Monday, July 26, 2010

Something Died for Your Dinner Part II

Hi Friends,

Ok. This is really enough. We were sure it was not going to rain here. When we arrived, we were assured it was not going to rain frequently/ever here. Lies, all lies. It has rained countless times since arriving. Most recently was a wild, exciting and slightly dangerous lightening storm. There was a video taken, so I won't use too many words here so all you need to know is it is raining more than typical (possibly because of a shift from dry/drought season to wet every 10 years or so?) and it was just a really great lightening storm. On the flip side, more rain means less pipe change!

I am loving my coworkers more and more daily- just as they are about to start disbanding and leave for the season. :( Truly though, I feel as though I have expanded my communication skills, learned to trust my instincts and take as well as give more constructive (most of the time) criticism. I hope my next environment is as fun and as open/honest (for the good, bad, or uncomfortable) as these group of ladies (+ Dave) are. We are having so much fun, especially when the team is all together. These 6 people are from different parts of the country, hold different beliefs and are of different ages but they are really helping to create an enjoyable work atmosphere and awesome summer. Thanks guys!!

New harvest from the garden include: rainbow chard, broccoli, summer squash (and blossoms!), bush/green beans, oregano, endless basil, calendula flowers, more carrots, beautiful beets, kale and turnips. We recently planted more lettuce, arugula (or pronounced ArUgUla here), and carrots.

The Whole Day's Harvest:

Zucchini and blossom, Photo by Shannon Dills
Broccoli, Photo by Shannon Dills

But really what I wanted to tell you about is the slaughter. Or would you prefer I use the word harvest? Let's first start by being real. When you eat animal meat, there was once life to the flesh which you so enjoy. This is a fact and one I personally think we, as a society should consider more often. This seems like an ideal time for one (of my many) favorite Michael Pollan quotes:

"Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do. Tail docking and sow crates and beak clipping would disappear overnight, and the days of slaughtering 400 heads of cattle an hour would promptly come to an end--for who could stand the sight? Yes, meat would get more expensive. We'd probably eat a lot less of it, too, but maybe when we did eat animals we'd eat them with the consciousness, ceremony, and respect they deserve." - Michael Pollan, Omnivore's Dilemma

Thanks Michael, You can reference the previous blog re: slaughter (Something Died for Your Dinner) to learn a bit more about the facility itself and why it is unique (i.e. not slaughtering 400 head and hour and why that is advantageous to all involved). Now that we have gotten that out of the way I can proceed to tell you about the amazing experience in which I was so fortunate to partake.

Dave and I rose at 5:00 a.m. on Friday to meet Sara, Miche', and fellow interns Julie and Avana in the field where the cows were grazing. Within that field were the ten cows selected for harvest/slaughter and separated out in a pen the previous day (some detail on that in the former post). As we began talking about loading them up I was really having some strong memories from my horse show days. (For Linda and any other creeping horse-people) As if rising at 5:00 a.m. to a slightly chilly morning did not do it for me, maneuvering around the trailer certainly did. This however was no horse show morning and in fact the time and presence of a trailer is where the similarities ended. Five At a time, we loaded them up by encouraging them to walk through the chutes and into the trailer. We then made the hour drive to the location of our processing facility. I am not cheating with my terminology here by writing processing facility, this is an accurate term because they not only kill, but also dry age and package our meat on site.
We unloaded the cows and made our way inside. I was struck how small the facility really was. By the time we reached the inside and made it to the kill floor one of our animals was already down; stunned/killed by a non-penetrating captive bolt pistol. Once the residual energy left the body (twitching), the animal was hung by their hind feet over a can and their throat was cut with a very sharp knife, draining the blood from the body. Once drained, the hide from the skull was removed, the head was put aside and blood and brains cleaned with powerful hose-type instrument. We have the cheek meat and tongue sent back as cuts. At this point it seemed to transition to the coolest anatomy class I ever attended. Seeing the hide come off with such ease (a tribute to the skill of the employees) was really interesting. We saw the hooves cut off (prevent spread of disease and manure), the entire intestine system, the diaphragm on the interior wall, saw them split into a "side" of beef. Watching the entire process made me feel special, unique, not many people can say they have been in a USDA slaughterhouse. Most of them aren't places you would ever want to enter (see Something Died for Your Dinner Part I); a big rushing mess.

****Slaughter Photos Ahead****

Shannon Dills attended the previous slaughter and took some amazing pictures.


Hands down the most disturbing part of the day was the drive by the CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation). Our cows were happy their entire life, eating and living the way in which cows were meant. The CAFO represents everything we are not; crowded, filthy, smelly, generally gross. The sheer mass of what we saw was beyond infuriating. We drove by, endless pens- no grass, filled with cows. If I had to guess, it felt like 2 miles. No joke.

We saw the massing "poop lagoon". When you have so many animals that close together and are not cycling their manure in a responsible way by returning the nutrients to the soil it piles up, and up and up, and eventually pollutes the ground water and runs to streams creating dead zones in the oceans i.e. Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone. Phew, ANYWAY, the CAFO was gross.

Call it justification or whatever you want. In my opinion, if people are to eat animals, the Sunrise Ranch way is the only way for the health and safety of the public, animals and ecosystem.
Much love,

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Hoes are Working Hard

That's what she said! -Good you are catching on.

While I have learned an extraordinary amount during my 7 weeks here on the farm about harvesting veggies, cows, fencing, seeds, and the many different ways to farm organically, I never could have conceptualized that amount of jokes I would learn, specifically ones to be made about garden hoes.

Well, there is no easy segway into this. . . .

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM! My wonderful mommy had a birthday this past Wednesday. Love you Mom!!

As much as I miss my dearest mother, life on the farm rules. The team is working like a well oiled machine. Kinks worked out, we are charging full steam ahead into a busy harvest season. Here is one such harvest, (although we are all really just hams and love having our pictures taken.)
Left to right top: Sylvan (Garden Manager), Avana, Dave, Sandy, Shannon, Kate
Left to right bottom: Yours truly, Julie

More harvest, garlic scapes! Aren't they just beautiful!

Julie, Dave, and I went in to Fort Collins last week to visit thrift shops (as if there is any other place Dave, Julie or I would want to go when making a visit off property) and hang out at a great coffee shop to drink great chai and have veggie chips with hummus (not to be confused with humus).

Have I mentioned how lucky Dave is to be working with the BEST looking lady farm interns ever? Just a recap: Kate, Avana, Sandy, Alisha, Shannon, Julie

So last Saturday Dave and I worked the farmer's market. It was an exciting and new experience to be on the other side of the vendor's table. It is an easy job when the product is tasty and of an incredible quality. It was a wild sensation to have customers coming to the table and telling US the superior nutritional qualities of grass fed (versus corn/grain fed i.e. all vegetarian feed, f.y.i.) beef. It seemed backward- wasn't that our job? :) Obviously, I loved every minute of it.

Since we spaced on having a camera or taking any pictures, we are riding the coat tales of interns Kate and Shannon's experience. Just superimpose Dave and my faces. And maybe a different body for Dave. With more hair. . .

Nevermind so-called "farmer's tan". This is a real farmer's tan, and it is more like a farmer's burn when you are in Colorado with cooky weather and strong sun. This is the tan you get below your shirt and above your pants- silly!!

Everyone wants to know, "Alisha, what are you doing on the farm?" Well friends, I weed. We weed a lot and atleast for the next 2 days are working in the most well weeded organic garden ever**.

Two families here in the community have chickens, this is where they live. You may think you are looking at a chicken-version of a trailer home (not that you would be hating on trailer homes since I am living in one) but wait, these chickens have it great- we move it around and let them eat compost, worms, and other goodies.

If you have made it this far in the post, please know that I am really appreciative you are still reading. One last thing. Wednesday, our day off, Dave and I decided to make some cheese and a sourdough starter! Yippeee. We already have batches of kombucha going and feel like we need more fermentation in our lives.

My slightly OCD mind is already working up a plan for the menu at my graduation party this summer. Just so we are clear, there is no date set but it is at least over a year away. Can't say I won't be prepared!

Well, on to dinner. Something special just came out of the oven. . .

I will leave you with this adorable picture. . .

Much love,

Monday, July 5, 2010

Down on the Farm. . .

Check out this sweet picture- Is it the Beatles or the Sunrise interns?? Thanks Julie for the photo!

It has been over a week since I wrote last, we have been keeping busy. I have since thought of lots of random things to tell everyone.

With the talk of slaughter winding down I remembered the time in neuro lab when we were dissecting brains and passing around human spinal cords (those suckers are tough!!), will this make me less likely to be upset by seeing our happy cows go to 'harvest'? Will it remind me of jolly, bald and muscular Professor Croce? We shall see.

He looks like a brain-y guy doesn't he?

Anyway, HAIL STORM yesterday, yes the 4th. Bummer- tons of rain and hail. Needless to say the fireworks were canceled, and the roads area real mess (the fields and veggies looks OK). I really want to see fireworks and hopefully we will try again tonight.

As the harvesting of our peas winds down we are looking forward to more lettuce, beets which are sizing up to the kitchen's desires, carrots, kale, more parsley and well, just lots of yummy stuff! With an extraordinary amount of Napa Cabbage and garlic scapes, we had a fermenting party last week. Fermenting veggies is something Dave and I are just learning about and loving it!! The creativity, versatility, and health benefits are incredible. We are lucky here on the Ranch to have people who are passionate about such methods of food preparation and preservation and are sharing their knowledge (this afternoon we had a blanching, and freezing pea party from our surplus of peas- something to enjoy in chilly, dead January) Let us take the time to remember all the foods we enjoy with a history and present in fermentation: sour cream, yogurt, cheeses, breads, beers, wines, ciders, kraut, pickles, tea, chocolate and coffee (beans are fermented prior to processing).

This is Sara, farm manager and overall amazing woman. She carries that beautiful baby around all day, to work and beyond. She is a wealth of knowledge and a joy to be around. I love seeing what is possible in the realm of parenting when you can spend all day with your little love. I'll try to throw in more pics of the people I am working with here. (Photo by Kate Fallon)

Just a reminder the movie FOOD INC, is available to watch online for those with a Netflix subscription. Some other good movies on the topic are:
King Corn
The Real Dirt on Farmer John
The World According to Monsanto (available to watch on the internet)
The Power of Community
Super Size Me
The Botany of Desire
The Future of Food (available on Hulu)
Ratatouille :0)

Ok, I think that should keep you busy for a while. Dave and I have learned of some AMAZING books since arriving on the farm and luckily have access to many of them here at the Farm library, let me know if you are looking for some light, or not so light reading. We have also been on the receiving end of some great articles, most interestingly about the science of making flavors for the many tastes used in processed foods and drinks.

With farmer's market season in full swing, I have a word (yea, I know, hard to believe). Part of the beauty of a farmer's market (beyond the novelty, eating seasonally and supporting a local diet) is being able to talk to the person across the table. That person grew food you will be consuming to nourish your body and spirit. Not sure of the caliber of those salad greens, or peppers? Don't be shy, ask questions! This is a crucial part of the farmer-consumer relationship.
If you want to know about the herbicide, pesticide, or potential fungicide use on their farm- ask! Want to know about any synthetic or non-organic fertilizer- the answer is yours to find out before you commit to purchasing their produce.

Walking back to the garden after a long hot day at work, moment captured by Kate Fallon

Thanks Julie for the pic and for sayin' I'm a nice girl :)

Well, enjoying our real 2 day weekend has been a pleasure, hopefully there will be some fireworks in our evening :0) That reminds me, the interns (ages spanning from me the youngest at 21 to 38) have a love affair with "that's what she said" jokes. It really captures the essence of a 7th grade boy, but without all the Axe.

Much love,

Friday, June 25, 2010

True Life: Something Died for your Dinner

Before I begin on the writings I first want to say a very huge CONGRATULATIONS to Allison Martini and her new-fiance Evan!!!!!

Also, in case I don't write before Monday, good luck to all the Cohort 1s heading out for fieldwork . Have a blast- you will do great! The rest of us are right behind you. :0)

Getting back to the farm, the past couple days have held some serious excitement.
Waiting for sorting (Kate Fallon photo)

Shannon Dills caught Dave, baby Sierra and myself playing in the grass before sorting

Thursday, we prepared for the first spring farmer's market of the season by making mini-meatballs for samples and preparing cuts of meat for the jerky making process (yes, make no mistake, grassfed beef jerky.) This meant some of the interns were able to work the meat slicer. Scary and exhilarating, I'm glad I was able to learn to use this powerful machine.

Thursday afternoon held some low-key changes to the typical schedule; we were able to watch farm-managers Michael and Sara sort the herd of cattle. First Michael led them into the pen, using a call to which they are trained to respond. Then, he methodically released the cattle that were too small for this first round of harvest (read: slaughter). This morning, Friday, Michael and 3 interns (my turn is next time) drove the cattle to the processing facility (read: slaughter house). It was here, they were able to watch the entire process from death to evisceration. I am excited for my turn and can go into more details when I actually go myself. What is notable is that this small processing plant only does about 10 cows a day. 10 Cows. This is a big deal, let's talk about it:

Conversely, large processing facilities slaughter thousands of cows a day, even up to 300, 400 cattle an HOUR. Think about that, more cows = greater potential for the spread of diseases and more stress and pressure on the workers to move quickly and "efficiently". These men and women are handling sharp knives and moving fast, it is no wonder manure ends up in your meat. It is also in these kind of environments that ground beef is made, again, from THOUSANDS of cows. Just to really connect the dots, this is how we end up with the endless public health concerns regarding E. coli. Massive beef recalls are necessary (and generally not timely or effective) because when dealing with this extraordinary volume, who can really say where the contamination came from?

Cows that are going are all rounded up (Kate Fallon photo)

Anyway, I found a good blog post regarding small scale operations and the troubles they face when trying to compete with USDA legislation written with large scale operations in mind.

On a lighter note, I pulled this awesome looking radish yesterday.
(Thanks to farm intern Julie and her NEW camera for these great pictures.)

Post carrot thinning, gotta make room for the big guys!!

<3 and thoughts,

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Peas, Parsley, and Pipe Change

*Kate Fallon Photo

Such an exciting day I had to write in the blog a day earlier that usual! First of all, the Meet the Farmers page on the web site is updated to include yours truly. . .

Second, the (sugar) snap peas are ready and we took our first harvest this morning!!! They are very tasty and I encourage everyone to find their farmer's market and pick up some of this amazingly sweet treat. They should be appearing soon if not already. I have a memory of being at the Newtown, CT farmer's market last season and grabbing a bag of these for the first time, the incredible taste and flavor is heavenly. Like I said, go get some. . after you finish reading the blog post of course.

The parsley is in full force, we are harvesting more than the kitchen knows what to do with! We are making pizza tonight with the interns so hopefully we can make some yummy parsley pesto, anyone have other amazing recipes that highlight this delight?

Pipe change; this is nothing new. I needed a third "P" w42ord. Moving lots of large pipes around is something we do multiple times a day (4 times yesterday between the garden and fields).

Below is a picture of us unloading pipes from the trailer to set up a new line in a portion of the field. Typically, 7 or so of us move portions of the line together forward in the field. Once we reach the end of the field, we separate all the pipes, load them on the trailer and move to the beginning of the field or a new field entirely.

*Kate Fallon Photos

Did I mention we are 97% sure the spider I found in the living room the other day was a black widow? Well yeah, no worries because it is a goner now.

Well, time for a little break before heading back to work. Talk to ya'll soon!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thankful for fathers everywhere!

First and foremost I want to say a very Happy Father's Day to my Dad and everyone's dad! I am thankful for my Dad's insight and role in the person I have become today!

This has been an exciting couple of days. Today, Sunday was a relaxing day. I woke leisurely, attended a fantastic service about love, make some phone calls to the people I love (but not everyone I love so don't be offended, my phone died), and cooked for a potluck tonight. Dave and I also acquired a "mother" with which to make kombucha. We had it sitting all week and finally our first batch was ready! Kombucha is a fermented sweet tea drink with effervescent that makes me think it was the first soda. This tasty drink has loads of historical medicinal value.

Saturday we worked. We took a big harvest of early cabbage (because it was bolting/flowering), thyme, beet greens, lettuce, spinach, green onions, and garlic scapes (the scape is the part where the flower would come out, but since we want the garlic to continue focusing on the bulb we cut the flower part off). We also thinned the onions, leeks, and beets (i.e. beet greens with baby beets) that were planted too close together, this thinning makes me feel better than say carrot thinning because you can still use and eat the thinnings as beet greens and green onions (I used the thinnings to make a scallion pancake for the potluck tonight). Saturday night a couple of the interns had a dish shift in the kitchen. It is nice to be able to learn the inner workings of an industrial kitchen.

Friday we had a half day and spend the morning emptying the greenhouse of the leftover seedlings. This was nice for Dave and I because we were able to complete our front yard veggie garden. We applied some of the permaculture design principles we learned and hopefully will have success. In the afternoon all the girl interns went to a rock climbing gym in Fort Collins where one of the inters, Julie, used to work. She seriously enjoys rock climbing and wanted to share her passion with the group. What a workout! We learned about knots and belaying and climbing. After climbing we went to Avana's. It was her birthday not too long ago and we went to her parent's house for homemade pasta dinner! Yum! It was nice to have some girl bonding.

Friday was also the arrival of a city group with about 10 young adults from nearby cities. This is an important part of farming and community outreach because many times, these kids not only have no idea what food looks like when it is growing or where it comes from, but also don't have access to grocery stores; making a whole food diet impossible. Imagine relying of gas station stores for your grocery needs- yikes!

Thursday morning began with a fantastic breakfast (quiche, bread pudding, muffins, smoothies, juice and fresh fruit) made by yours truly and Dave, then transitioned to classroom. Classroom started with farmer's market protocol and basics of selling our beef. Thursday's lecture wasn't really a lecture at all but a group discussion that quickly moved from ethics of eating animals (original topic) to the food system in general, ethics of judging others for person food choices, fat Americans (couldn't even leave it alone on father's day!), regulations placed on food stamps, and of course (as if this could NOT be mentioned) corn subsidies.

Feel free to think amongst yourself, bring up at the dinner table, or comment below on your feelings relating to these topics or any topic (because lets face it, everything comes back to food)!

Love and miss all,

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On a Sunny Wednesday

Hi All! Happy Wednesday and Happy Birthday Derek!

This morning has been relaxing, it is beautiful outside and our day off! Yesterday, Tuesday, we harvested spinach and lettuce and did some weeding. With the summer solstice approaching we suspect spinach harvests will come to an end. I learned to use a weed-wacker (or a weed-whip as they refer to them here)! They are much harder to use than expected and my end result was somewhat uneven, but it was fun and a goods skill to learn. In the afternoon, some interns planted various types of melons and others went on thistle patrol. Thistle is a noxious weed and a general pain in the ass. We must thistle patrol the pastures because if the state sees that we are not keeping up with managing them, they can legally spray our fields. This would seriously conflict with our non-certified organic practices. Anyway, last night we went into Fort Collins! We went to Everyday Joes, a coffee shop, which is graciously hosting the Fort Collins Food Co-Op's film series for the summer. We watched Big River, a short follow up to the movie King Corn. After the movie we went to the Goodwill! Apparently Fort Collins has a thriving market for second hand stores and is home to some of the best thrift stores in the area! Yippeee!

Happy Cows

Monday was a very interesting day. We spent the day down in the permaculture garden. This pet project of Patrick's involves the entire communities compost, the chickens hard at work, lots of worms and microbial activity in the soil and specially designed gardens which help with water retention and maintaining the health of the soil. Permaculture design is something I hope to learn more about and apply to my eventual home garden.
I forgot to mention that on Sunday we walked up to the Rimrocks across from the property. They are beautiful and the view is even better!

Garden as seen from the Rimrocks

I have been thinking about something we mentioned in my OT (occupational therapy) lab class. We were discussing general hand strength (pinch and grip etc.). There are tools OTs use to measure each of these (to gauge baseline and improvements in strength) and they come with norm figures for what is "typical". My instructor was saying these figures are not so relevant anymore and that if a client is below the average not to be too concerned. The changes in occupation (factory worker and farmer vs. desk jobs) have decreased people's overall hand strength. I have experiences this first hand (no pun intended). My hands and forearms have been the most sore part of my body. The weeding, hand tools, weed-wacker have all increased my hand strength. Bring on the dynamometer!!

Dave and I are off to begin our garden in the space outside of the trailer (yes on our day off we will be gardening), we are also preparing breakfast as we are hosting the classroom session tomorrow! The class is on the ethics of eating animals. More to come on that front soon!