The challenges of shopping locally in the age of E.Coli eggs and scary lettuce

The recent E.Coli outbreak effecting eggs, lettuce, and ground beef highlight how important it is to shop locally and to know where the food on your plate comes from. The truth is, it’s not always easy to secure all of the food your family eats from your local community.

As farmers, my family spends a great deal of time in the garden and fields planting cover crops, spreading manure from our animals (in lieu of using chemical fertilizers), and implementing various permaculture principles on our farm. In this way, we are able to raise a great deal of our food. We started our rotationally-grazed Galloway herd to fulfill our desire of eating pasture raised beef. We are able to eat eggs from free range chickens. I humbly acknowledge that we are indeed blessed and fortunate enough to have the space needed to grow and raise a lot of our food. This is a are blessing that not everyone is afforded nor inclined to undertake.

Having lived in several major cities as an adult, I am keenly aware of how difficult it can be to find local food raised in keeping with ones values. Some cities make connecting with farmers pretty easy; I have lived in fairly large cities that maintain robust, vibrant markets. Farmers come from hours away to set up there and command prices that allow them to make a good living from the farm. However, I have lived in other communities where farmers’ markets were either inaccessible or consisted largely of resellers– folks who purchased produce from produce markets where food is from everywhere, and simply resold them to the public at the market.

So where does that leave the average consumer? Well, honestly, it makes “shopping locally” a challenge. Few would disagree with the need to support family farms, but folks have to feed their families, regardless of where that food comes from. Some communities struggle with food insecurity, food deserts, and lack of transportation to even get to markets. Many families struggle with the cost of food, and though they would like to purchase more fresh produce from local farmers, the budget may not allow for that. Additionally, many farmers markets across the country now accept EBT/debit/credit cards, but individual farmers may not be set up to do so. Many rural communities lack sufficient wireless infrastructure to be able to even add these payment options.

In addition to those socio-cultural challenges, there are real supply chain and natural impediments that also make it difficult for the the average consumer to eat locally. While grocery stores/box chains are dealing with the fallout of potentially contaminated food, farmers across the country are dealing with the aftermath of our long, protracted winter.

Farmers across the country have altered or delayed their planting schedules. Even cold-tolerant plants have been thrown off a bit by the conditions.  My Southern farming friends have not been immune-  many farmers markets have delayed their openings since so few vegetables are currently ready for harvest.

So please be patient with your local farmers. There is no part of our food system that is immune to the reach and whim of mother nature or other outside forces, whether you shop at your local farmers market or stop by the farm stand down the road from your house!

-CW

Spring has arrived on the farm

 

After a seemingly endless winter, spring has finally arrived on the farm.  Maple season ended after a stretch of warm weather; the sap changed from clear to opaque, signaling the tree’s anticipation of warmer weather.

Ben has been busy finishing up a fencing project. Proper fences require ongoing maintenance and repair.  IMG_3898

Our chickens grew weary of the cold, wet weather, but were happy for the longer days. Their egg production increased markedly in March, and we occasionally find our free range eggs in rather strange places.

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PB finds a new place to lay

The pasture is starting to awaken and the livestock are happy to have fresh grass to graze after a steady diet of hay, haylage, and alfalfa pellets. We are happy for the arrival of violets. We make jelly from those pretty little purple flowers.

 

The perennials are finally starting to return. We love our asparagus around here. There is something magical about those pretty green spears appearing overnight. Sauteed or lightly roasted in butter or bacon drippings, the taste of fresh asparagus is simply unmatched.

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Spring signals the beginning of our lambing season. The red Tunis lambs are a stark contrast against the green grass. They don’t remain red for long, their white/cream fleeces begin to overtake the soft red hair after a week or two.

 

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Jewelweed

Many of our favorite plants are wild annuals and perennials that we forage. We spend time walking the woods to locate useful plants that we use for our family and the livestock.  Certain birds, insects, and reptiles are indicator species to determine when it’s warm enough for us garden in earnest. Gold finches, bullfrogs, and grasshoppers have all made their presence known over the past week.

The bees are happy for the warmer weather, too. Our hives are active daily now, harvesting pollen from dandelions, wildflowers, and the many fruit trees that are now in bloom.

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Many of our friend and family across the country are still struggling with cold temperatures. While we’re not quite out of the woods yet, it is encouraging to see the signs of spring on the farm.

-CW

 

Maple recipes part 2: Maple granola

With the first official boil in the books, we’re now busy replenishing our maple stores for the year. We use a LOT of maple syrup and honey at our house, primarily because we don’t use artificial sweeteners. We stopped buying processed cereal years ago and replaced it with granola. We eat granola with milk for breakfast or as a simple snack.

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Granola– a healthy breakfast and snack option.

This recipe is pretty versatile– we typically add whatever we have on hand and don’t worry about it too much.

Maple Granola

  • 3 cups rolled oats (NOT the instant kind)
  • 1 cup raisins (or dried cranberries or blueberries– you get the picture!)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup black walnuts (or whatever kind of nuts you like– almonds are great, too!)
  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup pure maple Syrup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 1 dash salt

Preheat oven to 250ºF.

In a large bowl, stir to combine rolled oats,  walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and coconut flakes. In a separate bowl, stir to combine maple syrup, brown sugar, oil, and salt. Pour wet ingredients over the oats, and mix well.

Pour the granola onto a rimmed sheet pan and spread it out evenly with a spatula. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring halfway through the baking process. The granola is done cooking when it turns medium brown, so your cooking time may vary a bit. Let the granola cool completely then store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. (It NEVER lasts that long at our house.) This recipe can be doubled if you want to make more.

Happy baking!

(Adapted from Homemade Pantry and Food to Live By)

What are dryer balls and why should you use them?

A question posted on the farm’s Facebook page inspired today’s post. We make and sell wool dryer balls made with fiber from our Tunis sheep. Our chemical and dye-free dryer balls are a popular item, but many people don’t know what they are!

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100% undyed Tunis wool dryer balls

So, what are wool dryer balls? Dryer balls are used to help dry clothes more quickly than usual as well as to soften fabrics in the dryer. When you add dryer balls into your clothes dryer the balls will bounce around in the dryer and in between clothing.  The balls will separate and pull them apart with their weight. This in turn is allows more hot air in and around your laundry helping the dryer to heat your laundry more quickly. By using up to 3 balls in a medium load, you can decrease the total dry time by 20% or up to 15 minutes at a time.

There are a few tricks to using dryer balls. You can’t efficiently dry great big loads of laundry at one time since the balls need a bit of room in the dryer to bounce around. Three medium sized balls should suffice for most small-medium loads, but 6 would work better for heavier material (think denim). (Keep in mind that overloading the dryer will reduce their efficacy, regardless of how many dryer balls added to the load.)  To use them, you simply toss them into the dryer along with your laundry and they will do their thing!

What about static? Do dryer balls prevent static? The truth is, dryer balls do not prevent static. However, there are things that you can do to reduce static in your laundry. First, much of the reason that static builds up in dryers is due to over-drying the load. This is especially problematic during the winter months when the overall environment is low in humidity.

To compensate, try spraying the wool dryer balls with water, getting them rather wet. This will increase the humidity level in the dryer. Another tip– try pinning a small safety pin on one ball to diffuse static.

Can I add essential oils to my wool dryer balls? Absolutely! splashing a few drops of essential oils onto the wool dryer balls will make your laundry smell great without having to use chemicals!

To get the maximum benefit, allow the essential oil soak on the dryer balls for 10-20 minutes before putting them in the dryer. This will extend the amount of time the fragrance will will impart to clothes.

Can I use these with cloth diapers?
Absolutely! Unlike chemical fabric softeners, they won’t affect the absorbency of your towels, kitchen dishcloths AND your cloth diapers like commercial fabric softeners will.

 

We hope that you will give will dryer balls a try. For those of us who are sensitive to chemical dyes and fragrances, wool dryer balls offer an inexpensive, eco-friendly alternative to dryer sheets and fabric softeners.

 

Hat tip/Additional resources:
https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/home-and-family/use-wool-dryer-balls/
https://thehomemadeexperiment.com/how-to-use-wool-dryer-balls/

Maple syrup is not just for pancakes! Introducing: maple black walnut pie

We had a bumper crop of black walnuts this year. They are a flavorful addition to pancakes, cookies, and just about anything that could use a good crunch. While looking for a recipe to make over the holidays, I came across this savory pie recipe. It was a huge success! It is reminiscent of pecan pie but without the sugary sweetness that can be overwhelming.

Maple season is upon us, so I’ll try and share a few recipes during the season to illustrate the versatility of this wonderful syrup!

 

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Photo: simply recipes maple walnut pie– our pie was eaten so fast I didn’t even get a picture!

Maple Black Walnut Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 9-inch pie shell, frozen for at least 30 minutes
  • 2 cups roughly chopped walnuts
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp dark rum (optional, but tasty)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

 

1 Preheat oven to 375°F. In a bowl, mix together the beaten eggs, maple syrup, rum (if using), vanilla extract, brown sugar, and melted butter. Sprinkle with flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Whisk until smooth.

2 . Pour the maple syrup egg mixture into the prepared pie shell. Sprinkle black walnuts all over top, arranging them where needed.

3 Bake at 375°F for 40-45 minutes. After about 20 minutes, or about halfway through the baking, protect the pie crust edges with foil or use a pie protector so that the edges don’t burn.

4 Remove from the oven and let cool completely before serving.

 

 

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!