Have been going through a mid-year evaluation of the farm. Beef and pork sales have been excellent. We sent 12 more cattle and 2 hogs to butcher the past 2 weeks getting ready for the prime barbecue season. We have also had good growth in the organic raised bed gardens with lots of arugula, spinach, lettuce, mesculin, chard, and kale. This coming week we expect carrots, beets, green beans more greens, and garlic. We've got the tomatoes and squash coming on as well. Spoke with Ruell Chappell this morning about placing some of the meat (beef, pork and chicken) along with the produce in his grocery store which is opening after the July 4th holiday. That would put our product in two grocery stores: Down to Earth Foods owned by Tony and Cher Piche on East Grand Street and Well Fed Neighbor Market on East Bennett Street. We also now have our ground beef, sausage and steak at the Farmers Gastropub in Springfield. We continue to grow! We also recently received word that we have received some funding from the NRCS to build another high tunnel greenhouse which we will begin construction on this fall.
The National Restaurant Association's Chef's Survey of what's hot in 2011 revealed that locally sourced meats, seafood and produce topped the list followed by sustainability. Rounding out the list were organic produce, hyperlocal (e.g. restaurant gardens, on-site butchering), farm/estate-branded ingredients and artisan cheeses.
Chickens and pigs have arrived. We have 700 broilers and 50 layers that have gone out to pasture after being in the brooder for 3 weeks. Also have 9 new Berkshire pigs out on pasture mingling with the cattle. It is good to see the animals out on new spring pasture.
Also from Whitingstall's book. The reason most meat in the grocery store is of pitiable quality is because we allow it to be. As long as it's cheap we don't complain. The low price allows us to avoid asking awkward questions like where did it come from, how was it fed, how did it live and die, how was it stored, cut and packed, what was added and how far did it travel. The truth is that cheap meat is ethically tainted in most cases, of untraceable origin, and of dubious quality.
Whitingstall also makes a good argument with regard to the socioeconomics of purchasing more expensive meat. He says that flooding the market with cheap meat is an obtuse way of tacking poverty and dietary privation in the Western world. Hardly anyone is suffering from problems associated with too little meat, whereas millions are not getting enough fresh fruits and vegetables and wholegrain cereals to maintain good health.
Interesting fact about grocery store purchased meat. Because meat is purchased on a weight basis, the heavier the product the more the grocer can charge. As a result meat purchased at a typical grocer is kept very moist. It is typically hosed down with warm water prior to packaging to ensure that it carries a maximum amount of water and thus weighs more. In contrast, dry aged beef (as we do at ONB) will lose up to 20% of its weight during the dry aging (hanging) process. Paradoxically, this loss of water during the aging state results in more moisture in the meat when it is cooking. Wet, fresh underhung meat carries too much water which expands as the temperature rises during cooking, stretching out the fibers of the meat and leaching out between them - especially when the meat contracts after cooking and during carving. This means that wet meat actually ends up drier after cooking than dry aged meat and vice versa.
The result of this wet aging in vacuum wrapped plastic is typically paler in color appearing more wet and soggy compared to slower grown beef which should be shiny but not sweaty. In a frying pan store purchased meat will give off a lot of water which makes it difficult to brown the outside. Once bitten into, store purchased meat is typically more dry and the texture is soft. The flavor is typically on the outside and not the inside of the meat. This means that the taste is typically 'short' with a burst of flavor and then blandness. With good meat, the flavor should intensify with chewing.
Reading a great book I received as a Christmas present from my ever thoughtful brother-in-law and family entitled "The River Cottage Meat Book". The author, Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall, makes a very compelling ethical argument for the non-commercial production of beef. He states that we may claim the moral authority to kill animals for food only on the basis that we are offering them a better deal in life than they would get without our help. This means better health, better survival rates, less pain, less stress, more comfort, suitable food and plenty of it. Today the vast majority of our food animals are raised under methods that are systematically abusive. For them discomfort is the norm, pain is routine, growth is abnormal, and diet is unnatural. Disease is widespread and stress is almost constant.
More importantly it is the consumer that holds the key to whether the industrialization of meat production continues. If the efficiency of modern agriculture trumps the dark side of how the animals are treated - we are lost. There is no way of getting around the fact that if you buy something, you support the system that produces it. Buying meat from producers that practice good animal husbandry, providing abundant natural feed and water, taking care of the animals better than what they could possibly do on their own, and offering them a humane exit from farm animal to food, is a 'vote with your wallet' that condones the latter and thwarts the former.
Just sent a large load of cattle for slaughter this week and last - 25 head in all. We will have a good selection of steaks, roasts, and ground beef. We also got back the 8 pigs that we fed out this summer. The ham, chops, ribs, sausage, and roasts are just fantastic. I'm anxious to have other people try them.
The Springfield Farmer's Market continues to go very well. It's really fun to talk to customers and find out what their needs are. It is especially gratifying to have repeat customers come up and say how much they enjoy our grassfed beef.
This week our first set of Berkshire pigs go to slaughter. We're going to have roasts, chops, tenderloin, bacon, ham and sausage that should be a great eating experience. No nitrites of course.