some offer classes in canning and all have information that will help you develop that skill.

canned goods

There are many ways to mitigate the rising cost of food. Small changes can empower you to feed your family affordably while supporting your local food system!

-Charis

 

For further thought:

http://fortune.com/2019/02/10/household-products-cost-more-price-increase/

https://www.wsj.com/articles/prepare-to-pay-more-for-diapers-clorox-and-cat-litter-11549805401?mod=hp_lead_pos3

https://www.focus-economics.com/blog/coffee-price-forecast-will-your-cup-of-coffee-get-more-expensive-in-2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slow wool in the fast economy

Yesterday I received a year’s work in a box. The wool sheared from our flock of Tunis sheep was shipped to the fiber mill in May. After months of anticipation, it finally arrived, along with several bags of roving.

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Yarn from Jo-Julie, processed by family-owned Round Barn Fiber Mill in December 2018. Yarn is now available in the farm’s Etsy store.

As I gently removed each bag of fiber, tagged with the name of each sheep that it came from, I thought about the delayed satisfaction inherent in farming. Coming from a teaching background, this isn’t a new concept to me. You plant the seed and it may be years before you see the tree bear fruit. In some cases, you never see it, but you have faith that the love and effort that you gave will somehow blossom into something.

As a fiber farmer, my year both begins and ends on shearing day. I take great care when shearing; the last thing that I want to do is hurt the sheep (which generally means that I end up with few bandaids), and I want to make sure that the wool is removed quickly and in the condition preferred by handspinners and fiber mills. It is no easy task, but I enjoy the process nonetheless.

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After shearing and skirting, some of my fiber addled friends purchase the fleeces raw, preferring to wash, card, and process the fiber themselves. I have tremendous respect for these people (you should too– they have the patience of Job and the skills of MacGuyver), and love to connect them with the sheep that provided their fleeces.

Fleeces are then sent off to the mill to be processed into finished goods. In my case, I have some processed into roving and some processed into yarn. Some mills are able to create socks, hats, blankets, and other finished items from shepherds’ yarns, but that requires a LOT of fiber and sometimes they need to blend it with other folks’ fiber to make it work.

Before I became a shepherd, I hung out with as many fiber producers as I could. All were gracious with their time and experience; most discouraged me from starting a flock if my intention was to make any money at all. The number of shepherds who keep wool sheep continues to decline as the market for domestic wool is overtaken by imported wool. Correspondingly, the number of woolen mills in the US continues to decline, and it’s becoming more difficult for wool producers to provide American consumers with American wool. Indeed, Woolrich, an iconic woolen mill in aptly-named Woolrich, Pennsylvania, recently announced its closure, dealing yet another blow to domestic wool production.

https://wnep.com/2018/11/01/people-sad-to-hear-woolrich-inc-woolen-mill-to-close-by-years-end/

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Woolrich Inc.,will be merging and moving operations. America’s oldest outdoor clothing company will become Woolrich International with its headquarters in London. Dan Gleiter |

When announcing the closure of Woolrich, the investment group cited the desire of the American public to purchase inexpensive wool, suggesting that Americans do not value high quality, well-made American products. (Had they read many of the comments by heartbroken, mulit-generation Woolrich shoppers, they may have reconsidered that opinion.)

None of these macroeconomic issues were on my mind when my package came, though. Carefully examining the yarn, I thought about the countless hours I put in to make that one skein possible. Feeding, hoof trimming, moving fence, (Ben building ever more fence), checking teeth, shearing, watering, hauling water in the snow… How can one assign a price to such a thing? How can I possibly assign worth and value to it?

Wool from small farmers represents a year’s worth of sweat equity. Many hands play a role in the making of sweaters, socks, hats– from the shepherds to the mill workers. As Americans have slowly begun to embrace the concept of slow food– the deliberate and careful consumption of food, with respect to growing practices and support of local sustainable growers– we would be wise to consider slow wool. Support your local shepherds. Hug a lamb or two. Refute the misinformation campaign against wool, and if you don’t know how your socks came to be, commit to learning. Vote with your dollars. Your fellow sheep-tending and mill working Americans will appreciate it.

-Charis

 

 

 

 

Fall days: in search of tranquility

It’s been a busy couple of weeks around the farm. Despite my best intentions to chronicle and document the many dynamic projects that we have going on, it’s been hard to sit down and take the time to write. I compose all of these profound insights while moving fence or walking in the pasture, but when I get back to the house, it’s on to another project or series of demands.

While scrolling through my pages feed a few weeks ago, I came across a quote that has stuck with me– “Turn off Pinterest and create!” While I am not a Pinterest addict, I have been guilty of reading about projects and ideas for far too long, looking for a bit of inspiration to get me started on my next creative journey. I am especially guilty of dithering around with my weaving projects. I have some pretty severe avoidance behaviors when it comes to starting a new weaving projects. I linger a bit too long deciding on colors and yarn before I start warping the loom, but once I get started, the work seems to  flow.

I’ve been busy making holiday crafts, and spent quite a bit of time on Ravelry looking at page after page of cute snowmen, Santas, scarves, and the like. Ultimately, I printed a few instructions and patterns, cast on, and promptly ignored them all, just as I tend to do with everything I make.

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Reindeer prototype 1

While I always long for a slower pace this time of year, I feel the subtle tide of the holiday season pulling me out to the sea of expectation. I fight it, but only the quiet peace of the woods, good coffee, and watching the sun evaporate the morning dew off the backs of my sheep seem to do anything to quiet my need for equanimity.

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A month from now, the trees will be laid bare, and the still quiet of the woods will endure without much interruption. Hopefully I’ll be able to squirrel away a bit of time and sit in quiet reprieve.

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Maple Year Round

This past weekend, we attended a Maple seminar sponsored by the WV Veterans to Agriculture program and the WV Maple Syrup Producers Association.

While the course was designed for the beginner in mind, there was a wide variety of interests and experience in attendance. The day-long course covered a wide variety of topics, from tapping and tree selection to maple products and opportunities for further study.

Mid-Appalachia is not well-known for its maple syrup, but it won’t remain a secret for long!  Production is increasing in WV, and local syrup is typically the dark amber, more robust flavored syrup. Last year, demand for local syrup across the Tristate far outstripped supply.  Our customers love our syrup, and with our plans to increase production in2018, we hope to facilitate more pancake breakfasts in the new year!

 

 

Adventures in natural dyeing

As summer fades to fall, things have been busy around the farm. We’ve been busy putting the garden to rest, and are now transitioning to crafts and hobbies. My hands gravitate toward wool as cooler weather becomes the norm; Ben spends more time woodworking.

Since acquiring the sheep and having fiber to play with, I’ve started to experiment with natural dyes. Most fiber (wool and cotton) is dyed using chemicals. This process creates fiber with deep and lasting colors but the complications that arise with disposal of the chemical medium and exposure to toxins in commercial dyes makes me a bit leery of using them.

Besides, there is something profoundly gratifying about collecting natural ingredients and using them to dye natural products! There are lots of books about gathering and using wild plants, mushrooms, and lichens to dye. Armed with a copy of “Wild Color” and a stainless steel pot, I harvested a few nettles and marigolds and gave it a go.

Nettles

Using a good pair of leather gloves, I picked a good amount of stinging nettles to play with. Nettles yield colors that range from green to yellow. Using alum as a mordant, I dyed a bit of handspun and it came out a shade of brown.

Marigold

I grow French and African marigolds as a part of my pest management program in the garden. Orange flowers were selected for the dye pot.

After a bit of hit and time, two skeins of yarn were transformed from white to shades of brown and yellow.

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0 From left to right: dyed with nettles, marigold, and undyed

Dyeing fiber is a life-long craft. The color possibilities created using these ancient methods are endless. I see a lot more experimentation in my future…

 

 

  • A Weaver’s Garden. Rita Buchanan. Interweave Press, 1987.
  •  A Dyer’s Manual Jill Goodwin. Pelham Books, 1982.
  • Wild Color Jenny Dean and Karen Casselman

 

Sunday Foraging

Years ago when I lived in the city, I shopped in local bulk food stores. I purchased all sorts of herbs, tinctures, and salves in the hopes of living a more holistic lifestyle. I remember my grandmother making “black”  and “tar” salves when I was a kid, but her recipe was lost– she passed away before I graduated from high school. My curiosity led me to  experiment with everything from laundry detergent to toothpaste. Some things worked– I still use simple carpet and window cleaners. Others not so much– laundry detergent specially made for HE washers and hard water simply works better for us. After a lot of experimentation, I also make all of the soap, salves, and skin care products that me and my family use throughout the year, and use many holistic methods with our livestock.

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Goldenrod in various stages of bloom

Now that I live on a farm with woodlands, I am able to forage many of the plants that I need to make the medicines and skin care products that we use. Given my interest in natural dying, I have been pleased to learn that many of the plants and flowers that I forage and routinely grow are also used to dye fabric.

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Mullein– commonly used for earaches

Of course, caution must be used when foraging plants. Mother nature and the Good Lord saw fit to equip many of them with, well, deterrents. Some of my most favorite plants have thorns or irritate the skin if picked without protection. As with foraging for mushrooms or other items in the natural world, know what you’re doing before you hurt yourself! Due diligence and common sense are required! That being said, people have made use of woodland plants since before written language, so short of a woodland mentor, a good pocket plant identification guide is really all that is needed.

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Rose hips ready for harvest

Rose hips have been used for a millennia to ward off and treat colds. During WW2, the British government enacted “The Rose Hip Collection Campaign,” wherein it compelled its citizens to collect and use rose hips to ward off scurvy during its time of food rationing. There is some anecdotal evidence that rose hip tea lessens the effects of arthritis, but that hasn’t been proven in clinical trials.

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The ubiquitous stinging nettle in flower

We drink nettle tea during the winter for the vitamin boost. Some folks make pesto from it, but we’re not huge pesto fans around here so we stick to tea. Mixed with a good loose leaf Earl Grey, it’s wonderful on a cold winter evening.

The bees are out in full force, busy stocking the hive in preparation for winter. They pull white pollen from nettles. Isn’t that something?

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Worker bee harvesting white pollen from nettle flowers

I can find no better way to appreciate the changing seasons than by taking a slow walk in the woods.

-CW

The new becomes old

We have sold products to the public in some form since 2011. Early on Saturday mornings, I would pack up a few cases of honey and set up a booth at our local farmer’s market. I met all kinds of people– young, old, healthy, infirm– all united in their quest to shop locally. My fellow market growers were also diverse in terms of ethnicity and gender, but most of them were older. Many of the people who shopped at the market were in search of something specific.  Since we sold honey, our customers were excited to purchase our product locally and unadulterated.

After making a few observations about our customers over the past decade or so, I have begun to wonder a few things about the state of the American diet. What drives our food choices? Nostalgia? Desire for change? Doctors’ orders? Many of our long-time customers to be older, say 50+. If most of our Tarheelbilly customers are all over the age of 40, where are the young families? Where are the young, single foodies?

A few weeks ago, I discussed this issue with a fellow small farmer. She made similar observations about her clientele, and lamented the lack of upwardly mobile customers that she counted among her customers. Most of the affluent people that she knew preferred to buy their organic meat from large chains. They liked buying food by the cut and weren’t particularly interested in buying meat by the half or whole. Further, they weren’t looking for a connection with their farmer, but felt strongly that she performed a great and necessary service as a farmer.

People like the idea of small farms. They wax nostalgically about fuzzy farm animals, bucolic pasture photos, and worn tractors crisscrossing hay fields in early summer. Despite this positive connotation, most people still shop at Trader Joes/Whole Foods/Kroger,  buy a few things here and there at local farmers markets, and consider these purchases in line with holistic and eco-friendly purchases.

What’s so bad about that? Don’t people deserve to buy what they want, in the quanties that work for them? Small farms are inefficient simply due to the economy of scale. So what happens to small farms when they are loved but not patronized? Well, obviously, they go away. There are only two sides of the often-sought chicken breast– remember, chickens have thighs, wings, and legs too. So, if you go to the market wanting chicken breasts, a farmer must slaughter one whole chicken for your small package. Honestly, two or three must be slaughtered to make a decent meal for a family of 4. Pigs are made of more than bacon and ham (unfortunately). There is a finite number of ribeye steaks on a given cow.  If you have a cookout and contact a farmer for 20# of brisket, the odds are they they won’t be able to help you– 2-4 cows must be slaughter for that quantity.

As our culture embraced the convenience of the grocery store, we lost the need to eat seasonally and embrace the challenge of eating the whole animal. A generation ago, offal was commonly eaten, and chartreuse wasn’t something relegated to aficionados. In order for small farms to compete with corporate farms, consumers would have to change their eating habits. That’s a pretty tall order.

Going forward, we hope broaden our customer base of those who desire to eat simple, unadulterated food and will continue to produce clean food for conscientious families to enjoy.

Thanks for your support!