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Another Kind of Drew

Buying Beef From a Local Farm

Nooherooka SignIt was just after the first U.S. case of mad cow disease was confirmed in December of 2003 that it became clearer to me than ever that my diet needed to consist of more natural, organically produced meat. That was also the first year my folks took a step into a more eco-responsible diet as well. My family collectively purchased 1/2 side of Angus beef and a 1/4 side of hog. Both animals were raised responsibly and were harvested to our specifications. Why should we care though? 

Today’s industrialized process reduces the nutritional value of the meat, stresses the animals, increases the risk of bacterial contamination, pollutes the environment and exposes consumers to a long list of unwanted chemicals. Not to mention the sort of treatment given to the animals when they are maturing. You may remember the viral video of the sick and twisted commercial farms both here and here.(warning: videos are quite graphic in nature) Such is the reason a number of people choose to go vegetarian or even vegan. There is a growing lack of respect and stewardship for animals and the role they play in our world.

Before factory farming gained popularity in the 1960's (motivated largely by a growing export in beef by the American gov't as well as an insurgence in public school lunches and menu options), cattle were raised on family farms or ranches around the country. The process was elemental. Young calves were born in the spring and spent their first months suckling milk and grazing on grass. When they were weaned, they were turned out onto pastures. Some cattle were given a moderate amount of grain to enhance marbling (the fat interlaced in the muscle). The calves grew to maturity at a natural pace, reaching market weight at two to three years of age. After the animals were slaughtered, the carcasses were kept cool for a couple weeks to enhance flavor and tenderness, a traditional process called dry aging. The meat was then shipped in large cuts to meat markets. The local butcher divided it into individual cuts upon request and wrapped it in white paper and string.

This meat was free of antibiotics, added hormones, feed additives, flavor enhancers, age-delaying gases and salt-water solutions. Mad cow disease and the deadliest strain of E. coli — 0157:H7 — did not exist.

However, today’s industrialized process brings cattle to slaughter weight in just one or two years. It reduces the nutritional value of the meat, stresses the animals, increases the risk of bacterial contamination, pollutes the environment and exposes consumers to a long list of unwanted chemicals. The beef typically contains traces of hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals that were never produced by any cow. Next time you are at your grocery store, take a look at the hamburger. It may look fresh but it may be up to three weeks old and injected with gases to keep it bright red! Oh, and the label? "Guaranteed tender and juicy" is code for “enhanced” with a concoction of water, salt, preservatives and other additives.

After talking for some time about our overall red meat consumption and the family budget Crystal and I decided that we no longer wanted anything "guaranteed tender and juicy." We wanted actual hormone-free, antibiotic-free, pasture-raised, local beef. We began our search on localharvest.org which is a tremendous, online resource for finding he best organic food grown closest to you. It was there we came across Nooherooka Natural.

According to their marketing material, Nooherooka Natural LLC is a 7th generation farm family growing North Carolina Angus Beef. They are dedicated to bringing healthy and safe beef to market and to our tables! Their animals are humanely raised on grass pastures their entire lives, and are fed all-natural, GMO free whole grains raised right there on the Nooherooka farm. Their product is USDA inspected and are free from added hormones and antibiotics. I think their t-shirts say it best though, "Our Cows Don't Do Drugs!"

And yes, while the meat is more expensive by the pound, I think the largest advantage of purchasing at this level is that the weight before cooking is almost identical to that when finished cooking. A meatloaf using 2 lbs. of ground beef is, in fact, a 2 lb. meatloaf thanks to the 90/10 meat:fat ratio! It was an absolute pleasure to go by the farm, meet some of the family, purchase our fresh beef, and be invited back to tour the operations anytime we wanted. Our total expenditure was just over $200 giving us 4 - Filet Mignon steaks, 4 - Sirloin steaks, 3 - lbs. of Kabob meat, 14 - pounds of ground beef, 1 - round roast, and some cube steak to try. It was quite a haul!

So far we have used nothing more than two of the sirloins steaks for last night's Pepper Steak and Rice. It was beautiful to cook; almost no grease or fat content. The beef cut smoothly and was so easy to chew. I must say that for this homesteader, while raising our own beef may not be a viable option for us or our size land, it is great to know we have such a dynamic local resource.

What about you? Do you buy meat from a local rancher or farmer? Do you raise your own? Have you ever even thought about your meat consumption and its actual quality both before and after harvesting? 

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Some material sourced to Jo Robinson from the February/March 2008 issue of GRIT.

Reduce. Reuse. Re'coop'

Loading the coopBack in early May 2009 Crystal and my daddy and I wrapped up work on our first chicken coop. I had been wanting to raise chickens for some time and it seemed like the time was right.

Now folks with a minimalist mindset are familiar enough with reduction. We reduce. We recycle. We repurpose. We refine. And so when it came time to build that first coop I knew I wanted to spend less time at the box store hardware and more time finding materials with as much character as the chickens they would soon house. So I put an ad in the local newspaper asking for reclaimed  wood and other building materials. Within a day or two I was contacted by a gentleman who had recently taken down an old hog house. It had been standing for nearly 102 years as best he knew. Coupled with some 2"x6" lumber picked up at a local jobsite (the woods first life was as batter board for a concrete project), some corrugated metal from a chicken coop buried on the back of the farm, some hardware from a gate that had long since fallen, and some fencing that has been laying around as long as I can remember, we built the "Coop de Ville" - a subtle play on words indicative of a chicken coop located in BarneVILLE, Georgia.

In the course of two years we watched our flock grow to 9 with a production on average of 6 brown eggs a day. I kept it clean oftentimes scraping and spraying it out once a week. We kept them warm in the winter and the shade of the metal, cool in the summer. I couldn't help but to look at that coop and be proud of it. And so now that we are moving to North Carolina it seemed only right to take the coop (and a later built brooding box) with us.

As Saturday morning came we had strategized how we were going to lower the coop four feet onto a NASCAR style trailer, secure it, and get it to North Carolina. Our same team of Crystal, Daddy, and me gathered - this time with my Uncle along with us - to recycle this house yet again. With the use of a hydraulic jack, some 2"x4" poles and a lot of gumption we finished the job in about an hour. Looking at the day now I may be more proud of the fact that we are now using 104 year old wood than I am of anything else. It is what sustainability is about. It is what homesteading is about. It is what stewardship is about. We are taking what we have, doing the best we can with it, and never leaving behind what still has a life ahead!

What about you? Do you have anything on your homestead or farm that it reclaimed or recycled wood that you are proud of? Have you ever moved something a good distance just because you couldn't imagine leaving it behind? Tell me a bit about it. And if you like this post be sure to share it on Facebook or Tweet the link out to your followers! 

Looking Forward to a Tiny Garden

Planning the garden on the laptop 

Seed catalogs galore 

Our Tiny House will sit on the unofficially named Tiny Lane. There we will raise Tiny Goats and this year, have a Tiny Farm.

Unlike last year, we simply aren't ready to have multiple gardens full of organic produce and fruits. We will have to exchange the size of our 'salad bowl,' if you will, for something a bit more fitting for where we are in the move from Georgia to North Carolina. This minor setback (and I use the term setback very loosely) didn't mean we couldn't still have as much fun perusing through seed catalogues, mildly discussing exotic produce, and dreaming about the organic edibles we would one day enjoy from our own land.

So last week - at separate times, unfortunately - Crystal and I both spent time flipping page after page, comparing items from last in regards to growth success, growth potential, overall energy consumed to grow, and overall taste. With a wonderful cup of rasberry-peach tea on my desk in front of me I saw down and began with perhaps my favorite catalogue; Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

We still have a few seeds left from last year that are still quite viable including some cabbage, a bit of Carrot Chantenay Red Core, Lettuce Val d'Orges, and Cauliflower. While I had originally thought of giving them away in a contest, I have decided to save them and use them as a great way to begin some leafy greens anywhere I can find dirt worth sowing in.

Seed packets waiting to be planted 

Because we are limited on ready space this year we have talked about doubling our efforts by growing potatoes at Crystal's mom's house and even trying some sweet corn in the back field of her grandmother's place. Last year we we tried corn and had really mixed results. We had a case of ear whigs and many of ears came in small and lacking kernels. We're willing to try again though as it was our first time and we're bound to do better in a corn hotbed like the sandy soils of North Carolina.

We're definitely looking forward to doubling the size of our onion beds this year. Last year we harvested just at 124 onions and while they lasted up until mid-November we would love to have a supply that would take us into late-February or so. While the desire is there we are still trying to figure where we would get that size space for such an onion supply. We may have to resort to a bit of gonzo gardening and just plant bulbs all around being careful to remember when we have things growing.

I think the main focus this year though is going to be our beans and cukes. We serve early peas, snap beans, and bush beans all year round and while our cucumbers have done really well each year we can't seem to get enough to both eat and pickle. Crystal loves a good dill pickle and so we look to raise up cuke plants in every available vertical spot we can muster.

So what about you? Have you begun planning and ordering yet? If so, what is your favorite company to order from? Are you growing anything new and original? What are your old standbys that get planted year after year? As always if you like this post be sure to share it on Facebook or send the link out on Twitter. We appreciate you also taking the time to read the r(E)volution and be a part of the conversation! 

Planning for Animals on the Homestead

MeatChickensAs we move from Odom's Idle Acres in Barnesville, Georgia to Pink Hill, North Carolina and our own little plot of dirt, the one thing that we intend on intensifying (even while downsizing) is our goal of self-sufficiency. We're not vegans or even vegetarians so we have to think about our source for milk, eggs, and meat. Even if we were vegan though, keeping animals on our homestead would allow us natural fibers or wool to sell. Basic animal husbandry would also allow us the peace of knowing our animals were raised humanely and treated with care and and every day.

Goats 

From what I gather goats are among the most practical and versatile animals we could raise. They are small and relatively easy to handle. In fact, a single goat can produce two to four quarts of milk each day, which can simply be drunk or used to make cheese, butter, and soap. Angora goats and other long-hairs can be bred for mohair and fiber which can easily be sold or used for crafts. Did I mention goats can be raised for meat? It may sound odd if you've never tried "cabrito" or goat meat but it really is as healthy as a chicken breast with a taste like that of veal.

One thing we have to read up on is what breed is best for what use. I am not aware of a breed that produces fiber, milk, and meat. For milk we will probably look to Nubian, Saanen, or LaMancha goats while if we decided to cultivate fiber we will want to look in the Angora direction.  And while any goat can produce meat, Boer and Myotonic ("fainting") goats are the best suited for this purpose.

Poultry 

We're pretty versed in poultry since we currently raise 4 layers of chickens; hatchlings/broilers/layers/meat. And like for many neo-homesteaders, chickens are an obvious choice for us because they don't require much space and provide us with eggs and fresh meat. Once a hen's egg production has declined, she can be a great addition to the stew pot. Believe it or not (which I am sure you will if you are reading this blog), mature chickens are far more flavorful than the rapidly-fattened youngsters sold in supermarkets. Chickens aren't hard to care for, and young chicks or fertilized eggs are very inexpensive to buy.

Other poultry are also worth considering. Guineas, ducks, and geese are also great sources of eggs, meat, and feathers. Although they cost more than chickens, the meat is richer and many people love fresh duck and goose eggs. Guineas have the added advantage of being an effective pest control measure; they will happily snap up wasps, hornets, ticks, ants, and even mice.

Small Animals 

Another option for homesteaders who have very little room to spare is small animals. And the reason for this post really is because lately Pan and I have been talking about raising rabbits; the pros and cons. They can be raised in hutches in your backyard, and true to their reputation, reproduce frequently. As with many other animals, you'll need to decide what you want to use the rabbits for before you choose a breed. Angora rabbits are a great source of natural fiber. New Zealand, Florida White, and Californian rabbits are good choices for meat. And I am supposing that if we preserve the fur we can use it for insulation on a number of things. And let we forget rabbit poop. It makes great fertilizer - higher in nitrogen than some poultry manures and it also contains a large amount of phosphorus--important for flower and fruit formation.

Did I forget anything? What do you think is important for us to consider in terms of raising animals on our small homestead? What do you raise? Was it a good choice for you? Why? Why not? 

A Garden Surprise

cantalope

Oftentimes we plan our gardens so well that we never take into consideration that we are but stewards of the land. Where a seed is dropped a plant can grow. It doesn't matter all the time if we water it systematically or we allow it only X amount of sun per day. It doesn't even matter if we suspend the plant correctly and allow it ample bedding so as not to bruise the fruit. A plant is a living organism and as such, is always full of surprises.

Thus is the case when last night, frustrated with our lack of melon production, we noticed this little gal resting in one of the holes in the cinderblocks that composed the melon raised bed. At first we thought it a loss. But I picked it up, cut it open with my pocket knife, and found one of the sweetest, most beautifully ripe, cantaloupes I have ever eaten.

What Came First: The Chicken or the Salmonella?

DrewWithEgg

This morning Fox News reported that,

"approximately 1,300 people have been sickened in a salmonella outbreak linked to eggs in three states and possibly more, and health officials on Wednesday dramatically expanded a recall to 380 million eggs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with state health departments to investigate the illnesses. No deaths have been reported, said Dr. Christopher Braden, a CDC epidemiologist involved in the investigation.
Initially, 228 million eggs were recalled but that number was increased to the equivalent of nearly 32 million dozen-egg cartons.
The outbreak was linked to in-shell eggs from Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa, according to Sherri McGarry of the Food and Drug Administration."

So I sit here, staring out at one of our flocks, there is a salmonella outbreak in America that has now possibly effected some 384 million eggs.

Wright County Egg – an Iowa based company – ships all the way to places like California, and sells eggs to distributors like Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph's, Boomsma's, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms and Kemp. (You can read more about these companies and egg safety by visiting this site.)

LayinEmNow here at Odom's Idle Acres we not only raise a flock of laying hens (6-7 eggs/day) but we also raise a flock of broilers for meat. I am finding myself more and more bothered by this situation with each passing day. In past months we have seen the number of backyard flocks rise sharply due to grocery prices and the push for locavore living and sourcing ones food. A large number of cities - including San Francisco and New York City - allow small, backyard flocks (6-10 birds) and cities are consistently allowing for more backyard flocks and larger flocks. Having said that, do we really need to ship eggs half way across the country?

It's fair to say that the further you ship an item such as eggs the more risk you are taking. Not to mention the fact that it just isn't necessary. Most of America has a climate hospitable to chickens and a number of communities in the middle of the country and the southeast region claim poultry as one of their top agricultural motivators.

But let me return to the facts; 384 million eggs. I can't even process a number that large. Here. Allow me to write it out – 384,000,000. How many chickens must it take to even produce that many eggs? Especially if you are talking about only one supplier; in this particular case, Wright County Egg of Galt, Iowa. I refuse to believe that raising chickens in a cramped, over crowded, enclosed area breeds things other than healthy chickens. And in order to produce that many eggs I can't help but to think that ANY brooding quarters are cramped, over crowded, and enclosed. Enter salmonella.

Now, I am no dummy. Any egg can contain salmonella bacteria. But the likelihood of an organic egg from a free-ranged hen (or even a hen given ample space to roam, lay, brood, etc.) is far less likely to be contaminated with this pathogen simply because the environment isn't as much of a breeding ground for the bacteria.

If you have ever thought about raising your own layers, now is the time to really move forward. It takes relatively little time, little money, little effort and the results are profound. Check with your city to see what the ordinance is on backyard flocks. You might be surprised to find there are already people right in your neighborhood eating eggs from their own little "homestead."

Before I sign off though I want to share a few tips for avoiding salmonella:

  • Collect eggs often (daily, even) and refrigerate as soon as possible, especially now, during the summer.
  • Keep nesting areas clean and free of litter or bugs.
  • Clean your coop thoroughly at least once a month. If you don't want to stick your nose in there what makes you think a chicken would?
  • Maintain a healthy flock. If a chicken seems ill, isolate her. Check with your local feed 'n seed or ask the opinion of another "farmer."
  • Don't introduce new birds until you have quarantined them long enough to know they are healthy.
  • Do not wash the egg but rather use a dry brush to remove fecal matter that may have collected on the egg. Wash only as a last resort.
  • Cook all egg products.

Salmonella poisoning is serious and can cause some horrible maladies. Outbreaks should be extremely rare though. The best way to protect your family is, as always, to know your egg farmer; either the one in your region or the one that sleeps in your bed at night.

So what are your thoughts and/or concerns about this outbreak and/or raising layers of your own?

Taking Stock

BountyI admit, I have spent a little too much time lately thinking about what our garden(s) has NOT done for us this year. There have been moments of frustration, bugs galore, long, hot days, and rotten fruit.

Despite it all we have managed to get a great start on our fall/winter preserves. To date we have put away 45 lbs. of yellow onions, 8 quarts of strawberries, 4 gallons of peaches, 3 gallons of blueberries, 3 gallons of blackberries, 37 heads of lettuce (both european and buttercrunch combined), 13 quarts of bell pepper, 8 quarts of crookneck squash, 2 quarts of zuchini, 5 quarts of green beans, 11 quarts of zipper peas, 2 quarts of butter beans, 10 gallons of sweet corn (purchased from a local farmer), countless fresh herbs which we dried, ground, and put in the cupboard, 7 quarts of dill pickles, and 6 quarts of stewed tomatoes. We have also made 14 quarts of apple butter, 7 quarts of strawberry freezer jam, 1 quart of pesto, 8 quarts of blueberry jam, and 4 gallons of okra ready for frying.

WOW! Just seeing it in writing has gotten me excited. We have already exceeded last years bounty and it is only mid-July. We still have a solid month of beans, peas, potatoes, okra, etc. And that isn’t to mention the fall crops.

We also started a flock of “meat chickens” about 13 weeks ago so they are about ready to process for meat and stock which will go nicely beside our side of grass-fed beef and our portions of locally harvested pork.

None of this comes easy though. We have worked hard; both before planting and during the harvest. Not to mention the hours of peeling, chopping, stirring, and processing. It isn’t easy at all but it sure is rewarding.

My one hope though is that everyone who reads this post is experiencing their own wonderful bounty -  be it one tomato plant or 500 acres of soybean.

For flowers that bloom about our feet;
For tender grass, so fresh, so sweet;
For song of bird, and hum of bee;
For all things fair we hear or see,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee!

          – Ralph Waldo Emerson