Friday, November 23, 2012

November not Quite Winter

Morning Autumn Mist
It is difficult to wholly appreciate the beauty of the fall season on the farm when I know that winter is snapping at autumn's heels and poised to beleaguer us with hard frosts, ice and eventually fathoms of snow for the next six months.   Two hard frosts in the beginning of October halted tomato canning and crippled harvest of the herb gardens, but we enjoyed the ephemeral but foudroyant sun and color until early November.    Halloween was celebrated with a candy hunt and ghost tour of Cooperstown.  Each family member received a poem which included clues as to where their candy stash was hidden.  After finding their treats, we headed to Cooperstown for a ghost tour of historic houses and graveyards.  A perfect Halloween.  I wrote the following poem for Susannah.  Using hints from the poem, she found her candy wrapped in a shroud in the bough of the willow tree.  A skull rested on a pillow of leaves. 
The Willow Ghost Maiden
A hundred years pass – still the story is told
Of a farmer’s hand – a lass not too old
Who wandered the path to the willow tree
Singing a tune, winsome and free
She paused by the shed and checked on the pigs
Stopped in the stable, unharnessed the rigs
Gave milk to the sows and counted the sheep
Fed out the hay and gave the lambs creep
Along the path she continued to walk
Avoiding the nest of the swooping hawk
The dark night rested cold and still
Except for moos on the pasture hill
Along the path she further ambled
Skirting the mud and thicket brambles
The moon rose high over a mountain sliver
The chill wind whipped – a sigh and shiver
The willow tree swayed and creaked in the flurry
She footed the path without any hurry
Where was she going and why in the dark?
Who was calling her, a ghost or a lark?
Forward she paced with the ghost tree in sight
Deep in the dark to the tree in the night
The calls of her name were urgent and wooing
Walking not knowing what she was pursuing
The owls hooted and the bats flew
The coyotes howled; her fear grew
The branches bent low and touched her cheek
The wind blew soft and seemed to speak
“Lass oh dear lass, I’ve waited long time
To sweep you up and make you mine.”
Her body was wrapped by branches twined
Tightly cocooned and firmly bind
Her screams were muffled by a paste of leaves
Her cries subsided to moans and heaves
Devoured by the willow
The trunk as her pillow
She slept – never again a sound to make
Forever cocooned and never to wake
On Halloween night the story is told
That the boughs of the tree briefly unfold
And the lass can be seen in her arbor cocoon
A ghostly shape swaying under the moon.
If you venture too close to the tree on Halloween night
You may witness the eerie maiden sight
But don’t tarry too long by the arms of the tree
Or there will be no time for you to turn and flee…..

Apples and Pears in Wooden Bowl
Because of a hard frost when the fruit trees were in efflorescence we did not have any apples or pears this autumn and did not make cider or applesauce.  All of our fruit came from the Niagara or Hudson Valley regions of New York.  

Dark comes at 4:45 p.m.  The fires are lit in the wood stove and the kitchen fireplace. The soup goes on the range and the bread comes out of the oven. My favorite recipe for potato and leek soup uses a bouquet garni made with the leek leaf, thyme, pepper corns and bay leaves.

Potato and Leek Soup
Makes 1 1/2 quarts soup, or about 6 servings .
1 large or 2 small leeks, about 1 pound
2 bay leaves
20 black peppercorns
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons butter
2 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 cups chicken stock
1 to 1 1/4 pounds russet potatoes, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup creme fraiche or heavy cream
2 tablespoons snipped chives

Trim the green portions of the leek and, using 2 of the largest and longest leaves, make a bouquet garni by folding the 2 leaves around the bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme. Tie into a package-shaped bundle with kitchen twine and set aside.  Using a sharp knife, halve the white part of the leek lengthwise and rinse well under cold running water to rid the leek of any sand. Slice thinly crosswise and set aside.
In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter and add the bacon. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is very soft and has rendered most of its fat. Add the chopped leeks and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the reserved bouquet garni, chicken stock, potatoes, salt and white pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are falling apart and the soup is very flavorful.  Remove the bouquet garni and, working in batches, puree the soup in a food processor or blender. (Alternately, if you own an immersion blender, puree the soup directly in the pot.) Stir in the creme fraiche and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Serve immediately, with some of the snipped chives sprinkled over the top of each bowl of soup.

Bouquet Garni
Food Oeuvre

Lambs at the Kitchen Window Door

Meat pub pies, hand pies, pate de campagne, chicken liver mousse pate and a plethora of other Fable’s Table goodies make it to the farmers market every Friday through Sunday.  Cider, apples, squash, onions and leeks are the centerpieces of autumn foods.  I was making shepherd’s pie one afternoon and discovered the lambs staring accusingly at me through the kitchen door window.   I was so unnerved by their persistent presence at the door that I shooed them away from the back yard. The lambs gamboled to the back pasture and I returned to chopping the lamb shoulder for the shepherd’s pies.

Mangalitsa Madness
The Hungarian pigs – Mangalitsas - farrowed this month.  The piglets, like their dams, are hairy but each one is decorated with unique stripes. As they grow, we notice that the females lose their stripes first.  The sows are very protective and we’ve learned to never touch a piglet when the sow is within biting range.  They are so cute it’s hard to resist.  The Tamworth/Berkshire crosses are less aggressive than the Mangalitsas but are just as feisty when food is in the offing.  They are extra exuberant when they spot us walking across the pasture with buckets of kitchen scrap.      

Mangalitsa and Tamworth Berkshire Sows with their Piglets

Mangalitsa piglet and Tamworth Berkshire Cross Piglet

Turkey Slaughter
With the help of amazing volunteer crews, most of whom were working for their turkey, we slaughtered 250 turkeys over two days.  We were fortunate to work in mild 50 degree weather.  When the sun starting going down, we worked fast and furiously.  By dark, the temperatures dropped so fast that the entrails and feathers were freezing to the work tables.  Customers came to the farm Tuesday and Wednesday for their turkeys.  Some years the turkeys are big so customers are gracious to take turkeys bigger than desired and reconciled to leftovers and turkey soup and turkey tacos.  This year the turkeys were smaller than usual so some customers were disappointed that there would be slim pickings in the leftover department.  Thank you to all our customers who accepted turkeys smaller than they wanted.   Hopefully they were small but tasty.    Next year we hope the turkey sizes will be “just right” .
The Round Up
The Catch
The Drain
The Kill

The Scald and Pluck
The Evisceration

The Evisceration

The Fine Tuning

The Finished Turkey

The Chill Tank

The Parts Chill Tank

The Guts
LGD Luke Patiently Waiting for the Turkey Heads

 Several words in the blog are from the New York Times' list of the 100 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language.  Can you find them?

Hoping you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and friends.    When each of our family and friends recited for what they were thankful, Shane told us that he was thankful for the possibilities that God instilled in each us.  And he was thankful for the opportunity to accept and use the possibilities to be a good, productive and loving person. Wow. At 15 years old, where does he get this stuff?  So echoing Shane's sentiments - Let's raise our glasses in a toast to possibilities. 

Tom, Denise, Shane and Susannah 

Friday, August 10, 2012

And it's August

Storm Coming
Puddles and Ponderings
During our 20 years of farming we have never experienced drought like conditions. This summer we have had days of unrelenting sun and 90 degree days. Is that me, the hot weather queen complaining? Then two touchdowns of tornadoes in Binghamton and Sidney to add to the weird weather mix. We depend on water from the streams and ponds to water our livestock. The water is too low to pump so we have been tapping into our well. Our family does not use a lot of water (shower once a week, never wash the car or water the lawns) so I don’t think we have made a serious dent in our well. The herb and vegetable gardens were watered for the first time this summer. I hate watering. A waste of time to stand with hose in hand when there are so many other tasks to be toiled. So I resolved to buy a sprinkler and had to go to three stores before I found one. There is a run on fans and sprinklers. As soon as the stores are restocked it will rain. And it did. The neighborhood wedding tempted the rain gods and just before the “I do”, it did. Rained. Rained. Rained. It’s good to see puddles again. The ducks love puddles, the dogs use puddles as water bowls. We use puddles to clean our boots and dirty feet.  Last night the rain came down in heavy sheets; lightening broke the sky and thunder rocked the earth.   Within minutes the puddles were lakes and the streets streams.  The only creatures enjoying the storm were the ducks.
Susannah waiting for the storm to  pass
Gutter Puddle

Ty running from the Storm

Pie and Pig Shit
Blueberry Pie
Have a piece of pie?
When we are invited to a friend’s house for dinner, I always ask what I should bring. Most often the reply is “dessert”. My favorite dessert is homemade ice cream, especially salted caramel ice cream made with raw cow milk and fresh cream. We just picked a flat of blueberries and picked up a couple of pecks of peaches at the Delhi Farmers market so I made blueberry pie and peach pie. The secret to fruit pies is jam. I add a dollop of spiced blueberry jam to the blueberry pie and coat the bottom of the crust of the peach pie with bourbon peach jam. Blind baking the crust is essential. Easy as pie! On the way to dinner, the smell of the hot pies wafted and mingled with my least favorite aroma. “Who has pig shit on them?” I shouted from the driver’s seat. At least two of three family farmers replied, “Could be me.” “Shoes off at the door when we get to the Frames.” Interesting smell combo- pie and pig shit. Aah farm life.

Pick a Peck of Peaches - Farmers Market Lingo
While buying peaches at the farmers market, Mr. Heller asked if I wanted a peck or a bushel. I can tell you the difference in weight between a whole carcass versus prime cuts but vegetable and fruit quantities are murky territory.   One peck = roughly 2 gallons or 25 medium peaches and one bushel = four pecks or roughly 100 medium peaches

For cooking, I buy by sight or by piece. I know that I needed about 50 peaches to make the peach BBQ sauce so I bought 2 pecks and toted them home in a flat. But a flat of peaches is different than a flat of blueberries and strawberries. There are 8 quarts or 12 lbs of strawberries in a flat. A customer at our farmers market planned on lamb burgers for a cookout and needed 25 lbs of ground lamb. We explained to her that there are only three pounds of trim for ground lamb in one lamb which typically has a hot weight or carcass weight or hanging weight (all mean almost the same thing) of 40 lbs. So unless she found someone willing to slaughter an old ewe and grind the whole animal into chopped meat or ground, she should start collecting ground lamb now for an October cookout. Did you know that London Broil is not a cut of meat but rather a method of cooking? Over time in the U.S. the term London Broil became synonymous with flank steak or any cut of meat from the round. Since the cut is usually tough, it has to be marinated. So when a customer asks us for London Broil and we hand them the package stamped top round, unless they ask, we withhold the history lesson. And the term did not originate in Britain where the term London Broil probably means a Londoner who got sunburned on the beaches of the Algarve in Portugal.

Prepaid Pig for The Eat Restaurant

We often get calls from chefs at top NYC restaurants looking for 25 lbs or more of grass-fed tenderloin. When I explain that there are only 4 pounds of tenderloin in an 800 lb cow, they feel pretty silly asking for one cut out of six cows. There are 2.3 lbs of skirt steak and 2.3 lbs of flank steak in the same cow. Because a lot of restaurants traditionally dial Sysco for their meat selections and a lot of chefs don’t have the meat knowledge or cutting skills, we always look for opportunities to educate. Did you know that meat cutting classes were only recently reintroduced at the CIA?

Food and Farm Sites with no Farm in Sight
In the past year, we have been contacted by nubile entrepreneurs who have launched websites to connect farm products to customers. Except for one or two who are owned or managed by people who understand food and farming, most of the sites are run by twenty-something foodies who don’t know the difference between a rib or riblet and have never heard of rillette, confit or other meat goodies. And they are clueless about seasonality of food, inventory control, shipping and distribution. The only thing they have going for them is decent marketing and a snazzy website. I decline their offers to sell our products because we prefer to sell directly to consumers at the farmers markets and our farm store. We want to shake the hand of the person who cooks and eats our food. We enjoy face to face discussions about recipes, cuts of meat and sharing educational tidbits such as getting the tenderloin from the pig or loin chops but not both unless it is a mutant pig. Imagine adding the following scenario to our full farming plate. A site administrator from FarmGoods (fictional) contacts us on Wednesday and asks what we have available that week. We have to go through the inventory in our farm store and then send the list to the site manager. On Thursday a customer orders a leg of lamb through FarmGoods for twice as much as they could buy it at a farmers market. Sometimes the cost includes shipping, sometimes the price is by the piece, sometimes it is by the pound. FarmGoods contacts us on Monday and asks us to ship the frozen leg overnight on Wednesday. We go through our farm store inventory and search for legs of lamb. But since Monday we have been to five farmers markets and the legs of lamb were sold. We can’t hold on to inventory with an expectation that the product will be sold via FarmGoods. So what if we do have a leg of lamb? We need to use special shipping packages - an insulated box with dry ice. We don’t have overnight shipping service in East Meredith so we have to drive the frozen leg 20 minutes to the Oneonta post office. The leg of lamb costs $30 and the packaging materials and shipping is $45. I just added two hours of inventory, packaging and shipping labor to growing and selling the lamb and Fed Ex still makes more money than I do. And then what if the frozen leg gets lost enroute and arrives unfrozen and unfit to eat? Who takes the hit? You get the picture. While we applaud entrepreneurs, we think that food site managers need some education. They need to learn meat cuts, the seasons in which meat is available. Ideally they need to spend some time on the farm docking lamb tails, castrating rams and dealing with livestock mauled by coyotes and neighbor dogs. Perhaps then they’ve earned the credentials to sell my leg of lamb. If they pick it up at the farmers market and ship it themselves of course!

Farm to Table. Or Only When We Are Able.
The term farm to table has become so ubiquitous over the past few years that we changed Fable’s name, which was originally a combination of Farm to Table. We changed the name to Farm + Table = Fable. While we encourage and applaud chefs' desire to put local food on their menus, I think the thin smattering of local food items on their menus is a knee jerk reaction and half-hearted attempt to appease consumer demand and ride the new local food and farm to table trend. In their defense, buying local food is time consuming and expensive and it is much easier to go the Sysco route. So how can farmers make it easier for chefs to get and keep local food on the menu? Farms and restaurants should partner. If the chef makes a financial commitment to the farmer in the winter for what he wants the farmer to grow for him in spring, summer and fall, then the chef is guaranteed a consistent supply. We work with one or two restaurants that purchase lambs or goats before they are born (kind of like a CSA) and we guarantee them lambs from May to October. We welcome farm visits from the chefs’ teams. The visits strengthen our relationship and is educational for us and them.
Whites on the Clothesline

Red Sky at Night - Farmers Delight
Farm and Family Fun
Our friends and customers ask us often what we do for fun.   Farming is fun. Not everyday day in and day out but every day has a tidbit of fun.  It's fun to watch the new piglets wrestle. It's fun to jump from rock to rock from one end of the stream to the other. It's fun to eat breakfast in the pouring rain.  Hosting bed and breakfast guests can be fun.  Picking beans is fun (for the first hour).  Giving farm tours is fun.  Parties are fun. We throw spur of the moment pot like picnic parties for fun. Rules are that you can only bring what is in your refrigerator already made.  Some assembly is permitted. For example, corn, tomatoes, black beans can be assembled to make salad.  Shane participated in the West Kortright Centre's Shakespeare production of The Tempest. The three-week program is a highlight of his summer.  It was an amazing performance of talented actors and incredibly talented and dedicated professional directors and technical staff.  Susannah has more fun farming than anyone I know. She is the first one up and out the door to do morning chores.  She has fun making sausage and coming up with the sausage names. The last sausages she made were the Martin Mull and Gore Vidal.  Can you guess how they got their names?  Katey is at Welwyn Stable in Rhinebeck this summer and showed her project horse Joe at HITS this month and placed remarkably high in level I, II and III.   She is having super fun.She returns to Delaware Valley College in a couple of weeks  Cooking is fun for me (especially when I get paid.) I cooked dinner for 32 people at the Hanford Mill Museum's Dinner at the Mill in July. What does Tom do for fun?  He plays tennis once in a while. He goes to NYC Union Square Market every Friday and then on to Larchmont (Westchester) every Saturday. He gets to stay in an airconditioned hotel and watch TV and sleep diagonally on a king size bed. That has to be fun. He enjoys the opportunity to meet new people and to reconnect with city life. If you are near Union Square on Fridays, stop by and see how much fun Tom is having. He may ask you to man the table while he takes a break.
Tony is Superdog!

Kate at HITS with Joe

A Blueberry Boom
So many blueberries this season.   I've made and canned pickled honey bourbon blueberry sauce for pork, dozens of jars of blueberry bacon BBQ sauce. Susannah just made blueberry sausage. She named it the Violet Beauregarde. Blueberry pies are stacked in the freezer. Blueberry crisp in the fridge.  The garden is also brimming over with cucumbers. So here is my favorite recipe that uses both.

Cucumber, Blueberry and Feta Salad
3 large cucumbers peeled and sliced into 1″ half circles
2 cups fresh blueberries rinsed and drained
1 cup feta cheese crumbled
3 Tbs fresh mint finely chopped
1/2 cup white balsamic vinagrette dressing
salt and pepper to taste
Gently toss together the cucumbers, blueberries, feta and mint. Add dressing and toss to coat. Add salt and pepper to taste if you desire. Serve chilled.  I make my own dressing by doing a 3:1 ratio of White Balsamic vinegar to Extra Virgin Olive Oil. If you do not have white balsamic vinegar available, you can also use white wine vinegar.  This can be partially prepared a day in advance. When I prepare in advance, I mix the cucumbers, blueberries and mint, but reserve the feta and dressing until just before serving, otherwise the feta absorbs all of the dressing and becomes soggy.

There are only three more of Fable's Saturday night dinners for the season. So if you are planning on dining with us this season, please note the following dates: August 18th (the menu is posted on our website, September 8 and October 6.  Farm tour and brunch dates are August 26, September 2, September 16 and October 7.    Fable is open all year for private parties of 16 persons or more. 

Hope to see you soon.

Tom, Denise, Shane and Susannah

Friday, May 11, 2012


Where have all the Right Hand Gloves Gone?
Can’t you hear Peter Paul and Mary singing?  Seriously.  Where are they?  Every May I undertake the big winter clothing to summer clothing switcheroo.  And every year it’s the same mystery.  The winter season leaves us with a pile of left handed gloves.  This year there are 12 orphan gloves.  I gave the family 24 hours to locate the gloves’ partners and then off to the trash bin they go. But not really. It is merely a threat. I bag them and put them in the winter outerwear box snuggled next to the gloves with partners.  I am secretly hoping that at least half the gloves’ mates will be discovered in summer.  Where will they come from?  A glove or two is usually mined from the hayloft when we put in summer hay.  A glove or two is unearthed from the mud or found hung on a gate or in the middle of a field, dragged off by our dog Tony.  And the right hand glove is always missing because “they” (not me -  I shove mine in my pocket) take off the right hand glove to open a door, undo a latch, untie baling twine, use a knife.  Tony contributes to the glove disappearance.  Tony has a shoe, glove, hat, boot fetish. He steals clothing from the mud room or anywhere we discard our clothes or shoes and hoards the stolen goods in a pile – usually next to the fire. He covets them, guards them and won’t let us have them back without a fight or at least a bribe. In the summer, his trove is harder to find. He often secures a lair in the high grass in the back pasture to stash garden gloves, flip flops, rubber boots, bandanas and sun hats. The mower usually finds them before we do.  We need to borrow a hunting dog to do weekly recons and lead us to Tony’s treasure.  
Winter's Left Handed Glove Leftovers

Thursdays are Chicken Slaughter
The first slaughter of the season took place on Thursday and will every Thursday until November. We slaughtered thirty of the biggest chickens to take to the farmers market on Saturday.  Many folks get squeamish when we use the word slaughter and in the past I used euphemisms such as harvest or glean. No more. It is what it is. We raise chickens on pasture and give them a good healthy eight week life and then we kill them so we can eat them and so our customers can eat them.  I can envision all the PETAites rolling up their sleeves.  I respect people who have strong convictions and principles. I really do. I respect people who don’t eat meat and if they do eat meat, choose to eat meat that has a traceable history and lived a life they can celebrate and a death they can condone.  I have little patience for hypocrites - vegans or vegetarians who rant about killing sentient beings as they stand tall in their leather sandals, their jeans hiked up with a leather belt and and a quarter of a cow hide purse slung over their shoulder to tote around their “essentials” – cell phones, ipads, Smartphones. 

So slaughtering chickens for me is an execution (pardon the pun) of my beliefs. I believe that animals raised for food on our farm are born with a destiny and it is our responsibility to make sure that the life they live is as close to possible as a nature would provide (without the natural predators and allowing a chicken be a chicken roaming in the grass pecking for bugs). And it is our responsibility to make sure that their death is decent – quick, decisive and without fuss. I’ll go one more step – it is our responsibility to use the whole animal and not to waste a shred of meat, bone or hide.  If we take, we must use wholly and responsibly.  And best of all the chickens we raise and slaughter are delicious.   Many of you know that I won’t eat meat unless it is raised on our farm. When I eat our chickens, I am celebrating nature and the chicken's destiny with every bite.

Susannah Plucking Chickens

Tom Eviscerating a Chicken
Comfrey in the Herb Garden
King  Comfrey
I wish comfrey would stay dwarf sized in my garden. Unless I prune it severely and feed the leaves to the goats, rabbits and pigs on a regular basis, it quickly overtakes the herb garden and reigns as dictator until the last frost.  I use comfrey as a serving platter for cheese and hors d’oeuvres.    My goal this summer is to find a way to weave comfrey into some recipes. Any ideas?   

Palette versus Palate
Shelves in our Farm Store
Pate de Campagne 
Pork Rillette
Pickled Ramps, Ramp Pesto and Bacon Marmalade
We attended Foodfest in Callicoon last Saturday.  One customer, wearing a “Life is better with Bacon” t- shirt, bought most of my bacon marmalade and bacon brittle.  The pate de campagne and the pork rillette was a big hit.  My favorite is the ramp pesto- the first pesto of the season. I look forward to all the different pestos I will make this summer to celebrate the season – green pea pesto, garlic scape pesto, three basil pesto, cilantro pesto.   I am fascinated with the color and flavor of food and how they compliment and contrast when we taste.  When I was in art school, I had very little “artistic talent” but I had an innate way of visualizing a color (the sky under morning mist for example) and then recreating the color on my palette.   My art teacher hired me to mix paints for him.  I use the same method with food.  As I was feeding my rabbits this morning, I was thinking about rabbits and Peter Cottontail and blackberries and why the sage did not overwinter this year and I ran the flavors of blackberries and sage through my mind and created a blackberry glaze with sage for spare ribs.  As often happens, I googled blackberries and sage and voila  - a recipe for blackberry sage sauce for meat. As suspected, there are very few new recipes – it’s how they are executed.   I am making bacon marmalade this afternoon.  I usually add water to thin it before canning but decided to use the last of the orange juice.  I bet that adding cherry juice or a sprinkle of shaved chocolate would have tasted even better.  Guess I've traded my palette for a palate.

Ramp Butter

Pickled Ramps
The pickled ramps, ramp pesto and ramp butter celebrate ramp (wild leek) season. We have one more week of digging ramps.  While I read a lot about the over harvesting of ramps, ramps carpet our woods. There are ramps growing as far as we can see.  Thinning the ramps by digging the whole plant, helps the ramps spread and grow thicker in bulb and stem.  We sell fresh dug ramps at the farmers markets and ramp pesto, butter and pickled ramps. Do you have a recipe for ramps?

May Day May Day
When I think about how busy our family is about to get, I want to shout an SOS.  We are doing five farmers markets this year, two more than last year.   All of the markets start May 19th.   I feel like Patton comandeering Team Farmers Market. Every Stone & Thistler is assigned a market. Every market has a utility box and a check list.   We are opening Fable only two or three times a month to accommodate our expanded farmers market schedule. Add Fable, the b & b and Farmhand's Cabin, the building of the creamery and oh yes farming to our schedule and you’ll understand our plea of SOS.  But we do what we have to do so we can afford to pay the mortgage and heat the house during the winter – neither of which we did very well this winter.   While I would love to stay home and tend the fires and cook in them, as a member of Team Farmers Market, I will be hitting the streets with my table, banner and box and coolers of meat.   Please see our website for the dates Fable will be open for Saturday dining and brunch and for the farmers markets in which we will participate his season.

Stone & Thistle Farm, Fable and Kortright Creek Creamery are on Facebook.  Visit us there for more frequent updates.  Enjoy the advent of summer as it brings lilacs, baby animals, garden delights, warm rains and lots of sunshine.

Friday, March 16, 2012

March Madness (and I am not talking basketball!)

Springing into early Spring

March is usually the most depressing month of the year because we are plagued with all weather - ice, snow, rain, sleet, damp, cold, mud and high winds. This year March came in like a lamb and remains a lamb. We have high hopes that the lamb won’t morph into a lion by the end of the month. Kidding season began two weeks ago. Normally the freezing temperatures create challenges for just born kids. The 50 degree temperatures are good for us and good for the kids. We bred 20 ewes this year so we would have lamb for the farmers markets in May and June. The lambs and kids have commandeered the barn. In early morning the kids race up and down the hillside, the lambs gambol out to the sun. They run, leap, prong and then stop and cry for their moms. Their moms answer back. Each baby finds their mom, take a mid morning bump at the udder and then bellies full, crash. Some of the does are milk bars – they don’t care who nurses from them so some of the kid entrepreneurs run around nursing from every mom before they nap. Their favorite snuggle spots are the door outside the barn in the sun and the alleyway.

Kid Sunning in the Barnyard

Hey I've got Hay

Kid Cache
Too early to Plant the Peas?
The warm weather lures us outside to clean up the pastures, yards and barns. We are discovering right handed gloves, pocket knives, piles of baling twine, haylage wrap, turkey slaughter debris, garbage and whatever the melted snow left behind. I want to start the gardens but the soil is too wet. And I don’t want to uncover all of the perennial herbs because they may need protection if the March Lion visits. I planted peas in June last year and my family told me I was wasting my time. But I had spent so much time building a stick and twine fence that I was determined to use it for peas. And they were right; the peas grew three or four inches and then wilted in the heat. Tom ripped down the stick fence in the fall and is putting up a traditional chicken wire fence with stakes for the peas. Yuk.

Last Year's Pea Fence
The Geography of Convenience

We are planning our summer season which includes applying for urban farmers markets. We attended a Community Markets mandatory farmers market meeting this week in Rhinecliff. The venue had a wonderful view of the Hudson River so when I wasn’t interested in the discussion, I enjoyed watching the tug boats bring barges up and down the river. We currently do one winter market in Mamaroneck on Saturdays. We get up at 4 am and head four hours to Westchester. My favorite part of the trip is the Tappan Zee Bridge and the view of the Hudson River from midbridge. We may be doing a summer market in Westchester and in Brooklyn because sales at our local farmers markets have been disappointing over the past two years. Do we sell at city based markets, make three times as much money but incur three times as much time and expenses doing them? Or do we stick with our local markets and hope they improve? The bottom line is that the opportunities are greater downstate. The downstate markets offer more customers in a higher income bracket and more customers who are willing to allocate a larger percentage of their hard earned money on good food. Over the past two years, many local markets have popped up. The increase in farmers markets is convenient for customers but bad for vendors. There is a limited customer base, and it is not growing. There are 15 farmer's markets in the Delaware County/Otsego county area. Ten years ago there were three. This proliferation has diluted attendance at the larger markets. These markets are just splitting a finite customer base into smaller and smaller pieces. In fact, we could argue that if we sold at two local farmers markets on a Saturday we would be competing against ourselves. We understand the geography of convenience, especially as gas prices sky rocket, but we hope that consumers will drive out of the way to shop at the farmers markets, even if it is not enroute to their children’s soccer game or the dry cleaners. So the challenge for farmers market managers is to secure many vendors selling a wide variety of products or it is not worth the customers trip “out of the way”. Not an easy task. There are many challenges for small farmers who want to sell their products at a market – all having to do with regulations that are hard to understand and expensive – labeling, insurance, compliance, etc. Gone are the days when grandma could sell her peaches and peach jam at a stall at a farmers market.

As more small farmers conquer the ag and markets regulations and make their way into the farmers markets, consumers have more choices. Unlike the grocery store, the farmers market features a farmer behind the table. We don’t have to get all of the information we need from the label; we can have a conversation with the farmer. And the farmer has the responsibility of communicating truthfully and candidly with the customer. For example, our chickens are more expensive than other chickens at the farmers market. Why are our chickens better? How do we communicate that our broiler chickens are better for us and the environment because they roam pastures and woods without slamming the farmer down the aisle who raises his chickens in large indoor sunless houses? Signs, photos and conversations. But ultimately taste. Once the customer eats one of our chickens, he is a loyal customer, even at a higher price. We enjoy doing farmers markets because of the relationships we establish with our customers. When a customer tells us that the pork chops we sold them last week was the best they ever had, the four hour drive seems worth it.

Why No Lamb at Easter?

A week or two before Passover or Easter our farm phone rings incessantly with customers inquiring about lamb for the holiday. We lamb in February and again in May so unless you are interested in eating a new spring, 15 lb lamb and roasting it whole (as many of our Italian and Greek customers do) retail cuts of lamb, such as a leg of lamb, won’t be available for Easter. In the grocery stores, there is plenty of lamb for Easter and Passover because it comes from New Zealand. It is autumn in New Zealand and lamb is plentiful after a six-month growing season on summer pastures. I thought that the New Zealand and Australian Agricultural Council was behind the American tradition of lamb at Easter but discovered that the tradition relates to the first Passover of the Jews. The sacrificial lamb was roasted and eaten, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs in hopes that the angel of God would pass over their homes and bring no harm. As Hebrews converted to Christianity, they may have brought their traditions with them. The Christians often refer to Jesus as The Lamb of God. The traditions merged.

Smoked ham is also a traditional Easter food. In the early days, meat was slaughtered in the fall. There was no refrigeration, and the fresh pork that wasn't consumed during the winter months before Lent, was cured for spring. The curing process took a long time, and the first hams were ready around the time Easter rolled around. Thus, ham was a natural choice for the celebratory Easter dinner. We have plenty of smoked hams. So pass on the New Zealand lamb and go for a smoked ham this Easter.

Newborn lamb
March Madness

Because it has been so warm, we bred all of the female rabbits this week. I used a new young buck and he seemed to do his job but the proof is in the kits. The gestation period is 30 or so days so if the buck successfully bred them, we will have kits by early April. If the weather is still warm by then we won’t have too much of a problem. One or two of the does are young so we will have to see what kind of moms they are. We culled the doe last year who refused to feed her kits or did not have enough milk. I gave her two chances but she managed to neglect the litters both times. I replaced her with a doe who is very skittish. I pet her everyday when I feed her fresh hay but she remains terrified of me and her surroundings. I make sure that she has lots of hay in her hutch and she spends most of the day buried in it. Of course, the border collies don’t help the situation. Every morning when they are let out of their kennels, they immediately run under the rabbit hutches and stalk the rabbits. The other rabbits ignore their probing noses but this young doe hasn’t figured out that the dogs can’t hurt her through the wire cage. Yelling at the border collies does not work – they are transfixed by the rabbits. They would spend all day watching rabbit TV if we let them. What’s truly madness in March is that the temperature is supposed to top 80 degrees next week!

Iron Rabbit with Tulips

Iron Rabbit