Archive for January, 2014

Make Chicken Work For You

I’m often asked by the uninitiated, “How can someone afford to eat your chicken ?” Well here’s an excellent post by one of my favorite bloggers on how she feeds her family of three for a week on one pasture raised bird. I don’t know the financial particulars of each household that consumes birds raised on our pastures, but I know that they all budget tightly for their nutrition. For them, the healthiest food has the highest priority and they know that we strive to produce the healthiest food possible. So if you are trying to work out how to make nutrient dense food fit your kitchen, start with pasture raised, non-GMO, soy-free chicken and take a read.

Throwback at Trapper Creek

I used to teach a quilt class called Make Color Work for You, to show that the sky is the limit once you start manipulating the goods you have on hand.  These two quilts use the same concept of the basic Barn Raising setting.  One is an actual Log Cabin quilt the other is a Lady of the Lake using the barn raising setting of the blocks.  Color did all the work.

I know you’re wondering what in the heck do quilts have to do with chicken, but every Sunday I take a basic chicken and turn it into a lot of food for the week.  I’m manipulating the goods to take an expensive bit of meat and turn it into meals for work, broth, dinners and dog food.  Food patterns if you will.  Despite what goes on at the supermarket with cheap subsidized chicken, chicken is not a cheap…

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2014 Chicken CSA

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Whole pasture raised chicken on the grill.

Never Stop Learning

Yesterday, we paid a visit to Moss Hill Farm with a number of friends to learn from Floyd Kiesler about how he has found success farming on one acre, using biodynamic methods.

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Floyd has been farming and gardening for 20 years. Originally his garden was 1/4 acre and when he cleared more land, he buried the trees under the future planting area. He’s been using biodynamic methods for over 4 years and has never seen better productivity.

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Cover crops/green manures are essential to maintaining healthy soil, and healthy soil is the goal.

Floyd makes his own high tunnels and only closes one end to protect from the wind.

The high tunnels are temporary, portable and reusable. The pond you see here is his irrigation source.  He primarily irrigates new plantings and rarely the established ones.

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Weeds don’t get pulled, they get “flamed”. The heat sears off the weed leaves protective coating and they quickly die. The roots stay behind to decompose and feed the soil. Speaking of feeding the soil, Floyd makes his own compost with manure from a nearby stable. The soil at Moss Hill Farm has been nurtured so well that when you hold a handful, you can feel it pulse with life.

Thank you Farmer Floyd for sharing your time and knowledge!

Could Confidence In Organics Be Overblown?

As our farm members, online followers and friends know, we now only purchase organic feed. There are a few reasons why.  Organic grains are grown without  synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides so they are better for our environment. Because they are grown without the chemicals, they are more nutrient dense and better for our livestock. Most importantly for me, using organic feed is the surest way to be confident that we are not feeding Genetically Modified Organisms to the animals who in turn nourish us. After coming to grips with what GMOs are, I tried to find a way around them.

Someone told me about a co-op that purchased bulk organic feed from Reedy Fork Farm and Feed Mill. I got on their email list and studied the price list, trying to figure out how to manage switching to organic feed that is considerably more expensive than conventional feed. I called up the farmer who headed up the co-op to get his take on switching over to organic feed. What he told me was somewhat disheartening. He told me that there is no money to be made feeding organic feed because consumers will not pay more than $5.00/dozen for eggs nor would they pay more than $4.50/lb for chicken.  He said that this was the reason he was no longer feeding organic, he was just keeping the co-op going to supply those who still wanted it. He urged me to look into a feed mill in Northwest GA that was producing non-GMO, conventional feed and so I did. I bought three tons of their feed and found out later that they could not promise me their feed was non-GMO for the next order. The last email I got from the Reedy Fork Co-op was that it was shutting down because the one coordinating it didn’t have time for it, especially since he was no longer feeding organic, and everyone was now on their own.

I had been going through the headache of finding a solution to the GMO conundrum along with my friends at My Dad and Me Family Farm. We agreed that the only way to ensure that we were collectively producing the best food possible (sans GMOs and Soy) was to go organic. We crunched numbers, prayed and one day they called me up and announced that they were now Countryside organics dealers. Here we are a year later, hundreds of chickens, thousands of eggs behind us, and now raw milk. It took us a good bit of trial and error to understand how to feed the organic feed rather than the crumbled soy and additive loaded conventional GMO feed to grow out a broiler, and the trick to keeping hens happy is just keep the feed available at all times. We also learned that alfalfa had been genetically modified and we started buying alfalfa pellets for our cows.

I think back to the statement made by guy who told me no one would pay more for eggs or chicken that was fed organic feed. Well he was wrong and customers of mine and My Dad & Me proved it. We found that once people were educated on what the significance was in feeding organic feed to produce the best food possible, they are glad to support it.

So how does all this even come close to reconciling the title of this post? Well I’ll tell you. A couple of days ago, I spotted a post on Facebook by the farmer who told me no one would pay for organic fed chicken and eggs. He had put up a picture of some free range chickens, out on a pasture, next to a shelter. I immediately recognized this as a photo of White Oak Pastures in Blufton, GA. His caption read “Pastured poultry or not in this photo? Anyone up for a respectful discussion?” Now at first one would perceive that he took the photo himself, but it came out that he had lifted the photo from the web. Below is the exact picture he posted.

 Everyone is certainly entitled to an opinion, but it is not fair to declare one based on one photo that shows such a narrow view. I’ve been to White Oak Pastures. I sat and talked with Mr. Harris. He gave me free rein to look at anything there on his farm. I walked among the shelters that the meat chickens leave and enter at will. This other farmer has not, and yet in a public forum, drives what is easily perceived as a smear campaign against another farmer. But he didn’t stop there.

The discussion soon turned to organic feed and the challenge for small farmers to source it and afford it. I made the statement that the tide was slowly turning and that there actually were small farms feeding organic feed and that as the concerned public continued to support those farmers and the farmers with the goal of going organic, the demand for organic feed would be such that it would be on a more level playing field as the conventional, GMO grains and we would see a decline in the cost. THIS is where it got really interesting and is where the inspiration for the title came from. The farmer I have not named stated (and I quote), “The confidence in certified organic feed is overblown containing soy, corn or alfalfa. There is no testing required by USDA or done by most feed mills, Countryside included unless things have changed recently…” This statement astounded me. Wow, what a revelation. I then asked if he was implying whether Countryside, Coyote Creek and Reedy Fork could be lying or are these feed mills just as duped as the rest of us. He replied, “You’re not lying if you don’t know… I know this stuff is hard to stomach but it is true. GMO are in there.”

Jaw dropping is what this is, and a slap in the face to the folks who operate the feed mills and the farmers who work their tails off to provide organic grain to those mills. I saw that I needed to move on but I let him know that I’d pass this news on to the before mentioned feed mills. And I did. I sent email messages to all three mills, letting them know of this newsflash that has come out on Facebook. Of course they all had some choice words to say on the matter. Which is what I will discuss in my next post. I fear I have rambled on long enough here.

It is an affront to treat falsehood with complaisance.

Thomas Paine

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Why We Feed Organic

There are a select few farms that I know of who feed organic feed, and we are one. We do because there is no way to avoid GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms. We also do not feed soy because of the phyto-estrogen that soy produces. The vast majority of farmers who say they WANT to feed organic don’t because, they say consumers are not willing to pay what it costs to raise meat on organic feed. I challenge that they should try asking their customers whether they want healthier food or the HEALTHIEST food possible. I’ve already written a bit about our decision to switch full time to organic. It’s a bit of a rambling blog post but if you care to endure it you can read more HERE. There is simply no source for GMO-free feed unless it is certified organic. I heard one farmer tell me that they get a fed from a mill that uses non GMO soy but the corn is GMO, or vice versa. Calling a feed mix only 50% GMO is like saying you are only 50% pregnant. It is or it isn’t, period. So be sure to ask your farmer what he or she feeds and if they hem and haw about the cost, ask what they would have to charge per pound to earn a fair profit. If they know their operating numbers like they should they’ll likely respond that you, the consumer, would have to pay anywhere from $5.25 – $6.50 a pound. This is an absolutely fair price for organic fed, pasture raised chicken and next I challenge you to tell your farmer that is what you want and you are willing to pay that price. Then step back and see what he or she does.

If you care to see what we feed, come by the farm and I’ll gladly show you or you can visit the Countryside Organics website and read all about it.

Countryside Organic Soy-free Broiler Feed

Beware of the Bashers

The sustainable small farming community is a fairly tight knit one. The vast majority who are seeking to raise food ethically and sustainably, works just as hard promoting the movement as they do their own operation. Sadly there is the rare few who take it upon themselves to paint a negative picture of others. Recently on Facebook a farmer posted on his page a photo of another farm’s pastured poultry operation he obtained from a magazine article and challenged whether the picture accurately depicted a true pastured poultry operation. When called out for defaming this other farm, he insisted he was just seeking to educate consumers about what a “true” pasture based model should be. No matter if his opinion is an accurate one or he, he was committing what I consider to be a heinous act. He was painting a negative vision of another farm, that operates openly and transparently, without ever paying a visit. I fear that there will be a number of folks who take his word as fact without question.

I firmly believe that consumers themselves should take on the responsibility of meeting the farmer who grows their food. This is why local food is vital and consumers need to seek out as much within their immediate food shed as they can. “But I don’t have the time, resources, means to go all the way to Blufton or Good Hope or Rockmart or (fill in the blank).”#1. If that’s the only place the food is, yes you do. It’s a matter of priorities. If you want the best nutrition, you need to make the effort to meet the person who has dedicated his or her life to producing it. #2. There are resources to help locate nearby farms. Just Google Local Harvest or Eat Wild or look up your local Weston A. Price chapter.

So if you should hear a farmer criticizing another, don’t take his word for it, go see the farmer in question for yourself.