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It starts in a moment, it ends in a dream...
As a dug my fingers into the soft dirt and pulled back the soil I remembered what got me into all of this. It really comes out of a love for the soil and growing plants. Last year without having the infrastructure or tools needed to scale up production in vegetables I had to let that go of vegetables and focus on quicker return of investment enterprises and less labor intensive ones as I was doing most of the work. And while I’m passionate about poultry, and love doing it I am first a gardener and then a livestock farmer.
I actually think that’s really important. What goes on in soil and plant life directly affects the animals grazing over them. So it’s vitally important to understand soil health, how plants grow and work and what makes them do what they do.
I don’t plan to turn the farm over to trying to do large scale veg production for a while, maybe never. But I definitely don’t plan to stop gardening. There’s so much to be gained from gardening and it’s very therapeutic. It’s grounding, and brings its own clarity and vision to life.
This year I’m putting in a few hours in our communal garden, shared between the families living here, and I’ll use some for the farm dinners too. But most of my time and money for gardening this year has gone into my high tunnel.
Yesterday we got plastic laid down and drip tape irrigation setup and planted tomatoes in the soil. It only holds about 150 plants with the spacing I’m doing this year. I was only planning to do a few different varieties but some things came up and I’ve got a paste tomato, three or four slicer tomatoes, and about three cherry types. All heirloom, so we’ll see how production goes.
I’m all about heirloom but also open to hybrids if they are better suited to my situation. This is very much a test year with it. I’ve been gardening for about 10 years now, but first time in a high tunnel with the kind of setup I have now.
So here’s to another season of growing! Using our gifts and talents to better ourselves and one another! Let’s get in touch with the ground, the people around us and who we are. I’m looking forward to that first tomato of the year!
It’s still dark, the clouded skies outside tell me that rain is likely and the humidity clinging to the air agrees. Like flickering candles a few distant stars daringly show themselves through wisps of cloud, somewhere up there far beyond reach. Twinkling through the early dawn, desperately trying to hold onto the last shreds of night while morning seeks to find its place among the birds, the crickets and the crowing rooster who deems this early hour one in which to rise.
My thoughts swirl, we’re halfway through the week and I can hardly believe it, the days seem to go by so fast. In the busyness of it all I love being able to take a few minutes in the morning and just be. Maybe a piece of toast to go with a cafe latte made from fresh roasted coffee and our own jersey cow milk.
I love being awake before the sun, ever since I could remember I’ve craved that feeling, the longing to be ahead of the day. To grab those moments before sunrise that seem to slip away so fast.
It’s my time of day to think, meditate, and pray. To be alone and process the day, what needs to be done, mentally making a checklist and assigning jobs. It’s also the time I have to just be with God. For the busyness to be put on hold and let him speak to me. Let his words wash over me, telling me who I am, and what my identity is.
Farming is tough, but a lot of us know that. I’m not looking for sympathy, but maybe support. I’m not looking for a hand out, but maybe a willing hand to come alongside and BE the change we want to see. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and watch others take the reins, but at some point we’ll find that you can’t just opt out. The fact is if you’re not part of the solution, fixing the issue, you’re a part of the problem. We think we can stay in that middle ground and not offend anybody and just play it safe but we’re really siding with the other side when we do that.
We all have different roles to play in life, none of us are equal, and we all have an unfair advantage. So let’s find out what that is, and use it, make the most of it and run! Let’s continue to bring change, to make relationships, to be good and kind and generous. I believe that people are hard to change, but what I know is that love will break down boundaries and create breakthrough.
And because I’m a Lord of the Rings geek I’m going to end with a quote from Faramir and Éowyn in the Return of the King.
Éowyn “The city has fallen silent. There is no warmth left in the sun. It grows so cold.”
Faramir “It’s just the damp of the first spring rain.
I do not believe this darkness will endure.”
Continuing the topic of Pastured Poultry today, I'm going to discuss what on farm processing is, as well as why we do it.
On farm processing is how we butcher or slaughter our broiler chickens. It means getting up at 5am and loading chickens into crates and taking the 5 min drive to our on-farm-processing site where we have everything set up. We have kill cones, a scalder, a plucker, and counter space with plenty of coolers and ice water.
The birds are humanely killed in the kill cones, and quickly go from to the scalder that loosens feathers. From there we place them into the plucker. After feathers have been removed we evicerate them, cutting out the organs and checking for defects. After a rinse and passing inspection we quickly chill them down to below 40F in our coolers filled with ice. After all birds have been processed we clean up, disposing of feathers, guts, waste water etc. Wipe down and sanitize all surfaces, and then do the remaining packing and cut up.
This year we offer 8pc cut up, or whole bird, at a set price of $22/bird within our chicken club. For individual sales the cost of a cut-up chicken is $4 more ($26/cut up bird). We will experiment with chicken cuts, those will be priced per pound based on demand. Cuts we will experiment will be your basic cut list for chicken: breast, thigh, wing, drumstick, organs and bones for broth.
The basic cost of getting your chicken processed in a facility is anywhere from $2-6 per bird and quickly eats up your small profit in a pastured chicken. The savings of on-farm-processing is something we pass on to our customers. For now we are happy to perform this task, something we take seriously and use not only sanitary practices but seek animal welfare and humane handling through all of it. Processing is a necessary part of life in a world that involves meat, so we encourage people to take it seriously and know where your meat comes from. Maybe you need to buy less meat, but buy higher quality meat.
Consider supporting a local farmer and vote with your dollar to become a part of the change in regenerative agriculture. We want to be a part of the farm community where everyone involved is benefiting. The land is restored, the customer gets a quality product, and the producer (us) can make a living by providing quality product and using sustainable practices.
It's that time of year, lots of planning, lots of thinking, lots of sitting around on my phone or computer. There's so much that goes on for the business on the internet or my phone. I hate the addiction it puts me in, maybe I'll get better at it. I'm the social media and marketing and advertising person for the farm, and on top of that run all the enterprises and book keeping and everything from money to eggs and dead chickens need to be counted for in order for a business to be run well. All that to say, here's a little blurb that was on my mind this morning. It's rainy, grey, and weird warm weather right now. I'm ready for Spring, but until then, let's keep pressing on.
Dreams, it’s the unexplainable untouchable idea in the back of our mind that makes the grueling everyday chores or tasks worth it. Because somewhere back there we can see the light at the end that we’re going towards. Aspirations to bring into the natural what our mind sees. Dreams becoming a reality, first in the mind and then taking shape in the present.
We all have hopes and dreams and ambitions. It’s what makes us human. It’s the joy or passion that’s inside of us. Special talent given to us to spread through our lives and those around us. Everyone wants to be someone, and sometimes that one is a nobody, but we all want to achieve that thing, or be that person, because, we’re all growing. We’re all given another chance to make a better choice, to be a better leader, to do the right thing, to choose joy in the face of sorrow, to seek humility in the place of pride, to show others the tangible love of God.
We all have our fears, frailty, our dark thoughts we think when no one’s around. Those secrets that seem too dark to tell, maybe a wound from long ago. Everyone’s waiting for love. Everyone wants to be validated. Everyone wants connection, wants to feel like they’re heard. We all want to know that there’s more to this life. Deep down we want to be reassured that this life isn’t it, that there’s meaning here.
We walk around like we’re the only ones going through what we are, it’s natural. We think “I just wish someone knew what I’m going through”. It’s true, to be able to fully understand your exact circumstances can be hard, sometimes it’s just communication, but we are all human. We all have emotions, and dreams and fears. Most of us have been there in some way. We’ve found love and lost it too. Seen the way the seasons change. Been high and been low and seen the untidiness of life.
Why do we enjoy watching another pursue their dream so much? Why do we love watching the artist create, the potter spin, or the chef conjure up the ultimate dish? Something in us tells us he’s connecting his heart to his hands. He’s bringing beauty to the surface. That in a very tangible way he’s blending mind, body and soul to create something. It’s art. It’s using emotions as well as thought. It’s putting something deeper than the mind into play. It’s that passion, the joy that’s derived when we follow it.
I’m here to say that you don’t have to follow passion to have passion. You don’t have to find out the thing you love most and pursue it. Because passion is caught not taught. Find where you impact, find what you’re good at, and find the passion in that. Like anyone who’s done any kind of art they know it’s not all highs, there are lows. There are days when you just don’t want to keep going. It’s hard, the daily pressing in to more. But if it’s one thing I’ve seen, it’s always worth it.
-the farmer chef
It’s pretty crazy to think that a little over two weeks ago I was in Concord, NC enjoying extended time off with my family. I’ve apparently packed a lot into my time here since I’ve come back, which has made it feel much longer than it has actually been.
Some things I’ve done that have kept me busy were a four course birthday dinner for my cousin Cara and her husband and two friends in an airbnb cabin on Lookout Mountain, a very fun evening. I attended SSAWG a sustainable agriculture conference which was helpful and got my mind back in farm gear. Other things included egg deliveries and meet ups with local famers to generate ideas and collaborate in what we’re doing. Putting together a new website. But I think most notably was an email from my friend Joel Barr, who I interned under just after high school as a garden intern. He’s farming in Minnesota and we keep up some through email, encouraging each other in our endeavors. In his email he mentioned a farm in Sweden called Ridgedale Permaculture Farm and asked if I’d heard about it and what my thoughts were on it.
I unassumingly looked up the farm, figuring it was just another farm trying to get by, or maybe a permaculture homesteader who was using ideas and theories to try and recreate some food forest but wasn’t actually generating any income from the land, or putting ideas to use to be profitable. Instead my world was rocked by watching Richard Perkins show that two decades of experience in design and permaculture and finally settling down in the remote country side of Sweden hasn’t slowed down his amazing ability to create systems that are profitable as well as sustainable ecologically. He has a lot of energy and wisdom and has used both of those to create endless videos on his youtube channel, being open and honest about the farm and how it’s operating and it’s been inspiring to watch him.
I’ll be honest I’d kind of mentally given up on the idea that you can make any decent salary as a small farmer and watching him has changed that thinking as well as inspire passion to continue pressing on. I guess we all need that person who’s gone a little bit (or a lot!) farther than us, we have to know it can be done before we can believe it for ourselves.
I’m all about permaculture, don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of the ideas and philosophies but if you can’t take that and make a profitable farm than I don’t want to listen to you, honestly. I’m not here to homestead, though there’s nothing wrong with that and I enjoy raising my own vegetables and meat. I’m here to farm, and those things are different. Homesteading is doing things smaller scale with the main purpose for sustaining yourself, farming is making a business out of it with the intent of living on that salary. I’m not here to bash any small farmer or homesteader just trying to make it, not at all, but that’s not what I want to do. I’m an all in kind of guy. If I’m going farm, I’m going make a living out of it, and if not then I’ll do something else, run a coffee shop or bakery.
So all that to say I’m excited for this new season. Last year I ran myself ragged, got into a traumatic accident that cost me lots of time and mental energy and tried to do too many enterprises that were not well enough planned and therefore not executed neatly. With too many bills and not enough cash flow it made it stressful and not very encouraging. This year I’ve cut down on what I’m doing, especially time wise, but also large enterprises that cost a lot of money without generating a lot of income, like pigs. They cost me 8 months of expensive feed and then I didn’t have the market to sell at a high enough price to make it worth it. Also our vegetable CSA, not super costly but very labor intensive. With no way to make the garden more organized and scale up in size we had to say no.
So this year my main focus is going to be our Egg Layer Hens. We’re expanding our flock even more and looking to make them the main enterprise for now until its self sustainable, economically and paid off infrastructure. We’ll also do some batches of broilers because they’re quite profitable and I want to be able to offer a pasture-raised meat to our customers. Instead of a large garden I’m focusing on growing a few things in our High Tunnel greenhouse, most notably heirloom tomatoes.
We’ll continue to do our Farm to Table dinners and watch where those take us this year. While I thought about moving a lot towards just farm dinners for farm revenue I’d rather take it easy for another year, keep up with what we have, intensify it, make it more efficient, and focus on our layer hens.
While I’m open to interns or volunteers most of the daily work load and all the business side of things will be my endeavor as I seek to get the farm off the ground even more this year. I’ll certainly have help on chicken process days, and maybe even help here and there throughout the season, but without the means to pay someone, and with me still trying to figure out systems and get them in place I feel it’s important for me to be doing most of the work load. As most people know when starting your own business you're kind of expected to be putting in 80-100 hr work weeks for the first couple years. And honestly, I’m kind of excited about what this year has to offer, I can’t wait to move our chickens to pasture, to start raising chicks, and planting tomatoes.
So here’s to Richard Perkins who has been my inspiration this year to continue farming, to not have a victim mentality, and to really push hard and be determined to do what it takes.
And if you’re so inclined check out their farm at ridgedalepermaculture.com, or Richard Perkins on youtube.
A new year, a new start, another revolution around the sun, one day older.
I had the good pleasure of being away from the farm for four weeks. During that time I did a lot of baking and cooking for the holidays, and hardly thought about the farm. I did a catering job, did a guest chef dinner at the restaurant I used to work at, and even did a musical gig. Most of my time was spent hanging out or playing games with my family. It was a good time away.
I'm back in the game though. After attending Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) some of my passion for farming was rekindled, got a few more ideas, and connected with a few other farmers.
I'm very interested this year in trying to partner with other farmers to sell the eggs and chicken, maybe even an informal co-op. I believe that together we're stronger. That in community we can better ourselves and what we sell. I'm looking forward to what this year has as far as raising poultry as well as focussing in on early heirloom tomatoes and farm to table dinners.
A new feature we're really wanting to push this year is what I'm calling Farmers and Friends potluck dinners here on the farm. I want to extend an opportunity to those who are local to connect with other farmers in a venue that doesn't cost money but involves team work to come together with the meal. Keep an eye out on facebook and instagram for those events!
-the farmer chef
It’s that time of year again. The cold wind whips around the sides of my house, howling like I can only imagine the native wolves of this area did hundreds of years ago. I love this time of year because it’s one of the only fun things about the cold or winter for me. It makes inside events cozy and fun but at the heart of it is necessity.
As I learn and continue to grow I realize more and more my gifting and desire for hosting. That comes in many forms but it’s one of the reasons I’ve liked working in a restaurant as much as I do, and why it’s been hard to entirely get the thought out of my head—of starting a Cafè or restaurant. It’s not a new idea, but one I’ve had for years.
I love hosting, I love creating an environment, in the atmosphere and being able to bring people together with food especially and give them that gift—hospitality. It’s why I like doing the farm to table dinners so much and why as the years have gone on I’ve paid more and more attention to the details when it comes to events and parties that people put on. I want to know what parts they covered up in a room, what parts they highlighted, how they tied that ribbon into the perfect bow. I’ll let you in on a little secret, Pinterest is a great friend of mine. :)
I love setting the mood, creating that perfect atmosphere and I’ve often been able to do that this time of year through parties or events that my family has had or I’ve put together. It’s definitely a time when I get to create and explore and try new things.
And that leads me to wanting to try several time honored classic English/European traditional Christmas foods this year. The older I get the more interested in history and culture I become and the more I want to connect with the past, especially through the element of food. Something so central to our being, our living, and yet has such ways of being expressed and created, its unbelievable. I recently got over a cold and I was remembering how much the nose is used in tasting, it is an incredible sense that we do often take for granted.
So Merry Christmas from the farmer chef! I’m getting ready to head to Charlotte next week where my family is and I’m taking four weeks off. I’m hoping to spend some days on a juice fast, including some days away and trying to just be still and hear God’s voice better, and of course spending quality time with my family and friends and getting ready mentally for the next growing season. I will be off Facebook and limited Instagram use. But as I’ll be doing some cooking/baking for the holidays I’ll probably try to showcase some of them, and I’d like to post a recipe or two here that I try.
This week is another guest recipe, this time from longtime friend Megan Barr. While I grew up vaguely knowing her family our paths did not cross until the summer of 2012 when I became garden intern at Rocklands Farm in Poolesville, MD where she and her husband Joel were garden managers. Megan is an amazing person, she is honest, she's the real deal, and she's not going to hide behind some mask or fake it. She's raising a family and starting a farm in Minnestota with her husband Joel and their children. She's an amazing cook and like minded in so many areas, particularly when it comes to salt and butter! Here's a recipe from her that I can't wait to try out myself!
Fall and winter is the time our oven becomes fully employed again. Instead of strategizing my meals to avoid the use of the oven, I now strategize my meals to include the oven, as it provides an additional source of warmth for our little house.
With the waning of the daylight our exterior work ends and our interior work begins. We generally welcome this change, but not without mourning the loss of being in the carnality of our bodies as they work close to the earth. In the winter we seek to fulfill this void and to bolster ourselves against the dark days and cold nights by looking to our meals to sustain us in deeper more spiritual ways. Anything roasted helps deliver this kind of soul nourishing for us. And so I offer you my absolute favorite way to roast a chicken.
As a farmer who participates in the raising and slaughtering of 500 broilers a year, It's hard for me to get excited about chicken. I will not order it if I go to a restaurant. I have tried many many many different ways to cook chicken. I constantly sought the grail of roast chicken-one with crispy skin, a juicy interior, and thoroughly full of flavor. Too many times I ended up disappointed with dry, undercooked, bland, complicated, or just boring chicken. I almost gave up on the roast chicken as a cooking method and was prepared to braise it forever. Until I stumbled upon this cooking technique, parsed out in the brilliant book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. This one is perfect, and simple, and looks just smashing (sp)layed out on the table in the cast iron pan which it was cooked.
The simplicity of this recipe kills me. Salt. Chicken. Technique. Done. But these are the kind of recipes and the ways of cooking that ring true to me. They fit into my own philosophy on food which only became more complete after I started farming.
Here are its elements:
1. Food raised in its best conditions with the optimal nutrients will be its best self
2. Food that is its best self already HAS an identity and hardly needs flavor manipulation.
3. But the food can benefit from and become even more itself by the cook's THOROUGH knowledge of it as she adds technique to it.
Look over the techniques in the recipe. They display a knowledge of the chicken's nature. The overnight uncovered air chill dries out the skin which makes it crispy. The dry brine distributes salt and moisture throughout the bird, ensuring a juicy flesh when cooked. The removal of the backbone makes sure all parts get cooked evenly. It's brilliant. Get yourself a well-raised chicken and try this out. You will not be disappointed.
Here is the non-recipe:
1.The night before you plan on roasting your chicken, remove its backbone (called spatchcocking, or butterflying). If you don't know how to do this, all it takes is a sharp knife and some willingness to manhandle raw chicken. I will let google or your butcher show you how to do this as I don't want to take up space in this post.
2. Place chicken, breast side down on a cutting board and push down on the breastbone firmly until the chicken is flat. Generously season the bird with salt on both sides. Place, breast side up, on a roasting dish and refrigerate uncovered, overnight.
3. One hour before you plan to roast the bird, pull the chicken out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature.
4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and adjust the oven rack to be in the middle.
5. In a 12 inch cast iron skillet, add just enough oil of your choice to coat the bottom. Heat on medium high. As soon as the oil is shimmering, add the whole chicken, breast side down. Brown for about 8 minutes, then flip over and brown on the other side for another 5 minutes or so.
6. Transfer the skillet to the heated oven. SLide it to the back with the handle facing left. Roast 20 minutes.
7. After 20 minutes, turn the skillet 180 degrees so that the handle is pointing right. Keep the pan in the back of the oven. Roast another 30-45 minutes, until the chicken is brown all over and the juices run clear. Remove the skillet from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes until carving it.
This chicken needs only the crustiest bread you can get your hands on, the freshest butter, and the simplest scantily dressed greens salad. A nice pinot noir would take the dish to stellar heights. Enjoy!
Megan Barr, from Abraham's Table Farm
It's food again this week! The more I cook, the more I travel, the more I learn the history and what's involved in food and tradition the more I am drawn to foods and recipes that have something from the past. I'm all about innovation and new flavors and new foods, I'm a chef after all. But there's certainly a side to me that loves the connection to the past through food. This is one such recipe.
We recently butchered one of our pigs, actually the last one of 10 pigs here on the farm. Since it was the last pig I had time to do a little bit more with parts from the pig that I usually don't because I'm usually more busy. So I decided I'd tackle head cheese.
Head cheese is a cold cut that originated in Europe. It's not a dairy cheese, I think I made that clear by my introduction, it's a terrine or meat jelly made with flesh from the head of a calf or pig, not as often used is sheep or cow. It's not as gross as it might sound, you remove the eyes, brain and usually ears. Traditionally you make a stock from the head, using white wine and herbs to pull flavor and gelatin from the skull, in my case I just put all the bones, roasted first in an outdoor wood fired oven into a large pot and made stock. After 30hrs of boiling I made the head cheese by removing the skull, pulling off the flesh and dicing it up small and putting it in a bowl to season.
Mean while I took 5 quarts of stock and reduced down to 1 over the stove while I finished prepping ingredients for the head cheese.
1 pig head
1 roasted red pepper
1 c. white wine
Salt, 2 Tbs pepper, 1 tsp smoked paprika
Dice up the vegetables small, add to a cup of wine in a sauce pan and bring to boil, simmer covered until tender.
Mean while in bowl with meat from the head season heavily with salt (you'll have to go by taste), because this is a condiment and served on crackers and such it can handle more salt than you'd normally think. Add pepper, smoked paprika, and mix.
Press into loaf pans/pan (I used 2 small 6"x2.5")
Pour stock that has been reduced down to 1/5th until just covering meat. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate. After chilled over night turn over onto board and serve with crackers or cheese, call also be used in cooking with rice and beans.
Head cheese is just one of the ways that humans from generations past used as much or all of the animal when it came to killing and eating meat. It shows you the respect that they had for the animal and also the need to make the most out of everything in a time when food was more scarce. I hope you enjoyed the read even if you won't make the recipe!
I'm freezing mine for the week and will break it open at Thanksgiving and see how it turns out, I'm pretty excited!