Sunday, November 27, 2011

Don't Hedge Your Bets

Young trees for a new hedgerow - a rare sight in potato country these days.

I won't assume to know what the snow situation is wherever you might be, but here on PEI, the first snow is melting and is for the most part, gone.  As we went for a short Sunday drive today, I noticed the mostly bare fields with a swath of snow sticking around the edges where the hedgerows are.  Like spring, when the long anticipated exposure of the soil peeks up through the snow and farmers get the itch to 'get on the land', there is something about the snow that won't leave around the edges that reminds us that we're not really the ones in charge, no matter how ready WE are.
Also, on today's Sunday drive, Mark pointed out, over and over, how many hedgerows have been taken out lately.  There is one neighbouring farmer of ours in particular has taken an especially strong aversion to those pesky trees and 'opened up' field after field after field, creating huge prairies of landscape, all bleeding one into the other.
As we drove we critically discussed the reasoning for so much hedgerow removal with cycism and disgust, but I really wanted to know why.  We know the farmers and know that they are not unreasonable people so I was convinced that there had to be a really good reason to invest the time and money into removing well established hedgerows.  Some of my best speculations added up to:

-bigger fields=efficiency?
  • no trees=no interference with big equipment (ie. spray booms, etc.)?
  • no trees=no snow retention in the spring, so quicker to get on the land?
  • no hedgerows make for that much more land to farm?  Trees don't make money year after year.
  • hedgerows can harbour pests through the winter?
I realize I'm looking at this through my stubborn, self-righteous lens, but I'm shocked that modern, educated farmers would seriously be able to weigh those reasons against the benefits of hedgerows and have the removal of trees come out on top. 
  • snow retention=poor man's fertilizer. snow is great for soil.
  • wildlife habitat
  • safer wildlife corridor to forested areas
  • windbreaks against erosion
  • windbreaks against crop damage
  • pollinator habitat
  • water erosion prevention by trapping soil particles and creating breaks in sloping land.
  • organic matter from leaf drop, soil break down
  • buffer zone from neighbouring spray drift, dust, smells
  • retain more water in the summer against drying winds, reducing irrigation needs
  • trees= good.  We all learn, as children, the benefits of trees to our own existence.  I now know as well, the importance of mycorhizae fungi which sequester a LOT of carbon from the air, but only exist in low tillage, no spray soil.  Taking out trees means that land will now be put into 'normal' production and we can say goodbye to those helpful little critters. 
So once again, I'm faced with questioning this whole dichotomy of agriCULTURE versus agriBUSINESS and the fact that they are getting farther and farther apart.  For the past three years I thought we were so lucky to be able to get trees from the Dept. of Forestry here for new hedgerows and to maintain existing ones, since I assumed that they would be a hot commodity but then I'm faced with the reality that big corporations (in this case processors like Cavendish) are demanding their farmers to get bigger and more 'efficient' (ie. build big warehouses and/or take out trees) or lose their contract.  I'm not a potato farmer so I can only assume that last statement, but I can't come up with another reasonable explanation that makes enough sense to me.     

A few summers ago I worked on a pilot project called the Ecological Goods and Services (EG&S)Program, designed to pay farmers to go above and beyond environmental regulations.  It became the basis for PEI's Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) which is a really pared down version of the program, but has some of the same bones of the EG&S.  Anyway, under the EG&S there was a nice payment for hedgerows which met certain criteria (certain width, height and mixture of species, etc.) and now I can really appreciate the value of that program.  I hated the program when I started working with it because I didn't understand why the public should be expected to pay the farmer to do things that ultimately benefit themselves in the end, but are considered 'inconveniences' in the scheme of production.  If Cavendish truly is the driving force behind the removal of those trees this may be the perfect illustration of why a program like EG&S is so important.  It gives the farmer the opportunity to weigh the options and consider the real benefits against the pressures and 'suggestions' of their 'customer'.

Yes, it's a Sunday in winter and I'm making up for lost blog/rant time. Enjoy!


Eating my words, and other tasty things

So I've been all preachy about appreciating our food and eating less meat, but BETTER meat and only eating free range, etc. etc. and a part of that whole mindset is learning to cook the lesser appreciated parts of the animal; to use the whole thing; nose to tail if you will.
Well, I am NOT an adventurous eater.  When I was in Africa I survived on hard boiled eggs and bread.  The one time we did get to a grocery store I spent nearly our whole budget on a bag of chicken breasts from who knows where.  Looking back I realize how silly that is to me now, but it's just one example of my reluctance to branch out.  I've grown considerably in my willingness to try new things, but it's marginal. In any case, when we butchered Poppy, we had all intentions of keeping the cheeks since we had had an amazing beef cheek dish at DB Brickhouse in Ch'town and in talking to the chef, it seemed simple enough.  Anyway, we forgot to tell the butcher and the cheeks got tossed with the head :(, but Mark was kind enough to remember to ask for the tongue and the heart (which is GIGANTIC!).  Mark, who I don't think is particularly brave when it comes to food, just not discriminatory, is always ready to try whatever I've come up with.  I'm not sure I've found anything that man will not eat-which is maybe one of my favorite things about him.  :)

So everytime I open the freezer here's this seemingly HUGE cow tongue staring back at me, its reminder like a sandpapery lick on my conscience.  I realize that tongue is NOT that big of a deal in most circles.  It's even common in some circles, but not for this girl.  I've never even tried a chicken giblet for heaven's sake!  I can't even fathom the heart at this point so I've set my sights on the tongue.  The point is, I'm working up to the tongue.  I'm taking baby steps.  Maybe liver will be the next stop on the road to tonguetown.
But yesterday's stop was ham hocks. Well, I insist on calling them pork hocks, because ham suggests to me that they were smoked or cured, and a lot of recipes call for smoked ham hocks. But mine were the regular variety. I had accumulated a little collection from the various sides of pork we've bought over the last couple years, so I had a slow cooker full of them.  I basically just threw them in some broth with the usual vegetables (carrot, onion, celery) and cooked the bejeezus out of them on low, all day.  Seems like that method is pretty much foolproof for anything, except the really good roasts which just get tougher. Anyway, they turned out fine, if not a little tasteless, so I made up a quick bbq sauce and tossed the meat bits (as opposed to the small bones and fat bits) in and we had pork hock a la pulled pork sandwiches.  Delish!  It's no tongue, but it's a small step towards it.

So, one victory down! I was glad that I had accumulated a few hocks though because the meat from all those hocks did not add up to a whole lot and one meal of the Bernard bambinos took care of it.  I don't know why I continue to be amazed at the lack of leftovers in this house.

In other farm related news, Rosie is slowly drying up (have I talked about this before?).  She's not due until mid Feb. but I think partly because we only milk her once a day and partly because it's winter and she's pregnant, but we're only getting a little under 2 L a day. That's a shocker to a family who used to drink milk recreationally and use 3 times that much in a day.  It's strange how my brain went from "What can I make that uses lots of milk?" to "what can I make that doesn't need milk?".  Thayne still has a full bottle at night too, so he gets priority and that takes a good chunk.  Did I forget to mention that more than half of that 2L is pure cream as well?  I am curious to see if there's any weight change in the adults in this house when she dries up until the calf comes.  ;)

And of course, with winter and reduced egg customer traffic comes an onslaught of egg production from the hens.  All the young girls are laying and it's in full swing in the coop these days.  So now we're on a egg-heavy diet.  What we lack in milk, we make up for with eggs.  Our new favorite is egg quesadillas.  I've tried getting my kids to eat quiche of every kind, since they love scrambled eggs, but there is some sort of mental block when it comes to eggs in pie form, so the quesadillas seem to disguise whatever the resistance is. 

I guess the point of this email is that we're pretty blessed in the food department around here and I'm excited to try my next culinary adventure. 
Tips for cooking liver?

Hope this finds you trying something new in the kitchen!


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Let er come!

 Yep, first snowfall and it`s a dandy!  Well, I guess we  had a little skiff of snow a week or so ago, but this one is `fo real`!  Mark is trying to prove me to how useful plowing can be versus blowing (since he wants to buy a plow for the truck) so he made this `snow mountain` for the kids to play on this morning with the little tractor.  It WAS a good time until all the fingers got too cold.  Well, I`ll speak for me, since I know that Thayne probably wouldn`t say it was a `good time`.  What a terrible age he is for snow.  Can`t get around in it, it`s just a cold, wet hinderance.  For a boy who seems to always have a smile, this is as happy as I could get him today. 
When he and I did chores last night in the thick of the snowfall, he seemed really fascinated with it and gave me extra time to feed the sheep and even give Rosie a little brushing, but it was clear today that fascination has turned to frustration and disgust.  Even the sled was NOT fun. 
I however, was really enjoying the snow in my old `maternity` snowsuit, sans belly.  I could really play and climb and slide this time, which is a nice change for me!  And of course, I know it`s really flattering, so that helps. (note: the sarcasm-this IS the snowsuit that Mark lovingly calls the ``Pea Green Boat``.)
Here`s Thayne finally having found a vantage point from which he CAN enjoy the white stuff. 

Since I last posted we celebrated a birthday here, with a request for a Rainbow cake from the birthday girl.  You have to use your imagination a little bit, since I was short on time and long on cheap candy, but here`s the rainbow with some gold on either end.  
Lucy got 12 little buckets of brightly coloured playdough for her birthday, which I was skeptical about since we already have lots of the homemade salt stuff around, but there is something to be said for not having to wash your hands every 3 minutes due to the dehydration factor that comes with playing with salt.  And it shows in how much play that dough gets from these two kids. Lucy insisted I take this picture of her drawing and then a sculpture of her drawing of me. So for those of you who claim I don`t post enough pictures of myself, here ya go!  :)  Also, note the colour of the sculpture, 24 hours after having opened 12 different colours. haha.   

In farm news, there`s not much.  Mark is done field work.  Well, actually he expects to get back out when the snow goes (which it inevitably will with some mild temps on their way this weekend) and `get across some land` with the discs.  He`s on a couchgrass killing mission these days, convinced that the frost will kill it if it`s exposed.  Here`s hoping! But really, if winter settled in tomorrow, I think Mark would be satisfied with how much he`s gotten done for this year, so that`s always nice. 
The animals have been scrounging the pastures until today when they gave up and laid around the barn, blatting whenever they heard or saw someone nearby, waiting for feed.  The grass outside probably hasn`t had much nutritional value since some of the harder frosts, but they were getting enough to not have to cut into the hay inventory.  I`ve got lambs coming at Christmas (yeah, my great timing at work again) so I`ve started to introduce a touch of grain and probiotic to my `girls`.  We also threw Duncan (the ram) back in to breed any girls that hadn`t caught the first time around.  I wasn`t going to, but the last module of a sheep course I`m taking was very production oriented and I started to question my shepherding management.  I was hoping to get the whole flock onto a once a year, late Nov-early Dec. lambing, but since no sheep naturally breeds at their best at that time of year, I`m always worried that some of them haven`t `caught` and I`m feeding a `freeloader`.  Then I remember that I have an old girl whose had mastitis, who I purposely try to prevent getting pregnant just because I like her; she is one the first ones Mom gave me and she`s the leader of the pack, and all logic goes out the window.  So take that, optimum production percentages.  bah.
Well, it`s been a long day of snow-wrangling, snot-wiping and sock-changing, so I`m off to get some sleep.  Maybe one more bowl of snow before I do though.  Mmmm.  The one food that you can still only get at a certain time of year!

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Who's for Supper?

It was over Thanksgiving when I was telling Mark's aunt about our calf Poppy and how everytime we have meat for supper we have to discuss whether it's Poppy or someone else.  Lucy has figured out the difference between chicken and beef, but Wilson likes to call everything chicken, or bacon (and mostly those two sound pretty similar, so who knows). Once we determine the species, the forks still just sticks up in the air until Wilson is satisfied as to the source of whatever is on it. 
I wasn't really thinking much about it as I was sharing this with Mark's shocked (and I think disgusted) aunt, but later it occured to me just how fortunate we are to be able to have that connection with our food.  Lucy met the farmer from whose farm gate stand we buy most of our veggies, so we often have 'Raymond' for supper, with our broccolli or cucumbers or potatoes.  The chickens don't have names, but they always have to mention how they 'used to be in the pasture with Rosie'.  Our pork comes from "Ranald with the stamp at the market" because he always makes a point of stamping the kids' hands with a pig stamp, and he's got a fun little video of his pigs rolling around in the mud and tromping through the apple orchard.
Anyway, I just felt so lucky to have such a direct knowledge of our main raw food products and was really excited that the kids are so sticky about giving everything a name before eating.  If that doesn't make you appreciate the food and what goes into eating, I don't know what does.
So, it was a bit contradictory that I found myself at our newly renovated Superstore, excited to be going through the self serve check out.  I've been through them before, at other big box stores, but it was while I was joyously tossing my items into the bags without having to talk to ANYbody that it occured to me that this sort of technology that pushes us just that much further from making any connection with our food.  It's like a system of robots, who mix up a concoction of fake ingredients, package em up, send it off to a distributor who sends it off to a store where it's picked up, beeped through, taken home, heated and eaten.  I know this sounds a bit reaching to some of you, but the thing is, I recognize that these self serve check outs eventually take somebody's job and that interaction with other humans is what keeps us sane, even if it's only as small as chit chat at the cash, and more importantly takes that last, tangible human part of food away. Now you can buy a jug of milk or an onion or a chicken without ever ONCE having to talk to a person.  I know, I know, that cashier has nothing to do with that onion or milk, but there is just something there, or rather, something missing when buying food becomes an automated chore between you and a machine.

That said,I couldn't help but enjoying myself, zipping my items through at a good clip, packaging them how I like and getting out of there as soon as possible, so what does that say about me?

I am currently having a little internal crisis over the ACORN conference since I am supposed to 'do my talk' tomorrow morning and the weather is sounding less than cooperative for getting over the bridge and sometimes more dangerous, through the Cobequid Pass.  Mark has suggested I go over tonight, which is probably wise, but I'll be away for two night as it is, one more will only make it that much harder to stay at my sheep course in Truro on Sunday, instead of zipping home at noon, like the bad student I can be when it comes to my babies. 

My sister, April has been on my case about Halloween pics of the kids and I'm finally going to get them up.
This was at 5:50 as we were gearing up to go out the door.  For two weeks previous to this, the kids have been going through the trunk of costumes and each time Lucy would come back to the 'kitty' costume which was too big last year and say that THIS year she would get to go as the kitty.  Despite having worn it around the house for two weeks, it was only at 5:50 on Halloween night, with face painted that she decided it wouldn't "stay out of my bum", and was a little on the short side (gee, wish I had've suggested that throughout the two weeks of dress rehearsal...ahem) so in a frantic search, we managed to pick out another, if not exactly ideal, more comfortable option. 
6:00- departure time.
Even Lucy wasn't sure what to say when people asked what she was, but she was comfortable and got just as many treats as before so it didn't really matter.  Something between a crocodile and a lizard perhaps? 
And as you can see, the cowboy was quite satisfied with his choice.  The gun soon lost it's shine in favour of a treat bag, but he was pretty good at his 'ye haw' before the night was over.
This year we carved pumpkins togther for the first time (usually it's just Mark and I) and the kids had a great time. 
Wilson's lazy-eyed pumpkin.

I had to post this picture of Lucy drawing her jack o lantern face, because although I've noticed it before, this was the first time I caught a picture of her working with her tongue out.  Anytime she concentrates hard on a task, out it comes and I can't help but think of her Uncle Doug and how maybe that is somehow connected to a short temper as well?  ;) 

 Last picture is of our late apple tree.  I don't know the variety but they are hard, crispy and so sweet.  After a few couple frosts they're even sweeter and I've been trying to get some apple-related treats made for the freezer, but they're delicious just as 'eaters'.  Anyway, I took the picture because the yield this year is amazing.  I've never seen it so full since I moved here.  Every year Mark and I say we need to get out and prune the orchard (which consists of 5 trees), but it never gets done and every year I think the yield is going to drop off as the trees get more and more out of control.  Mother Nature proved me wrong this year though and we're enjoying it. 

We had a small hiccup with the combine last week, with just a few wet acres of beans left, but they're all but finished now and Mark has high hopes to get it all finished today, which is always cause for celebration.  Putting that combine away is a truly satisfying mark that winter is for certain on its way. 

Well, I hope this finds you eating well, naming your food and cozy on the cool nights.  Batten down the hatches for the storm(s) tonight! And if you're in Halifax, be sure to check out some of the ACORN conference!