Sunday, March 29, 2009

Living by the seasons

"I have the best job in the world" he crooned in his deep Columbian voice, "because I am lucky enough to live and work according to the seasons". Even through the interpreter I could feel the passion in his voice. It gave me goosebumps then and still does when I think of his powerful speech at Terra Madre in Torino, Italy urging us to embrace simple living and take pride in our labors as farmers.

Today I thought of that wise Columbian farmer as I picked the first spear of asparagus and ate it straight from the garden in all its glory.  Have you ever enjoyed locally grown, organic asparagus in season?  It is crisp, tender and heavenly.  Fresh asparagus, straight out of the garden, is one of those vegetables that has utterly and completely spoiled me and has made it impossible to purchase a single stalk out of season.

Anticipation is such a reward of this life and our “get it now and get it whenever you want it” society has stolen the joy of anticipation. I hope you relish in the season of asparagus and learn to treat yourself to the anticipation of season to come.  Seasonal eating is a marvelous part of simple living, and a delicious way to support sustainable farming!  Eat local and eat in season!

Organic Cooking: Asparagus Basics
Steam or boil fresh spears vertically in an asparagus steamer or horizontally in a large fry pan (not a crowded saucepan) and serve hot, topped with melted butter and a squeeze of lemon juice, or cold, dressed with vinaigrette.

Asparagus is heavenly when coated with olive oil and roasted in the oven or grilled. Slender spears are good sautéed in a bit of olive oil or butter and tossed with pasta; stockier spears are great additions to soups and stews.

Look for firm stalks and tight, dry and often purple-tinged tips, avoiding those that are moist looking. The cut end should look freshly cut and not too dried out. If there is slight spreading at the top, the spears are still good. The length of the stalk should be all or mostly green. The white at the bottom should be discarded before cooking.

Cook asparagus as soon as possible after purchase. If you must store it, cut off an inch or so of the stalk at the base, set the bunch in a shallow pan of water and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

Roasted Asparagus with Lemon
2 lb. asparagus
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Zest of 1 lemon
Celtic Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 organic lemon, cut into 8 wedges
Position a rack in the upper third of an oven and preheat to 450°F.

Snap off the tough stem ends from the asparagus spears and discard. Arrange the spears on a baking sheet.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, garlic and lemon zest. Brush the asparagus evenly with the oil, turning the spears to coat well, and season generously with salt and pepper. Arrange the lemon wedges around the asparagus.

Bake until the asparagus is tender and just turning golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the asparagus to a warmed serving platter and drizzle with the pan juices. Serves 8.

Recipe via Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Organic Gardening: It's Time to Think Spring!

Spring is in the air and the time to plant is at hand.  For organic gardening, timing our planting is even more crucial.  Now is the time to get in items such as lettuce, spinach, potatoes, onions, carrots, broccoli, cabbage and if you haven't done it already, peas.

Fertilizers and Soil for Organic Gardening

One of the largest stumbling blocks for most people who attempt organic gardening is finding truly organic fertilizers and soil amendments that are trustworthy. With the plethora of "organic" items on the shelves of big box stores, how can you know who to trust and how do organic and chemical solutions differ in how they work?

Chemical fertilizers are made from chemically processed or refined materials. They encourage plants to suck nutrients out of the soil, leaving it infertile. Many contain harsh substances like sulfuric and hydrochloric acid, which can leach into groundwater and pollute the environment.

I once had the great privilege of hearing Dr. Vandana Shiva give a talk in Torino, Italy as she explained that when you plant poisons into the ground with your seeds you can only harvest more poisons. It seems like a simple thing to grasp, and yet our tendency toward quick fixes keeps our eyes closed at times.

Organic fertilizers are made from natural materials. Unlike chemical products, they encourage the soil's growth of micro-organisms, which break down old plant material and convert nutrients into food. Over time, your soil becomes healthier and more fertile. Your plants grow hardy and robust, year after year.  Although it may take more work in the short run, in the long run organic gardening is better for our yield and our health.

So when you look for products to work with nature in your garden rather than against it, always look for companies you can trust, and that usually means those who served our needs before organic gardening became the thing to do. One such company, who we trust with all of our farming, gardening and animal husbandry needs is Fertrell. They have been in the business of providing organic solutions since 1946.

The Fertrell Company is the oldest producer of organic fertilizers in the United States. We decided to become dealers for Fertrell because we have trusted them for years and their reputation for quality and service is second to none. You can now purchase Fertrell products in 50 pound bags, by the ton, or by 5 and 10 pound bags for home gardening. We use Fertrell products in all of our organic chicken feeds.

So jump into spring on the right foot and remember that what you put into your soil is what you get out in the end! Happy organic gardening!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Inviting the FDA for dinner impacts sustainable farming

Someone once said that the FDA is the uninvited guest at our dinner table. If Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has her way they will be there for breakfast, lunch, dinner and every in-between snack.  The impact on sustainable farming and the Eat Local movement will be substantial.

On February 4Th, 2009 Representative DeLauro, whose husband counts Monsanto as a client, introduced bill HR875 into the House and it seems to be a popular bill among Democrats. While the proposed legislation tries to address the many problems of the industrial food system, the impact on small farms if the bill becomes law would be substantial and definitely not for the better. HR 875, the Food Safety and Modernization Administration (FSA) is a major threat to sustainable farming and the Eat Local food movement.

Under HR 875 the FSA, the new Federal Safety Administration, is charged to regulate food safety and labeling [Section 2(1)(A)] and to “lead an integrated, system-wide approach to food safety and to make more effective and efficient use of resources to prevent food borne illness.”

What is scary to me in the above quote is how the Center for Disease Control (CDC) manipulates the figures of food borne illness to instill fear in the public. At a recent conference we were show a slide stating the statistics for food borne illnesses in 2009. They were staggering to say the least. However, the next slide showed how the CDC comes up with these numbers, and here is the disconcerting part of this strange equation. The slide showed a pyramid cut into seven horizontal sections. The smallest section, the very corner of the pyramid, was the actual cases of food borne illness with the other six sections labeled to show how and why they increased the number. Valid guesses included those who did not seek care, people who just got sick and did not know that they were infected and the exposure of the general public. When I asked the instructor about this seemingly crazy guessing game and its role in spreading fear in the general public he responded "it's the best system we have and I think they do a very good job".

So, if the CDC is making up numbers or even if their computers are making up numbers to make us fear our food we had better be ready for a good fight where this bill is concerned. You can be sure that these CDC figures will be thrown around with abandon and no one will have a chart showing the elaborate guessing game that produced those numbers.  As consumers who care about sustainable farming and the Eat Local movement, we have to stay active to protect our access to whole foods.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Lambs in March

This weekend was unusually crazy at our peaceful little farm. With 250 pastured hens, around 60 head of cattle and 100 Katahdin sheep you would think that peace was something we experience about as much as flying saucers and blue moons. Normally though, with all the hardworking hands around the farm things are fairly calm and peaceful. The culprits this weekend though all were under 10lbs and can run like the dickens!

Lambs!! Lambs!! And more lambs!! They are everywhere! In one weekend we had over eighteen babies born and most of those were triplets. 

Our theory is that since the drought hit things have been slightly askew. Last year the lambs came in singles, for the most part, but nature must be making up for lost time.  Over the years we've been homesteading, we've come to see how often nature runs in cycles like this.

One interesting fact about nature is that when there is some environmental deviation from the norm such as drought or famine, the reproductive systems of animal begin to shut down but just until things return to normal. Even in humans, when the body is deprived of proper nutrients the first system to be shut down is the reproductive system.

We saw the same effect on our fruit trees. Last year we had more pears than we have ever had in one season. I guess it's just Nature looking out for our well being.

Well, with this many lambs on the ground we will have plenty of grass fed lamb for sale in the store and at the farmer's markets we attend so I thought I would get your creative juices flowing with my favorite grass fed lamb chop recipes.

The most used lamb chop recipe in our home is very simple but oh, so good. Celtic or Hawaii salt and fresh ground pepper cooked on the grill topped with a good pat of butter. To spice things up a little I will bring out the wine, Turkish oregano and garlic and make up a dish that I always give to those new to eating lamb.

Grilled Lamb with Wine, Garlic and Honey

The honey does not sweeten the chops-it just helps them brown. For an authentic accompaniment, uncork a bottle of the pungent resin-flavored Greek wine called retsina, or simply opt for a favorite Sauvignon Blanc. Serve coffee ice cream and purchased baklava to complete the menu.

3/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tbs chopped fresh oregano
2 tb minced garlic
2 ts red wine vinegar
1/2 ts sea salt
1/2 ts ground black pepper
8 1- to 1 1/4-inch-thick grass fed loin lamb chops (about 2 1/2 pounds total), fat well trimmed
2 tablespoons honey

Mix first 7 ingredients in large glass baking dish. Arrange lamb chops in single layer in dish; turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours, turning and basting often. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.) Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Transfer lamb to plate. Mix honey into marinade. Grill lamb to desired doneness, turning and basting with marinade often, about 10 minutes for medium-rare.
Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Transfer lamb to plate.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Welcome to Windy Acres Farm

Hello, Welcome to our farm blog.

Windy Acres Farm is a community of wonderful people who have come to together to further the vision of Alfred and Carney Farris on 487 acres of certified organic fields in the sunniest spot in Tennessee, Orlinda. At the time of this post, Alfred and Carney are in Soroti, Uganda working with Hands In Service. While they are ministering in Africa, Sam Justice, organic grain specialist, master mechanic and co-farm manager with Alfred is keeping the farm up an running with the help of my family, the Harness Family and two wonderful workers, Jose and Marrow. My son, Brayden, is learning to work in the shop in addition to his work with the cattle and sheep. He is also our resident milker. Rhayna is an all around helper wherever she is needed and her gardening skills are about to be dusted off as we begin to prepare the gardens.

The Harness family contains so much talent that I may need a separate blog to list them all. Ron, head of the household, is a jack of all trades and is indispensible to the farm. Nicole is my partner in crime in the store and is the resident baker, book keeper, gardener and all around great person. Keith is farm worker and chicken expert and his sister Brittany his our animal trainer, cow milker and is amazing in the garden.

Jose and Marrow are the kind of workers that no one can really describe. They work behind the scenes to make all that we do possible. We rarely see them but their handiwork is evident everywhere on the farm.

As for Alfred and Carney, I will let them speak for themselves when they come home from Uganda.

Thanks for visiting our blog, we will have plenty more in the future.