Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.

Norman Vincent Peale

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sausage and Broccoli Rabe with Wild Hive Farm Polenta

As a gigantic snowstorm worked its way up the East Coast last week and was about to hit the city, I hightailed it to New Jersey where I was happy to be inside, cozy by the fire, while it unfolded.

Cold and snowy weather makes me want warm and filling food. Polenta certainly fits the bill, although I must say, I rarely make it. Case in point – the never-before-tried recipe I grabbed while dashing out my apartment door to catch the train came from an issue of Food and Wine – from 1997! But no matter, it’s never too late to start, so along with some sweet Italian sausage from where else but Flying Pigs Farm and polenta from Wild Hive Farm, I decided to give it a whirl (or should I say a whisk?).

Sausage and Broccoli Rabe with Polenta
Adapted from Food and Wine November 1997

There has been a resurgence of freshly milled, locally grown grains coming on to the market in the last several years. Gristmills, once the center of every prosperous town, were abandoned with the advent of electric machinery and by the end of the 1800’s mostly obsolete. Not only are traditional mills a part of our rural heritage and supportive of local economies, they also produce more dimensional, nutritious, and full-bodied flours and stone-ground grains than those from modern mills.

It should be mentioned along with the benefits of local grains also comes the quirks. Just as a pastured cow will produce milk that tastes different depending on the time of year and type of grass she is eating, grains are affected by the soil and weather conditions of a particular farm. Most of us are used to flours milled for uniformity; using local grains and flours takes a willingness to experiment with variations in gluten content, flavor, and shelf life, among other things. That said, the Hudson Valley polenta I used in this recipe behaved just fine - no surprises, no quirks.

Wild Hive Farm is located in Clinton Corners, NY and mills grains grown organically on Lightening Tree Farm in nearby Millbrook. Along with their Farm Store, Wild Hive products are sold throughout Dutchess and Ulster Counties, as well as the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan, where I bought my polenta.

The original recipe called for the polenta to be made with water, salt and a little olive oil, nothing else. While that will certainly work, I wanted something a bit richer and creamier so I added freshly grated Parmesan and a few tablespoons of butter. After all, what’s the harm in a little cheese and butter? Especially if you get up the next morning, pull on a pair of boots, and venture out into the cold for a nice, long walk in the snow.

4-½ cups water to start, more as needed at the end
1 1/3 cups coarse cornmeal
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
3 tablespoons butter
1 pound broccoli rabe, tough stems removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/3 pounds hot or sweet Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup dry white wine
One 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes in thick puree
1 ½ cans chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, combine the water and 1 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Whisk in the cornmeal in a slow steady stream and continue to whisk until the polenta is suspended in the water and no longer sits on the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the polenta is thickened, about 1 hour. Keep warm until ready to serve. The polenta should be soft and creamy; if it gets too thick, stir in some water.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the broccoli rabe until tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, then rinse in cold water and drain again thoroughly. Cut into 2-inch pieces and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Add the sausage and cook over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until browned and cooked through, about 12 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a plate and let cool slightly. Slice the sausage into ½ inch thick rounds.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the skillet. Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the wine and bring to a simmer. Stir in the sausage slices, tomatoes, stock, thyme and 1 ½ teaspoons of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe, parsley and pepper and return to a simmer.

Stir the Parmesan and butter into the polenta. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Spoon the polenta onto dinner plates and top with the sausage and broccoli rabe ragout. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan if desired.

Serves 4

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I came across this beautifully written passage while unpacking books over the weekend. The author, Hal Borland, wrote several books as well as the “outdoor editorials” for the New York Times from 1941 until just before his death in 1978. His works have been described as “always a breath of fresh country air.”


The arrival of December means the definite end to autumn. Even the leaf-rustle of the November wind whisking October’s brilliance along the country road is muted as the leaves settle down. The early clamor of crows no longer starts the day, and the jays go about their business for the most part in blue silence. The chickadee is the most vocal bird in the dooryard, and his brief song is interrupted by the tap-tap-tap of his beak as he cracks a sunflower seed. In the country house, the fly-buzz and wasp-flutter in the attic have quieted down, the insects dead or dormant.

The barred owl hoots in the night, and from time to time the fine-spun yapping of a red fox is heard. But their voices only punctuate the silence, which lies deep in the rural valley where frogs, only a few weeks ago, thumped the darkness. Brooks are quiet, their shallow waters beginning to clog with ice. The woodchuck sleeps. Chipmunks drowse in their fluff-lined nests, and squirrels go chatterless in the treetops.

December comes, a time of earth sounds, the moan of the chilling wind, the swish of driven snow. Sometimes the countryman wakens in the night and thinks he hears the faint groan of rocks restless in their age-old beds, nudged by the slow expansion of silent frost. Sometimes he hears the slow crunch of ice on the pond. December comes, and winter.

Hal Borland, 1979

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Farm Camp - Wrap Up

Farm Camp was over before I knew it. It was a unique experience and great fun. I got back on the train, my trusty chicken in tow, and headed home to New York City. My mind was racing; if “my senses were full” soon after arriving in Shushan, now they were overloaded! We covered a lot of territory over the two days, confronted with the real issues facing upstate farmers and challenged to think of ways we, as city folks, could support them and vice versa. The food products coming out of Washington County are stellar and New Yorkers would be lucky to have greater access to them.

But therein lies one of the biggest hurdles to selling more locally grown food in Manhattan – distribution. How do we get the food to the city in a way that is both economical and time-saving to the farmer? It is a question without a simple answer. Talented people are putting their minds together to make the shift, but it’s a work in progress.

In the meantime I’ll continue to do my bit, informing and encouraging those of you who read my posts to buy local whenever possible. You might not think you have the power to affect change but trust me, you do. Each time you buy Kraft cheese, you’ve missed an opportunity to support a Nettle Meadow
or Consider Bardwell-type cheesemaker. When you opt for Boar’s Head bacon, you just lost the delicious chance to keep a Tamworth pig from becoming extinct. As the popular locavore saying goes, “Vote with your fork”.

I’d be remiss to close out my thoughts on Farm Camp without mentioning Flying Pigs Farm one last time. I can’t say enough good things about Jen, Mike, and Erin. They put their heart and soul into everything they do, whether that be raising their animals, protecting the land, spreading the word about good, local farming, or opening their home for weeks on end to a bunch of strangers from New York City. They are smart, fun, dedicated people and I was grateful to learn from them.

I don't know if another round of Farm Camp sessions are in the works but if New York State is smart with our tax dollars (and Jen and Mike a little crazy...), there will be. I highly recommend it. In the meantime, stop by Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan or Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket in Brooklyn on Saturdays and pick up some of their incredibly delicious pork, chicken, or eggs. You won’t be disappointed.

Roast Chicken

From The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

To cook the bird that had met its demise by my hand, I turned to Alice Waters. This recipe is classic AW – simple, simple, simple and best, best, best. Simple recipe, best ingredients. In my mind I had the absolute best chicken in the world (if I do say so myself!), and fantastic ingredients to go with it: garlic, carrots, and potatoes from Keith’s Farm and salad with mesclun from D’Attolico’s Farm and vinaigrette made with Katz Late Harvest Zinfandel vinegar, an artisanal vinegar I first tasted at Slow Food Nation. My trip had come full circle and I ate one of my most memorable and satisfying meals.

Remove the giblets from the cavity of:

- 1 chicken weighing 3 ½ to 4 pounds

Inside the cavity there are frequently large pads of fat. Pull these out and discard them. Tuck the wing tips up and under to keep them from burning. Season, 1 or 2 days in advance, if possible. Sprinkle inside and out, with:

- Salt and fresh-ground black pepper

Cover loosely and refrigerate. At least 1 hour before cooking, remove and place in a lightly oiled pan, breast side up. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Roast for 20 minutes, turn the bird breast side down, and cook for another 20 minutes. Then turn the breast side up again and roast until done, another 10 to 20 minutes. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.

Serves 4

- Put a few tender sprigs of thyme, savory, or rosemary under the skin of the breast and thighs before roasting.
- Put a few thick slices of garlic clove under the skin, with or without the herbs.
- Stuff the cavity of the bird with herbs; they will perfume the meat as the chichen roasts. Don’t hold back: fill the whole cavity.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Farm Camp – Consider Bardwell Farm, Eagle Bridge Custom Meats, Nettle Meadow Goat Farm and Cheese Company

Consider Bardwell Farm

The mountains of Vermont were visible in the distance as we drove from farm to farm. Our lone border crossing occurred midway through our second day of camp when we ventured to Consider Bardwell Farm in West Pawlet, home to several award-wining artisanal cheeses. We were greeted by owner Angela Miller and a few dozen happy Swiss Oberhaslis goats.

These cute, chocolate brown creatures are raised on pesticide- and fertilizer-free pastures by Angela and her husband, Russell Glover, on a picturesque 300-acre farm. Angela and Russell split their time between the farm and New York City where she is a literary agent and he is an architect. The couple purchased the property in 2000 as a weekend country escape. Perhaps their destiny was sealed at that moment; their newly acquired farm had been the site of Vermont’s first cheese-making cooperative, founded in 1862 by a gentleman named Consider Bardwell.

We toured the farm and facilities, including the cheese caves

and cheese-making room where we were introduced to master cheese-maker, Peter Dixon.

Peter began making cheese in the ‘70’s, perfecting his craft at Vermont Butter and Cheese and Shelbourne Farms before joining Consider Bardwell. While watching him work his magic, cutting curds in a huge vat of milk, we got a quick 101 on what goes into making world class cheese.

The farm makes 60,000 pounds of cheese a year, all by hand.

In addition to Consider Bardwell's five raw milk goat cheeses they make four raw cow milk cheeses using milk from a neighboring herd of Jersey cows. Of their nine cheeses, Dorset, Manchester, Pawlet, and Rupert have all won awards from the American Cheese Society. Pretty impressive for less than a decade’s worth of work!

Eagle Bridge Custom Meats

I can safely say slaughterhouses never crossed my mind – ever – until I became interested in eating locally. Honestly, it’s not a topic the average person wants to consider. Talk to a livestock farmer, however, and it inevitably comes up and for good reason; t
he lack of local slaughterhouses is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to wider availability of affordable pasture-raised meat from local farms. Tales of farmers waiting months to get a processing appointment for their animals and then driving hours to get to the facility are common.

Given this, Washington County is fortunate to have Eagle Bridge Custom Meats. Started five years ago as a butcher shop where locals could get their meat cut, smoked, processed, and packaged, owners Steve Farrara and his sister, Debbie Bell, have taken the steps necessary to become a USDA slaughterhouse.

We received a tour of the soon-to-be-opened facility and discussed how the building was designed for respectful animal handling and expert butchering. It has been an involved process of compliance and expense for Steve and Debbie, but once done the business will be a great addition to the farming community.

Nettle Meadow Farm and Cheese Company

One of my favorite speakers was also the last of the weekend. You couldn’t help but be charmed by Shelia Flanagan, co-owner of Nettle Meadow Goat Farm and Cheese Company. She drove down from the southern Adirondack town of Thurman, NY to meet us at the barn and give us a taste of her truly exceptional goat cheeses. From the start it was evident that Shelia is a gentle soul and great care goes into every step of making Nettle Meadow’s artisanal cheeses, starting with the goats.

My first line of notes from her talk was “Animals come first”. My last line of notes was “Well-being of animals is #1”. The pamphlet she handed out says “Happy Goats – Great Cheese”. She isn’t joking! Shelia and her partner, Lorraine Lambiase, have named every one of their 250 Nigerian Dwarf goats, 8 Jersey cows, and 30 sheep. The goats are fed natural ingredients such as organic hay, grains, wild herbs, raspberry leaf, garlic and kelp. In addition to their working farm animals Sheila and Lorraine also run an animal sanctuary for horses, donkeys, and retired goats.

Cheese is a very fragile product, especially goat cheese. Nettle Meadow makes their cheese only with morning milk, capturing its freshness and sweetness, and always uses the milk within 24 hours of milking. One of their best-known cheeses, Kunik, is a unique triple cream made primarily of goat’s milk and a bit of Jersey cow cream. It is utterly creamy and delicious, garnering praise from Murray’s Cheese Shop as “one of the 300 best cheeses in the world”.

Their fresh chevres and fromage blancs are flavored with a wonderful combination of ingredients such as honey lavender, lemon verbena, horseradish, pumpkin spice and maple walnut. Their most recent creation is called Three Sisters, named for the Three Sister Mountains that stand over their farm, and made of sheep, goat, and jersey cow sheep. I've never met a cheese I didn't like but rarely do I fall in love with one in particular. In the case of Nettle Meadow, I loved them all!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Farm Camp - Battenkill Valley Creamery, Mapleland Farms, Garden of Spices

Battenkill Valley Creamery
Our first stop of the day was at Battenkill Valley Creamery, a dairy that has been in the McEachrom family for 110 years. For many years the family was, like Stuart and Jessica from Tiashoke Farm, a member of Agri-Mark Co-op.
In 2007 the McEachrons, sensing a desire from their customers for local products and their willingness to pay a little more for it, decide to break with the co-op and began bottling their own milk.
They converted a building on their property to a milk bottling facility and Battenkill Creamery was born. Today the milk from their 350 Holstein, Jersey, and Holstein-Jersey Cross cows goes from cow to shelf in just 12 hours and can be purchased from the creamery as well as 40 + restaurants, coffee shops, and markets in the Washington County area. Their milk is also sold in New York City through Basis Food.
We met with Sean McEachron and he walked us through the milk bottling process and explained the different types of pasteurization. I was surprised to hear they keep their milking cows inside despite having 80 acres of pasture. Sean said that allows them to maintain uniformity in the milk flavor which their customers prefer. I personally like to see and taste a difference in my milk from summer to winter but understand that’s not for everyone. We had a milk tasting and it was so good and so fresh that most of our group decided it was worth lugging a bottle three hours home!
Battenkill Valley Creamery’s gamble at going local is thankfully paying off. Business has been very good and they have expanded into ice cream as well. Given all the bad news surrounding US dairies, it’s wonderful to hear a success story. Maybe – hopefully – more dairies will find a way to follow suit.

Mapleland Farms

Our next stop was Mapleland Farms sugarhouse in the southeast corner of Argyle, New York. It’s quiet around a sugarhouse this time of year; maple syrup season in New York generally doesn’t get going until February when the days reach into the 40’s and the nights dip back below freezing. Mapleland co-owner David Campbell was good enough to meet with our group and discuss the maple syrup business. We couldn’t ask for a more qualified teacher -- David is the current president of the New York State Maple Producers Association and along with his brother, Terry, has been running Mapleland since 1972.

Maple syrup production occurs almost exclusively in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada, where sugar maple trees grow. Of all the different species of maple trees, sugar maple sap contains the most sugar and has the most pleasing flavor. Soil, minerals, weather conditions, and processing techniques all affect the quality and taste of maple syrup; Canadian syrup tastes different from Vermont syrup, which tastes different from New York syrup.

What constitutes pure maple syrup varies slightly among states and provinces but all mandate it must contain a minimum of 66% sugar and can only be made from the evaporation of pure maple sap. The United States/USDA, Vermont, and Canada all grade syrup by color, although they use slightly different terminology. Color is an indicator to flavor intensity. In general, the darker the syrup, the more concentrated and strong the flavors.
The average NY state maple producer taps 1,500 trees a season. Mapleland averages 7,500 – 8,500 taps, making them one of the larger producers in the state. A sugar maple tree must mature 30 or 40 years before tapping can begin but as long as the tree remains healthy it can be tapped for the rest of its life, about 150 years. Only 10% of a tree’s sap is taken for maple syrup in a given season and in two to three years the hole bored into the tree to retrieve the sap will have healed over.
Like the Campbells, most commercial maple producers have modernized their equipment and no longer use traditional buckets and wooden spouts to collect their sap. Instead, they connect their trees (collectively known as a sugar bush) with plastic tubing through which the sap flows to collecting tanks. “Sugaring off” season happens when the days get warm and the nights are cool, creating pressure in the trees that cause the sap to start running from their roots to their branches. This is the time to start tapping.

Sap is mostly water and must be boiled down to the desired sugar content and color to become syrup. It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup.
New York State accounts for 20% of all maple syrup production in the United States, behind only Vermont. Quebec, the world leader, dominates with 75% of the overall market in part because of their concerted effort to market the product internationally. The Canadians have also banding their small producers together into large, powerful co-ops which then have the clout to set industry prices, something the United States producers have yet to do on such a large scale.

New York State is currently tapping only 1% of their trees (compared to 2% in Vermont and 1/3 of all trees in Canada) so there is plenty of room to grow the industry here. David talked about efforts to step up New York State’s own marketing plans and possibly increases the number of trees being called into production.
During the height of “sugaring off” season in March, look for Maple Weekends planned throughout the state. It’s a great chance to witness first hand how the maple syrup process works, not to mention get outside and experience the beautiful countryside.

Garden of Spices
We went from sugarhouse to slaughterhouse. The Garden of Spices in Greenwich, NY is home to Ben and Jeanette Shaw and their 9 (!) children. The family raises chickens, ducks, and turkeys on their 70-acre farm, which also serves as the area’s poultry processing center. This is where Flying Pigs bring their broilers when they are grown and ready to go to market. And that’s why we were there, too; the birds we caught last night were in the back of Mike’s pick-up, their fate pretty much sealed.
But before I get to THAT, a bit about the Shaw’s farm. They raise their birds on all natural feed and never use hormones. They live outside on pasture, get plenty of exercise, and supplement their diet with natural vegetation and occasional treats like pumpkin which the turkeys appeared to love.
Aside from the pumpkins, they lead a life very much like a wild turkey. Similar treatment for the ducks and chickens results in birds that, when compared to their industrial-raised cousins, are leaner and less fatty, and have more flavorful, omega-3 rich meat.
A word of warning: If you’re like my friend Angie and were grossed out by my post a few days ago mentioning that chickens eat bugs and grubs, trust me, you won’t want to read any further!

After our tour it was time to get down to business. Maybe I should have taken pictures; at the time I thought it too gruesome and descriptions might be better. In retrospect, the rooms themselves really aren’t so terrible-looking. The “killing room” (I know, I know!) is fairly small, with a couple of metal cones hung on the wall, pointy end facing down. Think of an orange traffic cone only in metal and without the square base. They are known, yes, as killing cones.

Off to the left of the cones was a large tub of hot water where the chickens are immersed immediately after being killed. Scalding the bird for about a minute helps loosen the feathers. Right next to the scalder was a tub picker, a machine that rotates at high speed and has rubber fingers mounted on the interior of the tub. In about 30 seconds the speed and friction of the fingers results in a bird sans feathers. Then it’s time to eviscerate.

Yuck. This next step ranks up there with the killing cones. I’ll spare you too much detail but will say the process involves a pair of scissors, a knife, your hands, and a metal trough to collect, um, unwanted chicken parts. The eviscerating room is connected to the killing room by a small window where the birds are passed through.

If the guys in our group were squeamish about the task at hand they kept it amongst themselves. The five of us girls were pretty squeamish, except for Betty who has had more experience with this kind of thing. We made sure we went first.

Ben gave us a demonstration on how to pick up the bird, hold it upside down by its feet, and place it in a cone. Hanging on to the neck, he slit its throat with a knife and then continued to hold onto it for another minute or so allowing the chicken to “bleed-out”. Then it’s on to the scalder, etc.

I was jealous of Louise because she got to go first and get it over with. Jealous, that is, until she went to slit the throat. You can’t imagine what a tension-packed moment this is for the novice. Even if your favorite meal is coq au vin, when faced with a living animal and a knife in your hand, it’s the moment of truth. Just how much do you really love roasted chicken??

When Louise went to make her cut, little happened. She tried again and then again and finally accomplished the task. You couldn’t ask for a more decent, thoughtful man than Ben but geez, couldn’t he have sharpened the knives before we got there?! That produced a dicey moment for Louise but after a quick sharpening of the knives, this step was much easier for the rest of us.

In truth, I found watching other people slaughter their chickens harder than actually doing it myself. Once I committed myself to going through with it, I could focus on what needed to be done as well as making it the least traumatic as possible for my bird. Knowing nothing about chickens, in my mind I reasoned that meant being gentle when picking it up by its feet, not flinging it about before it got to the cone, and being quick with the cut. I doubt the bird was grateful for my care, but it made me feel better!

So the question is, if it bothered me so much, why do it? I certainly wasn’t required to kill a chicken as part of attending camp. But as a person with a greater than average interest in understanding how the food on my plate got there, I thought it important, when given the opportunity, to experience what it means to take a life for food.

There used to be a time when eating meat at a meal was considered a treat, not a given. I wasn’t always aware of this but the more I’ve learned, the more careful – and grateful - I’ve gotten about my meat intake.

I realize doing the actual killing is a bit extreme and if I never had to process another chicken in my life I wouldn’t complain. But I could do it again because it’s honest, and that’s what I’m interested in - honest, wholesome food.

After we finished, Ben wrapped up our visit by talking about how he deals with doing this for a living. For starters, he doesn’t enjoy it and never gets used to it. It is also only one job of many he has on the farm. The other six days of the week he spends outside caring for the animals. They have a good life! Processing is a necessary evil as long as we eat meat and poultry. I find it comforting to know there are places like the Garden of Spices that are responsible and humane.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Farm Camp - Flying Pigs Farm Pigs, Tiashoke Farm, and the Agricultural Stewardship Association

Flying Pigs Farm is known for their fantastic pork; top NYC chefs (and regular people like me) clamor for it. I remember the time I got to the Union Square market at the relatively late hour (for me) of 11 o’clock only to find their bacon I had wanted to bring along on vacation was sold out. I left dejected.

As much as I have talked about the importance of the animals’ diet and humane treatment, there is a third, critical factor in flavor: genetics. Jen and Mike raise only Large Black, Gloucestershire Old Spot, and Tamworth rare heritage breed pigs. It’s worth noting there is an important distinction between “heritage breeds” and “rare heritage breeds”.

If an animal is classified as a “rare heritage breed” by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, it means there are only a few hundred left in existence in North America. According to the ALBC the United States has 300 Black Spots and 200 Gloucestershire Old Spots – that’s it. These are animals on the verge of extinction and as crazy as it may sound, the only way to truly affect their chance for survival is to breed them for eating.

A “heritage breed”, on the other hand, has pure genetics but may exist in the hundreds of thousand or even millions. The Berkshire pig is a good example of a heritage breed that numbers in the hundreds of thousands. I often see Berkshire pork on restaurant menus and have always assumed because it is a heritage breed it was from a small farm. It may be, but it’s also just as likely to be from a factory farm.

Aside from their rarity, what is so special about rare heritage pigs like Large Blacks, Gloucestershire Old Spots, and Tamworths? Up until World War II there were two types of pigs raised for consumption in the US – one for lard and one for meat. When lard fell out of favor in cooking, the pork industry started to focus only on meat pigs. The trend in pig genetics the last several decades has been to breed leaner and leaner pigs. Today’s factory farm-raised pigs typically have 7/8 inches of fat; Flying Pigs Farm pigs have 1 ½ – 2 inches of fat which, when cooked, bathes the meat in moisture. The additional lard is key to flavor and when combined with a good diet, makes for superior tasting meat.

You won’t see pork from rare heritage pigs in the supermarket anytime soon. These pigs are bred to live outdoors and do not do well in confinement. They also take a month or two longer than modern hybrids to mature. It’s expensive to raise pigs the way Jen and Mike do.

We met the pigs in the pasture next to the farmhouse. They were curious when we arrived and came right up to investigate their visitors. All three of these breeds love to forage which is made easier by their impressive snouts. Rooting around in the soil also helps the farm clear brush and reclaim pasture.

The metal huts strewn about protect the pigs from the weather. A pig cannot sweat and will die of sunstroke if they don’t have a place to take cover in the summer. In the winter, the huts are packed with straw to keep the pigs warm.

We traveled back to the hoop house where, separated from the chickens by a wall, were the piglets. The mommas are very protective of their little ones and will get aggressive if they feel any are threatened.

None of us were interested in messing with a 600 pound Large Black so we kept back and had a good laugh watching them. Hopefully these pictures capture how adorable they are - and playful and fast!

Back at the Barn

It was getting late and lucky for us, time for happy hour, food (including a Flying Pigs roasted pork shoulder that was beyond incredible), and some guest speakers.

Tiashoke Farm

As I mentioned before, dairy is king in Washington County. Before dinner we met the first of two dairy farmers scheduled for the trip, Stuart and Jessica Ziehm. They are owners of Tiashoke Farm and members of the Agri-Mark Dairy Cooperative, the largest dairy co-op in the Northeast and producer of Vermont’s Cabot cheese and its New York sister, McCadam.

Before the recession began in late 2008, milk prices were high due to increased foreign demand for milk and other dairy products such as cheese and ice cream. Dairy farmers ramped up their production by adding more cows to their farms. When the recession hit, demand plummeted but the cows kept giving milk. The result was a glut of milk prices at a 30 year low. In 2009, milk cost $1.50 a gallon to produce; the market was paying farmers $1.00 for that same gallon. Dairy farms have been closing left and right.

One of the benefits to being in a dairy co-op is strength in numbers – they have more buying power and can send their milk wherever it is needed. Stuart and Jessica are enthusiastic supporters of the co-op system, as would be expected. To be honest, as someone dedicated to supporting small, local producers, I didn’t expect to find much appealing about a farm that was a member of the largest Northeastern dairy co-op. However, listening to the Ziehm’s talk about how they run their operation, I was pleasantly surprised. They own a mix of 475 Holstein and Jersey cows, which live on half of their 1,200 acres in Buskirk, NY. The other 600 acres are used to grow grass and alphalfa to feed their cows.

Tiashoke Farm cows seem to lead a pretty nice life. They lay on beach sand which conforms to their bodies for added comfort and is cleaner and more sanitary than straw. Fans and mist keep the cows the right temperature. Similar to Flying Pigs Farm, the Ziehm’s do their best to keep their animals healthy. In the event one gets sick, she is taken out of the milk rotation to receive medical care and given four to five day to get the antibiotics out of her system before returning.

Agri-Mark works on a tier system and rewards farms with the healthiest cows. The better the cow management and care, the more money the farm receives for their milk. My issue with buying co-op milk is, no matter how good the milk produced by a dairy like Tiashoke Farm is, at the end of the day it is mixed with other milk from diaries throughout the Northeast. Who’s to say the other diaries take the same care of their cows? I would prefer to buy just Tiashoke Farm’s milk, not a mixed product. Stuart and Jessica see the desire of consumers to buy local products and are looking for ways to meet that need.

Agricultural Stewardship Association

The second speaker of the night was Teri Ptacek, the Executive Director of the Agricultural Stewardship Association. The ASA’s primary mission is to permanently protect the farmland of Washington County by establishing land trusts that run forever with the land and restrict commercial development. The backbone of the county’s farming community is the dairy farmers. Every dollar spent by a dairy farm gets spent four times in the community. If they disappear, so does the entire farming community. Pastures will turn over to forest and be unfarmable or a developer will build a McMansion in the middle of a large piece of land, making the land forever unsuitable for farming.

The ASA is eager to teach those of us in NYC what it means to farm and why we need to be concerned with what goes on in Washington County. If we want to continue to eat local food, we need to support organizations like Teri’s that strive to maintain open land for farming in New York State.

Time to box the chickens

Just as I suspected (and sort of feared), not only were we going to a chicken slaughterhouse the next day, we were doing the dirty work ourselves. Instead of “slaughter” everyone used the word “process” but no matter - it meant the same thing. Each camper that wanted to participate (and it appeared we all were) needed to go to the broiler pasture, grab a chicken, and put it in a cage (or “box”) to take to process the next day.

It had been a long day. I was finally warm, filled with food and a fair amount of wine, and not looking forward to venturing out into the cold, especially to pick up a poor, unsuspecting chicken. But, when in Rome….

We made our way to the pasture around 10 o’clock. It’s easiest to catch the birds at night while they are calm. The sky was crystal clear but with no moon, dark. This is where we went

But it looked more like this.

Well, maybe it wasn't that dark, but it sure felt like it. Eventually my eyes adjusted to the darkness and it became easier to see where I was going. I could make out the white feathers of the birds and hurried up the slope to where they were resting and scooped one up without a chase. As I made my way back down to the box, I was struck by the warmth and weight of my bird. In the dark, it didn’t feel much different from my cat. As I put the bird in the cage it would live in overnight, I knew what was coming for the bird and I felt sad about it. I could never do this for a living.


I stayed with a fellow camper at a farm in Argyle where our host and hostess raise a few pigs, chickens, and cattle on their 120 acres. It was an absolutely charming spot.

Over a breakfast of eggs we gathered that morning and venison sausage from a man who has hunted on their land since he was a child, our host, Remus, recalled meals they had over the summer where everything either came from their farm or the organic vegetable farm across the street. Remus worked in finance in New York City before moving here to live and found country living deeply satisfying. We went outside to watch him feed the pigs (talk about a frenzy!),

open up the eggmobile,

and move the cows from one pasture to another. Then we were off for the day.