Saturday, March 27, 2010

Farmers Markets, eggs and The Common Market

Well, we've been trying to figure out where our retail outlets should be this summer and a plan has slowly come into view for 2010.

As it stands, we will be attending two markets this year, both on Saturday morning:

Fresh Farm Bethesda Market
June 19 - Oct 30, Saturdays, 9-1:00.
Norfolk Ave. at Veteran's Park.

Burleith/Glover Park Market,
May 8th - Oct 30th. Saturdays, 9-1:00.
Wisconsin at 34th Street, NW (across from the 'social Safeway')
Hardy Middle School parking lot.

(We are sad to be leaving our spot on Wednesday's in Rose Park:(

Thanks to the new program launched by the Maryland Dep't of Agriculture, we will be able to legally sell farm-fresh poultry and rabbit at the Bethesda Market.

We have ordered our broiler chicks and will be pasturing them starting in April for 2 batches of chicken sales this summer!

There is some hope that the USDA may change rules in place that currently only allow the sale of meat crossing state lines to come from a USDA-inspected abbatoir (meat processor).

If the new rules are passed, they may allow state-inspected facilities that meet the same standards as USDA-inspected facilities to be sold across state lines (think Maryland to D.C. farmers' markets).

As a farmer, I can attest that the presence of state, USDA or any other kind of certification really does not mean that much in terms of food safety.

For example, there have been several closures of large kosher USDA-inspected processing centers in the midwest in the past several years for serious infractions. These were situations where the kosher certifier may have looked the other way and allowed things to pass that were SO BAD that even the USDA intervened.

In the end, knowing who raises your food, under what conditions, and trusting in your farmer to work with reputable and humane butchers is the BEST way to be confident in the meat you are getting.

We also hope to supply more of our products to The Common Market ( a wonderful food COOP in Frederick and our grocer of choice in Frederick) and VOLT Restaurant (also in Frederick)

We are excited to see one more barrier to direct-to-consumer sales fall!

See you at the markets!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

As a consumer, what can I do?

Oftentimes, our customers will ask in frustration what they can do to help change our seriously warped industrial agriculture system. It can be overwhelming because its become such a big problem. It can be hard to know where to start.

The good news is there is a lot than can be done and it all begins at the beginning! Many changes begin in small ways and are easily implemented even when working hard as a busy parent, homemaker or worker bee.

First of all, every time you buy something locally produced at a farmers' market or local coop, your dollars are making a statement, sending a message to producers, and removing one animal from an inhumane feedlot operation.

This is probably the one most important thing you can do and has a profound and rippling affect down throughout the ag system.

By supporting producers doing the right thing, you strengthen them and make it easier for them to compete, increase their production and continue to spread the good word.

Which leads me to my next item, which is education. I consider this probably the most important thing because every time I can get someone thinking about food and its provenance, I create a lifelong catalyst for change. There are too many people who are ignorant and blissful.

Now don't get me wrong, I love a little ignorant bliss as much as the next person, but some things are too important to ignore. Food and its provenance is one of those things. The costs are just too high for our health, the health of the environment, our local farming community and the misuse of public funds (i.e. your money) to support a pathologic system of food production.

When you buy food from retailers like BJ's or COSTCO, you directly support the mistreatment of animals, the ruining of our physical environment, the exploitation of workers in very powerless situations, and serious effects on human health.

As a parent, are you concerned about your family's well-being? What are the long-term ramifications of your spending habits. What about your children's lives? Are your habits making the world a better place for them when they reach adulthood and are looking to have their own families?

If you're a religious person, should you treat the world around you as a treasure or something to be exploited, used up and then discarded? Animals, plants and the world we live in deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.

I've heard that American Indian traditions require that any new practice be judged as to its affect several generations or more down the line, before they are considered just or permissable.

Just because the Chinese are willing to make the same mistakes we made in terms of their environmental protection doesn't mean we shouldn't care or that we should support their bad decisions just because its cheap. Much of what we eat is now coming out of China and other essentially unregulated sources.

We now have melamine in our food supply in THIS country because of our careless policies that emphasize cheap food above all else. And dust storms now blow across the continents from Africa and Asia and significantly (and usually negatively) affect weather in North America.

Okay, enough preaching. Sorry but this is something I feel just can't wait. I am most certainly an idealist at heart.

Here are some very concrete suggestions you might want to explore:

1. Join a CSA.

This is a great way to get hooked up to the local food production community and get the freshest, best things that local farmers have to offer. Not all CSA's are the same and you should look around for a CSA that best suits your needs in terms of delivery, the kinds of products included (just veggies, milk products, meats, year-round, costs, etc).

I think we may be launching our first CSA's next fall and will target Frederick, Maryland for easy delivery. Hopefully, we can expand to D.C. if all goes as planned in 2010.

2. Check out some really great films out now and consider showing them locally:

3. Frequent your local farmers' markets, get to know your farmers and talk to them. Ask them about barriers to delivering their products to market.

Oftentimes, there are simple things that can be done to remove barriers to local food delivery. A good example here in Maryland were existing state laws that prevented farmers from selling poultry processed on-farm to consumers at farmers' markets. We could sell you a chicken on the farm, but not at the local farmers' market.

Arbitrary and unnecessary legislation harking back to a time when off-farm poultry processing was readily available to local farmers. This is no longer the case as small abbatoirs have struggled to compete with super cheap meats.

Maryland Dep't of Ag recently created a new program to certify farmers to process their own poultry for resale to consumers at farmers' markets directly. This still doesn't solve the problem of other retail outlets unavailable to local farmers, like your family supermarket, but we often measure change in small steps.

4. Explore some online resources specifically geared towards connecting consumers with local producers. Many have email alerts that can help you keep current on legislation affecting the local foods movement in your area.

Here are just a few:

Future Harvest/CASA - the Chesapeake/Maryland chapter for sustainable agriculture

SLOW food USA - awesome global organization that promotes local food. They have a yearly conference in Italy every year! Italy anyone!

LOCAL HARVEST - good resource for finding local producers and local farming/consumer events.

Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund - helps counteract some of the unfair practices affecting small producers and their access to consumers. helps counteract some of the oppressive bureaucratic oversight and powerful big-ag lobby.

EAT WILD! - a good resource for finding grass-fed, finished operations in your area. grass fed meats have been shown to have the same health benefits as fish oil in terms of high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

100 mile diet Try eating only locally produced (within 100 miles) food for a month or a year. Don't worry, you're allowed a few luxury items like coffee, tea, OJ, etc!

I'll stop there but this is just a beginning! Please don't be offended by what I have to say - this is my opinion. Educate yourself and then get back to me as to whether I was off-base or not ;)

A word of warning however...this is a slippery slope. Once you start to educate yourself, you can't easily turn back to that blissful place and you will never look at what and how you eat the same way again :)


Friday, March 5, 2010

Lambs, lambs everywhere!

Well, after last week's kidding by Lucy, we have finally concluded our first (and last! lol) February lambing.

Granted, who could have predicted the worst weather in recorded history and all in all, we did pretty well despite the weather. This was our first try at winter lambing and it was not completely satisfactory.

The advantages of lambing on pasture, our normal practice, were clear pretty quickly. Aside from the obvious issues about cold weather, we kind of overlooked the difficulties of keeping a clean environment with so many animals on the barnyard.

Without good hygiene, enterocolitis and coccidia become major problems and treatment can be difficult, time-consuming, and somewhat unsatisfactory.

Here are some of our bottle babies during feeding time. We took a more aggressive stance and culled several mom's with non-functioning teats and other irreparable problems.

Lambing on pasture allows you to take advantage of the natural cleaning properties of wind, sun and rain. The mother's segregate themselves to find a quiet corner to lamb in.

Given the fact that katahdins are such good mothers and easy lambing predominates, assisted deliveries are rare. the biggest problem we've had is new mom's confusing lambs born at about the same time and highly hormonal expectant mom's stealing other's lambs! lol

We lost 2 lambs to cold and one lamb to a pneumonia, but the remaining 125 are doing beautifully!

We also had 4 malpresentations, one retained lamb, 4 mummies, 4 cases mastitis, one set of quads, one set of septuplets, and one emergency c-section.

I'm not entirely sure but believe that our c-section dame may have ruptured her uterus plus or minus a placenta previa. Her two lambs are doing fine on the bottle and I expect to retain both for our genetics.

Here's a sequence that illustrates nicely the normal progression of lambing:

This ewe has already delivered her first lamb when I arrived. Note the fresh umbilical cord hanging below her lamb.

The dame continues to paw the ground in a nesting maneuvers while she smells and explores her lamb, cleaning it quickly by licking it dry. This cleans up the scents of blood that might draw a predator and dries the lamb who can chill very quickly.

The lamb will quickly struggle to its feet and start searching for the teat. It is vital that it find the teat quickly in order to get as much colostrum as possible.

Colostrum is like lamb jet fuel, very high in calories, fat and energy, as well as vital antibodies to shore up the lambs non-existant immune system. Without colostrum, the lamb is MUCH more likely to perish from cold, pneumonia and starvation.

The lamb has found the teat and her nursing action stimulates prolactin release in the brain which encourages milk let-down and stimulates more uterine contractions. Suddenly the ewe is back in labor and is gearing up for her next lamb.

The ewe lays down, pushes out another lamb and then quickly gets up, turns and starts cleaning and stimulating her second lamb. If this happens too quickly after her first lamb is born, one lamb may not get the attention it needs.

Sometimes, the amniotic sac is covering the new lamb's airway and without mom's help, the young lamb may not be able to break free on its own.

With the second lamb nursing, mom's contractions are really kicking in and she quickly has the urge to push once again. The process repeats itself for a third time and she is done. The afterbirth will follow within a few hours and the best mother's eat the placenta to clean the birth site and as a valuable nutritional addition. Her body condition will deteriorate rapidly over the next 10 weeks as she nurses 3 lambs and she needs every calorie, all the iron and protein she can get.


HOOP houses and the USDA

I've been thinking of some ideas on what to write about lately and decided to give kudos to the USDA who has finally come up with a program that will encourage local, sustainable agriculture.

They have recently created a reimbursement program to defray costs to small producers who want to build a hoop house, otherwise known as a cold frame or french-style cold greenhouse.

This is actually an old technique where two layers of air are used to hold heat in in order to raise cool season veggies in the winter and extend the warm season further into spring and fall for heat-loving plants like tomatoes.

Remember, there was a time when fresh produce could not be shipped across country during winter months, and people relied on squash and canned goods to get their veggies in the winter. This was one way to allow fresh, seasonal greens for example to be produced in northern climes.

While the money is limited, it does give small producers an opportunity to grow product in the winter months for local resale.

We are very excited to join this awesome program and look forward to offering fresh produce essentially year-round to our customers.