Monday, April 22, 2013

Local, Seasonal & Grateful

 Call it Food P0rn, nudie rooster, 50 Shades of Chicken, but the truth is it's seasonal and local. Happy Earth Day, folks. This is what it's all about. Friends & feathers flying on a windy Saturday afternoon when the fate of the young roosters (who should have been laying hens) comes calling.

I call it the law of the land...if you're male, you're meat. And brutal as it may sound, they can't all grow up" to be the...errr, rooster. 
 "You're smiling way too much in this picture," was the comment. Really? Is there too much happiness in knowing that I, indeed, was responsible for the mayhem that would ultimately be my dinner as well as the other five feathered fowl who were cooked up this week in other kitchens?

Truth be known, that if most people were charged with the processing of their protein, there would be many more vegetarians in the world. Even my right-hand teenage deadly shot who has put venison & squirrel on my table cringed at the sound made by the popping meniscus as I dismembered the feet (which I would like to add, went to a lovely local restaurant for stock-making, but I won't mention it's name because I know there are some folks out there who are still a little squeamish about the cock's comb to toenails thing with cooking poultry). Although I must give her credit for bringing along her boyfriend for an afternoon of chicken processing. If ever there was a litmus test for dating, I'd say holding a pair of chickens while plucked by hand ranks right up there.

"How do I cook my chicken?" she asked. I handed her some fresh rosemary from the greenhouse of the woman with whom she shared her first season at market and a can of crushed tomatoes. I split the bird with my handy-dandy Pampered Chef Poultry Shears Mom had given me (BEST tool ever) and told her to toss it all in a pot with some fresh garlic, salt & pepper and bake at 325 until it smelled good and the wing tore off easily. She was pleased with the result.

For me, I had to kick it up a notch. This is the difference between a seasoned foodie and one in training. 
 People often ask me, "How long can I keep this?"  As a veteran of eating locally and seasonally, I can tell you that with the right conditions, some things keep for months. Take the wonderful fresh ginger from Shawna & Attila at Mountain View Farm I stocked up on last summer at the Bloomingdale Farmers Market. Given the bounty of their generosity as fellow vendors, I peeled and sliced my extra storing it in a mason jar covered with dry sherry. Every now and then I'll pick out a chunk and mince it in the awesome kitchen gadget my sister got me for Christmas along with a few cloves of garlic from the lovely braid Anna and Brooks from North Mountain Pastures brought to my Goat Roast last Labor Day
Tossed in a skillet seasoned with a slice of salt pork from Truck Patch Farms (again, this stuff lasts for months in the fridge) and a fresh sprig of tarragon from my own kitchen herb patch along with the lovely winter vegetables from Nicole at Two Acre Farm I see each week at Central Farm Market's Bethesda I simmered everything with a cupful of Toigo Orchard's apple cider (even if the jug was bulging a bit) until is was all gooey and tender. "Take whatever you want," she always says to me at the end of market and I try to only take what I know I will eat until I see her again. In return, I try to keep her son, Wyatt, well-fed with his favorite, goat chorizo.

And as the steam gently escaped the lid, the aromas melded into gratitude as I think about all the hands, all the hours, all the toil & soil, all the love and all the friendships that have gone into my simple meal. How sad I feel for people who are reduced to consuming faceless, nameless calories slung on a plate or into a bag by someone who could care less.

So, in honor of Earth Day, love your farmers because I sure love all of mine.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Eggs & Ammo

Last week I received a request by my market customer and friend, Cathy Barrow (Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen) asking her fellow food bloggers  "to shine a light on the appalling truth of hunger in America."  As a food producer who sells directly to my customers at farmers markets in the mid-Atlantic region, I get to witness first-hand what people purchase and how they react to healthy, local foods.

What I'm seeing today leads me to believe that our society has gone completely bonkers.

One can not turn on the television, log on to the Internet, listen to the radio, read a newspaper or engage in conversation without some visceral opinion as to the state of firearms, gun violence, or personal rights. If our elected officials devoted a fraction of the time they give to this issue to the REAL threat to our children and our society--food safety and security--we wouldn't have the problem of people going hungry while diet-related maladies continue to sky-rocket bankrupting our nation with soaring healthcare costs.

We don't have a hunger problem.
We don't have a gun problem.

Last week a friend of mine who is the quintessential American wife and mother made a comment on Facebook about how she went to Walmart to pick up some ammunition for her husband and son. They like to hunt and I would by no means lump them into the "gun nut" category.

"I guess Uncle Sam is trying another something else. We can have our guns but no ammo for them. Times are getting scary, I tell you."

That very same week, another friend who is in the sporting goods business told me that the demand has become so high, the price of .22 ammunition has skyrocketed and people are still snapping it up like there is no tomorrow, which leads me to believe it's not the government messing with the supply, but everyday Joes who have fallen victim to fear-mongering much like a run on bread, milk and toilet paper when an impending snow storm in announced. Store shelves can be cleared in minutes when people are threatened with impending doom--real or perceived.

I use a .22 here at the farm. It's a single shot bolt action rifle that belonged to my grandmother. She she shot snakes and turkeys with it. I use it to humanely dispatch animals for harvest, on ones who are are injured or ill, for vermin such as pigeons, and nocturnal wildlife seen during the day that is quite possibly infected with rabies. There are little boxes of .22 bullets sitting around all over the house--on my office desk, on the bookshelf in the living room and in a glass dish in the dining room. Most of my coat and jacket pockets have a few bullets (and spent casings). I'm sure there's even a one or two hiding under the agitator in my washing machine where they tend to collect. I'll admit, I'm a little careless with my ammunition, but having quick access to my .22 is an integral part of job and I have absolutely no fear that someone is ever going to knock on my door and demand I hand over one of the valid tools I used for my chosen vocation of feeding others.

You really think times are scary, huh? 

Yes, every time we turn on the news it seems there's been another shooting. Everyone is squawking about gun rights, gun control, registration, limitations, and outright bans. But let's look at this scenario now in terms of food. 

Are you with me here? Do you believe that we, as Americans, should have access to fresh, healthy food just as much as we should have access to guns and ammunition?
My .22 ammunition comes in two basic sizes--boxes and bricks, a brick being ten boxes each containing 50 bullets. Last year before all this gun insanity began, a box cost around five bucks or less and at local weekend gun shows or large retailers, a brick on special went for as little as ten bucks. 
I sell eggs for $5 a dozen which means a box of bullets equaled one dozen or a brick for two dozen. That's breakfast for 12 days for one person or an afternoon on the range.

But in the wake of all the horrific shootings over the last year and impending gun legislation, the scramble for all types of firearms and ammunition has taken on a frenzy to the point of prices on basic, non-assault style ammo, such as the humble .22, has jumped 600% or more.
In hearing this, I wondered what it would take to make the price of  eggs increase to that degree and if they did, would people still clamor to buy them just as they are now currently doing with ammunition? If events would precipitate in this country that would drive the cost of a dozen eggs upwards of $60, I would most likely have to fish out those errant rounds from the washing machine to protect my flock from four-legged and two-legged predators alike.

There has been an ongoing debate about food security in United States, but now school security has pushed it once again to the back burner. Unfortunately, most Americans really aren't paying attention as we have our heads stuffed too far up our collective rear end over a battle that will be fought by lawyers in the courtroom for years to come, all while American citizens, especially children, go hungry. And still we keep fighting....

The First Lady plants gardens and has four-star chefs prepare meals to teach children about fresh and nutritious foods, but what good is it when children go home to witness their parents and the rest of society rushing out to buy guns and ammo out of fear they might somehow loose their right to go target shooting?Or they must past through locked doors, metal detectors and armed guards to attend school where inside they are fed junk that is just as effective as the bullets in the long run.

And then there is my personal deserts. This term started gaining traction a few years ago, but I never gave it much thought until I went to a friend's house for dinner in the District of Columbia not far from one of my Sunday farmers markets.

They were out of butter. Keep in mind, this is a half million dollar home less than two miles from our nation's Capitol building and I was told it would take 30 minutes at the least to either drive or take public transportation to a store that sells butter and get back, longer if there was a line to park or traffic was bad. But there were restaurants, cafes, bars and liquor stores galore in the neighborhood.

This national crisis is being brought to light with a new documentary,  A Place at the Table, from Lori Silverbush following the plight of one in six Americans who don't have enough to eat. In the film, Silverbush points to over 6,500 food deserts identified in this country.

And just what is a food desert? Basically, a place where it's easier to buy booze and bullets than it is to buy broccoli or bacon.

Although the documentary and many articles about food deserts cite poorer metropolitan areas as being food insecure, in my experience, I have found that many low income urban areas predominantly populated with ethnic immigrants are not food deserts as many small grocery stores and bodegas carry culinary staples for that particular community, including an amazing assortment of meats, produce and dairy items.

So it leaves me asking the question, if we would spend money, time and resources on guaranteeing Americans, especially our children, had access to nutritious, healthy, fresh food the same way we clamor over firearms and ammunition, what kind of difference could we really make? Would people still be forced to stand in line at food banks only to be offered garbage doled out the name of generously helping others...helping to the grave faster, at best?

Which leads me to the point of feeding our most vulnerable populations--children, elderly and the poor--the worst possible foods, stuffed full of refined sugars, carbohydrates, trans-fats and chemical dyes, stabilizers and preservatives. And we think we're doing them a favor.

According to our own First Lady, "If we don't solve this problem, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma." If our healthcare costs are already bankrupting our country, how are we going to pay for the maladies of this generation if we keep ignoring the issue of our SAD diets, SAD as in Standard American Diet?

As a farmer selling directly to my customers via regional farmers markets, I get to see first-hand how people shop, what they eat and what is important to them. I have set up EBT/SNAP benefit programs for farmers markets and participated in markets in "food deserts" believing I was doing something for the greater good, yet I'm almost ashamed to admit that those experiences have been some of the most demoralizing for me as a farmer. I can only imagine what it must feel like as a consumer.

So today, along with a band of other food bloggers throughout the United States, I'm going to weigh in on the reality of hunger in our country and as always, I'm going to be opinionated and not very politically correct in this post.

We don't have a hunger problem in this country. We have an ignorance problem. It's not the government's fault our children are nutritionally deficient while physically obese, it is their parents' fault. It is not the gargantuan industrial food corporations selling us empty calories Franken-foods, it is we who fill our carts full of them at the mega-grocery stores and eat a growing percentages of our meals from fast food joints because it is cheap and convenient.

You think there is any correlation between raising the price of fuel at the pump while at the same time peddling cheap food. When I was growing up, we bought gas at a gas station and food at the grocery store, but now they are one-in-the-same. Fuel up on hydrocarbons and carbohydrates at the same time. One kills the planet the the other, our bodies.

And it is 100% our choice. I've watched as farmers who produce some of the healthiest, organic, artisan, local, delicious foods would fuel up their trucks on their way into the wealthiest areas of our country and at the same time, load up on Starbucks drinks, Red Bull, doughnuts egg sandwiches and burritos (and they raised laying hens on their own farms!). I'm even guilty of participating in that insanity.

We stand idly by and give millions of dollars to shelters and rescue groups to feed "rescued" livestock and enact crazy laws that condemn and outlaw perfectly good foods, as programs that provide meals for children at school or for the elderly are reduced and eliminated.

We have a complacency problem in that people no longer make intelligent choices, opting for the easiest, what's personally desired or profitable for themselves instead of what is best for their community.  

In the film's trailer,  actor and activist Jeff Bridges said, "If another country was doing this to our kids, we would be at war. It doesn't have to be this way."

Sadly, Mr. Bridges, it is. We have the resources, but we have chosen to direct them (as well as our outrage) on knee-jerk reactions to horrific, high profile incidents in which a few dozen people tragically lose their lives while we ignore an entire generation starving to death in our own back yard.

But I think Ron Finley said it best when in this TED Talk he stated that the "Drive-thru's are killing more people than the drive-bys."

While the last thing anyone would imagine is me quoting the Old Testament on my blog, I believe it was written best in the Book of Isaiah.

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.