Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Maybe it's not the vaccinations...

Study Finds High-Fructose Corn Syrup Contains Mercury

One of my favorite parts:
On average, Americans consume about 12 teaspoons per day of HFCS, but teens and other high consumers can take in 80 percent more HFCS than average.

Yay for Americans! So, once again, we have major corporations creating and processing our food, profit-driven corporations. As consumers, we are removed from our food supply and have no control over it. So, dose a little of our soda with some mercury and we'll just go merrily along our way. La la la. La la la.

As least I am not the only one who thinks HFCS is the de-vil.

In my little corner of the world, there's a wicked snow/ice storm brewing (do I sound like a New Englander???). They are saying 10-14 inches of accumulation. We're all nice and cozy on the farm, plenty of water, feed, and delicious eggs (7 a day from my lovely hens).

After battling tonsilitis for a week, I relented this morning and rustled up some antibiotics to stave off the spreading sinus infection. I am not opposed to judicious use of antibiotics and I would rather not get pneumonia, thankyouverymuch. That'll teach me not to brag about my new lifestyle keeping me healthy. That, my friends, is what they call hubris.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Farmer Workshop - Sustainability Rant

The wife and I attended a Farmer's Workshop on sustainable food held in Dover, New Hampshire. We stayed for three speakers and lunch and the topics where:

  • Organic seeds (and why not to use Conventional Seeds)
  • Raw Milk (Pros and Modern Myths)
  • Heritage Poultry (And Why the World is Going to Hell)

[Subtitles are my own]

I am about as nutty as they come when the topic is sustainable food, but these three speakers (who are all local farmers, by the way) really walk the walk. The overall theme of the day is one I have been picking up subtly from a variety of sources including Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Put simply, our food supply, our food culture, is not sustainable. The average food item in American cuisine travels 1500 miles. Every food calorie requires 15 energy calories (in the form of petroleum, and all ensuing wars) to produce it. This concept was echoed across the three disparate topics.

Organic Seeds
The pharmaceutical companies have patented seeds. They've done insidious things like bred in a "terminator gene" which prevents farmers from harvesting and keeping seeds. That means that the farmer no longer owns his or her food or future. Every year, they must pay for seeds (and conveniently, the pesticide to protect it). 90% of all corn seed in this country in genetically modified. What can one small farmer do?

Buy and collect heirloom seeds. Seeds that produce open-pollenated, self-propagating, fertile crops. Harvest them, dry them, and grow more crops. Stop paying for our future by buying seeds from the Monsantos and DuPonts. Stop buying fertilizers that are derived from petroleum. Take control of our food.

Raw Milk
Most dairy forms keep their cows on at least 80% genetically modified corn (which is NOT a natural part of a ruminant's diet). The average lifespan of a conventional dairy cow is 42 months. 42 months, people. The average lifespan of a "sustainably" maintained dairy cow is 13 years. Do you really want to drink the milk from an animal that is so sick, it's lifespan is cut by over 75%?? Plus, raw milk is regulated by law to contain a lower bacteria count than pasteurized milk. That means you are guaranteed to have less pathogens in raw milk than in conventional milk. By law.

But let's look again at that conventional cow who is fed non-sustainable, genetically modified corn. Her milk is then bundled with 1,000 other cows and shipped, via diesel truck, to a pasteurization facility, where it is super heated to destroy contaminants. The heat also destroys valuable enzymes and vitamins. In fact, more vitamin C is destroyed by pasteurization of dairy in this country than is produced in our entire citrus crop.

Once sterilized, the milk is homogenized which destroys more proteins, all because we don't like the cream to rise to the top, which indicates age. Then a protein powder is re-added to the milk, plus things like vitamin A and D (to make up for the lack of sunshine the confinement cows are getting). Of course, they don't have to label that the milk has powder added because it's a ubiquitous practice in the industry (kinda like dunking poultry carcasses in chlorinated water). Then, the milk is shipped, again via diesel truck, to a packaging facility. Finally it is shipped, more gas and oil please, to your local store.

After ultra-pasteurization, the milk is so "dead" that it does not need to be refrigerated, but they do it anyway because we're trained not to drink "warm" milk. No one will buy milk off a shelf, but it's just as safe as the refrigerated milk using expensive energy to keep it cold. You can't make home cheese from pasteurized milk, which is fine because they want you to buy cheese as well. This living, complete food is dead.

The raw milk we buy comes from 25 cows which, in the summer, graze on 40 acres. They are fed minimal grain and dry hay to offset the rich nature of the grass. They are milked twice a day and the milk runs through sterile lines, is chilled immediately, poured into glass jars and put up for sale from the farm. Zero diesel miles. The majority of the roughage fed to the cows, including hay and haylage, is produced on the farm, without pesticides. They use diesel to run the tractors, but nothing is shipped in and oil is not used for "chemical boosters".

During that part of the presentation, the farmer took his milk and gave everyone a taste test between it and store bought vit D fortified milk. Then he took some warm milk and using only a jar for shaking, made butter in about 10 minutes. Then, he took more cream and made whipped cream in about 3 minutes. He also brought samples of his Quark (European farmer's cheese), raw yogurt, and raw Sauerkraut. This man was a food producing machine, and all used living milk as a base.

Heritage Poultry
Our modern chickens are the product of hybridization that favors cheap and ubiquitous corn. Corn which is the product of cheap and ubiquitous oil. Oil goes away, corn goes away, and those monstrous meat birds which gain a pound a week until they die at 10 weeks from a heart attack (if not harvested first) will cease to exist. They cannot exist on forage and free ranging, which is something the heritage breeds have been bred, oh for millennia, to do. The heritage breeds are slower growing, but they produce for longer. A modern production layer, if kept well fed, will produce 300 eggs a year and then die, burned out, at 18 months from reproductive problems. Her body is just a machine, and longevity is not required. A heritage breed will produce 100 eggs a year but lay consistently for 5 years and live into her teens, on little to no grain, on bugs found in your garden, in your orchard, and on table scraps.

There's 2.5 chickens for every human on this planet and 99% belong to one of 4 breeds. We have a problem. A major biodiversity problem. There are two main milking breeds of cow, and 8 species of plant provide human food (down from about 80,000). In the next 10 years, 50% of the world's rare poultry breeds will go instinct.

Once we get off our petroleum kick, how we eat will have to change because the 12 oz of meat in every meal is just not sustainable. One heritage chicken can feed you for four meals, more if you count stock and dumplings. No more eating of the breast and discarding the rest. We won't be able to afford it.

We won't be able to afford to feed any of our animals corn, nor should we. It's not any better for them than it is for us. Sustainable, pasture raised, bio-dynamic farming, which uses the naturally occurring manures and doesn't require calories from the Middle East is the only way we will be able to afford to feed all these hungry people.

It's a hell of a lot of work. But I know it starts with me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Very Strange Feeling

I feel very strange today. For the first time in a very long time, I actually feel... what is it? Pride? Yes... I feel proud. I actually agree with the President. Such a strange sensation, I almost couldn't place it.

Now if only my beloved Finnish friend, who stopped talking to me when Bush was elected the first time (even though it was not my choice), would forgive me for all my country has done.

There's so much to do, but I know it begins with me.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sustainable Living in the City

Maybe I am not the only crazy one...

Local couple pens guide for sustainable city living

With more than half the world’s population living in cities, the couple believes that sustainability can no longer be thought of as something that applies only to forests and fields but as something that anyone can practice, anywhere.

“It’s about creating intensely cultivated, sustainable societies in as small a place as possible,” Kellogg said.
They also feel that it’s important to work with neighbors and build intra-dependent communities where people help and support each other.
“This is not an individual survivalist mindset,” Pettigrew said. “This is about community.”

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Lucky Diet

We found another great local farm. The farmer was very gracious with his time, answering a myriad of questions during the 45 minute visit. He prefers Jersey cows, in case you are interested. He sells raw milk, raw honey, self-processed (non-chlorinated) chicken, lamb, pork and occasional beef. We signed up for all of his food and scored some honey, milk and chickens today.

Dinner Tonight? Glad you asked.

Locally raise and processed whole roasted chicken (beer can style)
Baked organic acorn squash smothered in butter and raw honey
Roasted Maine potatoes
Organic Brussels Sprouts
Tall glass of fresh, raw milk (dated Jan 12)

I am in nutrient heaven. If we get lucky and get to the top of the waiting list, our meat will travel a total of 5 miles from his farm to ours. We'll have the opportunity to look the man responsible for our sustenance in the eye and, more importantly, thank him. We'll get fresh milk, non-toxic chicken and humanely slaughtered pork and my money goes directly into a farmer's pocket.

Despite my incredible diet, or perhaps because of it, I am now down 11 pounds since the move to the farm on Nov 1, ten weeks ago. We're getting three eggs a day, and the hens are picking up. I eat fresh eggs in the morning and leftovers for lunch and then incredible, gourmet dinners. (Have I failed to mention that the SO is also an accomplished chef??? Yes, I know how lucky I am.)

There is no margarine. No white flour. No refined sugar. No High Fructose Corn Syrup™.

Oh and plenty of sleep. Studies have shown that lack of sleep leads to coronary problems and obesity. I get at least 8 hours a day. Since the move from Austin, my thrice yearly tonsillitis/sinus infection has not appeared. The last time I felt ill was when I caved and drank a soda.

I am just so happy. It is all working out.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Snow Covered Farm

It occurred to me with my last post that the farm looks somewhat temperate. Those pictures were taken in November. This is what it looks like now:

Main Garden, looking down.

View from garden up to house, note the terraces

Seasonal spicket. The snow pole is 4' tall.

I love my barn.

Pullet is out on a "sunning bench".

Last year's berries at the top of the terrace. Garden is ahead and below view.

The main garden as seen from the street. That's a rock wall that marks the property.

View of the house from the street. Garden is to the left, out of frame.

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.

A bench and a birdhouse. Nice place to sit... in the summer.

Garden Plan

Funder asks some good questions about type of beds I will be using, raised, rows, etc. She's good like that, always pushing for me to have some sort of answer.

The honest answer is we're still planning. We have several different areas that we plan to cultivate and I imagine we'll use a combination of methods.

Here is the general plan. The main garden is a graded circle about 2800 SF with a seasonal spicket piped to the middle of it. My property is basically on the side of a hill, so as you go east, you go downhill. Since the garden is east of the house, it's about 10 feet lower than the house. The previous occupants terraced a section and planted berries. We will keep some of the berries and plant melons as well.

Looking down on the main garden.

Better view of the garden "disk"

Looking back at the house, note the terraces.

The main garden will be home to the vegetables and I am not sure if I will use rows or a more radial style of bed.

The herbs will be in a patch closer to the house and will likely be raised beds. The greenhouse will be just east of the house, and easy access to the bulkhead to the basement. Our basement has a concrete floor and is very dry. It also has a basin and work areas to process and preserve the produce. So produce will enter the house via the basement so proximity to the bulkhead is important.

Behind the greenhouse and further down the hill is where the chicken tractor will make its rounds once the broiler chicks are old enough to get out of the back half of the greenhouse, their brooder. I will also chicken tractor the areas of the main garden which will be planted in late May or June.

This is the first stage. There's an additional acre of lawn/lightly wooded area up front which can be reclaimed and put into some sort of production. I am trying to keep the "curb appeal" of the house and not add gross buildings, animals, or other which will anger neighbors. There's plenty of space, so no need to use the parts near the street.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Big Plan

The plan for '09 is becoming less hazy. It's all well and good to say you are going to raise some veggies in the spring, but one thing gardening will teach you is: You need a plan. You need to plan ahead. Order seeds, prepare the soil, buy tools, sketch out the garden, pick your timeline. You can't run to the Quick-E-Mart for your slushy and farm-fresh broccoli. And, in many ways, that's the point.

Gardening takes time and discipline, two things over which I have never really felt control. But now, I have a goal to raise/barter/trade for 70% of my perishable goods. And that kind of accomplishment takes time.

Now, in the dead of January, it's time to plan for the '09 growing season. And things are getting sharply into focus.

A greenhouse (12' x 20') is being selected and ordered. A list of vegetables has been written up, seeds researched.

The list is impressive. But seeds are cheap and experience is priceless so I will plant a lot and see how it grows:
brussel sprouts
yellow squash
butternut squash
acorn squash

Herbs and Fruits (TBD)

Our compost pile has been turned and pvc pipes run into it so it can breathe. We're in USDA Zone 5b here so most plants will not go into the ground until May, but I will start them early in the greenhouse and use cold frames to extend the growing season.

Today I put in an order for 25 more straight run layers. I will cull all but the best 10 to go with my current 10.

I also ordered free-range broilers, 20 of them. Both sets of chicks will arrive sometime in mid April and the meat birds will be processed by late July.

I have another farm tour planned this week with a local farm that provides chickens (to hold us over until our own are available), raw milk and honey. I also found a local coop grocery which sells grass-fed local beef. It's pricey, but I am happy to give my money to a local farmer instead of a marketer, packager, processor, truck driver. Since 85 cents of every conventional food dollar goes to these "supporting" roles and NOT the farmer, I think buying local, organic food is a bargain at twice the price.

Ok rant over, back to planning.

How's this all going to work? I work full time and have an hour and a half commute each day. The SO telecommutes from the farm, about 50 hours a week in the winter and 20 hours a week in the summer. Most of the labor will not be done by the author of this blog, but by my SO. I provide the financial backing, the research, health insurance and the sheer positive energy (we CAN do it!) and labor as I can on the evenings and weekends. The point is that we are going to do this and we both have "other" jobs. With good planning, proactive fixing (spend 5 minutes today to fix a problem rather than 30 minutes tomorrow), and a whole bunch of luck, we'll meet our goal within the next five years.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

First Eggs

Today, I took a small step for chicken-kind, but a huge leap forward towards a sustainable food source.

It happened.


Not one, but two!!

Two of my 25 week old Rhode Island Red pullets left two eggs, perfect and clean, in the nest box/bucket like old pros.

These eggs are the first protein source derived and consumed on the farm. Step one in my global domination plan. Or maybe just in my sustainable harvest plan. Regardless, I am very pleased (and full).

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tastes Like Swimming Pool

I have been going back and forth about whether to raise our own meat birds for human consumption next year. I would love to be responsible for more of my food and to also ensure the birds had a decent, pastured life before processing. However, there is little chance of me finding a processor near me who would process the birds for me. What USDA inspected processing plant cares about 30 broilers? So I either process them myself or forego. I mean, I want to "do the right thing", but I love my layer hens and I think there is quite a learning curve to processing your own poultry. I don't hunt and although I am not opposed to it, it's quite a mental leap for me.

What to do?

Then one of my dogs got sick when she ate chicken. And another dog. This is store bought "Manager's Special", boneless skinless chicken breast. Not even their usual disgusting discarded poultry frames. This is chicken meant for people to eat, and now my dogs, which have been fed poultry for, oh 8 years now, are getting sick when they eat it.

I did some research and found out that humans have an intolerance for store bought poultry, too, because in the US they dunk the carcasses in a chlorine solution after processing. Residual chlorine survives cooking (of course, cooking does not remove chemicals) and people ingest it and viola, they get sick. In fact, the EU has been banning the import of US poultry since 1997 and just recently voted to keep the ban. The reason? The chlorinated poultry.

It turns out, the solution they use to clean the carcasses is the same chemical they use to sanitize swimming pools. It is NOT the solution they use to sanitize municipal water supplies, which is, um, more palatable?

I've never been happier to be on a well.

Anyway, I don't know if my dogs are sick because of chlorinated poultry. In fact, it's probably a stretch. But they ARE sick from human-grade chicken breast I bought from the store. And when I have cooked up eggs (even store bought eggs) for them to eat instead, no sickness. Instant cause and effect.

So the decision has been made. I will be raising and processing my own poultry next year.

Friday, January 2, 2009


Funder asked to hear about the chickens, so I decided it was time to out myself as a total chicken freak. I love the chickens! But first, some information...

Chickens make a lot of sense on a small farm. They contribute meat and eggs, eat pests such as ticks and flies, and produce and spread manure all by themselves. They are also pretty social and entertaining and provide a nice "farm-like" ambiance. Compared to the horses, the chickens take very little effort, five minutes a day to provide clean water, check food levels, look for (non-existent) eggs, check them over for pecking or illness. I clean the coop twice a week, removing frozen, uneaten treats, scooping the area underneath the roosts and fluffing up the rest of the bedding. Very low maintenance animals.

Currently, we have a small flock of ten layer pullets (young hens). They are of laying age, but due to the amount of daylight in the winter, the move to the farm, and other distractions, they have yet to start laying. Any day now... :) At least two hens are displaying "breeding" behavior (the rooster squat) and their combs are big and bright red so they are mature enough to start laying.

I do not have a rooster at this time. I am still debating if I want to deal with the hassle. Hens will lay quite well without a rooster, but the eggs will not be fertile, obviously. For cooking, fertility makes no difference in the egg. The benefits of having a rooster are that they are beautiful, protect the hens, fertilize eggs which make hatching at home possible. The cons against roosters are that they are noisy, they can harass the hens with over mating, they can become aggressive, they eat food and don't lay eggs. :)

Chickens need their greens. I hang a head of cabbage on the wall and they peck at it, providing greens and entertainment for cooped up birds. In this picture are the Rhode Island Reds, Black Australorps and the Gold Sex Link is peaking in at bottom left.

I purchased these ten hens from a local lady who ordered them from an online hatchery and raised them until about five months. I have six Rhode Island Reds, three Australorps, and one Gold Sex Link. They are all good laying breeds. I feed them organic layer pellets (16% protein), they get a scratch mix (cracked corn, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds) as a treat a couple times a day. In the winter, they need all the calories they can get. Plus, they eat table scraps. So far they have really enjoyed butternut squash risotto and any type of pork the best.

The Coop. Alert: Handsome horse in the background.

Chicken-sized porch. Allows outside time out of the snow.

The hens live in an old playhouse which was not in use by the previous occupants. The coop is 70 square feet and has a little wrap-around covered porch which is ideal because it allows the birds to sit outside, but not have to wade in snow. If I were to build a coop from scratch, I would definitely add this feature. To convert it to a coop, we added two layers of R3.3 foam insulation board and covered that with white bathroom board which is easy to clean and peck proof. Chickens will peck at foam insulation and shred it (ask me how I know this). We added weather stripping around the door and windows and added chicken furniture, such as a roost and nest boxes. The coop is insulated, but not heated and we have a thermometer in the coop which shows that when closed up, it stays about 8-10 degrees warmer than outside. And, most importantly, it is draft free.

The Roost. The pallet is held in place by the board framing it on the top right.

Dust Bath. An old horse feed pan is filled with fireplace ashes to provide a dust bath for the hens when they can't go outside due to weather.

For a roost, we used an old pallet and broke out every other board and leaned it against the wall. The older hens roost on the top and the younger hens roost in the middle. For nest boxes, we use 5 gallon buckets and attached them to an old cabinet. Now the hens can lay in the cabinet, which is at ground level, or use the perch to enter the buckets. Once they start laying and establish a system, we may change the nesting arrangement to better suit what they like.

Nesting Buckets. The round objects are, sadly, not eggs but golf balls to "show" then hens where to lay. Hens can lay in buckets or in the compartments on the ground framed by an old cabinet turned on its side. An old lobster shell is picked clean, bottom right.

A heated dog water dish provides ice free water for the hens. It must be cleaned out and refilled daily. It's a perfect size for mature birds but would be a drowning hazard for chicks.

So far, the hens have been relatively healthy. Of the ten, only one has needed any care for an impacted crop and we brought her inside and fixed her up in about three days. They are fun, friendly, and fascinating to watch.

I have big chicken plans for the future since they are the "easiest" and most efficient form of protein you can raise on a small farm. I intend to expand my layer flock to 20 which will produce about 16 eggs a day. At this time, I think I am going to order 15 Blue Laced Red Wyandotte chicks (picture is not mine, all rights reserved) in the spring and even though I will order pullets, I will likely get at least one male. If he is non-aggressive, I will keep him to enhance my layer stock. If I order 15, I have a good chance of raising ten quality hens. Wyandottes are cold hardy, and broad solid birds which lay a big, round egg. I am also looking into Barnevelders (picture is not mine, blah blah blah) but they are not as good layers. I still have much research to do.

I am also researching buying meat birds in the spring to use in a moveable chicken pen to fertilize my garden plot and then harvesting them at 10 weeks for eating throughout the year. Ten weeks and a little effort and we will eat clean chicken for a year. It's a good deal, I just need to finalize the plan.

The layer flock will provide enough eggs for the two humans and four dogs. Since I feed my dogs a raw diet, I am always looking for cheap protein. Out of necessity, I buy them a lot of disgusting poultry to eat because it is so cheap. I am researching replacing half of their poultry meals with eggs and seeing if there are any health issues. I am investigating the biotin deficiency problems now and trying to find real numbers on how many eggs consumed are required to have a deficiency.

I am by no means a chicken expert, but if there are any remaining questions about chickens or their role on a small farm, feel free to ask in the comments and I will do my best to answer them.