Friday, November 9, 2012

Appreciating Animals

This first appeared in The Chautauqua.

Appreciating Animals

“Animal appreciate, machines depreciate”
I may have quoted this here before but it is my favorite saying from Joel Salatin (farmer author and educator around grass-fed, integrated farm livestock systems).

As I look around our farm, I keep trying to find ways to work with our animals to reduce the work done by machine and to integrate the animals more fully into the farm operations. It means watching them and seeing how their normal behaviours and diet can be used to do work – work that I don't like doing myself. It may mean that I seem lazy but I don't find myself sitting around and lounging much so am not going to worry about that accusation.

Our latest example of this is the home we've given our three little pigs. Our two girls will become our mamas and our little boy, breakfast :) But for now – they are our garden clean-up crew and rototillers. As the garden was pulled in over the fall, we expanded their area and have watched them explore the plants left standing and dig for who-knows-what in the soil. They are breaking up and working in the organic matter we left in the garden all summer and are growing into happy, healthy pigs while doing so.

Their home is a house of bales, insulated panels and a rebar hoop house (that once held our tomatoes). As the story goes – building out of one material made the three little pigs' houses vulnerable so we figure the cooperation between these materials and structures will work better. They seem to like it – as the first snows are falling, they have been reluctant to come out of their straw bed for breakfast.

There is work involved in the animals but working with them makes for a more enjoyable day than working around them does. Stacking functions like this means that we just might find some more time to curl up with a book inside instead of managing two sets of chores: the pigs are doing one set for us. Plus, when they are done their job – instead of being parked in the 'old tractor graveyard' that every farm seems to have: they go into our freezer and onto our plate. They appreciate in value as time passes and we appreciate them.

On the Tip of the Tongue

This was first published in The Chautauqua.

On The Tip of the Tongue

Most of what I have written about have been our adventures on the farm and growing food. However the bigger adventures often happen in the kitchen and on the table.

Health and sustainability are important values for me and that related to what I eat and how I eat it so that has meant eating more organ meats and 'odd bits' from the animals we raise and butcher. When we had our beef done I bravely brought home the tongue and other parts that are often left behind. I figured I would get to cooking them on days when I had time to prep – emotionally and mentally as well as the right ingredients.

I've tried cow's tongue before. On our honeymoon in Costa Rica we found a little restaurant with home-style cooking that we visited a couple times. When I saw cow's tongue on their menu, I thought of the one sitting in my freezer and knew I had to order it. When it came to the table, I was delivered a great smelling plate with a few slices of meat covered in a tomato, pepper and onion sauce – they did not just lay out the tongue on a bed of lettuce. Only if you looked close enough could you get a sense, from the texture of the skin, of where the meat came from. I ate it and enjoyed it and thought it didn't look too complicated to prepare.

But I still hadn't cooked our own tongue up until this week. It's sat in the freezer while I waited for the right time. Finally, I just decided to do it. I thawed it, boiled it with herbs and spices, and sliced it up like a roast – served with horseradish. Indeed, roast beef is probably what you can pass it off for to the squeamish or uncertain. We both had to pause a few times and found not looking at it made it easier. It made an enjoyable meal as we laughed at our own reactions and how it wasn't taste or texture but purely mental notes that made us hesitate. Now that I've done it once, it's not likely to take much to get me to cook the next one. It's certainly easier for me to handle than liver! Who knows – when I am fighting the winter blues, maybe cooking up some cow's tongue will be all I need to do to connect back to the warmth and sun of Costa Rica. Maybe.


Directions: Wash tongue whole but don't worry about peeling or removing outer skin; place in pot and cover with water; add bay leaf, peppercorns, celery, onions, garlic and salt; bring to boil and then simmer for 3-4 hours. Remove tongue from water and peel off the outer skin; slice like roast beef as thin or think as you wish. Serve with horseradish or other sauces alongside vegetables.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Time to start... planting spring greens!?!

This article was first published in the Chautauqua

This week the autumn winds have been blowing in the season change, and blowing the leaves all over our deck and garden beds. In the midst of bringing in kilos of tomatoes and digging our root crops, I am sweeping off leaves and cleaning up my raised beds near the house. After pulling out the remaining plants, I am refreshing their soil with worm castings and compost. Then I am adding one more thing: seeds!

That's right – as the leaves fall down, telling tales of cold temperatures and winter, I am remembering the joy of the first spring greens. Two years ago, while thinking about how things work 'in nature' when humans aren't around to pick, preserve and replant seeds, we decided to try planting some lettuce in the fall to see what might happen in the spring. We planted several varieties in a couple locations, and then waited and watched.

What we found was the head lettuces came up along side the first shoots of grass and grew well in the cooler spring temperatures. It seemed that the leaf lettuces didn't do as well and we didn't really get a jump start by planting them this way. Last fall we let the head lettuces go to seed and didn't disturb the soil around them. This spring, we once again had early head lettuce.

This year we've added two raised beds just off our deck – the perfect place for greens, making them easy to harvest as needed. Therefore this fall I am moving my 'perennial patch' of lettuce. In the next few weeks I will be planting our head lettuce varieties alongside some spinach, arugula and a few other greens. I will stagger the planting over the weeks to help increase their success. If we get some moisture in early fall before the ground freezes, some seed may germinate and begin to grow destroying their chance of making it through the winter. Staggering the seeding means increasing the possibility that some seeds will remain dormant and sleep through the winter until spring brings the right conditions.

Growing them closer to the house, in a raised bed means that their soil will likely warm up sooner thus giving them the right growing conditions, earlier.

I enjoy fall – the fresh air and the beautiful colours, wild berries that get better after the first frost. I will even give winter some compliments when the world is clean and white and is giving us a break from being out labouring in the sun. However spring is still a favourite. Spring when she is bursting into bright greens and first flowers (I am a May baby, after all). So these seeds also hold some promise for me. When the winter is feeling too long and I am missing my fresh salads, I can look out over my coffee cup at the raised beds and take comfort in the early greens waiting alongside me.