Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sandra Had A Little Lamb

The key word in the post's title is had. Technically, I still have him, he's just neatly cut up, vacuum-sealed and flash frozen. Yes, the time finally came for the one and only lamb to ever been born at Painted Hand Farm to embark on his own journey from the pasture to the plate. 

He was born unexpectedly from an adult ewe one of my  Muslim customers had asked me to source for mutton. "Please find me something older. My mother is coming from Pakistan and wants meat that has some flavor--no lamb."

"She's coming two,  hasn't lambed yet and has always looked thin," said my sheep-farming neighbor to whom I had gone. And so I thought it was a perfect match.

But only the day prior to the customer's planned trip to the butcher where he would dispatch the animal in accordance to his dietary laws, the ewe dropped a nearly nine-pound healthy ram lamb and proceeded to raise him despite the terrible toll it took on her body. Sixty days after giving birth (what would be a typical weaning time), the skinny ewe dropped dead.

Never having raised sheep before, I gave my inexperience a lofty goal of having him for Easter dinner and so the spring holiday became his namesake. He bonded with Emma, the cream cow and thrived as the months went by. Busy with farmers market, the idea of having a big Easter dinner didn't materialize. Plan B--he'll be a special guest of honor at the annual Labor Day Goat Roast.

The wet summer brought about abundance in the pastures and Easter grew larger as the months rolled by.  When Labor Day arrived, two different issues arose granting the ram lamb yet another reprieve of the knife. First, he was big and I feared he would dress out to be too large for my Kane BBQ rotisserie. The weatherman issued the second stay. There was a darn good chance of a deluge during the annual picnic and I expected an abbreviated guest list. Roasting two large animals would be wasteful.

By the time fall rolled around, he was looking mighty good. Tail and testicles intact, several of my Eid customers attempted to purchase him for their holiday dinner, but I politely declined. Yes, I'm a farmer and yes, I'm a businesswoman, but I'm also an eater with a great love for the food that comes out of my pastures.

As the fall forages diminished, the day came to start loading everyone on the trailer who would not be over-wintering, Easter included.

"Where did that come from?" questioned my USDA processor.

"He was born and raised on my farm." It was an honest reply.

"But you hate sheep." He knew me well.

"Ah, but I love lamb," I replied in a tone that made no mistake as to my gastronomic preferences. 

As a livestock producer, one of my favorite parts of the job is Quality Control. As I loaded the van at the processors with lamb, veal and goat, I made sure to set aside a choice package of loin chops to start thawing so I could cook them later that evening.
Christmas Dinner!
A smoking hot cast iron skillet, fresh cracked pepper, rosemary-infused sea salt and the lamb from my pasture that I had watched grow. Will I miss him? Kind of....

Although he stayed inside the fence (something my sheep-farming friends told me wouldn't happen), when the herd would walk out to the far pasture in the morning to graze, sometimes they would leave him when they came up to the alleyway for shade and water later in the day. Even though he walked that path with the herd day after day, he would stand alone in the middle of the field screaming at the top of his lungs as if the Big Bad Wolf were out there chewing on his leg.

Anyone who has ever heard a sheep in distress knows it's an awful sound. Inevitably, the phone would ring.

A wonderful pairing from Ojai Vineyards...thank you Cindy & Bill!
"Hello, this is your neighbor calling and I think there's something wrong with one of your animals." With the farm located on top of the hill, sound echos in all directions bouncing off barns and carrying for a good quarter mile. Likewise, I know when it's feeding time at Mr. Leib's hog farm, when McElwees get in a load of cattle, when George's cows are in heat. But Easter's bleats of panic went far beyond the normal sounds at first. Eventually, even the Great Pyrenees learned to ignore his shrieks which only subsided when the herd returned to the far pasture or I became so fed up with it I would walk out and lead him back to be with the herd.
Seasoned with fresh pressed garlic and cut fresh rosemary from Cooseman's , freshly ground black pepper and black Hawaiian sea salt.
I farm not just so I can eat well, but that others can, too. To hoard this incredibly delicious pasture-raised lamb would only defeat my mission in life. My only question after this experience is do I still hate sheep?
I'm going to loving this little boy in a few minutes...and so will everyone else at the table.
Answer: Yes, but I love lamb. And I hope others will love it enough for me to overcome my prejudice and add several ram lambs to the herd next spring for meat in the fall again. Nothing pleases me more to hear, "That was the best [insert cut of meat] we ever had!" from my customers, especially after the holidays when my animals are given the lofty honor of being the centerpiece of a celebration meal.

Cooked to perfection!
Blessings to everyone this holiday season and for the coming year. 
Thank you for your patronage and support of local foods. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Matter of Perspective

Sandra's Awesome Braised Oxtails

"You're feeding me ass," he wailed as I set out the dutch oven with a very lovingly prepared dish of braised oxtails. "Out of the entire cow, you feed me the f*&%ing ass?" The shrieking finally subsided when he tore off to Walmart for an 18-pack of eggs, a loaf of Wonder Bread, a bottle of Aunt Jemima syrup, a jar of peanut butter and a pound of Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage. Four deep freezers full of meat all out of the pasture, gardens galore and homemade whole grain bread from locally grown & milled wheat, yet there was "nothing in the house to eat."

Needless to say this was more proof that this relationship had to be put out of its misery. I'd save the tongue to cook after he was gone, which couldn't be soon enough. I can put up with bad habits, idiosyncrasies, kooky relatives and even poorly behaved children, but the one thing I will not tolerate is someone who refuses to eat out of my pasture and off of my plate.

  • 2 large oxtails cut in 3" segments
  • 6-10 strips of bacon or back fat
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 cups tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • salt & pepper
"You're trying to kill me, aren't you?" he spat out when he found the thick slab of back fat I nabbed of some freshly butchered pastured pork only days before from a neighbor. "If you keep feeding me this crap, I'm going to have a heart attack. No wonder your ass is so big."  He walked outside to have a cigarette which I knew would knock him dead faster than than you could say bacon. And I've realized over the last two years the more I eat real fats, like lard, bacon, butter, cream, the smaller my ass gets and the better my blood chemistry numbers get. Go figure.

 In a Dutch Oven, cook bacon until the bottom of the pan is covered with melted fat. Add pieces of oxtail and cook until browned. Remove from pan and set aside. Add fennel, carrots, onions and garlic. Cook for 5-7 minutes until onions are translucent. Return oxtail to the pan and add wine, tomatoes and seasonings. Cover and either simmer on low or place in 300 degree oven for two hours.
While I occasionally share this meal with friends I know will absolutely enjoy it, for the most part this is one of those special dishes that makes me take a deep breath filled with gratitude and accept life for what it is...awesome & delicious.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

An All-Weather Job

 Wow, it's not even the first of November and the first snow of the season is falling. Not some pansy-ass dusting of powder, but a full Monty, sopping wet, white-out, tree-branch breaking, snow-ball fighting, welcome to winter snow storm. While everyone else tends to batten down the hatches after making a bread, milk & toilet paper run, the truth is that the people who produce your food must continue to work. Calves need fed twice a day, eggs must be gathered and the rest of the critters need to eat, too.

And of course, the storm has to hit on a weekend--just in time to really screw up things for farmers markets, but we mitigate. But here at the farm, things roll on regardless of the weather.
 Saturday morning means heading into town to stock up on the necessities as well as run errands. Although I recognized the impending storm yesterday, my schedule wasn't flexible enough to get in a trip to town.
 Hey, that's what all-wheel-drive is for! Errands completed and ready to ride the rest of this one out at the farm.
Still snowing.....
Will I make it to market tomorrow? Only Mother Nature can tell for sure.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bull in a Bag

Yep, that's a week-old bull calf swaddled in a gunny sack for his trip from JuJo Acres over North Mountain to Painted Hand Farm in the back of a Volkswagen.

I'm guilty of hauling sheep and goats in my Subaru, but this was a calf! Leave it to Jonas, whom I consider one of the finest stockman I have ever met, to show up with baby beef in the boot.

I don't think I had ever seen a young calf so calm and relaxed after being transported.

Tomorrow morning I'm scheduled to pick up another Holstein bull calf from a neighboring dairy. The cow had the little guy hidden in the hedgerow out in the pasture for a week and as the farmer put it, "is wild as a hare." For some reason, I don't think that one will be a good candidate for me to take Jonas's lead on calf transportation. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Farm Girl Fashionista

I'm not a trendy person. As a matter of fact, I loathe shopping. My clothes come from three places--East Meets West, the local animal shelter's thrift store and hand-me-downs from my mother. As a farmer, going on a shopping spree to outfit myself for the 'office' is just plain stupid. I do keep some key items free of manure stains and horn holes to make myself presentable on market day, but for the most part, clothing must be functional, inexpensive and ready to be destroyed at any moment.

Similarly, I take the same stance on my hair....practical. Monthly trips to the salon for a trim, color, perm, highlights, roots, whatever...has just never been on my priority list. Yes, when I had the two-toned mottled skunk look going on earlier in the spring I succumbed to Lady Clairol, but for the most part, I tame my mane with clips or single long spikes which include pencils, chopsticks and paintbrushes.

But today I couldn't locate any of those items and used the closest thing at hand--an errant tail feather from my new Barred Rock Rooster, Schtupp. Little did I realize the black and white cock was about to spur me into the world of high fashion.

It started at the bank. "Oh my gawd, that feather is soooo cool," squealed all the ladies. "Where did you get one so big?"

"One what?" I was oblivious.

"Your hair feather."

Dare I tell them that I picked it off the litter, grit and shit-covered floor of my hen house when my hair kept getting in my face, irritating me to pin it up with the first thing I spied that would work.

"It was a present from my rooster," I replied, leaving them all speechless as they well knew I farmed.A firm believer in local economies and a creature of habit, I continued with my Monday routine of the bank, post office, library, hardware store, thrift shop and boutique in downtown.

Standing in line at the post office, the lady behind me was next.

"Oh, I love your feather. It's so different from the ones all the college girls are getting melted into their hair." Did I hear her right? Melted into their hair? And then I remembered the story in the New York Times earlier in the summer about how women were buying up all the hackles used in fly-tying for hair accoutrement.In the two blocks between the post office and my car parked back at the bank, I encountered TWO places offering hair feathers--a salon and my favorite boutique, where they hung next to the cash obvious impulse item display.
"That's a Guinea Hen wing feather, a Pheasant breast feather and the hackle off some rooster," I told the boutique owner as she rang up my greeting card purchase. "And just what kind of feather do you have in your hair today?"

And then the idea for another revenue stream hit me.

So not everything that comes out of my pasture will go on the plate. Some of it might even go into your hair!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bloody, Muddy & Bruised

People often forget how dangerous a job farming can be, including the farmers themselves at times. A 900-pound round bale rolls out of the bucket and over the back of a tractor crushing the hay farmer. A breeding Holstein bull grinds the dairy farmer into the ground pulverizing his body to a mass of pulp. A pig farmer is overcome by hydrogen sulfide gas while trying to fix the auger in the manure pit. These are just a few examples of accidents which have occurred in my community over the last few years and today I was reminded of just how quickly one can get hurt farming.

As I sit here writing this post, I've got ice packs on my leg and ankle, my boots and clothing lie on a heap on the front porch caked with muck and my new breeding buck is missing half of his ear. It all happened in the blink of an eye while my back was turned and before I knew it, I was caught in a fight between these two....
That's El Jefe, my Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog weighing in at 185 lbs and my new Boer buck who tipped the scales at 195 lbs last week when I brought him to the farm.

I usually let the dogs in behind the barn to eat so they don't have to continually fend off the goats from their food. Yes, goats LOVE dog food. I had fed the buck inside the barn--some nice hay, a little grain--and then went outside to feed the dogs.

As I undid the chain holding shut the solid gate between the barnyard and the paddock to walk down through the pasture checking on everyone, I heard the fight begin. Before I could turn around to issue a cease & desist order to Jefe, I was hit from behind by a rolling, snarling, barking mass of fur and horns. The buck had gone for the dog food and in retaliation, Jefe decided to teach the new goat on the block a lesson in who was boss.

He had the massive caprine by the ear at first, but the buck reared up and crashed down on the dog with all his weight. Thoroughly pissed, Jefe went for the goat's face. I screamed at the dog and he let go long enough for the buck to attempt to go through the gate in front of which I was standing. Frantically, I tried to undo the chain, but I did not want to let him loose into my herd of does knowing darn well it would mean kidding in the dead of winter, something I wanted to avoid. My mind was not focused on my personal safety, as it should have been. Jefe took another go at the goat and I was smashed into the corner of the barn and gate before I finally undid the chain and crawled through the opening into mud that was several inches deep from last night's torrential rains. Jefe jumped over me and fortunately, the buck retreated in the opposite direction allowing me to secure the gate between the two with myself safely out of the range of those big horns.

My heart raced. A wave of heat and nausea swept over me as I stood in shock. My does gathered around and my horse came close to investigate. After taking a quick inventory to make sure I wasn't badly injured, I opened a gate to fresh browse for the ladies, checked on the buck and limped back to the house in fear and shame.

I often joke that I prefer goats to cattle because they're cuter and they don't kick as hard, but the reality of the matter is that breeding animals are dangerous and unpredictable. I'm guilty of becoming complacent which can quickly lead to getting roughed up or injured as I well found out this morning.

So next time you whip up a batch of curry or put a goat burger on the grill, remember that getting your dinner from the pasture to the plate can be a dangerous prospect at times for the farmer.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Lesson In Gratitude

As people passed by me Wednesday morning at the intersection of Earl and King Streets in Shippensburg, they smiled weakly, shook their heads and even graciously offered to help as I spun off the eight lugs that fastened the black rubber pancake that once was a tire to my flatbed Ford.

"I've got it, but thank you very much," I cheerfully replied.

"Yeah, right..."and probably thought to themselves that they wouldn't have been so happy about a flat tire on a truck towing a stock trailer first thing in the morning.

But I was.....

What everyone didn't know was earlier I had been rolling down Interstate 81 to Horst's Abattoir in Maugansville, Maryland, where I have my livestock processed under USDA inspection. Riding alongside tractor trailers destined for Wal Mart, Target and Tractor Supply was my load of future scallopini, osso bucco and chorizo. Anyone who travels this mid-Atlantic corridor understands the volume of 18-wheelers with one must share the road. (I use the word share facetiously as the big rigs are also big bullies). Thanks to all the "Your Speed" contraptions throughout the construction zones, I knew my little rig was humming along at 60 mph both on the way down loaded and on the way back empty.

Butcher days are logistically tough for me. I have to deliver the livestock to Maryland first thing in the morning, having them at Horst's by ten at the latest. While I have the option to transport them the night before, I believe in minimizing stress prior to harvest not just for the welfare of the animals themselves, but to also produce superior tasting meat. (Check out this article in the Atlantic) Then it's back to the farm to load up and head into the city for the Crossroads Farmers Market.

Although I've had local cattle jockeys haul my stock to the butcher on occasion, it's one part of the process of putting food on the table I am loathe to give up and not because it's simply more money out of my pocket.

When I'm standing behind the table at market, I want to be able to tell my customers I've been completely responsible for what they're about to eat---beginning to end, pasture to plate. For me, that includes loading the animals on the trailer and driving them to be processed.

Factory farms only commit half the atrocities against our food by cooping them up indoors by the thousands and feeding them antibiotic-laden GMO grain-based feeds. Equally egregious is the way in which they are harvested and processed which often includes being trucked hundreds of miles in a tightly-packed tractor trailer and then held for at least a day without food or water to clear out their bladders & bowels prior to slaughter.

So you can see why I was living in gratitude for my flat tire in downtown Shippensburg. I was not stuck on the side of the highway with a load of goats and calves, possibly missing my butcher appointment. Even more fantastic were my neighbors who, seeing me in obvious need, stopped and helped me get my tools and the wheel to the tire store for a new one and back to the truck to put it on and get rolling down the road again. And I wasn't even late to market!

It's all a matter of perspective.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hog Heaven

Yes, I finally went and did it, thanks to my friends at North Mountain Pastures. Brooks Miller rolled into the driveway one Thursday morning with a trailer load of piglets and sows for sausage he had just picked up from Paul Fisher over at Otterbein Acres. Given that the temperature was hovering in the high 90's, there wasn't much noise coming from the trailer. It was even too hot for the pigs to squeal."Ok, how do we get these things from the driveway to their pen?" I asked Brooks who responded by grabbing the smallest pig out of the batch the his hind legs and handing the loudly squealing and squirming critter to me.

"Like this," he said as I grasped the thirty or so pounder by his ham hocks before walking him over to the hut that over the years has housed turkeys, broilers, layers, goats, calves, dogs, children and even a greenhouse with Brooks in tow similarly carrying a slightly larger pig.

But before introducing my latest addition to his new home, I had to cuddle him for one picture at which time I was thoroughly baptized in pig shit. This promptly put an end to my ham hugging days.They're quite the pair and there was plenty of joking and speculation as to their names, but eventually I settled on Elwood and Jake (as in the Blues Brothers). Now if I could only get them to wear sunglasses!
The first time I dumped my compost bucket into the pen I was amazed at their 'piggieness"--the snarfing and grunting as they rooted throughout the pile first picking out the empty eggshells and crunching them as if they were Gibbles Potato Chips.
Never having had pigs, I watched in amazement as they held down an ear of sweet corn past its prime with their little cloven hooves as their stout snouts deftly parted the husk to reach the juicy golden nuggets inside.
There's plenty of opportunity for me to pick up ripe and over-ripe produce that would normally hit the compost pile or dumpster after farmers market. My produce pals were more than happy to let me cart it home for the pigs instead of them having to transport back to their farm and deal with it. Plus, they know they'll eventually share in the bounty. I've often said that "You are what you eat eats." This means that the quality of the food eating by livestock and poultry is directly related to their diet on this earth before harvesting. It's no wonder that sickly people result from eating sickly animals so often found in industrial agriculture.
Not these boys! Theirs is a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables from neighboring farms and orchards, whey from a local dairy manufacturing plant and the overgrown vegetables in my own organic gardens which the porcine pair are "pigerating" as my rototiller needs repaired.
Since the pigs have arrived, I keep asking myself why I waited so long. I'm sure after their harvest this fall I'll be looking forward to producing more Painted Hand Pork.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sun = Work

First, there were the torrential rains. Yes, I know that April showers bring May flowers, but it also brings high winds and lots of MUD--manure, urine, dirt. Row crop farmers are complaining that they can't get their corn in the ground and fruit growers are worried about pollination. For me, spring means two things--the animals begin feeding themselves again and maintenance.
It was time to cross Fix Primary Water Tank off the white board in the kitchen. For several years, I've been capturing rainwater off the roof of my barn and using gravity to run it down into storage tanks before sending it through a series of hoses to stock tanks equipped with float valves. Living on top of the hill has it's advantages. While this may seem like a quaint idea for a sustainable farmer, let me tell has a significant financial advantage. I'm not using my well pump (hello...electricity) to provide water for the herd. At the height of summer, that can be as much as $50 a month! So you can see why it literally pays to keep the water system in top shape.
The project at hand was to replace the ball valve and coupling on the main tank and create a solid platform on which to set the tank. Unfortunately, due to the ankle-deep mud in much of the paddock, using the tractor for this task was not possible so I resorted to (fe)manual labor. Shovel, pick, digging bar and in fifteen minutes I was ready for the sand.
Prior to starting on the digging, I made a quick trip down to Martin's Produce Supplies where they have everything under the sun needed for commercial greenhouse and produce growers. That's where I'd bought the original collapsible irrigation hose in the first place and it's still in good shape, but needed some minor repairs. One of the best lessons in life that working in the oil fields & IT taught me was to always have extras of the small things--an extra 9/16th wrench, fuses, NICs, cables--the little things that are inexpensive and don't take up too much room. Figure out what you need, double it and then add two. I'm good on hose clamps and couplers for a few years now.
My grand plans don't always work out the first time. Can you spot the mistake? Probably not, since there are no animals around to give perspective. Since I prefer to work with smaller livestock--goats & calves--the tank platform turned out to be way too high.
Once rearranged, all was well. Time to fill in around the base with rocks.
Now, just have to wait on those April showers scheduled for today to fill the tank. Next all the downhill tanks a good scrubbing and checking their hoses & hardware, but I have to start from the top and work my way down.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Goodbye, My Beloved Friend

As a meat producer, I can't afford to get attached to livestock. I love having fury babies and I love eating meat. If I were to keep them all, eventually there couldn't be anymore babies and there would be no meat.

When an animal from the farm ceases to live it has either been slaughtered, humanely dispatched or died of natural causes (or stupidity). However, I do have a Pet Cemetery where my beloved companions over the years have been laid to rest. My dogs--Lucky, Holly and Sherman--are out there literally pushing up the tulips and sunflowers. There's a kitty in there, too. When Megs & Bugs go, they'll be added. Even when Bango--my Quarter Horse--goes, I'm going to have a backhoe come in and put here there, too.

Today, the first and only goat was interned in the Pet Cemetery Garden--one of the the first two goats here at the farm--Peaches. I knew here time was near. She had trouble standing up by herself. I would go out every morning and help her up, again at lunch and once again in the evening. She always had the choice feed and water close by. I would let her range loose around the farm to nibble on whatever tender shoot she pleased--flowers included. She would stand in front of the barn basking in the warm noonday sun. At one point, my neighbors wondered if she were real as she would stand stock still for hours and hours.The first two goats here at the farm were Peaches & Cream. Cream was a great milker, but short on personality. Actually, she was downright mean. Unfortunately, she taught me about Coccidia, a tiny parasite that lives in a goat's intestine that if left untreated causes death.

But Peaches lived on to be the herd matriarch weaning 36 kids during her lifetime. She never lost a single kid. In addition to being an excellent mother, she was very thoughtful in her kidding schedule, dropping them during the daytime and often while I was present.

Peaches was always the go-to goat for 4-H petty zoos and high school biology classes but she never made it to a goat show. Her lineage was not purebred, but I've often said I'd take a whole herd of goats like her--hearty, a good mother, good feet, good teats, easy keeper and friendly as ever.So you can see, there's no way I could turn her into burgers or sausage. Peaches had to die with dignity and take her place among the beloved. Call me weak as a meat producer, but today, there I sat in the middle of my garden cradling her head with my .22 nearby as I sobbed at the task that lay ahead of me.Regardless of how an animal goes, it requires time, effort and unexpected events (such as the with the sheep) can occur at the most inopportune moments. Whether it's rounding up, loading on the trailer and heading off to the abattoir or disposing on-site, there's a chunk of time physical labor involved.

Although temperatures reached into the 80's for the first time this year yesterday, today started out with pouring rain. When I trekked out to the barn first thing in the morning for chores, Peaches was missing from the barn. I took that as a good sign that she was ambulatory and moving on her own, but then I found her on her side unable to get up on her own in one of the barnyard huts, ironically, the same place the sheep chose to die. Instead of having several inches of snow, I was in several inches of mud...using the tractor would not be possible.

The sound of her bleat and the look in her eye told me it was time. So, as with the sheep I got out my little red plastic sled and loaded up my elderly goat. Not only did my workout of the day include digging a hole big enough to bury a 175-pound goat, but also dragging her on a sled a good 300 yards to her final resting place. At least the rain had stopped.

Up until this point I held it together, but getting the .22 out of the house had an air of finality that broke me down. Most goats I don't mind seeing go down the road. Some goats actually make me joyful when they leave, be it for Eid or those who refuse to respect electric fencing. But Peaches was different. She was the only goat who ever liked to eat 'treat's such as carrots, apples and, of course...peaches. She also liked to drink beer.

Like a gunslinger who asks for one last taste of whiskey, I parked myself in the mud with a bottle of Yuengling gently dribbling it in her mouth as the tears rolled down my face and on to hers. When she could drink no more, I finished the beer for her, stood up and with a single crack of the .22, it was over....kind of. I still had to wrestle her into the hole I had spent the last two hours digging and then shovel the heavy wet clay-laden soil around her.

Digging the hole is physically challenging, but filling it in takes an emotional toll.

Peaches will live on throughout the bloodlines in the herd, but I will always miss her distinctive voice as well as the sight of her always leading the herd wherever they go. I thought it was fitting to toast her with a glass (or two) of Bully Hill Vineyard's Love My Goat tonight. Here's to Peaches...the best, when it comes to goats. God rest your soul as the rain begins again.....

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My Pasture. Your Plate

It happened a month earlier than it normally does, but there I was this morning getting up at 4:30 am, packing up and heading south to the big city. The critters just looked at me with that blank stare of bewilderment when I flipped on the floodlights before the sun came up so I could fill their hay racks before heading out for my maiden voyage to the Bethesda Central Farmers Market.

"Uh, hello? We're not out on pasture yet," they seemed to say as they cocked their heads sideways blinking at me with those oh so distinct goat eyes.

True. That's the real beauty of being a pasture-based farm and leaving for market before dawn--I don't have to feed because they animals feed themselves. I know they're out there watching me with their glow-in-the-dark marbles that eerily watch me leave as my headlight glance across the resting herd.

But this morning they let out a collective "you've got to be joking" groan as the hay hit the racks before I hit the road.

Similar to other markets, Bethesda Central Farmers Market is located on a street closed off to traffic. Instead of having vendors on both sides, we are stretched out in a long line. To one side of me is Sababa who makes fresh falafel. On the other side is Stoneyman Gourmet Farmer who has a variety of artisan cheeses and dairy products.In addition to farmers, there was also lots of freshly prepared food using quality ingredients.
There was even a wine vendor!
And then there was this guy with his tricked-out smoker.
On the drive into the city for market, I've spotted a few 'regulars' traveling to similar destinations for the same reason. Last year I seemed to always be on the road with Two Acre Farm. It was obvious from the tables and tents strapped to their truck they were headed to a market. Today, I finally found out where they were always going and got to meet them.
Although I gave up grains, dairy and refined sugar last October, I couldn't help but ogle the real French pastries--tarts & madeleines. Concoctions of butter, sugar and flour aside, it felt really, really great to be back at market meeting my customers and sharing the bounty of the good earth with my fellow humankind. Okay, that sounds kind of hokey, but what fills my heart with purpose and my soul with gratitude is when people come back week after week and tell me all about the wonderful meals they cooked with meat from the animals that have been a daily part of my life here on the farm. I know several pounds of my veal breast will be the centerpiece for a large family's Passover diner, that an incredible athlete will fuel his body with goat chops and a young couple will braise veal cheeks to celebrate closing on their new home. It is the knowingness of my labor that drives me to the pasture instead of a cubicle. Thank you, Bethesda, for the warm welcome.