"The magical, marvelous food on our plate, this sustenance we absorb, has a story to tell. It has a journey. It leaves a footprint. It leaves a legacy. To eat with reckless abandon, without conscience, without knowledge; folks, this ain't normal."
-Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farm (and my personal hero)
This statement gets right to the heart of why we farm and why we've decided to focus our efforts on a CSA. The advent of grocery store chains and prepared foods has created a vast disconnect between the people who grow the food and the people who consume it. Shoppers have shifted their focus to the shiniest apple and the best deal on pork chops, instead of considering how the tree that apple came from was fertilized, or how that pig was fed and handled. It is never our intent to guilt people into buying our products, but when you know as much about factory farming as we do, it is unconscionable to us that this faceless farming has become the new norm. The food on your plate has a story to tell, indeed. We believe that people should know their food and their farmers, so I'd like to share with you the details of our farming practices so that you can be an informed consumer, even if you are not one of our customers.
Husbandry: We breed our own cows and pigs so that we can oversee the lives of our animals from the very beginning. We breed naturally, keeping a bull and a couple of boars on the farm. We understand the benefits of artificial insemination, but it can be complicated and time-consuming so we let the boys do the work. We also choose not to use farrowing crates for our sows – again, we understand the benefits, but such a confined environment is stressful on the sow and does not mimic at all what she would experience in the wild, which is very important to us. Instead, we have a maternity ward in the barn which has recently been renovated by a friend of the farm and we are ecstatic with the results. The girls each have a pen dedicated to lounging in their hay nest, with a "rub rail" to keep the piglets safe from the weight of their moms, and a pen where they can eat and drink. We wrestle with the idea of allowing the sows to farrow outside, weather permitting, but so far we haven’t been able to draw up a plan that keeps the piglets safe from the elements to a degree that we are comfortable with. The cows are free to birth in the fields.
We're committed to raising our cattle and pigs outside for many reasons. It is incredibly beneficial to their health to have fresh air, ample room for exercise and exploration, distance from their own manure, and sun. In our opinion, the quality of life of our animals is equally as important as their physical health, and they clearly enjoy being outside. Lastly, and honestly, it is much less work for
us - confining animals on concrete means hauling out manure constantly. Raising them on pasture means they are perpetually fertilizing our fields.
Feeding: A large part of raising cattle is growing grass. Our fields are fertilized naturally with manure only – no herbicides or pesticides are sprayed. Our cows are happy with grass and hay, and actually have a deep love for tomatoes in the summer.
Our pigs are raised on pasture, too. They like to forage through the grass and dig through the dirt. We feed them a non-GMO, soon-to-be certified organic grain mix from Stone House Farm in New York (its important to support other local, organic farms!). They also get non-GMO barley fodder for breakfast every morning. We have many friends of the farm who donate fallen apples, pumpkins, acorns, etc. when they’re in season. People may think pigs are, well, pigs, but I can guarantee that given the choice, they would choose acorns over donuts every time. In the future, we hope to plant a nut and fruit orchard of our own for the pigs to live in.
Choosing non-GMO feed is important to us for a couple of reasons. Corn and soy are very nutrient-rich and so are staples in a pig’s diet, but they’re also some of the most genetically-modified foods out there. We believe in following nature’s template as closely as possible, so we like to support other farms who share this philosophy. I also personally believe that genetically-modified foods haven’t been around long enough to really know the effects they could have on animals, humans, and the environment. Unfortunately, most of the research that has been done on them is done by the companies that manufacture them and stand to profit from their proliferation.
Medication: As I’ve mentioned above a few times, we weigh the benefits and risks of things often. We absolutely reject the idea of using antibiotics daily to encourage growth in our animals. But, on the extremely rare occasion that one of our animals is sick or injured, we will treat them with antibiotics if our veterinarian recommends it. This sentiment is shared by some of the best farmers I know and is a large reason why many farms who are committed to organic practices choose not to get certified.
I cannot stress enough how much we love and respect our animals. When it comes time to slaughter a cow or a pig, it never gets easier emotionally, and I hope it never does. These animals make the ultimate sacrifice and I am honored to be so deeply involved in the circle of life and the food system.
Know your food. Know your farmer. We are happy to provide any further information.
I've had this quote from Jack Kerouac swirling in my head for the past week or so:
"Will you love me in December as you do in May?"
In the winter, my relationship with farming begs this question. We have been lucky to have such mild weather for the past two months - but the cold snap this week hit me like a ton of bricks.
If I was ready (read, smarter) I would've taken all the floats out of the water tanks and tucked the hoses safely inside the farm house, away from the bitter wind that so quickly freezes them. Nothing incites panic more quickly than finding frozen hydrants on the farm - the cows alone drink 300 gallons of water each day, a quantity that I wouldn't want to carry in buckets from the kitchen sink. Gray clouds threaten snow, which is beautiful, but also incredibly difficult to trudge through when carrying fifty-pound buckets of feed out to the pigs in their pasture. These months bring a lot less daylight and a lot more work.
It's easy to think back to the days of May when everything is coming alive - the fields and trees exploding in green in what seems like the blink of an eye, calves being born, the chirping of new chicks. The sun is warm, the air is sweet, and the water is automated. (Ok, maybe I'm starting to romanticize all of this a bit, with myself as a Carhartt-clad Snow White of sorts.)
I realize, though, that the cold and wind and snow are hard on all of us on the farm, not just the humans. It may make our work more difficult, but this is when the animals need us most. Breaking five inches of ice in water tanks in order to run 250 feet of hose from the one trusty hydrant we have suddenly doesn't seem like a chore, but a duty.
So we throw on an extra layer of thermals, a balaclava (life saver) and some New England grit. May might be more kind, but December brings renewed sense of purpose, and these farmers are grateful for it.
p.s. Our continued thanks to our expanding family of CSA members - your support and enthusiasm for real food is awesome.
When I walk down to the farm every morning, it is always with a yawn, a smile, and bated breath - I love my quiet, foggy mornings on the farm, but when you care for so many critters, its not unusual for something or someone to be amiss.
Goats aren't running down the driveway? - great. Pigs are still asleep - good; much easier to feed them that way. Make sure the cows haven't wandered into the neighbor's alfalfa field - phew, I don't have the energy to chase them around this morning. So far so good.
Climb up in the hay loft to grab a bale for the heifers. Check on the bantam hen and her newly hatched chicks. Peek down on the cows' water tub to make sure they didn't pull the float out -
WHAT IS THAT?
Race down the ladder, climb the gate, run to the fluffy ball of black fur on the ground....
Hi cutie, where did you come from? Certainly not from one of our cows. We only breed in the summer. Our calves are only born in the spring.
In runs Jane, udders full of milk. MOOOOOO she says - step away from the fluff ball. -moo- says the fluff ball. What do we do, say the farmers. He's dry. He can stand. Has he nursed? It's too cold for a calf, bring him inside. No no, he's better off with his mom. Put a jacket on him and back out to mom he goes.
The first moments between a cow and her calf are incredibly tender. I cry (and John laughs at me) every time I witness a new mother softly cooing to her baby.
Hello, I'm your mom. When you hear this moo, and only this moo, come to me. I will feed you. I will clean you. I will protect you. And when I hear your moo, I will run acres, through our herd and fence lines if I have to, to get to you.
The bull let himself out of his paddock a few times over the winter.
It's November 13 - this fluff ball must have been conceived around Valentine's day.
I'll call you Valentino.
What a year this has been! Our big project this year was our fodder system. We've been researching the concept, attending seminars, and trying to track down untreated non-GMO seed for a couple years now. The stars finally aligned and we were able to get to work. There are pre-fabricated systems that you can purchase that already have the framing, trays, and water set up for you - but we tend to be too thrifty for those types of things, and what fun is the easy way? We sprout barley hydroponically for about 10 days using just water and light. It turns out the amount of light, temperature and humidity need to be kept in very specific ranges, so controlling the conditions can be quite the task, but it is so worth it. The animals love it and will be able to eat fresh greens throughout the long New England winter we're about to head into.
We are so overwhelmed by the response we've had to our new CSA. We had hoped to engage about 10 families, but we are now close to 20 already! We know that finding time to grocery shop at multiple places doesn't fit into everyone's schedule, so we've made it easy by delivering beef, pork, chicken and eggs right to your door. Check out the CSA page for more information. If the standard share seems like too much or little, we can certainly customize your order every month. Plus, the November share includes a pasture-raised turkey just in time for Thanksgiving, and we have 6 new sausage flavors to enjoy (think apple spice, maple breakfast, and toulouse).
Though we sometimes are a bit jealous of our vegetable-growing farmer friends and their winter respite, our little farm is so beautiful in the winter covered in snow. The animals really don't appreciate the scorching summer days and often seem happier nestled into their hay beds in the cold months. So for now we'll be gearing up to make sure huts aren't drafty and waters won't freeze. We hope to see you at the upcoming Pre-Thanksgiving and Holiday Norfolk markets (dates and locations on our home page).
"A farm includes the passion of the farmer's heart, the interest of the farm's customers, the biological activity of the soil, the pleasantness of the air about the farm -- it's everything touching, emanating from, and supplying the piece of landscape. A farm is virtually a living organism." -Joel Salatin
Brutus and Juno are our newest additions! Geneva gave birth to Brutus on Thursday, and he definitely lives up to his name. He is a big boy and caused a pretty difficult birth. HUGE thanks to our friend Will (Cream Hill Veal) for coming to our rescue at a moment's notice. Baby Juno was born to Pearl during (what was supposed to be) Blizzard Juno on Tuesday. She is a tiny little thing - so small that our normal kid jacket was too big on her, so John made her a sweater out of a wool sock! Though she's small, she is full of life and loves playing with her pal Brutus.
This Saturday you can catch us at "Pints for a Purpose" - a fundraiser for the Northwest Connecticut YMCA. Tickets are just $35 at the door and include beer tastings from over 12 different brewers and a Blues Brothers Tribute show. We'll be selling beef chili, pulled pork sandwiches, and bratwurst with beer onions. Of course, part of our proceeds will be donated back to the YMCA. We hope to see you there, 6:00 - 9:00 at the Whiting Mills, 210 Holabird Avenue, Winsted.
(sunset on the farm)
With the beginning of a new year, we wanted to give an update on the happenings on the farm. We’ve been staying busy with a few big projects and preparing for the spring. For the first time, the Norfolk Farmers Market is continuing right through the winter. Markets are being held upstairs at Town Hall from 10-1 on January 24, February 14 and 28, March 14 and 28, and April 11 and 25. Then the regular summer season will pick up every week starting May 16. We had a great turn out last week and are looking forward to seeing everyone again on the 24th. My favorite thing about the market is meeting new people and talking about food. We trade recipes with people all the time, so I decided to add a “recipes” tab to our website, where I’ll add recipes with pictures as I make them. If you have any favorite ways of cooking with our beef and pork, please share!
Our flock of laying hens have been on strike for the past few months. Last spring we battled with a pesky crow flying into the coop and stealing eggs. Over the summer we spent a lot of time deterring a fox who managed to get in and take a few birds on more than one occasion. Then, at the end of the summer, we lost even more chickens to a hawk. Needless to say, the girls were under a lot of stress and stopped laying eggs completely. BUT, I am so happy to say that the girls are back to business as usual and we have eggs again! The lack of stress from predators, combined with extra protein from bird seed and a handy light in the coop have all worked together to encourage the flock to lay eggs again. We’ll have our beautiful blue and brown eggs at every market.
Our biggest project has been building winter housing for the pigs. In the past we’ve kept the pigs out on the back pastures, but getting water all the way out there is a huge burden once our water lines freeze and it’s a far walk for the sows when it’s time to come in to the barn to farrow. John, Kelley and I had been brain-storming about this project for months, and now that it’s finished we couldn’t be happier. Now the pigs are closer to the barn, which means a shorter trip when its time for piglets. We also ran new water lines (extra deep to prevent freezing) to heated and automated water troughs. I have to say, these were expensive but are without a doubt the most useful things we’ve bought on the farm aside from the tractor. No breaking ice in frozen water buckets, no trudging through snow with buckets of water. These provide a fresh source of water for the pigs at all times with no work on our end. Heaven. We have to extend a HUGE thank you to my brother, Josh, and our friend, Kurt, for their amazing work on this project. The pig huts came out beautifully and I really can’t say enough about the water set up done by Kurt. (Our cat, Carla, was also very helpful!)
Now that the chickens are laying and our pigs are moved, it’s time to look ahead to kids and piglets! Our goats are due to kid over the next month or so. Of all the animals on the farm, goat births are definitely the most stressful, but kids may be my favorite baby animals. They’re so soft and are ready to play right away. We’ll then be preparing for 7 litters of piglets at the end of February. Yes, 7 litters. We are going to be inundated with piglets and I can’t wait.
As I write this there is snow falling outside my window, but our summer garden is on my mind. I’ll be ordering seeds and starting them inside in no time. After almost 4 years working our land, I’m finally getting a handle on what crops grow best in our soil and what the animals will and will not eat. Farming is such a learning process and with every challenge that we figure our way through I find myself more deeply rooted in choosing this life. I think back to a conversation I had with Will Kennedy of Cream Hill Veal. While sitting on a Q&A panel with other local farmers, we were asked what the most crucial aspect of farming is and we decided on integrity. As a farmer serving our community, we no doubt have to represent ourselves and our practices honestly and sincerely. But another part of integrity speaks to character and ethics. It isn’t lost on any of us that in order to supply meat to our community, our animals lives must end. That’s heavy stuff. But while they’re in our care, it’s our responsibility to treat them humanely and with respect. I’ll just end with an excerpt from “Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food” by Wendell Berry:
“Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: “Love. They must do it for love.” Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. “
We really do love what we do. Thanks for your support.
Join us tomorrow at the Norfolk Farmer's Market Holiday Fair at Battell Chapel from 10 to 2, where we'll be providing lunch! Our own pulled pork sandwiches and grass-fed beef chili are on the menu, along with some sweet treats.
Also, don't forget to stock up on your favorite ground beef, steaks, sausages, chops and more - the next market isn't until January 10th!
A recent study showed that North Canaan has the highest poverty rate in Litchfield county (12.7% verses the state average of 8.7%). To help the children of our community, the United Way of Northwest CT is conducting a "Back to School Clothes for Kids" campaign to provide new back to school clothes, sneakers, back packs and supplies. The goal is for every child to receive 2 new outfits, 3 pair of socks & underwear, a winter coat, sneakers, and back pack, along with school and toiletry supplies.
Remember when you were a child, how exciting it was to get new school clothes and fresh notebooks? Please consider making those memories come true for some of our local children. We will be collecting donations every Saturday at the Norfolk Farmers Market. You can help a child "dress for success" and get happily on the school bus this fall!
We are so happy to officially announce our new partnership with Chubby Bunny Farm in Falls Village! Dan and Tracy are committed to sustainable farming and supply over 100 families with fresh vegetables through their CSA. You will be able to purchase our pork in their farm store on Cobble Road. And if you've been thinking about purchasing a CSA share for fresh produce, you will definitely be in the right place.
It's finally calf season! We've had 4 calves born so far and are expecting 2 more. Here is Peanut with her bull calf, Chief.
As the piglets turn 8 weeks old it's time to wean them from their mothers. The sows were more than happy to get back out on pasture. Here is Petunia enjoying some sun and grass.
The regular season for the Norfolk Farmer's Market begins on May 17th! We'll be on the green in front of town hall every Saturday from 10-1. There are so many great vendors that participate - we can't wait to be able to buy their fresh vegetables, cheeses, bread and more every week. Be sure to find us to stock up for the grilling season: hot dogs, beef patties, and ribs are just a few things that are perfect for your BBQ. See you there!
Real food enthusiast following nature's template