Sunday, November 25, 2012

Reflections On a Sunday Morning On the Farm

I started this post and tried to upload it late last spring when I encountered problem after problem doing so and ended up giving up on it as I was late for a lecture on preventing GMO seed from India's farming industry I was going to attend.  So here I am revisiting the post on this, yet another unusually lazy Sunday morning over Thanksgiving weekend, and it seemed appropriate to give it another try….let’s hope it uploads today…..

Sunrise on the farm - yes, I do get out there that early sometimes....

Reflecting, on this unusually lazy Sunday morning, I am reminded about how many wonderful things my life is filled with.  From modern day wonders like the internet’s ability to keep those distant from me in the physical world closer – even if only in words and photographs - to the simple, timeless things like the fresh, raw ingredients from which I make most of my meals with, (and share pictures of with friends using the internet's social network of course).

I grew up with a mother who prepared our family meals almost always from raw ingredients, albeit not generally farm fresh, but teaching me at an early age to cook from scratch is a gift for which I’m ever grateful. I’ve been making meals for my family, my friends and myself since I was about 11. Now I’m not a great cook, but I can follow a recipe – add or subtract a few things I don’t like or happen to have on hand, and make it taste much better than most prepared foods I’ve ever tried.

And while I’m more of a “shoot from the hip” eater than my mom’s week-ahead menu planning style tried to teach me to be, (I mean how do I know if I’ll still be in the mood for what I planned on Sunday, to prepare and eat on Thursday – or if I’ll even have the time! Living on a small urban farm can really change your carefully laid plans in a matter of moments.), she did instill a lot of good kitchen habits in me.

One morning I was replying to an email from my very first childhood girlfriend who'd written me about trying llamas (versus my dogs) to protect my chickens, and in wrapping up my email, I mentioned that I had to get back to making my breakfast and what I was preparing.
It went something like this....

Three varieties of "Irish" potatoes including a purple variety made up my hash-browns.

 “Hash browns from freshly picked potatoes (the day before with my CSA members and a new volunteer), plums and peaches from friends’ orchards and the last 2 eggs from my 1 remaining laying hen.”  

(Note: I do still have 3 hens after last year's massacres, but one is still raising a new chick and the other is “retired” from laying. She now just gets to run around and eat bugs, seeds and soak up the sunshine.)

And then, I came back down from my office and saw the colorful bowl of freshly picked tomatoes from the day before, a colander of the various potatoes and the smell of the muffins baking – no, I don’t grind my own flour, yet, but again, the eggs were from my place and the whey I used was leftover from cheese I’d made from milk collected by a dairy family I know about an hour away. I learned just yesterday how to make my own ricotta cheese!!

It really started occurring to me how very local and organic I am able to eat, at least when I’m at home.  It’s kind of cool, really, if I stop and think about it.

Olive oil from just south of San Antonio made by a wonderful couple I’ve come to know; fruits, veggies, eggs, dairy, even nuts from a mentor farmer – when I remember to clean out the cracked pecans before the bugs get to them. So much of what I have on hand to use to make my meals comes from people and places I’m actually familiar with! It’s not everyone that can say that – and I feel pretty lucky to be able to say it myself. And, one of my very best friends publishes the only local magazine here in Dallas that is ALL about eating local foods and is filled with more local resources and recipes from local chefs, too - how cool is that!?!

There’s a saying by Douglas Adams that I ran across awhile back that goes like this;

 “I may not have gone where I intended to go, (or “intended to be”, depending on the source of the quote.), but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.”

In either case, I am quite sure this Midwest city girl never intended to end up living on a small urban farm just outside of Dallas, Texas; chasing stray dogs away from her flock of chickens, picking fire ants out from between her toes, (I had never even heard of fire ants!) or wrestling a 100’x 60’ piece of plastic in a 40°F, 30mph wind with rain/ice pellets soaking through her clothes to try and protect her crops - sometimes, it seems, all in one day!! LOL

Peek-a-boo! How many baby chicks do you see?
But, I also never imagined how much I could enjoy watching chickens grow up from freshly hatched, dewy chicks into silly, colorful hens and roosters that help feed me; the wonder I would experience discovering the countless, amazing and beautiful insects that help my garden grow – not the least of which are the tireless honey bees, that have endured all sorts of assaults over the past several years since coming here to live on the farm to share their sweet honey with me and my customers and friends - and how much I’d learn working as a steward of this, what’s a bigger word than amazing? – breathtaking, ecosystem that has become my farm.

 Not to mention, all of the wonderful, kind and lovely people I’ve met along the way. It’s been an adventure many people will never experience. It’s a way of life that can be harsh, yet so rewarding at the same time.

Some of the ladies of local food in DFW

Kids get up close and personal with one of our baby chicks at Market Day
 So, as I finish this up, before my breakfast gets too cold, I invite you to fill the inventory of your pantry shelves, your counter tops and refrigerator with as many “clean” ingredients that are as close to home as you can seek out at local markets, from neighbors, or maybe by word of mouth in a cooking class.  Not because it’s the “cool” thing to do these days, but because it’s a great way to get to meet and know wonderful folks with whom you may have some fun and unexpected things in common.

Who knows, you may even fall in love.  And, you will surely learn some new and cool things you can pass on to someone else.   

So back to THIS morning, Sunday after Thanksgiving 2012; I've just finished my home made banana bread, with local eggs from a friend who's chickens are still laying - my 5 hens seem to be in their "off-season" as I only get 1 egg per day - and milk from a new dairy family - as sadly, my other friends closed their private dairy earlier this year.  And I just finished making and serving a mostly local, mostly organic Thanksgiving Dinner for eight, this past Thursday. The turkey was from my friends at Rhineland Farm in Glen Rose, most of the veggies and herbs from my farm or those of friends who farm nearby and sell at my Market Day.

It makes me very happy to know I'm helping support those I know and love - and I know they've put much love and passion into what I'm eating. And it makes me equally as happy to know I have friends sitting down later today to eat things I've raised with just as much love and passion. Congrats to Chris and Kimmi on their wedding today; I can't wait to see pics of what chef Greg does with everything!

I hope you all have had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are looking forward to a wonderful winter of greens and root crops from your favorite farmers - or your own gardens!

Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Farmer Marie

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post Prop 37's Failure to Pass

I'm sorry CA let us down, but Prop 37 raised a HUGE amount of awareness about genetically modified foods, their lack of proper testing and potential risks on humans and other creatures eating them. As per FARFA's Face Book post this morning, 47% of California voters -- over 4 million people -- still voted in favor of labeling GMOs. Bottom line is that we need more organic farmers AND we need the population to STOP eating so much processed food!
ok, a bit of an exaggeration but you get the idea....

 The farmer at the end of the movie FOOD, Inc. said it best when he basically said that "we'll" grow what "you" demand us to grow. So if the public continues to demand they grow crappy, processed cheap "food" - that's what most farmers will grow, because, hey, they have bills to pay, too. 

The American consumer has more power than they give themselves credit for.  But many of us are stuck in old habits with old, unchallenged taste buds. It's not easy to change - but we really need to make some changes, even if it's gradually, if we're going to have more access to healthy, affordable, fresh food that is grown in a way that is safe for our environment as well as the safest for our families to consume. If we're going to live with less disease, less obesity, less medical bills and more life!

Maybe if we grew a third ear or if it was more OBVIOUS that we shouldn't eat unnatural foods, it would be easier to convince people that this stuff is probably not the best choice to be feeding themselves, much less their kids, in the long run. But it's problems down the road we don't see today or those we can't quite connect the dots to - yet - that keeps so many so blind to the benefits of learning how to cook from scratch - you know, how to read a recipe and have sit down family dinners instead of drive-through snacks on the way to this game or that practice or lesson. 

I think we need to all SLOW DOWN again. It's not easy, everyone else is running too and no one wants to be left behind. But there are some of us who are dragging our feet on purpose these days - and you know what? It's kind of fun.

I used to be a corporate person, in another life. I did the meetings, conferences, deadlines, budgets, audits, etc.  Then it was to the gym and once a week shopping at the grocery store.  But one thing I did do, is usually go home to make dinner. My mom taught me how to cook and my father and brother were my test kitchen from age 14 until I moved out on my own.  Of course in my early single days, I ate like crap, too. I had a studio apartment and had a bowl of popcorn and a TAB for dinner after having had a large order of fries and another TAB for lunch which had been precidented with a bowl of raisin bran and a POP TART for breakfast on many days.  But I digress. We all have skeletons in our closets. 

While doing the corporate thing, I mowed the grass once a week, planted a few flowers and a small garden. (I suppose that may surprise a few of you - but I didn't always play in the dirt full time.) I loved growing things, but I didn't make much time for it because I was too busy working and going to the gym – when I had a great "workout" right at home waiting for me every day. I suspect many of you would love growing things, too, and have that same, free workout in your back yard, but haven't figured out how to work it into your lives yet either.

Turnips, fresh from the garden, are a versatile veggie for the imagination. Google for some recipes and have a ball!
Let’s make it easier than a total lifestyle change. What if you try a new vegetable this week - or a new recipe with an old familiar one.  And that may require a major change if you don't normally cook anything from scratch at home, but make it a side dish if nothing else.  Do this every week for the rest of the year - and then in January, try the "meatless Monday" challenge. Just give it a try. I bet, you won't even miss the protein one day a week. You may find you feel better by the time those familiar summer veggies start going in the ground again. And by then, you may find yourself wanting to plant a little garden - and I suggest you start small.

A garden takes a little bit of work, especially to get started with a Bermuda lawn in the way.  You can hire someone to help you get a plot going, but I really suggest doing the upkeep yourself.  Give the gym a day off a week, too, and play in the dirt instead. Raking soil or mulch, bending over and weeding, carrying bags of mulch or compost – it’s a great workout, and it's FREE! And who knows, maybe by the end of the warm growing season, you'll be so hooked on growing something of your own you'll be joining an organic garden club, or just meeting neighbors who are home from the gym gardening, too. Use those 8' fences as trellises to grow cacuzza or pole beans. Or better yet, replace it with a chain link fence so you and your neighbors can actually talk and compare garden notes. You can grow lots of things on a chain link fence.

No, I'm not a vegetarian, I don't have a neighbor that gardens, nor am I a food purist. (my bottle of 
Log Cabin in the pantry will attest to that - and make some shudder and gasp. I guess all have a childhood vice, we hang on to, too.) But if we look in our homes and purge as many of our bad food habits as we can - not only will we find a lot of new storage space for our Tupperware containers, but we'll find a whole new, fun and delicious way of eating. And often, once you purge your taste buds' memories of those processed flavors, the office party food won't taste so good. You'll find yourself making something really cool to bring to that potluck luncheon so you know there's something there you want to eat. And your food bill will gradually start to go down. Really.

So use up the last of those breakfast toaster pastries - and learn to make a simple coffee cake.  Finish up the cheese in a can - and learn to make some cheese yourself. Take a cooking class - with your kids - and teach them how to be more sustainable, too. Learn how good food can taste again - when you don't microwave the life out of it. And when you do need to eat on the run - try bringing a lunch box from home, or stopping at a local restaurant that supports sustainable practices/foods. Elevation Burger and Start are 2 "fast food" places that come to mind in Dallas. Check them out. We need to support these kinds of places if we want more of them around.

We can have better food - legally labeled or not. We just have to demand it - and the farmers will grow it. They're smart people - they're business people.  They'll grow what pays their bills. Organic food isn't as easy to grow sometimes so yes, it’s a bit more expensive – especially if you buy it in a box already made. But if you start with basic ingredients, it has been proven over and over again, that cooking organic meals from scratch, in season and shopping locally grown foods – and growing some of your own, can be done on a very small budget. 

If you can’t find time to grow a garden of your own, or physically can’t do it, but you have the means to support someone who does grow food, consider joining a CSA near you – or one that delivers near you. But let’s get off the fast food/processed food treadmill – in spite of Prop 37’s failed attempt at letting the masses know they’re eating food that has been tampered with.  If it’s not organically grown, and it comes in a box or package with an ingredients list as long as your arm, chances are there are genetically modified organisms in those ingredients.  It’s pretty simple.

Our government hasn’t seen clear yet to protect its citizens from the unknowns of GMO – there’s too much money out there, I suspect, supporting various campaigns, etc – which is a shame, really, but a reality just the same. 

But I believe it is ultimately up to each one of us to “buyer beware” – and protect ourselves.  I hope you can slow down a bit this winter and enjoy some real home cooking – from scratch – the way your great grandma HAD to do it – because there were no processed foods to speak of back then.  You’ll be glad you did.   

Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Farmer Marie

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bee-autiful Posibilities

This is the work of 2-legged predators...
Well, a few weeks ago, I was sure I wrote an entry for the blog about our bees and their run-in with some vandals, however, at the moment, I can’t seem to find and finalize that entry in my computer – aka the black hole of endless thoughts and files of information.

Wild boar don't have the ability to pick up and throw stones...
But, as you can read for yourself from a fan of the farm in this Dallas Observer story, our bees had a run-in with some vandals a few weeks ago.  Interestingly enough, it led to befriending two youngsters in the neighborhood who seemed to take up my plight for securing the “woods” area of my property – so long as it meant they could continue to explore and forage food for the family snake. Only in rural America....

It seems as though ever since the Dallas Water Control and "Improvement" District No. 6 decided to put a sewer line though the back of my property some 10 years ago and fail to replace property fence lines, the public has taken to the area as their own private playground.  Now, I can’t say as though I place all of the blame on the public because the water district never did replace my barbed wire fence when they were done.  Why not, you ask?  Good question.  When my city’s public works department head inquired with the water district on my behalf about the fence, they were told – there never was one.  Huh?

Well, sometimes you have to just pick your battles they say, and at the time, I must have had bigger fires to put out because if you know me, you know if this was a battle I had chosen to take up, I would have made a lot of noise about it. Remember  A Rooster's Tale? But, no one was bothering anything back there and I honestly didn’t have a need for a fence because our horses couldn’t access that area anyway.  There’s a very deep ravine, 30ft drop or so, and it had been cross-fenced years before to keep the horses safe. 

Sadly, my "woods" have turned from a playground to a dumping ground.

This is NOT a road

Dallas County Water District #6 contractors left "silt fencing" to grow into the fauna - nice touch.
 However, as noted above, over the years it seems it’s been more than just the water district using this “right of way” easement.  One morning this winter, I took some of my out of town relatives to the back of my property to show them the bees and, well, just the back of my property; only to find a family of several, parked in their vehicle and several all terrain vehicles rambling all over the back of my property! Hey, wait a minute!!

So, I meandered down the ravine and up over to the other side to ask if they realized they were trespassing on private land, to which of course, they replied, no.  I had to politely explain to them about the water district’s lack of responsibility and ask that they not drive across my property anymore as it was ruining it.  This land used to be a very beautiful strip of basically un-touched prairie. Native grasses wafting in the breeze, wildflowers, birds and oh the sound of the highway – which, I’ve now managed to transfer in my mind to be the sound of a distant waterfall thanks to the suggestion of a friend.  (hey, it could sound like a waterfall if you pretend!)

I remember when I was a kid growing up next door to Chicago in a little blue collar suburb, that may as well just have been another Italian neighborhood of the big city. We used to play in 1 of two “fields”. Running around, climbing trees, burying our dead goldfish, and just exploring.  Then, one day, they fenced off and built a fast food restaurant on one of them.  And soon later, they put up a senior citizen facility on the 2nd one.  Our “woods” were gone. I felt the loss as those two boys looked at me putting up posts, that they helped me pound into the ground I might add.  One asked, very sincerely, can we still come over here?  I replied, "not with your vehicles".  I hated to give him an outright “NO”, because I feel for these kids having all of their “woods” built up with cookie cutter homes and postage stamp sized yards.  It’s no wonder they all hang out inside in front of screens.  These two kids, at least, still had a sense of adventure. In fact, they’d been out exploring the day I met them.  I had been laying down near my brook, which only is such after a good rain, but this day it was making that peaceful gurgling noise a brook makes that can lull you off to a nap.  Until I heard “BAM!”.  A bb gun went off and woke me from my slumber.  I decided to get after that fencing project I’d been putting off – right then. An hour later, they were helping me haul trash from the "woods" and pound fence posts into the ground and run fence line string while we shared stories about the land one of the youngsters' fathers owns in Kaufman County and my farm - of which they were quite intrigued. I hope to see them this spring for a visit - at the front gate.

A Young Explorers Dreamland!

So now I have 2 pairs of eyes on the back of my property, hopefully helping me keep trespassing down to a minimum.  And, maybe I’ve made two new young friends who appreciate nature as it is – without tread marks running through its’ beautiful native grasses and wildflowers and spray paint, televisions and other trash littering its’ woods. 

Marie Eat Your Food - Naturally!