New England Eats – Part 2

Off to New Haven, where I spent my high school years drinking 40′s by the water, and now I seek out farm-to-table delights. First stop is Claire’s Cornercopia on Chapel st. Claire’s has been keeping it organic, local, fresh and real since 1975. Every time I go to New Haven I am pleased to see it weathering the waves of gentrification. You can eat here every day and feel good about it:

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After eating a healthy meal we changed gears into my favorite of favorites, pizza. I know it’s cliche, but pizza runs my life. Whenever I travel I look hungrily from corner to corner for a decent slice. It’s my crack and I’ll smoke it any time of day, regardless of other bodily needs. When in New Haven there are three good pizza spots, Sally’s, Pepe’s and Modern Apizza. Modern is the best for a relaxing sit-down and my first choice when in town. There’s maybe nothing local here, and when someone opens a locally-sourced pizza joint, I’ll be there first. Get hot peppers on your pizza with any other topping and you’ll be as happy as my friend Toby here:

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Ok, classing it up a little, our next stop is Caseus, a newer cheese-inspired restaurant touting local eats and hearty food. I ordered mussels, but the local, grass-fed burger looked incredible, and it should be because is cost $13. Remember Worthy Burger in my last post? That’s the price difference of the city…

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That’s it for New England Eats. Next stop is North Carolina for some of the very best of the best local food.

 

New England Eats – Part 1

My transition from urbanite to farmer started with food. I killed a wild pig, ate it and the light switched on. Since then I’ve been growing, raising, buying and preparing the best food I can. This means being an ingredients snob at the grocery store, seeking out the ‘farm-to-table’ restaurants and asking them where their meat, eggs and veggies come from. I don’t make a lot of friends this way, but I think it’s important to raise these questions as it makes the chefs and owners think people care, and some of us do care.

Kate, Rudy and I are on a road trip south to escape the bitter winter of Vermont. Our final destination is Cane Creek Farm in North Carolina but we are stopping at all of our favorite eateries and some new ones along the way. This post is my attempt at a review of New England eats, from North to South.

Starting in Vermont there is Salt Cafe in Montpelier and Worthy Burger in South Royalton. Salt has some of the best and most creative, seasonal and local meals money can buy. The owner has a vegetable garden and connects with farmers in the area to find what she can. It’s cozy and delicious, also BYOB means you get to spend your money on the food, not the wine. Worthy Burger sports multiple artisan beers from the east and west along with the best burger around. The meat is 100% grass-fed and local, and for $5.50, it’s a bargain. Everything here is real, from the home-made condiments to the bun, nothing tastes of Sysco.

Next stop for us was Boston where we enjoyed meals from one of our favorite chefs, Barbara Lynch. We ate at the B&G Oyster House and The Butcher Shop. B&G’s oysters and fresh fish are excellent and the charcuterie and seared pork belly at the Butcher Shop were the perfect next meal. Had we stuck around longer I would have insisted on the Hungry Mother in Kendall Square and Oleana in Cambridge. All of these restaurants aim for local and seasonal and all do an excellent job at preparation and service. Oleana commands the middle-eastern flavor while Hungry Mother brings things down south for a reminder of warmer weather. Mid-way through the meat board at the Butcher Shop:

On our way out of Boston we always stop at Ohlin’s Bakery in Belmont for the best donuts in town. This place is old school, the photo says it all:

Off to central/western Massachusetts we explored the other side of food at the Farm School in Athol.  The Farm School trains adults in all things farmy while running a school for kids at the same time. They use draft animals, milk cows, make veggies and work towards filling that void of young farmers we so desperately need. See Kate’s post for more.

Next post will find more treats in central mass, New Haven and elsewhere. Stay tuned!

Solar Energy

I’ve been reading this really boring and interesting book lately, the Post Carbon Reader, which details in many ways how we can move beyond a carbon-based economy and into a world where cheap fossil-fuels no longer exist. Anyway, the chapter I just finished on “economics” dropped some knowledge I found pertinent to those of us farmers out there. There are these things called “ecological goods and services” like timber and fresh spring water. Goods are used up, stockpiled and replenished or depleted (like timber or iron) and services are constant inputs like a stream of water or sunshine. When we create economic goods (like houses, cars, tv’s and iphones) we use ecological goods and services and the catch is that we’ve been using them up faster than they replenish. In addition, and this was the part that made me swoon, the only low-entropy sustained energy input on Earth is solar energy. That’s it. If you’re not using solar energy at the same rate that solar energy is captured, you are not performing something sustainable. In other words, clear-cutting forest to make suburbs and timber for homes happens too fast for trees to grow elsewhere to make up the difference in ecological goods. Or burning fossil fuels for ANYTHING (gasoline, heating oil, propane, coal, natural gas) cannot be sustained. We must reconfigure our mindset for how to harness energy if we’re to have any chance at a sustainable future. Solar energy comes in many forms, trees, grass, vegetables, heat, wind, all of which can be harnessed to improve our quality of life. And then I thought about my cows diligently collecting tiny fragments of solar energy for 8 hours every day and turning it into milk, flesh and bone. When I eat beef and drink milk I am participating in a purely sustainable process. Sunlight is what it’s all about, find ways to eat the Sun and be happy. If only we were ruminants…

eat that grass!

Living water

Hi there. It’s been a long time since Lucky died and I’m finally ready to write something here.

A friend/neighbor lent me this book, Living Water by Olof Alexandersson. It’s taken me three months to finally finish it between tomato harvests, milkings and snuggling kittens. Anyhow, the book chronicles this Austrian nature-loving inventor, Viktor Schauberger and his pursuits to create clean energy while respecting and mimicking natural phenomena. He was a student of the natural world, growing up in ancient forests, which he inadvertently helped log by his invention of a log flume. Seeing the bent of society to “death technology” he wrote this about modern agriculture in the mid 1950′s:

“A free people can only arise from a free earth. A people who violate Mother Earth have no right to own a home…Man is what he eats and he remains an animal so long as the buildup of products of quality is stifled. So a cycle is completed: infected water cannot produce healthy food. Infested water and poisoned nutrients cannot produce healthy blood…The farmer of today treats Mother Earth in a worse manner than a whore. Moreover, he prays to a god, whom he believes is up above but in reality is under his feet. The modern farmer violates the earth, which reacts by opposing her sungod. He strips yearly the skin of the earth and applies poison as artificial manure and then wonders why this wretched process demands more work and yet yields less and less each year.
The old farmer was, for the clod of the earth, both it’s priest and doctor. The modern farmer, on the other hand, is personally and collectively harassed politically and is concerned about government subsidies. He believes that he can, to a massive extent, defy Nature.”

Apparently a boy in the austrian woods in the late 1800′s develops the same concerns as me. There is nothing we cannot learn by watching a forest grow, expand and reproduce that we could better find in a textbook. Our mainstream agricultural (and otherwise) technology is that of depletion, abuse and control. In a healthy ecosystem nothing is destroyed or lost. All nutrients cycle, return and create more life in the next season. Since the Cambrian explosion life has increased in complexity and diversity up until today when more species go extinct every hour, in fact, 27,000 go extinct every year. Look at a satellite image of any major city; we are the earth’s cancer, and unless we can stop destroying the natural reproductive cycle we will destroy this planet and our ability to survive on it. Food cant grow on concrete and sand; the parasite will kill the host. Think drought, climate change, the end of oil, lack of drinking water, we cannot defy nature, only postpone our extinction for some time.

Feeling hopeless? Channel that into finding something green that needs a doctor and a priest. Try to consider the destructive consequences of buying low quality food and products. Try not to waste anything; recycle, compost, cook your own meals, feed your neighbors if you live alone. Listen to the birds, look into the eyes of a cow, put your feet in the grass. Stop abusing mountains with dirt bikes, quads and skis. Burn your jet ski and learn to enjoy the quietness of a snowy pasture or peaceful lake. There is still beauty here, for the time being.

Burying a Fox

He was with us for just about 12 days, ending up just where I found him and just how he would have died had I not intervened. He spent his first three days with me inside my sweatshirt, sleeping and wriggling around when it was time to be let out to eat or poop. On day 2 he played with my hands inside my shirt, pawing and play biting at my fingers. Around day 3 he stopped trying to limp into the woods when I let him out of my shirt. On day 5 he found his home under our futon and he started to play with the kittens and the dogs like family. At the same time he started putting on weight, probably doubling in size over the next 8 days. He stopped being aggressive completely, started letting me pick him up at any time and learned how to hide from the dogs if they got too rough with him. Around day 8 he began acting like a house pet and followed Rudy everywhere he went. He stopped sleeping all day and started spending time outside and sleeping in Rudy’s bed. He started stealing my shoes, old papers, water bottles and tennis balls, all ending up in stashes around the house. He found himself a perch on a pile of blankets where he could watch the door and dart to safety under the futon if someone he didn’t know came in. He followed us on short walks around the yard and into the pastures. He looked at me when I called his name. He scratched at the door to go outside. He snuggled into my neck when I picked him up and shared a bowl of food with the cats. The magic of finding a wild baby fox and then, inch-by-inch, gaining his trust and love all seemed too powerful for anything to stop. Of course we had this new critter, this perfect companion, after all we had done for such a variety of animals already. It all just made karmic sense.

Until it suddenly stopped. Lucky found his curious way back into the donkey pen where I found him on day 1 and this time the donkeys killed him. He wasn’t mangled, just dead and still warm when Kate found him. Each day leading up to that day I thought it might not work out, he might ‘turn wild’ and leave us, or kill one of the cats, or start peeing everywhere in the house. But that day I was sure, so sure, he was here to stay. When he was ready he was going to hunt mushrooms with me. He was going to walk to neighbors houses with us. He was going to love us as much as we loved him and seamlessly join our merry band of silly creatures. He was going to live for 10 or 15 years, growing up with our future children and be there when Rudy dies, having learned so much from that old mutt to pass on to the next puppy. But no, instead he had to die, leaving me full of doubt but mostly just sadness. I miss him so much. I try to think that I gave him 12 days of comfort and love but I mostly just think I should have been a better parent. I don’t care that I merely had the chance to love him, I still want to love him. He left a hole in my heart that I didn’t know I needed to fill.

The night he died the house was struck by lightning three times. I think the mountain gods were pissed at me, or perhaps shared in my rage against Lucky’s death. Either way the lighting killed our phones and internet, which let us simply exist for three days without having to talk to anyone really. It was nice to mourn like that. But I would do anything to rewind, to bring him back into my life and just smell that fox smell again against my cheek, or wafting up from the womb of my sweatshirt. I’ll never get the chance again to father a fox like that. It just further solidified my belief that we are all equals, he was just such a regular baby when I found him. Eat, sleep, poop, repeat. And he bonded with me like I never imagined. And now I dream about him, feel pain when I look at the hay bale he used to sleep on or hear the donkeys bray. God I miss him so much. He’s buried in the pasture next to the house. I think today I’m ready to visit his grave.

As Promised…Cuteness

Feast on this, dear internet.

I should say a few things about Lucky. First of all, he’s not a cat nor a dog. He’s a wild fox. He’s become friendly with us, but he’s not an indoor animal and I don’t want to do anything to make his life less enjoyable, wild and free. I intervened in his life only to save it; he was limping, starving and about to be crushed by donkeys when I grabbed him. In the five days since then I have, indeed, fallen in love with the little guy. He sleeps inside my sweatshirt, plays with the kittens and rudy and is generally a goofy little puppy. But he doesn’t have the benefit of generations of domesticated breeding, he may decide that this life is not for him and I hope to respect that decision if it ever comes. In the meantime, i’m going to soak this guy up like crazy.

 

A Day of Great Findings

First, there was Lucky Fox, who is now sleeping in his towel after a long walk slung around me in a makeshift foxy-bjorn. He, Rudy and myself went for a morel hunt after these days of rain. I didn’t bring a bag or anything that might jinx my quest and it’s a good thing, because my t-shirt made a fine sack for this haul. This is my first experience hunting morels. As with all wild edibles, 100% identify before you eat anything.

Lucky Fox

I have, since I was a much younger person, always wanted a pet fox. I knew the only way this would happen would be through the extremely fortuitous chance discovery of a baby fox. Today I had this experience. While writing an email this morning I saw a tiny fox crossing the donkey pen in front of our house. The donkeys chased it into a barn stall where I found the little bugger, whimpering and scared. Not knowing if he was rabid or mean or whatever, I threw a bag on him and brought him into the house. He was pretty calm, looked healthy and seemed just really hungry. I gave him a bath, which he didn’t hate too much and then fed him some warm milk which he drank fast as hell. After all that he fell sound asleep in my arms and now I’ve basket-ed him so I can continue making cheese, jarring yogurt, etc.

cute overload

Now, the reality of the situation sets in. He smells like a skunk and I’ve discovered that fox pee smells like skunk. So that’s a bummer. Another con: will he kill our cats when he gets older? Will the other dogs kill him as a pup? Kate and I are well versed in inter-species friendliness but can we muster enough love to get a semi-wild fox to snuggle with a couple kitty-cats? Time will tell.

Legalize It!

If you haven’t been following Kate’s Blog then you should go check it out and read up on what we’re doing. My blog is no place to keep up-to-date on my life. Basically, we moved from Massachusetts to mid-state Vermont and we’ve settled into a hopefully long and happy farm with our menagerie. Since arriving we’ve added one pure-bred Jersey dairy cow to the herd along with her adorable calf, Ted. Winnie, the new cow, makes almost 2.5 gallons of milk a day. In addition we collect about a dozen chicken eggs and one dutiful Pascal duck-egg every day. I consider it to be the most food secure I’ve ever been.

That all said, the state of vermont is trying it’s hardest to stop farms like ours from succeeding. We only need to sell about 6 gallons of milk a week to pay off winnie’s impending hay bill for next winter. That’s not so much milk at all, and it places us squarely in the “Tier 1″ dairy regulatory framework which requires no inspection or milk testing at all. That’s great, but it doesn’t really help that much. If one of our customers invites us over for dinner or a movie or anything at their place, we can’t legally bring them the milk they want. To follow the law, each of our customers must come to the farm to get her own milk. In addition, we can’t bring milk to a central location (like a farmer’s market, store in town, friend’s house, etc) to distribute to our 3-6 customers.

If we want to be able to deliver milk we need to comply with the state’s testing and inspection regulations. Yesterday I delivered a quart of milk to the state lab in burlington (1.5 hour drive, each way…) to voluntarily get a test. I care about the safety and quality of our products and would happily comply with the more stringent regulations, except for the fact that they would break the milk bank on our farm. The test itself costs $24 and must be done twice per month. In addition, I have to hand deliver a half gallon of milk in a cooler full of ice-water for each test. At 50 cents per mile and $10 an hour for my time, the trip, with the cost of the test, runs $124. Do you think that selling 6 gallons of milk per week I could support the expense of $250 each month? I need to sell 80 gallons of milk a month just to cover that expense. That is almost the output of a single cow. Two people can hand milk 4 cows, with a lot of hard work and much time spent milking, and 25% of those efforts go right into the state lab. That’s an enormous tax on the backs of very small farms. In other words, Vermont does not want small producers to have access to their market. We’re isolated to sales on farm and can only survive by the generosity of our customers.

It’s no surprise then, that after this law passed in 2009 there are only TWO raw milk dairies in the state that comply with the testing procedure. How many small dairies is the state of vermont ignoring, losing lab fees on and marginalizing? Rural Vermont estimates 150 dairies sell under the tier 1 regulations. If they care about safety, they are doing everything they can to drive producers underground…not the safest path, in my opinion. Did I mention that you have to pay for parking while dropping a sample at the lab?

Dear Vermont, please allow Tier 1 producers to deliver milk directly to consumers and to central locations for pickup provided they send a 4-ounce sample of milk twice per month to the state lab. Alternatively, allow for testing to be performed at other independent labs that already accept mail-in samples. Lastly, if that’s not possible, send your inspectors around the state as often as you like to procure samples from small dairies. Maybe those inspectors can meet us at our predesignated pickup location and make sure that we’re handling milk safely while picking up a sample. Basically, stop forcing small dairies into a black market and rejecting their right to survive and the rights of their consumers to get the products they want. I can’t speak for all small dairies, but I’m willing to work with you to find a way to keep raw milk safe, affordable and accessible. Are you?

What I’m Eating These Days

The skillet made me do it. Two eggs, last night’s black beans and rice. If you had to buy the eggs from me this meal for one would cost maybe $1.50. And it only took me ten minutes. I try to cook things (like beans and rice) in amounts that last for a couple days so I don’t get bored of it and to make preparing food more efficient.

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Other great early spring meal-time combinations are; one duck egg on a bowl of grits or steel cut oats, chicken eggs on fried potatoes, mashed potatoes or mashed and then fried potatoes. Basically, protein on grain with some roots if you’ve got ‘em. Grab some hot sauce and salt too. This is a tough time of year for eating off the farm but it’s the time we remember all those bulk dried goods we bought in the fall like black beans, yellow-eye beans, rice, risotto, oats, and grits. I’m also dipping into some pickles and soups when I get really sick of everything else. And, of course, one can always splurge for a pizza in town.

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