Thursday, September 30, 2010

100 MILE DIET: local eating for global change

Sounds intriguing, doesn't it?

But think about it - if we all started eating locally, as in products produced within 100 miles of our home base, think of how things would change, how our diet would change.

Sounds too restrictive, impossible, unrealistic, painful doesn't it! lol

Well, in reality, up until the 1940's, this was the norm for most Americans. It still holds true for many people around the world.

Of course, we always had our luxury items like oranges and lemons, coffee, tea, and chocolate/cacao, but for the most part, we ate what was produced within a reasonable distance of our home. We canned, dried, cured and stored foods to eat throughout the winter.

Since then, we live in a time of the winter tomato - flown halfway around the world, with 1/10th the flavor, and at 5 times the cost of a real, local tomato of summer.

At Whitmore Farm, we take our seconds from our market tomatoes, still picked at the height of their flavor, and freeze whole and pureed tomatoes which is about as easy as it gets. In January, its simple to pull out a block of tomato for wonderful winter soups and sauces and a real taste of summer in January! Fantastic!

Entire food traditions have slowly withered away. Take winter squash, formerly a STAPLE of the winter diet, high in vitamins A, E, fiber, and flavor.

Who eats winter squash anymore? I mean really!?

So here's an interesting idea then, the 100 mile diet.

The authors of this and other similar websites call it the 'new organic' - better for your health, the environment, your local economy, local farms, and the animals and plants involved.

'Plants?' you say - think of all the grief poor spinach took last year with the great spinach scare because a factory farm contaminated their spinach crop with E. coli tainted water, sickening hundreds? Peanuts again the next year! Talk about unsafe foods!

Also, the 100 miled diet helps reconnect the eater with seasonal foods, foods that have fallen out of favor but have so much to offer in terms of flavor, variety, and nutrition.

While a 6 or 12 month commitment to eating local only might seem overwhelming, consider sponsoring a local dinner for friends and family.

Try something new - pick up a fruit or vegetable you've never used before, take it home, and check online for a tasty recipe to try.

Join a CSA for a season and try to use everything you get - seriously, just TRY! lol Most CSA members complain that they can't come close to finishing everything in their box or basket. A CSA can be a very economical way of feeding your family, all the while supporting local agriculture.

Most city folks are surprised at how much fun they have visiting and working on the farm, and for those of you on a budget, many CSA allow the exchange of labor for food shares.

To get you started, here's a recipe from FOOD&WINE for spicy squash with cavatelli, but I substitute whatever kind of pasta I have - larger pasta like rigatoni work better than spaghetti or linguini:


  1. 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  2. 6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  3. 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  4. 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
  5. 2 pounds winter squash—peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  6. 1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme
  7. Salt and freshly ground pepper
  8. 1 1/2 pounds cavatelli, small shells, rigatoni, etc
  9. 3/4 cup freshly grated caciocavallo, pecorino or Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving.


  1. 1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic, onion and crushed red pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic and onion are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the squash and thyme, season with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender, about 5 minutes.

    2. Meanwhile, add the cavatelli to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Add the cavatelli to the squash mixture in the skillet, then stir in 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and toss gently to combine. Add the 3/4 cup of caciocavallo, season with salt and pepper and stir gently; add a little more pasta water if necessary. Serve the pasta right away, passing more cheese at the table.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

SLOW FOOD in the U.S.

With all the press recently about food safety and the morbid obesity epidemic, I decided to feature a movement I support, the Slow Food Movement and SLOWfoodUSA.

SLOW FOOD originated in Italy by Carlo Petrini in 1986 in reaction and opposition to the opening of a Mc Donald's in Rome near the Spanish Steps. The name is meant to evoke all that is opposite or contrary to the fast food movement.

Initially focused on preserving traditional and regional cuisine and promoting farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem, the slow food movement has expanded its scope and offers intriguing ideas about how and what we eat affects our lives.

This would be the French concept of terroir which literally translates into 'land'. In reality, terroir really refers to the unique characteristics of any area (soil, geography, culture) that produce unique foods, and that these unique foods are integral to our culture, the environment, and our food enjoyment, and need to be protected.

While most commonly associated with more celebrated products like champagne (from the Champagne region of France) for example, even a relatively young country like the U.S. has it's own terroir - vidalia onions, vermont cheddar and maple syrup, georgia peaches, and washington apples.

Terroir could also include items like Buffalo chicken wings, spedie meat (Binghampton, N.Y.), or scrapple in the South. Perhaps not as refined as champagne, but ours....all ours nonetheless!

SLOW FOOD has since grown into an organization with over 100,000 members in 132 countries.

The Slow Food movement incorporates a series of objectives within its mission, including:

  • promoting the preservation of heirloom varieties of plants and heritage breed livestock.
  • development of the 'Ark of Taste' for foods of exceptional quality or in danger of extinction
  • preserving and promoting local food traditions
  • organizing celebrations of local food items and traditions, often in the context of community.
  • promoting food education including the risks of 'fast food', the antithesis of 'slow food'
  • education about the risks of large agribusiness and factory
  • education about the risks of monoculture
  • promoting the preservation of small and family farms
  • lobbying for the inclusion and promotion of strong local food systems, increased organic and sustainable farming
  • lobbying against genetic engineering and GMO products in our food chain
  • lobbying against the use of pesticides
  • encouraging ethical buying in the marketplace such as fair trade products

Recent events organized by Slow Food USA include:

Pie on the Porch, Miami, FLA Sept 25th, 2010

Clash Farm to Table, Falmouth, MA Sept 26th, 2010

Whatcom Harvest Dinner, Ferndale, WA Sept 26th 2010

Heirloom Harvest Farm Barbeque, Exeter, RI Sept 26th, 2010

Screening of 'Grown in Detroit', St. Louis, MI Sept 27th, 2010

Pawpaws & Persimmons, Ann Arbor, MI Oct 2nd, 2010

Sounds awesome, doesn't it!

I think slow food represents an organization working towards a food delivery system that we could all live with. A 'slow'-er America would help to reverse some of the damaging affects that our 'modern' agricultural system has had on our health, our environment, and our culture.

As SLOW FOOD puts it: 'supporting good, clean, and fair food'! I couldn't say it better or more simply myself.

Take a minute and look over the Slow Food USA home page and consider becoming active in your local Slow Food Movement!

It's a BOY!

....and a GIRL!

Well, actually two boys and two girls!

Heidi Ho and Kate both kidded yesterday without incident.

Heidi Ho doeling

Heidi Ho doeling - looks like the same doeling in a different color, doesn't it!

Kate buckling - he's a total firecracker!

AY MATIE! I would be Kate's other pirate buckling!

We offer our congrats to our two awesome mums!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dutch cheese is lekker!

Lekker : adjective (slang) delicious, tasty, luscious, choice, savoury, palatable, dainty, delectable, mouthwatering, yummy , scrumptious (informal), appetizing, toothsome, ambrosial

Example: 'We had a really lekker meal.'

Recently, Will and I had the pleasure of visiting Holland for two purposes:
  1. to research a new model for humane egg production on a commercial scale, the Rondeel model
  2. to visit a sheep farm that produces cheese from a traditional, non-dairy breed of sheep, the Texel.
Our trip started in Amsterdam where we were able to visit a couple of neighborhood farmer's markets. Dutch friends were able to confirm a renewed interest in locally-produced products and a resurgence of interest in farmer's markets amongst the Dutch.

We did look for locally-produced products and farms featured at local restaurants, but really didn't see as much of this as is common in the U.S. these days.

After a day in Amsterdam, our first stop was a day trip to Barneveld to visit the poultry museum, the Pluimveemuseum. There was an interesting display on the history of the chicken in Holland including several breeds developed in Holland like the Barneveld and Welsummer. These two breeds are known for their dark brown eggs which may look familiar to those of you enjoying Whitmore Farm eggs - we raise Welsummers!

Barneveld chickens

The primary purpose of our visit however was a visit to a commercial poultry operation using the Rondeel model. This model is offered as a humane option for commercial egg production by the Rondeel organization in Holland.

The basic design of the structure was a central service core, with laying areas and 'lounge' areas numbered 1 and 2 below, and then a ring of open space for ranging, scratching and such (area 3).
Unfortunately, as Will explained, chickens typically form 'family groups' compromised of a rooster and a group of hens up to about 20 birds in a more natural environment.

When crowded in commercial production facilities, this normal social structure breaks down and pathologic behavior emerges - pecking and egg-eating being two examples.

Consequently, hens are debeaked to prevent damage from pathologic pecking, eliminating their ability to 'scratch', further worsening this disconnect from normal habitat, behavior, and family structure.

Stress also significantly and negatively impacts the immune system, increasing the chances of disease, decreasing production, and increasing emergence of pathogenic organisms like salmonella and shigella in the end product.

I think both Will and I were disappointed with the end product, although it was clearly was more humane than the current commercial egg production model found in the U.S.

The second part of our trip was a visit to the island of Texel, in the western end of the Friesian Islands, to the north of Amsterdam.

Our primary point of interest was a visit to De Waddel Farm, a traditional farm raising Texel sheep for meat AND dairy. De Waddel was one of only 2 farms left on the island still producing traditional Texel cheese using unpasteurized sheep's milk.

De Waddel 'schapenkass' or cheese shop!

De Waddel, circa 1625

These are some fine examples of Texel sheep. The breed is best known for phenomenal muscling and is generally considered a meat sheep. Their wool is of medium grade and has little value in today's wool market.

Texel's have a distinctive look with a clean head, heavy muscling, and a very BLOCKY head that strikes fear in the heart of most shepherds. When it comes to lambing time, imagine a square peg and a round hole - well, you get the idea.

The Bakker Family and Jan-Willem in particular took 3 hours out of his busy day to discuss his experiences with the Texel breed, management of his sheep, and what life is like for shepherds in Holland these days. It was a pretty incredible day and we enjoyed some unusually nice weather.

The cheese making workshop, attached to the main house

Some of the finished product on display. The Bakkers run a cheese shop from their house and sell locally to residents, tourists, and restaurants.

They sell 3 types of Texel cheese - young, 6 months, and 1 year.

The young cheese has a very creamy texure and all 3 have a natural rind. The 1 year is very similar to a parmesan or other sharp, dry cheese, fantastic for cooking as well as for eating.

Uncle Baker, the local postman, stops for a visit and coffee

We ended our tour with an opportunity to sit with the Bakkers and enjoy some coffee and cookies, and look over the elder Mr. Bakker's book chronicling the development and history of the Texel breed.

Unfortunately, it is only available in Dutch at present - anyone out there interested in translating and publishing an English version?

Will, Jan-Willem, and Mouse (Jan's assistant farmer) examine his best ram recently back from a Texel show. Jan said that his rams typically don't win because his farm specializes in a larger-framed sheep currently out of favor with breeders in Holland.

A wool shop in the main town on the island of Texel, Den Burg.

For the shepherds amongst you, here are a few interesting tid-bits of information and observations from our visit to the Bakker farm:
  • the wool was definitely of a finer texture than the wool we've examined on American Texels. The wool has very little lustre.
  • we saw Texels in many shades of blue, black, and grey although only white is allowed for registration.
  • the Bakkers are experimenting with crosses using the Friesian sheep (a traditional dairy breed from the islands to the east of Texel).
  • there was limited intensive rotational grazing being used.
  • Footrot is ubiquitous - all pastures and farmland were very damp with a lot of mud and standing water. The Bakkers vaccinate with the rot vaccine which causes a transient febrile illness in their sheep.
  • The Bakkers run about 500 ewes on 50 hectares, about 120 acres of sandy soil. They are limited on how much fertilization they can apply to something like 40 #'s per acre.
  • There appear to be no restrictions on the sale of unpasteurized cheese products.
  • Most lambs are sold at about 10-12 weeks (?) for about 100-110 euros each!
We recently introduced a Texel from Bev Pearsall's Farm near us in Thurmont and are excited to see what affect this has on our carcass quality in next year's product. Bev's Texels have been winning the carcass competition at the Maryland Sheep & Wool for years and we are very fortunate to have access to stock from such an accomplished breeder in our area!

Texel rams have become the breed of choice for using as a terminal sire for meat production because of their fantastic muscling. At last year's sale in Lanark (Scotland), a Texel ram sold for a world-record price of 231,000 pounds!

While our new Texel ram, Arnold Schwarzenegger, may not be world-class, we look forward to lambs from him in 2011!