Friday, January 29, 2010

Michael Pollan's latest book, "Food Rules"

If you have 30 minutes to spare and a passing interest in natural foods you might enjoy Michael Pollan's latest book, Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. This is probably the shortest book you've read since you were a first grader, but it does have interesting ways to remember how to eat in a healthy way. If you need or want to read the research Pollan did to arrive at these rules, you would be better off reading In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. Although there is quite a bit of overlap between Food Rules and Pollan's previous two books, there is some new food for thought. Some of my favorite rules are:
  • Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
  • If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.
  • It's not food if it arrived through the window of your car.
  • Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.
  • Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it (this would be impossible for me with restless toddlers, as I am a slow cook, but it's a good thought!)
  • Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does.
I also thought Pollan did a good job pointing out that an organic diet is not necessarily a healthy diet. Organic corn syrup is still corn syrup, organic sugary cereal is still sugary cereal, and organic processed convenience food is still processed convenience food. Fresh, locally grown organic food with as little processing as possible is the best way to go.

Because this book is short and easy to read, it would be a good one to have on hand for people who are just getting started thinking about a healthier lifestyle or who are wondering why you choose to each meat, milk and produce from a local farm.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Fragrance of God

People recommend books to me on a daily basis as I am known as some what of a book buff. And as an avid collector of books I check into almost all recommendation, never wanting to let one good book escape my library. Every once in awhile though, someone doesn't just recommend a book, they insist that I buy it and that I can't live without it. Such is the book by Vigen Guroian , The Fragrance of God. This book is unlike any other gardening book I have read. It is the kind of book that I will re read every year as I find myself out of the garden due to inclement weather and on the verge of spring. Beautiful, inspiring and heart stirring, The Fragrance of God reminds us, or shows us for the first time, why we really garden.

What is it that causes us to toil and sweat over weeds we know will just return, probably stronger than ever? Why plan and dig and plant and weed when we can just load into an air conditioned car, drive to the air conditioned supermarket and buy perfectly clean versions of what comes out of the ground? Vigen knows. This is his personal journey through the seasons of his life, moving and staying, losing and finding, all relating to the garden. In The Fragrance of God Vigen takes us with him on a journey through the year’s
changing seasons as he reflects on the great biblical themes of the sublimity of God’s creation, on seeing the senses as “paths” to experiencing God and “the garden as a place of birth, death and renewal."
This is not a how-to gardening book but a look throughout the ages into why we garden and how gardening relates to our spiritual state. Vigen summons the words of Christian mystics from as far back as the first century who warned us of our tendencies to leave behind the senses and remind us that there was a time when beauty was the trademark of Christianity, when all of the senses were employed in the the worship of God and a true understanding of His Creation.

I remember reading of a discourse between Plato and some of his followers regarding the question of what happens when we forget true beauty. I was immediately reminded of that conversation when I passed a garden in a front yard that was planted entirely with plastic flowers. The haunting words of Plato came rushing back and continues to echo each time I witness such an abuse of the senses. What happens when we forget the beautiful scent of a rose - Glad Air Wicks. What happens when we forget the taste of strawberries from the garden still warm from the sun? We are assaulted with "strawberry" jello. Pockets that taste like - you name it - are the inheritance of our children if we are not careful to wade through the products that lie to our senses. Every once in a while we need an awakening and this book will certainly fill the bill.

This book is half gardening guide, half spiritual guide. Read it at your own risk. It will change the way you see, smell, taste, touch and hear.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Knitting Circle

As beautiful as this painting is, knitting alone can be, well, lonely. I have been privileged to be a small part of a wonderful knitting/spinning/felting group in Indiana and I truly miss the camaraderie, the friendships, tutoring and the accountability.

In an attempt to stop putting off the things I really want to do and start living well I am opening up the store and my home (depending on how many participate) for an old fashioned knitting circle.

Beginning Saturday, February 13 we will have coffee and scones available for all who wish to join in. Just because the term "knitting circle" seemed the catchiest phrase doesn't mean that crocheters, tatters, weavers, spinners, felters and any other interested parties need not attend. We will join in handwork and conversation from 9:00am until 12:00 noon. All are welcome.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Spring is Coming and so are the Lambs

This past week, in temperatures in the teens, we had several new arrivals to The Farm. Our Katahdin ewes have begun to lamb.

Katahdin sheep are best know for their mild flavored, delectable meat and we can certainly attest to that attribution. One characteristic that surprises many of our customers when they drive out to visit the sheep is that they seem to have little or no wool. Even more concerning is that they can sometimes look like something the cat dragged in, dishevelled looking with clumps of hair hanging by a thread.

Katahdins are referred to as hair sheep and throughout the spring and summer, all that hair is continually falling out. We will find clumps of hair strewn around the farm wherever the sheep have ventured. It can actually give away a slip under the fence and trot around the farm when no one was looking.

So on your next trip to the farm take a look at the new babies and don't be dismayed by the dangling locks of hair, that's just a Katahdin.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cow Sharing Opportunity

At Windy Acres Farm our standards are high, very high. When we bring a dairy cow into our cowsharing program she must have been raised organically for her entire life and been 100% grass fed since birth. Obviously these standards make it very difficult to increase our herd quickly and so we maintain a lengthy waiting list with many people waiting patiently for a chance to own their own cow and receive it's fresh, raw milk.

After almost a year of searching we have found five cows that fit the bill. They are in Illinois on a Certified Organic farm that has been committed to 100% grass feeding for many years. Three of the girls are due to calve at the end of this month and the rest will calve in March. We plan to make the trip to pick them up in the next two weeks.

If you have an interest in purchasing a share in one of these cows please contact us to be sure we bring home enough girls to supply milk for everyone interested. If you need more information regarding our cowsharing program please contact us.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Living Well

I don't believe a day that goes by when I don't hear about the need to "get well" or "eat well" or even to "marry well". We are encouraged to "be well" and certainly to "stay well" but how many times do we learn of someone who truly "lives well"?

Today I spoke with a woman who lives part time in Atlanta, Georgia and spends the rest of her time in France working at a B&B and she actually knows a man who "lives well". "He'll never make a lot of money" she told me, "but he really lives well."

Living well is such an important concept to me that when she told me of Jean Paul my heart skipped a beat. It was almost like hearing a secret code word. She told of his farm and work and for the rest of the day it is all I could dream about.

What exactly does living well mean? Does it entail a boat in a slip or yearly vacations to the South of France? Is it really something acquired with money? We seem to understand the concept early in life and begin to lose it sometime around the teenage years. From my vantage point I believe that to "live well, really well" is something that eludes almost everyone I know but is the one true desire of the seeking heart.

I have come to believe that advertisers, of all people, are the ones who really know what "living well" entails. Almost every advertisement depicts families spending time together, having the spare time to read in a hammock with a cold glass of ice tea or the extra time in the day to garden or just getting together with friends for a great meal with plenty of laughter. If we buy a certain washing machine we will laugh with our family again, sit around the table playing games, loving each other. If we could just afford that stainless 6 burner oven we would cook more with our spouse while happy, well adjusted children sit and watch, all conversing happily. The goal of the advertiser is to take the deepest desires of our hearts and exploit them. Just possibly, if we were already living well as a society these advertisers would not be as effective in separating us from our hard earned 500 billion dollars every year.

SOOOOOO, what does this mean for me? After a full day of thinking over my conversation with Anne about Jean Paul and her life in France I realized that all the things that don't get crossed off my to-do list are the very things that would allow me to live well. The easiest things to put off are the very things that would transform my life into the life I want, where I am in control of the quality of my life and my schedule and the other things of this world can take a back seat.

Here are some examples of the items that get pushed from day to day, month to month....

Have friends over for dinner - often
Read with the children - more often
Spend time in the garden
Invite friends for a knitting circle
Bake more pies
Make a cup of tea before bed and just read
Take more walks - not for exercise
Visit friends
Read Wendell Berry to remind me of the "why's" of farming and not just the "how's".

Today, I encourage you to pull out your Day-Timer and look for the things that are easily put off and rearrange your priorities. Come to see those activities not as the expendable but as the keys to truly living well and just maybe you'll find the answer to teaching your children to live well before they fall into the same trap of busyness and disenchantment with this gift of a life.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Local Pecans - Oh Yeah!!

Ever since I read the lovely book, French Women Don't Get Fat by Mereille Guiliano I have been nuts about nuts. The way she described the difference between shelled nuts and their stale, overly salted, roasted impostors set me on the hunt for fresh, and hopefully local, nuts.

Many people think of nuts as being too high in calories to be a health food but the truth is that higher calories also come with higher vital nutrients and as long as you keep them in the shell, you have to work for your food and surely that will work off some of the extra calories.

Pecans are a great source of protein, unsaturated fats and are rich in omega 6 fatty acids. A diet rich in nuts can lower the risk of gallstones in women and the antioxidants and plant sterols in pecans can lower cholesterol by reducing LDL levels. Clinical research has shown that eating a handful of pecans daily can reduce cholesterol levels as much as cholesterol reducing medication and without the nasty side effects. Pecans are a good source of folate vitamin E, potassium, magnesium and zinc, all essential for good health.

Most of what we buy in stores is old and already rancid and this is especially true of anything roasted and salted, which is usually employed to mask rancidity. But a fresh, Tennessee pecan, straight from the shell is another thing altogether.

We purchase our pecans from a local grower in Tuft, Tennessee who tends 13 mature pecan trees. This definitely falls within our "small batch, artisan" criterion and we couldn't be happier to have found Ray and Wynna. We will carry fresh pecans until supplies run out and then wait patiently for next year's harvest.

Fresh nuts should be stored in an airtight container away from the light and according to Mereille "please, never stored in the refrigerator".

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Seed Savers Exchange Seed at Windy Acres Farm Shop

I have had organic gardens in 5 different locations over a 17 year haul and other than keeping the garden organic, doing my part to keep heirloom varieties of seed available has been my biggest gardening goal. My first step, way back then, was to find a company that had heirloom seeds available. Thankfully my search led me a company committed to saving seed that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit, member supported organization that saves and shares the heirloom seeds of our garden heritage, forming a living legacy that can be passed down through generations. SSE members have distributed an estimated 1 million samples of rare garden seeds since their founding nearly 35 years ago. Those seeds now are widely used by seed companies, small farmers supplying local and regional markets, chefs and home gardeners and cooks, alike.

Seed Savers Exchange was founded in 1975 by Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy to honor this tradition of preserving and sharing. Their collection started when Diane's terminally-ill grandfather gave them the seeds of two garden plants, Grandpa Ott's Morning Glory and German Pink Tomato, that his parents brought from Bavaria when they immigrated to St. Lucas, Iowa in the 1870s.

Today Seed Savers Exchange is the largest non-governmental seed bank in the United States. They permanently maintain more than 25,000 endangered vegetable varieties, most having been brought to North America by members' ancestors who immigrated from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and other parts of the world.

Growing heirloom seeds took organic gardening to a whole new level for me. Finding varieties like the Cherokee Purple tomato and the French Charantais melon took me on a journey that lasted 17 years and I feel like I have only just begun to traverse this vast land of saving my own seeds.

Windy Acres Farm Shop is very proud to be the first location in Tennessee to make SSE seeds available. We will carry 56 varieties of seeds but will be happy to take requests for seed varieties. We will also carry started plants, all grown organically, of several varieties of tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, onions, leeks and herbs. We will carry flower seeds as well as herbs and vegetables. If you would like us to start certain varieties for you please let us know before February 15th.

Coming Soon: We plan to place a large order of fruit trees and berry plants for anyone interested.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Farm Happenings - Winter

"So things must be slowing down for you guys on the farm now that the winter has set in."

This is question asked of us almost every day and it made me realize that it is been some time since I wrote about our farm activities.

As was written by Sir Albert Howard in his awe-inspiring book, The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture, no soil can be truly healthy unless animals graze upon it. This was a concept that Alfred and Carney Farris took to heart and plans were made to remedy this situation on their farm. Thus the long process began to switch the farm from all grain to a grain and livestock farm which entailed fencing the entire farm and installing a watering system that could water the stock anywhere on the farm, a task of monumental effort and resources.

Anyone who has been to The Farm Shop since the summer has seen the trenches stretching across and throughout the fields. These trenches house an intricate labyrinth of pipes all feeding several watering troughs over approximately 260 acres.

Our new solar panel harnesses energy from the sun to run a pump which fills the blue tank that has found its way to the back of my garden. All the troughs are filled utilizing gravity power. So, next summer when you come to the farm shop you will be able to see all of the animals trying out the new system.

Now that most of the trenches are filled we go back to the everyday workings of the farm, feeding, moving, milking, collecting eggs and caring for our stock which knows no seasons. So, unlike a produce farm that tucks the garden in for winter, livestock farming, with the exception of smashing ice in the water troughs, continues on virtually the same throughout the year.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Organic Cooking: Stew, French Style - Part 2

This dish comes from the the Carmargue, French cowboy country, and is traditionally made with bull's meat which is somewhat tough but extremely flavorful. In the US, we can only dream of the day when the palette of the people, even only a handful of people, will demand a search for meat based on flavor and utility rather than just going to the shop for MEAT. Imagine knowing instinctively that a good hearty stew requires bull's meat.... oh, well, out of la la land and back to earth. At The Farm Shop we cut our stew meat into large pieces of 2-2.5 oz but for this recipe our Kabobs work best since we cut them in nice 4oz pieces. All of our stew meat is cut from the chuck or the round rather than scrap meat for a more consistent end result. As I mentioned in my last blog, please, please search out good quality black olives. I am not sure what is really in those cans of "black olives" but they don't belong in this stew.

This stew is exquisite served over fresh pasta but is also great spooned over rice or potatoes.

Gardiane La Camargue (La Camargue's Beef Stew with Black Olives)

4.5lbs grass fed stewing beef
5 garlic cloves
2-3 medium onions, Cut into rounds
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch rounds
1 bottle full-bodied red wine such as Cotes-du-Rhone
2 tbs olive oil
2 sprigs thyme or 1/2 ts dried
3 imported bay leaves
1 cup oil-cured black olives, preferably from Nyons
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. One day before serving, combine the meat, garlic, onions, carrots and wine in a large non reactive bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours, stirring once or twice.
2. Three hours before cooking, remove the meat from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Remove the meat from the marinade, drain well.
3. In a very large, heavy bottomed, non reactive casserole, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the meat and brown on all sides, working in several batches if necessary. Do not crowd the meat. Add the thyme, bay leaves and olives and season with salt and pepper. Pour the marinade ingredients over the meat. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and barely simmer, half covered, for 2 hours.
4. Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Transfer the stew to a deep serving platter. Serve with rice, pasta or potatoes.
Serves 6