New Money

Money: Love it or hate it, this stuff is an inescapable part of life around the world. I’ve used about 12 different currencies in my life thus far, but my favorite rate of exchange isn’t measured in dollars or decimals. It’s social capital.

As a student of anthropology in a ‘former life’ (university life feels that long ago sometimes…), I was fascinated by the concept of social capital. It was something I used every day, completely without realization. The concept of social capital is simple: social networks have value. Despite the monetary reference, the value of individual or collective social capital isn’t measured in coin. Even the World Bank acknowledges that “a single true measure is probably not possible, or perhaps even desirable.” I agree: although anthropologists might suggest otherwise, social capital has its greatest value when we are not scoring points or keeping a ‘I’ve done what for whom” tally. To try and measure the complexities of friendship, and boil down a lifetime of relationships into a number is to demean the value of our very souls.

What, you ask, does this have to do with farming? As with any undertaking in our lives, social capital is the underpinning of our cottage farm endeavors at Wensleydale Cottage.

I have posted previously on the importance of building relationships with your local food providers and really knowing the who, where, and how of what you consume. A wise farming friend of mine recently said something like this: “If you stopped shopping at Walmart tomorrow they wouldn’t even notice. But if you started buying your food from your local farmers tomorrow, they are not only putting food on your table but you are putting food on theirs.” Buying from people you know and trust elevates the act of eating from something animalistic we do simply to feed our natural appetites, to a social act. (Just ask Wendell Berry.) Many, many societies have a strong food culture. Food is an expression of family, identity, relationships, and love. Capitalism’s only food culture is one of consumption. (Please don’t dismiss me as some kind of ‘communist subversive’ and stop reading here. I love the country I live in and am grateful I have the opportunity to freely meet my wants and needs. But I don’t identify with capitalism as my personal culture. If I had to label my ‘cultural identity’ its slogan would say “family, faith, community.”)

 

But today I want to talk more personally. I want to recognize with gratitude the intricate, beautiful web that weaves me to by family, friends and neighbors. I remember once, 3,000 miles from my childhood home, and facing a particularly difficult time in my life, questioning why we ever decided as humans that moving away from our family network and trying to do everything entirely on our own was a good idea. This cottage farm experiment has blessed me with the opportunity to rebuild my family’s life on a new foundation; to value social capital above any measurable wealth.

This week, I have experienced the real value of human relationships in a poignant way as we have struggled to build a barn during a very, very wet and cold spring here in New York. We began with a structure on a pad. Trying to move the floor materials made the tractor sink, so we moved to a pole barn. 18 inches down, the auger hit a solid layer of shale. The already shallow holes filled with water and we were left with a sludgy, crooked mess. My family (including my mother, father, and their very stuck tractor) slogged fruitlessly through the mud to try and make progress.

At the very end of the end of my wits’ end, a friend called to relate to me her frustrating day. Discovering our ongoing difficulties with the build (months in and still not a beam in place), she called me later that afternoon and said simply “We’re all in the truck, we’re on our way.”  Having known each other for less than a year, we were united by some commonalities but most of all I think, a desire to understand another person and develop a friendship made of something real. Although I barely knew her father, a man of 40 years construction experience, he was coming down with a family ‘work crew’ to help me out of my very literal muddy hole.

So down they all came (a 45 minute ride each way) and before you could say ‘batter boards’ our construction problems were solved, holes were dug, footings poured, and the end was in sight! I can count the money it saved us. I can log the time it saved us. I can feel the sanity it saved us! But most valuable of all, a person who was a virtual stranger only hours before became a contributor to our life’s social experience.

Some of our amazing work crew here this weekend, including the ever-charming head of the Wensleydale household.

 

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Vote with your Plate

Our endeavors to eat local, raise our own food, build up social capital amongst like-minded farmers, and eat ‘naturally’ as much as possible, are relatively new. For us, coming to this point has been a process, an evolution in our way of thinking and our way of life. I am confident we are not done. When friends and family get wind of our lifestyle changes – eat local, grow your own, and buy organic/fairtrade – their reactions are something like this: “Wow, you guys are crazy!” “I just don’t have the time or the money waste on something that seems relatively frivolous like buying organic.” “It doesn’t taste as different as I thought it would, must not be worth it.” “I just don’t have the time and money to do that kind of thing.”

I get it, I really do. I was always that person. I think this is in part the fault of the way ‘organic’ is portrayed to us. I go to the local organic and natural foods shops and I am surrounded by single, hippie-looking, vegans munching on overpriced rabbit food. Each to their own, but this certainly was not the way I wanted to go for my family. It was not affordable. I was never going to sell it to the men in the house. The food was still frequently imported green from other areas of the world. 

Let me introduce you to a new type of eating. It is a simple, you-are-what-you-eat, know-your-food-and-love-it approach. There are a few simple principles to this approach:

 

1.Buy local, and create relationships with local suppliers as much as possible. Ask around, find where your friends recommend and who they know. Find people who will swap goods and services with you.

2. Make from scratch. Things like bread are so, so easy to make yourself. Cheaper than artisan breads and yummier than the plastic bag stuff.

3.Grow or raise your own food as far as you can. Use methods like blanching and freezing, and canning, to store local, in-season foods for when they are not as readily available.

4. Buy organic and if possible fairtrade what you can’t get local. Decide on what is most important to you to purchase this way: better to have organic sugar or fairtrade sugar? What do you make exceptions for?

 

People often ask me ‘where I shop,’ and I tell them something like this: Well, I get my milk from a local dairy, and my meat from the farm shop down the road, and I grow, store, or get from a farm stall my vegetables. My flour I buy in bulk from a local mill, and the rest I shop around for the best price on organics. At this point, you are probably thinking, that’s all very well, but why? Why not just pick one store and get it all? Before you decide for yourself to dismiss this lifestyle as too fringe, too expensive, time-consuming, or just plain odd, let me explain to you why we make an effort to eat this way.

1.My husband is a businessman. For him, a change or investment of any kind requires first and foremost a logical, business-sense approach. You may be surprised that such an approach is possible in the world of local and organic food. In fact, this approach to eating offers me more economic control. When I eat local, I have greater control over what I pay for my food. Take this article from just yesterday, for example “Businesses Worry As Pork and Beef Prices Rise” (http://www.myfoxal.com/story/25314889/businesses-worry-as-pork-and-beef-prices-rise). Why are they rising? Because of drought in California and a virus on feetlot-type farms. When I purchase meat from my small-scale local farmer, I am not paying for things happening thousands of miles from me. Nor do I find my food prices suddenly and drastically increasing because of factors that have much less impact when purchasing local, like fuel prices to drive that food hundreds or thousands of miles. Making my own food also makes economic sense: from scratch ingredients can be purchased in bulk, are cheaper than their shop equivalents, and allow me control over how much we use and therefore how much we spend. When bread prices rise in the store, it’s not a problem, I just a)use the flour I have stored in bulk from when prices were good and/or b)make smaller bread rolls or half a loaf. I spend the SAME AMOUNT now on food each week as I did before. Some things, like my local wholesale honey, cost me less than the cheapest brand at Walmart. Other things, like beef from my local farmer, cost me more (although it has less fat and more nutrition). To counteract this, we eat less meat, more vegetables, more homemade, less sugar. And we do it conciously, as part of a lifestyle that puts us in control of our pockets, our waistlines, and what comes into our home.

2. Voting with your plate. I believe in standing up for the moral right whenever possible. What I eat is no different. There are numberless moral issues about what we as a country eat. I could talk about animal rights issues: as a sensitive human being with animals of my own I do not like to support places that condone using animals without feeling or humanity. As a christian who has read in Matthew “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father” I cannot justify it either. And since food labelling is so convoluted, I like to visit the farm and know my farmer. I also think it is unethical to regularly purchase food for which the very people producing it (i.e. the farmers) are squeezed and pinched as hard as possible, while lining the pockets of the big companies selling it on. Even in times of drought or disease this is the case. For example: 

While higher wholesale prices are a boon to suppliers including Tyson Foods Inc, they are eroding profit margins at restaurants and… charging customers more…” (bloomberg.com)

If you think your little weekly purchase wont make a difference, you are wrong. Why do you think Walmart has started actively approaching small farmers and stocking organic food? Most of all, they will make a huge, direct difference right there in your community. Your neighbors, your friends, your farmers all benefit directly, without the middleman, when you buy local. You are building your community and supporting the local economy. I pay $2 a gallon for my local raw milk. That is less than I can buy milk for in the store. But it is 10 times as much as that farmer gets paid by the company that trucks his milk away for retail. In contrast, big companies who are able to purchase corn-based products (everything from soda to diapers to ketchup) and animals raised on corn as less than it costs to grow it because of tax subsidies from our pockets, are getting us to pay double for their food-like products. Are you one of those people who gets angry when you see individuals spending food stamps on potato chips instead of potatoes? You will be thrilled to know that you are paying for those chips not once but twice: with your tax dollars for food stamps and with your taxes that subsidize the corn and gas to get those chips there more cheaply than the fresh potatoes grown right in your neighborhood. I like to know the money I spend, and the things I put into my body, are supporting good people and good values.  Your community is filled with good people who grow or raise food with enough trust and care that they eat it themselves. They would love to build a relationship with you and share that good food.

3. Food is key to how our body works, how well our mind can function, and how our children grow. It is worth our time and our money more than many other things we invest in. We will spend so much of our money on technology for our home, cars, clothes, etc. and yet the very thing that creates and strengthens the building blocks of our mind and body we look to purchase as cheaply, easily, and quickly as possible. Mass food producers are thinking about the bottom line, not your health. If we as consumers are demanding cheap food-like products, that is what we will get. McDonalds and almost all major beef companies were, until recently, ‘washing’ their burgers in ammonia to meet the demand for cheap but disease-free food. (Here is a case where consumers made a difference and this practice was stopped: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/01/31/10282876-mcdonalds-drops-use-of-gooey-ammonia-based-pink-slime-in-hamburger-meat?lite) It is very, very difficult when shopping in superstores to make sure your meat is not undergoing things like this. For example, food safety in China is infamous. As I was shopping at my local superstore I wanted to purchase some fish that had not come from a farm in China. I finally found some “wild caught off the coast of Norway, all natural” fish. I purchased it and as I opened the box to cook it at home, saw the size 3 font tiny print on the flap stating “fish was processed and packaged in China.” Oh goody. When I buy my food locally, I have to wait for the cows to cross the road on the way to the shop to purchase their milk or meat. I see how they live. I can visit the butcher and watch them processed. I can live with what I see and I know what I am consuming is good for my body. Not to mention, many many organic and fresh local foods are much healthier than their store-bought alternatives. Some, like vegetables, are obvious: store bought vs. home grown tomatoes anyone? Others, like beef, take chemical analysis to show you that they are lower in bad fats and higher in good fats. Same with eggs. Ever wondered about the vitamin labels on your milk? When you pasteurize it at such high temperatures, you have to add the nutrients you destroy back in. 

4. We want our children to know how to program a computer, play and instrument, and compete in sports. But we feed them nuggets we can’t even name the ingredients of. When my kids visit a farm and scoop the milk fresh from the vat as the cow is being milked, they understand where their food comes from. As my six year old runs his own egg business, he knows the value of hard work, the importance of keeping his animals healthy and clean, and appreciates the value of money. He is a more responsible, caring person because of it. I love that my children know where their food comes from, how to work for it, will eat more and experiment more with food when they see it, and appreciate farmers. My son will now ask me “is it homemade?” for just about everything (we make fruit snacks, cheese strings, and granola bars here as well as our breads and cheeses), followed by an enthusiastic “yes!” when I tell him it is. How wonderful is that? And let me tell you, the birds and the bees talk was so much easier with children who have already seen, observed, and accept what it as part of a natural and wonderful process that produces the chicks and calves they love.

 

In the end, the way we live is a logical addition to our family values. We believe in supporting what’s good and right. We believe in building our community and developing fair and meaningful relationships with our neighbors. We treat our bodies as temples and care very much about what goes into them. That’s not to say that some days don’t still look like this:

Image

 

But most days look like this, and to me, that’s a beautiful thing worth spending time, money and occasionally sanity for.Image.

 

 

The raw milk question

At the moment we only have heifers at Wensleydale Cottage, and they arent even on site yet due to delays in building their barn. Until then, I get my milk from a dairy about 20 minutes away. 

Dexter Cows

We are waiting for two calves from this lovely family of Dexters

This dairy is not organic. By which I mean, it is not certified organic. It is a small farm with healthy, pasture-raised cattle. We do have an organic dairy less than a minute down the road from the Cottage. They don’t sell raw milk anymore, thanks to their insurance. In fact, the majority of organic dairy farms now have their milk ultra-pasteurized. Because we all know that milk from healthy, happy, grass fed cows that don’t need antibiotics is dangerous stuff*. Ultra-pasteurized milk (and its worse cousin UHT milk) is the diet, caffiene-free coke of the dairy world. It is heated to double boiling temperature, breaking down not only all its natural enzymes but also the vitamins and nutrients, which then have to be added back in ‘artificially.’ Which means, at $5+ per gallon for organic milk, we essentially are paying for expensive white water. (You can’t make cheese with the stuff either, because of how much it has been changed.)

Another reason I no longer purchase organic milk from the store is that farms can be certified organic simply by feeding their cows organic feed in confinement. This means you are receiving none of the nutrition (and ease of conscience) of milk from cows out on the pasture. Equally, many farms have practices we would associate with organics, but are not certified as organic: getting this certification in itself is very difficult and expensive, and farmers have these and many other legitimate reasons for not going organic. Over-regulation of local family farms has brought us to this.

Which means, until my own cows are producing milk, I go down to my farmer friend’s place and get fresh, raw milk as its being produced by the cow. I personally make the choice to low-temperature pasteurize this milk, for a number of reasons. I’m not religious about it: if I don’t have the time on the day I get it we will drink it raw. I don’t advocate raw over low-temp pasteurizing, or vice versa: low-temps keep the natural flavor, don’t denature the enzymes, or alter the calcium content. I fully support those who drink entirely raw: farmers who drink their own milk raw trust in the health of their animals and that’s a good assurance for me. (My farmer comes out with his milk pail every morning and fills it fresh from the cow.) Many of the cheeses I make are produced at virtually the same temperature as I bring my milk to for pasteurization, so pasteurizing my milk ahead of time buys me time before I use it to make cheese without my feeling like I have lost anything. 

Most people’s first reaction when I tell them I get my milk straight from the cow is “oh you will be be as big as a house soon with all that fat.” Yes, my milk is absolutely full fat, with all its cream-on-top glory. At least, it starts that way. Some of it is made into cheese, some of the cream skimmed off and whipped. And the milk we drink is put in a blender until it makes butter and separates, ‘skimming’ the milk for us. So, for $2 a gallon (much more than my farmer gets paid by the stores that buy his milk) I get butter, cheese, cream, and milk. I have yet to get as big as a house.

If you are able to get raw milk (and this is a whole other story, especially in NY!), and would like to low-temp pasteurize it, this is a very simple process. (It was invented by Louis Pasteur, for whom the process was named.) Your grandmother may tell you that the doctor would say to boil the milk if there were bad tummies in the house, and low-temp pasteurization is the same idea:

1. bring the milk to 145 degrees F. Don’t go above 170 or you will lose nutrition and denature the enzymes

2. Keep at 145 for 1/2 hour

3. cool quickly to fridge temperature. I put it in bottles for this part, or your cream with form a skin and you will lose it.

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Amberlinks!

Spring has arrived, and here at Wensleydale Cottage that means our Amberlink chickens (our very best layers) are celebrating their 1st birthday. And in traditional chicken style, they are doing it by molting. Which means all of our egg customers are going to have to wait patiently until our ladies are ready to lay again. 

Molting is an important process for chickens; it not only rejuvinates them on the outside, but allows them to strengthen internally and rest from egg laying. They become more disease resistant, and at the end of the process are ready to lay beautiful eggs again. 

At 1 year old, this will be our amberlinks’ first true molt (every chick goes through a molt as grow their adult feathers), so we dont know exactly how long it will take and how bizarre they will look! Thus far our ‘worst’ molter is an old lady I call goose for her honk-like cluck; 6 months on she finally has her feathers back! Traditionally, these slow molters would end up in the soup pot; our house is divided on this policy so Goose honks happily on.

Sorry all our loyal egg customers: with just 4 or so eggs a day at the moment we will need you to be patient until our ladies are ready to lay again! We will keep you posted.

 

 

1 year ago this month

Spring has arrived!

Spring has arrived at Wensleydale Cottage, and this means:

1. Lots of planting – using mason jars, mugs, and anything you can find looks fun on a windowsill. Eggshells are also great for planting in: they are naturally biodegradable (give them a squeeze before you put them in the ground) and add nutrients. Aren’t bright spring colors wonderful?

basil and milk

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basil, Lettuce, and milk fresh from the cow

boys garden

 

The boys working in grandma’s garden

eggshells

 

We’ve been cleaning and saving our shells this winter for planting

 

plants

 

Starting several varieties of cabbage, tomato,  lettuce, kale, broccoli, and more

 

2. Spring is great because it can still be cool enough for a fire, which is great for rising my bagels, rolls, and bread loaves.

buns on fire

 

3. Baking lovely spring recipes, like this lemon curd cake. Make a chocolate bundt cake, but replace the chocolate with lemon curd. The icing is powered sugar with lemon juice and water.

lemon cake

4. Boosting chicken health after a long winter: occasional yogurt, and vinegar in the water, goes a long way to a healthy chicken digestive system

yog chickens

5. Chicks! We tend to rotate what breeds we get each year so I can tell how old they are, although I couldn’t help but order more Amberlinks. Those guys are friendly, easy to care for, and lay almost every day!

fluffy chicks stu chicks

6. Our self-sufficient adventure begins in earnest: I made my first wheel of cheese to be waxed and aged ( I already make cheese weekly to be eaten immediately rather than aged). So far 2 weeks and no mold, so we’re looking good. The yield on this fresh-from-the-cow milk was incredible!

(Sharp Cheddar: heat milk to 90 degrees F, add your bacterial culture- I use a Mesophilic culture to achieve sharpness, keep at 90 for about 40 minutes. Add rennet to the milk and stir. Leave undisturbed and unheated to form a curd, which takes about an hour. Cut the curd and then bring the temperature back up to just over 100 degrees, as the curd separates from the whey. Drain and press excess moisture. Can be eaten straight away, or air dried for a week before waxing. )

curds

7. Spring always means mud here! But since we are working on building a barn for our Dexter heifers, we’ve got mud like we’ve never had before. I’m sure it will all be worth it in the end…

mud mud2