Maple Syrup Tasting!

Really fun Preserving Traditions event yesterday – maple syrup tasting! See all the details at the PT blog: http://preservingtraditions.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/maple-syrup-tasting-notes/

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Grain and root CSA

Hi folks – Wanted southern Michigan folks to know that there’s a new root and grain CSA starting up: Stone Soup CSA. The food will be grown organically by a cooperative of Amish farmers near Homer (Shettlers, who sell at the A2 farmers market are one of the families).

The CSA will include:

  • wheat berries – 60 pounds
  • oat groats – 24 pounds
  • rye berries – 24 pounds
  • corn (dried) – 12 pounds
  • onions – 30 pounds
  • potatoes – 30 pounds
  • carrots – 30 pounds
  • popcorn – 12 pounds

I don’t know the specific varieties, but all will be “good keepers.”

My spin on this: I would like to organize the use of grain mills for members. I have two mills, and am hoping others would be willing to bring theirs, to a central location (probably the Pittsfield Grange) on pick-up days to mill grains into flour. So don’t let your lack of a grain mill impede keep you from getting in on this winter staple CSA! If there is interest, I might also pick up an oat roller (to turn groats into oatmeal).

Please let me know in thecomments if you are interested, if you can bring a grain mill or roller/flaker, and what you’re interested in milling.

I imagine on pick-up day, we could also arrange swaps of popcorn for wheat, onions for corn, etc.

Please note: I AM NOT ORGANIZING THE CSA. I’m just organizing grinding for members. Contact Shana at http://www.localharvest.org/stone-stoup-grains-and-roots-csa-M49390 for information and sign-up.

Michigan non-GMO soy oil available at Meijer

Zoye OilI just found Zoye soy oil at Meijer. It is “identity-preserved,” which guarantees the non-GMO soybeans are not mixed with GMO soy at any point during processing.  The company uses a lot of methane for energy (landfill gas) and their office is LEED certified.  It is grown and produced in Michigan (in the Thumb region), making it pretty much the only commercially available, certified local, non-GMO cooking oil available here.  I am pretty sure it’s the same oil as the one I reported on in 2008 with a sexy new label – but the good part is, you no longer have to drive to Frankemuth to get it.

It’s $5/liter and there’s a $1 coupon on their web site. I don’t get any kind of perqs for blogging about this product – just thought you should know about it.

Where is my milk from?

I recently discovered http://whereismymilkfrom.com/ and spent some time recently scouring local grocery stores answering that question. The site is really nifty – you put in the code (in the form XX-XXX) from the carton of milk, cream, yogurt, or even soy milk, and it will tell you the dairy or plant that produced it.

If you’re looking for locally or regionally-produced foods, the news is quite good. Most of the milk I found was from Michigan or an adjacent state. Organic milk tends to come from further away (Minnesota or Colorado). I don’t think any of the cow’s milk I found in Meijer or Whole Foods came from any further away, though there was some goat’s milk from California. None was from another country.

On a very interesting note, two organic milks at Whole Foods (365 Brand Organic and Organic Valley) were from the exact same dairy…but the price difference was $1 per gallon. The 365 Brand non-organic milk and the Country Dairy non-organic milk were also from the same dairy in New Era, Michigan, but I don’t recall if there was a significant price difference. Certainly worth checking!

After the cut is the list of brands and dairies as of Oct. 24, 2010. I bet this changes frequently, especially with store brands, so you might want to re-check periodically. An easy guideline is that Michigan’s state code is 26, so if you want milk from Michigan, look for codes in the form 26-XXX.  (See the full list of dairies and codes here.)

After the jump, I’ll list a few brands and their origins from Meijer and Whole Foods.

Read the rest of this entry »

Cow jewelry

Visited an Amish farm last weekend through SIMBY Agritours. I want to write more about it, but for the moment, I’ll just post a picture of Amish ingenuity.

Cow ready for milking

Clip on the ceiling to keep the tail out of your face, and clip-on hobbles keep the cow from kicking over the milk pail. The hobbles clip painlessly around the big tendon, and have a chain between them to keep her legs together.

Help the coolest pig farm in the world

All photos by Walter Jeffries

Sugar Mountain Farm, owned by Walter Jeffries and his stellar family, is what you want a pig farm to be. Pig range freely in a series of padocks, rotated frequently to avoid over-stressing the land. Walter plants root vegetables, like turnips, in some of the fields for the pigs to forage in the fall. In addition, they get a varied diet of hay, whey (leftovers from a local cheesemaking plant), and high-protein and -calorie treats, such as expired peanut butter from the Ben and Jerry’s factory. Pigs are not castrated and do not have their tails or teel trimmed, as is usual even on family farms. These pigs are smart, lively, and well-respected. They live life like pigs – not boxed into crates on a concrete pad – and the meat is (I hear) fabulous.

Walter and his family are pretty fabulous, too. Walter’s a master-of-all-trades, from raising and breeding hogs to building his family’s barrel-vaulted “tiny cottage” house. His wife and kids (especially the older boys) help out on the farm, learning animal husbandry and construction as part of their home schooling. I have come to admire the whole clan immensely as I’ve followed their blog over the last couple years. It’s tempting to compare Walter to an undiscovered Joel Salatin, but where Salatin build chicken tractors, Jeffries pours concrete.

Design and image by Walter Jeffries

Walter’s next endeavor is to build an on-site, USDA-inspected hog processing facility where he can slaughter, cut, and cure the meat from his own hogs. This facility will be tiny – 1500 square feet – and he estimates the cost will be about 6% of the cost of a typical “small” USDA facility ($150,000 vs. $2.4 million). Currently, 47% of his sales go directly to the butcher shops, which routinely mis-cut, waste, lose, or allow meat to spoil. He also drives 600+ miles per week dropping off and picking up pigs. Building his own on-farm facility would circumvent all these issues. Walter’s also generously offered to share the plans with anyone who wants them – meaning folks around the world could benefit from his expertise and help their own farms keep more dollars in the family.

Currently, the plan and foundation are in place, but there’s a snag. Banks just aren’t lending, even to someone like Walter with stellar credit. The tiny cottage is too small for a second mortgage, and banks are just not taking risks right now.

I am so impressed with the Jeffries family’s operation, and his generosity for sharing knowledge and plans that can help local farmers make a good living. I want to help them out in thanks for all the good work they’ve done, how much they’ve taught me, how they model sustainable farming practices, and the vision Walter and his family have for the future.

So here’s what I suggest.

  • If you have a local food lover in your life, give them the gift of a small slice of a great farm by making a donation to the Sugar Mountain Farm Fund Drive in their honor. Walter pledges to “pay it forward” to others!
  • If you live in Vermont, order a pig (or half) for yourself. Or, find it at local retailers and restaurants (scroll down to “retail cuts”).
  • If you live far from Vermont, order a pig and designate it to be delivered to a food bank close to the farm.
  • If you’re independently wealthy, give Walter a loan! He’ll pay you back in five years. Really.
  • If you, too, are strapped for cash in this crazy economy, “signal boost” this post by reposting it to your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking mechanisms.

Here’s to sustainable farming! Do you know of amazing farms like this in your area? Tell us about them!

Emily

Welcome, Señor Porcus!

Naming our food is a long tradition in my family, starting with Boris the Bull, who I believed would cause my parents’ divorce (do YOU really understand how large a whole steer is? Yeah, us neither…). Last year we bought half a hog and named it Eric. This year’s participant has been dubbed Señor Porcus. No absent referent here!

Half a half hog - sausageWe picked up our 1/2 hog from Old Pine Farm on Oct. 17th. They have a very nice farm – hogs are pastured with some supplemental feed, not confined to a muddy sty. They are slaughtered on-farm and then sent to the butcher, so there’s no travel stress for the pigs. I feel extremely grateful that we have such a farm near us, and that we can afford to buy our food from them.

Looks like we ended up with about 85 lb of meat (for $300, including cutting and smoking, so somewhere around $3.50/lb). Old Pine Farm is unusual in that they charge a flat price for your hog, no matter what size, and they do not charge extra for cutting and smoking. You get to pick how you’d like your meat cut up. Here’s what we got – showing our strong preference for sausage and pulled pork in this house! My only complaint so far is that the meat is wrapped in Saran Wrap, which I find hard to remove from the meat. Hopefully it will fend off freezer burn – since there’s no air inside the wrapping, it should do that. So long as the wrap is thick enough. We’ll see.

    Half a half hog

  • Loin roast: 10lb in 3 large packages. Wonder if we should have gotten this sliced into chops?
  • Shoulder roast: 20+lb in about 10 packages (will become pulled pork)
  • Bulk Sausage: 18 one-pound packages
  • Smoked kielbasa: 10 – two to four links per pkg
  • Ground pork: 6 – 1.5 lb packs
  • Bacon: 5 lb in one-pound blocks
  • Smoked hocks: 8lb in 2 hocks
  • Ribs, pork butt, other misc: 8lb
  • Plus about 5 pounds of soup bones and 5 lb of fat for lard
  • The tail, the bladder, and possibly the squeal for the Cooking with Laura Project, which I will get to in a few weeks

This filled 2 large coolers and a paper grocery bag; it takes up about 2/3 of our tiny 7cu ft chest freezer and close to half the space above the fridge.

I think this was a steal for $300. I think prices are going up for next year, and they will be worth it.

Goat’s milk?

Does anyone know where I can get about 1 gallon a month of goat’s milk (pasteurized or raw) in the Ann Arbor area? The goat shares I’ve found are too far away and give too much milk.

Midwest canned tomatoes

pizzasauce15ozAfter reading this and this about how 95% of all canned tomato products come from California, I did a little digging.

My absolute favorite pizza sauce in the world is Dei Fratelli brand. It’s a very fresh-tasting sauce, not heavy-handed with the oregano, and it has no HFCS. I’ve noticed before that the distributor (Hirzel) is located in Toledo, Ohio, but I’d never been sure where they got their tomatoes. I went looking today, and the news is very, very good for midwesterners!

Key facts (from http://www.deifratelli.com/mediakit.html):

  • All their tomatoes are grown in NW Ohio, NE Indiana, and Southern Michigan. Hirzel has its own large farming operation, and they also buy from about 30 family farms in the area.
  • All tomatoes are certified non-GMO. Hirzel supplies the plants to most of their farmers.
  • Many of the farmers use organic farming practices, even though the percentage of organic tomatoes in the finished product isn’t high enough to label the tomatoes “organic.”
  • You can buy online, or at Meijer (at least the pizza sauce).
  • Most items are about $1 per 15oz can – about half the price of organics shipped in from California.

I’m really excited about this! Dei Fratelli tomato products hit a really good mix of local, sustainably-produced, delicious, and affordable.

Save the Crosby Mint Farm – St. Johns, Michigan

mint

PLEASE NOTE: I am in no way affiliated with the mint farm, and cannot place an order for you. Please go to the web site below and place your own order.

The Crosby Mint Farm in St. Johns, Michigan, was founded in 1912 by J.E. Crosby Sr. on two acres. The now 140-acre farm has produced chemical-free spearmint and peppermint essential oils for 96 years. They are facing foreclosure, even though they have enough mint oil in stock to pay off their debt. So they’re having a mint oil sale! Pure, chemical-free, steam-distilled peppermint or spearmint oil is $5/dram (1/8 oz). Free shipping if you order 6 or more. Help a neighbor and local chem-free farm! Buy some mint oil!

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