It’s All About the Water

Since moving to Colorado I have had some serious doubts about my green thumb. I have killed a lot of plants and had several garden fails. I do include the ...

The Market Season is Upon Us

Some things are worth repeating. One of them is the schedule of farmer’s markets. Why, you might ask? Because now is the time. Drake Road Farmer’s Market was the first ...

Gettin’ Your Buzz On

Sorry for the post title. I couldn’t help myself. Yesterday was the day for bees in Fort Collins. I know of several folks who went to Copoco’s Honey to pick up ...

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Out of the box…or bag

003I’m on a roll. This year I was out of commission for most of the Spring, and as a result we didn’t put in a garden. I wasn’t sure I’d be up to it. My husband has also never been a CSA member. He wanted to try it out. Since he’s the pickier of the two of us, I gave him some choices to research and let him make the final decision. Saturday we picked up our first share.

Since I’m not spending so much time in the garden (not that there aren’t a million other projects that need attending to), I find myself spending more time in the kitchen. A CSA share definitely increases time in my favorite room. When I looked in the bag of the medium sized share (for two of us, a bit much but I think we can handle it), I was really excited for all the possibilities.

We received two bunches of collards, a bunch of mustard greens, a bunch of turnip greens, three heads of lettuce, a bunch of cilantro, scallions and onions. Some menu planning is good when you have a CSA share. Sometimes the volume of a particular vegetable or the uniquness of it (i.e. wth is that??) can be daunting. It shouldn’t be with a little preparation, a few cookbooks and the internet.

Our freezer is beginning to look empty from our meat shares. Last year was a half hog and the year before that was a quarter side of beef. We are down to a few packages of hamburger and the last of the pork chops, a roast and a slab of baby backs. The baby backs were singing with the thought of collard greens. While I may not be southern, there are many days I believe my palate to be. Collard greens with bacon is a favorite. So I pulled out the pack of ribs, jumped on the internet, and got to cooking. I must say the greens turned out great, and I liked them even better on the second day. The ribs were also a big hit. Here are the recipes if you’re up for a little weekend BBQ on the fourth.

007Collard Greens

I must admit I’m a big fan of the recipes on Martha Stewarts website because they tend to be great and not fussy. I also love the recipe box on the Williams and Sonoma site. This recipe is a variation from the one on Martha Stewarts page and I love it because while the vinegar cuts the bite of the collards, it isn’t the main flavor of the dish. I’ll also be trying her Minestrone with collard greens and white beans with the second bunch I have.

(1) bunch collard greens stemmed (I usually just take of the large portion of the stem on the bottom)

(2) tsp. olive oil

(1/2) red onion sliced thin

(1)  1/2 inch thick cut of pancetta, cubed

(2) tbl. cider vinegar

(1) cup chicken broth

Stack the greens and cut into 2 inch thick strips. Cut again into 2 inch pieces. Soak in cold water and be sure to clean any grit clinging to the greens. Drain.

Heat the oil in a skillet (medium heat) and add the olive oil, onions and pancetta. If you want crispier pancetta, start it first and add the onions before it’s done. Cook until the onions are translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add the greens and cook until they are about to wilt.

Increase the heat to high and add the vinegar and cook until the vinegar evaporates. Scrape the bottom of the pan to pick up andy yummy brown bits.

Add the stock, lower to a simmer, and cover for 12-14 minutes.

009Baby Back Ribs on the Grill    

(1) tbl each ground cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika, and garlic powder

Salt and pepper to your liking

(3) lbs ribs

(1) cup of your favorite bbq sauce

Be sure to trim the membrane off the ribs to keep them from being chewy.

Mix all the spices together. Liberally sprinkle the ribs with the spice mix. The more you rub the mix into the meat, the more spice they will have. If you want flavor on the subtle side stick to sprinkling.

Preheat the grill on high. You’ll be cooking the ribs on the upper rack, so line below the upper rack with tin foil. You don’t want flare ups of the flames getting too hot. Rub the grate with some oil before putting on the ribs.

Place the ribs on the rack, bone side down. Lower the temp of the grill to low, close the lid and let them cook for an hour. You may be tempted during this hour to open the lid, but don’t!

Check for doneness at the hour point. Depending on the thickness of the ribs you may need to cook them another ten minutes. Once ready, brush them with the bbq sauce and let them cook until it sinks into the ribs a bit and browns on the ends.

Then, yum!

*Note, if you want ribs that are a bit juicier, you may want to try cooking them in a tinfoil wrap. Personally, these were awesome and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Enjoy! And don’t forget the napkins!

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Locally raised potluck pulled pork

Pulled pork roast ready to go!

Pulled pork roast ready to go!

It’s definitely the season for garden parties and potlucks. Lots of great fresh veggies and the like make for some amazing feasts. I can’t wait until our CSA share starts this weekend. I am salivating at all the fresh greens that are coming our way.

Tonight one of our communities is getting together for a celebration. We will be having a potluck. So, after a trip to the freezer for a main course, we decided on pulled pork. As a lover of all things smoked and barbequed, this is a stand-by favorite. Thought I’d share it with all of you in case you have a freezer full of local pork just waiting to be turned into culinary goodness.

I started off with a locally raised 4lb pork shoulder roast from Cresset Farm.

Then I modified a recipe from one of my many cookbooks.

You’ll need the following ingredients for the rub (I usually get my spices from Old Town Spice Shop on College):

2 tbl smoked paprika

1 tbl coarse sea salt

1 tbl chili powder

1 tbl ground cumin

1/2 tbl ground black pepper (fresh if you have it)

1/2 tbl oregano

1/2 tbl ground white pepper

1 tsp cayenne pepper

3 cloves garlic minced

First, I line the bottom of a crock pot with sliced onion. Then rub down the roast with your rub mix. Lay it on top of the onions and then add a 1/4 cup of water to the pot. To add some extra flavor I added a freezer bag worth of roasted tomatoes. I always have some on hand to add some depth. Then it’s high for a couple hours and then turn the temp down to low for the rest of the day. Keep an eye on the moisture content so it doesn’t dry out or burn in the crock pot. When it’s done, use two forks to pull it apart.

To finish off, throw some on a fresh roll with some bbq sauce and coleslaw if you have it and mmmm. Enjoy!

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Farmer Profile: Bailey Stenson of Happy Heart Farm

1560537_10153443116248200_6485373581178212908_nIt was a good Friday this past week. I didn’t have to go to the day job. The sun was out and the endless rain took a break. Mother Nature is especially spendid when decked out in all her shades of green. And the best part of the day? Heading over to Happy Heart Farm to chat with one of my favorite ag people. Bailey, co-founder and farmer of Happy Heart.

I almost always drive by the farm entrance. The farm entrance is actually a bit hidden at the end of what would like be a cul de sac if the farm weren’t there, right off Elizabeth, west of Taft. Take a right on Kimball and a left on Plum. There you’ll see the cart road between the fence. Welcoming you to a ten acre parcel of paradise in the city.

Wandering over to the pick up shed, I met up with Claudia DeMarco, Executive Director of Friends of Happy Heart (I’ll explain more about that later). She walked me over to meet Bailey in the office, an extension of the house, tucked behind trees and a wonderful garden. Bailey came out to greet us, and offered to sit in the garden for our interview. If you’ve met Bailey you know she’s one of the warmest people you’ll meet. You’ll also know she has a fiery spirit when it comes to community, farming and supporting local food. She has opinions and she’s not afraid to share them. It’s one of the things I appreciate most.

11217534_10153443115698200_3721394310448227160_nWe sat in the shade of the garden and got to chatting about her farming story. Bailey and her husband Dennis began Happy Heart in 1983. The property had been a farm, originally a dairy farm, and they wished to continue it. Bailey and Dennis practice bio-dynamic farming. They are also part of Homegrown Farmers, a 2 year certificate program to train the next generation of bio-dynamic farmers. Dennis is a mentor with the program. They also have had apprentices over the years. Meghan from Spring Kite Farm was an apprentice for three years, as was Adrian, the founder of Building Small Farmers. Here’s what their website says about bio-dynamic farming:

Biodynamic agriculture is a means of healing the earth and the human being; it enlivens the soil and thereby the food we eat. This is achieved through various cultural practices, but is centered on the deeply personal relationship between the farmer and the farm.

Although the Biodynamic Movement originated slightly before the Organic Movement, it actually represents the next conscious step beyond what the Organic Movement brings to agriculture. Fundamentally, it is inclusive of many of the methods familiar to “organic” and “permacultural” practitioners,  but also takes into account the planetary influences and spiritual forces that affect plant growth. The use of the “biodynamic preparations” (specialized composts that are applied in homeopathic doses) also sets biodynamics apart from other farming practices.

Biodynamics originated through the spiritual scientific work of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian scientist, artist, and educator. Steiner’s Work, known as “Anthroposophy,” (literally meaning “knowledge of the human being and what it can attain”) has given birth to other movements such as Waldorf Education, Anthroposophical medicine, and the art of Eurythmy.

In 1989 the pair attended and agricultural conference in Sante Fe where they were introduced to innovative farming practices. It is there where they first heard about Community Supported Agriculture or CSA for short. The model resonated with them and in 1990 they launched the first CSA program in Colorado. They were also influential in starting farmer’s markets in the community. What made the most sense with CSA’s was having members pay in advance for their share of vegetables, rather than having to spend so much time during the season, when time is rare, trying to find consumers for their product. Bailey calls teh sell as you grow model a “recipe for chaos”. In 1990 they began with fifteen families and they have had as many as 130. Bailey explained that this is a lean year, having about half the number of members as they usually have (there are shares still available if you are interested).  Lean years call for innovation. Actually, every year calls for innovation when your a farmer. At least that is Bailey’s opinion.

While we sat in the garden Bailey had a large basket covering her lap and she pulled apart rose petals from the flowers in her garden. The petals, whose fragrence carried across the space between us, were for rose honey. Rose honey for the top of creme brulee. Creme Brulee for the Heart of Summer Dinner at the farm on July 19, put together in collaboration with Fortified Collaborations and the Chef Amelia Mouton of Restaurant 415. Farm dinners and creative food products are part of the innovation we discussed. She’s working on another project with a chocalatier with the same rose honey. Just one of the myriad of ways farmers make a living during the season.

11393545_10153443116253200_1804682872430774310_oWe talked about many of the issues facing small farmers today. I don’t believe they have changed much. Representation in the market and politics, funding, especially in terms of access to land and infrastructure, and exposure to consumers. ” She expressed concern, “I don’t know what it’s going to take to make it open up.” Meaning the movement of small farms and the market for local food. Recently her neighborhood participated in Open Streets. She was out there with mint lemonade and offers for farm tours. She explained that there were a number of neighbors who let her know they had no idea a farm was in the area, never mind a ten acre oasis. We spent some time talking about ways to educate the public, and how much farmers need help in this area. Because, as mentioned before, they are really busy during the season. And not everyone has the expertise to be a grower, engineer, sales person, marketing person, etc.

This brought us to the topic of the future. Farming for 32 years is no small feat. The time is ripe for legacy planning. Preserving the land so it can continue in the city as a Heritage CSA farm. “It would be a tragedy if it’s not preserved”. Seeing a bit of the fire come into her, she expressed her desire to see the city start paying attention and include urban farming in their planning. Seeing the value of urban agricultural areas as means to educate folks, to utilize like parks and open space, much like Lee Martinez park. It’s a key item for consideration. Not just with aging farmers, but with cities and organizations, communities, both present and future. We are currently seeing urban ag by design with development projects like Bucking Horse on the east side of town.

11411882_10153443115723200_8810409022403244115_oBoth Dennis and Bailey seem tireless. In addition to farming and founding various organizations and projects, they are also on committees with the new Northern Colorado Food Cluster. Dennis is on the committee for land policy and Bailey is on the committee for food security. Maybe such tireless activism is a result of their generation. That drive to leave something better than when they found it. It’s apparent their impact is expansive. And they raised three children in the midst of it all. Homeschooling two of them. Balance seems to be the key (isn’t it always!). And making the job of the farm fun. “You need to find new ways to make it fun”. Meditating two times a day and setting their schedule for public and private days helps a lot to recharge the couple for all that they do. Wednesdays is couples day, where they set off to get out in nature, not the cultivated kind at the farm, but that which provides some space and fun.

Another passion of the Stensons is feeding low income families. Bailey explained they have always found some way to do that. Most recently they have been approved to accept SNAP benefits (what used to be food stamps) and are in the process of obtaining the EBT equipment to be able to process the SNAP benefit cards, which work much like a pre-paid debit card. They also founded Friends of Happy Heart Farm and the Feeding Families Project. This organization provides for a funding source in feeding low income families. With the money raised each year, the farm is able to provide a farm share to families that apply and are accepted by the group. This year they are feeding a number of families, putting food on the table for about 80 people.

I asked Bailey if they had any problems with their neighbors, with sub-divisions surrounding the farm. She explained that they have had great neighbors, with only one complaint. That was the year they spread the manure across the fields but hadn’t yet had the time to plow it under. The smell was apparently a bit much that year, hence their one complaint. I believe much of that is likely the time and attention they place on meeting and introducing their neighbors to the farm. While some folks in the area have become members, Bailey acknowledges that the CSA model isn’t for everyone.

This year they have an added feature at the farm. The Audobon of the Rockies donated 100 perrenial pollinator plants through a member of the farm affiliated with the group. This is the first farm the Bee A Hero program has collaborated with. The plants provide food for various pollinators and beneficial visitors to the graden, like bees, butterflies and bats.

11420985_10153443115693200_7431412051226935327_oIf you wish to check out the farm there are lots of ways to do so. Each month they host a Taste of Happy Heart during their pick up night, 4:00 to 7:00pm on Tuesdays. At the Taste local chefs prepare food from the farm, providing lots of great ideas to prepare what’s in your share, and mingle with the other members. Tuesday evenings tend to be quite an event regularly, with music, community and food from vendors like the Silver Seed food truch which is there every other Tuesday. They provide other things for sale, like protein options from Donoma Farms.

I had a wonderful talk with Bailey in her shade garden. It was just like old friends. I love when new friends feel like old friends. If you wish to swing by to meet Bailey and Dennis below is a full listing of Happy Heart events. It’s a great place and they grow some amazing vegetables. Tell them Erica sent you!

June 20 – Summer Solctice Celebration. Cost is $10 for non-members. This is one helluva a potluck. Music.

June 23 – Taste of Happy Heart 4-7pm

July 19 – Heart of Summer Farm Dinner

July 21 – Taste of Happy Heart 4-7pm

August 2 – Farm to Fork Dinner 6-8pm at Fort Collins Brewery

August 25 – Taste of Happy Heart 4-7pm

August 30 – Bowling for Happy Hearts 2-6pm at Chipper’s Lanes North

September 22 – Taste of Happy Heart 4-7pm 

October 3 – Heart of the Farm Festival 2-6pm at Avogadro’s Number

October 20 – Taste of Happy Heart 4-7pm 

October 25 – Yoga Feeds Us 1:30-3:30 at Old Town Yoga

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Diggin’ It

Bucking HorseThursday, June 11, is the soft opening of the farmer’s market at Jessup Artisan Village just north of Drake and Timberline. Check it out from 4:00-7:00pm. There will be live music with Franklin Taggart, and a number of vendors including Wunderjuice, MouCo Cheese, Donoma Farms, Birds of a feather birdhouses, Avani Natural Soaps, Bindle Coffee, and Raisin’ Roots Farm.

This is just a start. The plan is to have quite a few more vendors lined up for future markets. So if you are in the neighborhood, stop by and show your support for the newest farmer’s market in town. Support local!! I’m diggin’ that.

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Update: meat birds

meat chicken 2We are exactly one month into our experiment with meat birds. We’ve also added some turkeys (heritage Chocalates) and guinea hens (white and lavender), because, well, I can’t help myself. And Thanksgiving last year was delicious with our home grown birds.

For now, the various birds are together. Today after cleaning the small coop, it was on to the future turkey coop. It’s almost ready for the 3 turkeys to move into once their feathers fill out a bit more. Looks like we have one Tom and two hens. The guineas will be introduced to and move in with the laying hens. That is once they get a little bigger.

It is really amazing how quickly the meat birds have grown. They are more than doubled in size, and it was time to take out the divider in the coop to let them have more room. The heat lamp is no longer in use and they are almost feathered out and ready to explore the outside world.

To date I have gone through two bags of non-medicated chick starter. Small birds tend to waste a lot of feed so I’ve been experimenting with feeders to see what would work best. It came down to a larger metal feeder, with the bottom of a second metal feeder placed on top with a rock. Seems like the birds liked roosting on the edge of the feeder. Needless to say the feed got disgusting pretty quickly. By placing the second bottom upside down on top, they can sit up there without making a mess of the feed. I’ve noticed a big reduction in waste.

meat chickens 1A lot of folks have asked me how I can eat them. The irony is this question comes more often from meat eaters. My answer is two part. I feel better knowing that the birds were raised well, with room to roam and be “chickens”. Second, there is no comparison in taste. Both these things are outweighing the discomfort that comes from processing meat that you’ve raised. For me, I can’t help but make a connection to the little critters. But I eat meat. And I am personally healthier for that choice. So, this is the better option for me. We’ll see if I can maintain that when we move into raising larger animals.

For now, we have had no losses. The birds look healthy and are growing well. To date, the experiment is successful.

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Slow Meat Denver

Slow Food DenverJoin Slow Food Denver this week for all things meat! Events are from June 1 through June 6, highlighting sustainable farming and the tastes of all Slow Meat has to offer while learning a few culinary tricks.

Events began today with Charc Week. Charc Week is a celebration of the fine craft of Charcuterie. Visit participating restaurants from June 1-6 for Charc Week specials. To learn more and purchase tickets for the June 4th Charc Bites event visit Charc Week Denver.

Lasater-Ranch161-150x150June 4 is the Prarie Land Legacy Tour. One hour from Denver, in West Bijou Creek, the Plains Conservation Center contains both the past and potential re of the vanishing prairie. Visit its bison herd, and learn about its role as an holistic land management educational hub for the Savory Institute.

Or, on June 4 join the Mile High Meat Tour. This local tour will take you to two businesses at the forefront of good meat in the Mile High City. The day will start with a tour of Good Food Award winners Continental Sausage and learn how they are bringing European tradition and modern tastes to the West, while producing of good food at scale. We will then head to Western Daughter’s Butcher Shoppe for a brief tour and intimate al-fresco lunch with owners Josh Curtiss and Kate Kavanaugh for an inside-out look at butchery and how they are making it work for land, animal and rancher. All tours include lunch and any transportation outside of Denver. 

Slow FoodJune 6 head to the Auraria Campus MSU Club Sports Field and Hospitality Center for a day of meat filled events. The first-ever Slow Meat Fair on Saturday June 6 is a delicious gathering to celebrate, discuss and learn more about sustainably raised meat, and why it matters . It is open to the public with free entry and some ticketed events. Listen to our own Temple Grandin, head to the Terra Madre kitchen to check out tastes and food traditions from around the world, and the Tattered Cover will have a pop-up bookstore with several authors onsite for signings.  There will be ticketed culinary and taste workshops featuring: Charcuterie, cheese and craft beer tasting, Sausage making, Heritage pork breeds and brews, Beef breakdown.

The sausage making workshop is highlighted as an extra special event. From 11:30 to 1:00 Josh Johnson from the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat will be empowering folks to make fresh sausage at home. Attendees will learn the principles in sausage recipes, selecting and preparing the meat, pumping and twisting links, and best cooking practices. 

Purchase tickets or sign up to volunteer for one or more of these events.

Slow Food members receive a 15% discount on all ticketed Slow Meat events – use promo code I’m with Carlo when purchasing.

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Survey Says?

Orange Bulldozer in Landfill

Traditional Landfill

The Environmental Protection Agency is promoting ways to reduce, prevent and divert wasted food. Food waste is a big problem. There are a number of benefits to diverting food waste from landfills. One, it reduces the methane produced (can you say global warming?). The EPA cites landfills as accounting for more than 20% of all methane emissions. Second, you don’t waste all those resources that go into making our food (planes, trains and automobiles, water, energy, etc), by throwing it away. (Eating local can reduce some of these resources further!!) Third, we can increase soil fertility by creating soil amendments through composting, rather than creating greenhouse gases. Composting food waste is a better option than landfills. Fourth, we can improve our environment and health by not storing food waste in garbage barrels, alleys, dumpsters. Keep our alleys clean and critter free, right?

Food waste from Cedar Rapids and Marion Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores will be worked into yard waste and composted at the Solid Waste Agency's compost site at the Site 1 landfill on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011, in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/SourceMedia Group News)

Food waste from Cedar Rapids and Marion Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores will be worked into yard waste and composted at the Solid Waste Agency’s compost site at the Site 1 landfill on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011, in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/SourceMedia Group News)

So, with that said, some places, cities and towns, are looking at ways to divert our food waste and put it to better use. If you’ve ever read The Town that Food Saved: How one town found vitality in local food, by Ben Hewitt, you know there are some great things happening with regard to this topic.  

So, what are we doing locally? In my humble opinion, not enough yet. There are some commercial kitchens that divert a percentage of their food waste, either through the feeding of livestock or composting. There are some options for composting through sanitation businesses. With the increasing popularity of urban farming, home compost piles are on the rise. But there is more to be done.

That’s where The Growing Project comes in. They have a surbey live right now (please take it!!!!). They are researching the concept of developing community compost hubs throughout Fort Collins. They are in the process of gauging the need (I’d say it’s there) and the interest from the community.

A preschool composting bin in Madison WI.

A preschool composting bin in Madison WI.

The basic concept is that homeowners across town will volunteer their land and time to manage a compost pile for their neighborhood. Folks will be able to drop off food waste and potentially receive finished compost for their gardens.

Sounds like a great idea, and a timely one! So, if you would take a minute of your time, I ask that you help out the great folks at TGP by filling out their survey here.

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Gathering rain…not yet

Photo from www.lid-stormwater.net

Photo from www.lid-stormwater.net

Maybe some of you were following the laws presented this year in Colorado to allow residents the ability to collect rainwater from their rooftops. It seemed like an obvious choice, allowing residents to collect water for gardens and landscaping, when we live in an arid climate where rain can avoid us for weeks on end. That’s not how the Senate saw it this month.

Collecting rainwater isn’t totally illegal in the State. In 2009 Senate Bill 09-080 passed allowing residents with wells to collect rainwater in the following manner: 
◾The property on which the collection takes place is residential property, and
◾The landowner uses a well, or is legally entitled to a well, for the water supply, and
◾The well is permitted for domestic uses according to section 37-92-602, C.R.S., and
◾There is no water supply available in the area from a municipality or water district, and
◾The rainwater is collected only from the roof, and
◾The water is used only for those uses that are allowed by, and identified on, the well permit.

All criteria has to be met to fall under the coverage.

In April 2015 the House signed a bill that would allow residents to collect up to 110 gallons to be utilized for outdoor use. The bill was approved 45-20 and bi-partisan support was evident in the Senate.

Fast forward to early May 2015, and the measure failed in the Senate, which would have allowed homeowners to use up to two 55 gallon rain barrels for collection. The oppositions worry, and the reason the ban on harvesting rainwater in the first place, is concern for those who hold water rights in the State. As Colorado is an allocation state, water is divided to share holders from Senior shareholders to newer. The concern is if residents divert water (in this case off rooftops into barrels), those shareholders could be impacted. Thus, violating Colorado water law which says that people can can use but cannot keep water that flows through their property. As a result, only those falling under the 2009 law can continue to collect rainwater under the above mentioned criteria.

Colorado faces unique water challenges given our climate and water laws. Conservation practices are crucial as is ensuring agriculture, homeowner’s and more have access to what they need while preserving the need for future use. If this is a topic that interests you, keep your eyes out for the introduction of similar bills in the future. Water harvesting will continue to be a perrenial issue in Colorado.   

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Happy Mother’s Day

My Mom

My Mom

It’s always great to have a day to reflect on the things that make us who we are. Moms (one hopes), and all the wonderful women in our life, definitely fall in that category. For myself, I’m grateful for my Grandmother’s green thumb. She grew dahlia’s as big as my head, loved her flower gardens, taught me how to compost, and let me cook foods from her heritage with her. So much of my love for growing things come from her. My Mom loved her flower beds too. While my Dad was the vegetable grower, Mom took to the flowers. And our house growing up was a jungle of house plants. I loved that. She was also a great cook in the classic American sense, as well as cooking my Grandmother’s recipes. She took me to farm stands, and foraging for mushrooms and wild berries. We went apple picking and baked and cooked. She gave me a love of fresh food and culinary adventure. She’ll try anything once. I love that about her.

On this day I think it appropriate to reflect on those who inspired our love of the soil, the magical growth of things, and our passion for putting soul nourishing food on the table. That list is endless for me. My old co-op housemate Mary Jane (not the Budding Fort Collins Mary Jane) was an extension employee at UMASS. She taught me about crop rotation, no till gardening, and non-chemical pest control. She showed me how to can and preserve the harvest that we lived off year round. I’m grateful for the vegetable farm I worked on when I was younger. They showed me how to plant (really fast and straight) and how to work in the greenhouse. My

My Mother-In-Law

My Mother-In-Law

Mother-In-Law who has wonderful flower gardens in Virginia and holds a deep appreciation for the natural world. I’m thankful for all the farmers on the Front Range, those women who work tirelessly to grow wonderful food and teach the next generation a love for all of these things.

My life would be a bit duller, less greens and rich browns, a little staler with the air indoors, and less magical without the little sprouts of life popping up despite the odds of a May snowstorm. So thank you, to all the women that keep these wonderful things alive for all of us. Have a wonderful Mother’s Day!

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Baby Meat Chicks!

Freedom rangersSo, yesterday we got a little surprise. The 25 black broilers we ordered from Freedom Rangers Hatchery came a day earlier. Oy! We weren’t ready for them yesterday. With all the rain we’ve been getting up here in Wellington we weren’t able to complete their new brooder/coop.

This year we are experimenting. I asked my husband to watch Hungry for Change and Food, Inc. with me about a month and a half ago. If you’ve ever watched Food, Inc. you may know where I’m headed with this. My husband told me that it had a profound impact on him and he wanted to take some action. This is our first step in protein self sufficiency. We’ll be raising three rounds of broilers this year, splitting them with another family.

As you may or may not know, we do have several local poultry choices in the area. Chicken that tastes amazing and is raised in harmony with our values. Jodar Farms and Donoma Farms come to mind. There are a number of choices for organic, pasture raised eggs like Six Dog Farms, Donoma and Jodar again, or your neighbor. Our motivation is less about access, and more about our own nature. We bought a small farm to be self sufficient and increase our sustainability. We definitely fall in the extreme DIY category.

That leads us to this years expirement, which I will be writing about throughout the season. Partly to share the story, and partly to track the progress and the conclusion. I knew I didn’t want to raise crosses that are bred to grow at an unnatural rate. I’ve seen them, beyond the documentaries, and I don’t have the heart. So I went online to check out a breed I had heard about a few years ago from Freedom Rangers Hatchery. Being one who is always keeping flavor in mind, I opted to try the black broilers out of the two selections. The description states they develop higher meat density and more flavor in a pastured environment. Likely we will try the regular red variety next time to see if we notice a difference.

While I understand the economics of a faster growing bird, there are some things that I believe we shouldn’t be compromising on. Health, respect, and, as these birds are meant for the dinner table, taste. These birds will definitely take almost double the time to grow to slaughter weight. Twelve to thirteen weeks. They probably won’t have enormous breasts as we become acustom to in the grocery stores. But after raising my own turkeys for the table last year, I anticipate having one of the best chicken dinners come August that I have ever had.

Which brings me to how we are getting them to the table. Luckily I know a few experienced farmers. The couple we are splitting the birds with agreed to process them with us as well. We have asked one of these wonderfully experienced farmers to come to our farm on processing day, renting his equipment for the day, and learning the art of not poisoning ourselves while humanely butchering chickens. I’ve done it once before at Grant Farms, and my friend Tom grew up helping his aunt. I think we’ll be ok. Again, I’ll let you know how that goes.

But for now, we managed to set up a temporary brooder given their early arrival. They are safe, from both weather and crazy farm dogs (who have a rather precarious truce with our laying hens), and running around like the little fluff balls they are. I do have one question though, as we complete their brooder/coop. Why does the weather always turn to damp, cold with a chance of snow, when the chicks arrive??

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