May 31, 2008 § 4 Comments
For the past three years, I have been involved in an annual celebration of homegrown poultry. It started out as a homeschool lesson — “Know where your meat comes from” was the central idea. Truly, I believe it is a good idea to teach children where there food comes from. Whether it grows out of the dirt or it comes from an animal whose life is sacrificed for your sustenance, it’s an important to have full awareness of what we put in our bodies. It’s such a basic fundamental part of our lives, but so many are really separated from their food — buying things in cardboard and plastic and not thinking twice about how or where it was grown or raised.
I grew up on a family farm, working in my mom’s organic market garden, mucking my pony’s stall, catching lambs to dock their tails and vaccinate them, or doing a myriad of other farm activities. My parents butchered our own sheep, and mom regularly butchered a rabbit for dinner. We didn’t butcher chicken too often though, but I recall that when I was really young we butchered some chickens.
Photo to right: Chickens hanging to drain out blood. If blood pools in meat it causes bruising.
The downside of butchering a chicken and putting eating it in the same day is that chickens take quite a bit of effort to process. This is what my friend’s discovered as well, and thus they have turned it into a single-day even in which 30 chickens are butchered, and processed into breasts, wings, thighs and drumsticks and frozen for use throughout the year. In exchange for my “master” plucking skills, they raise two extras for me to take home.
So the first step is raising the chickens. My friends buy Cornish cross, which is the typical meat breed of chicken that has been bred to grow faster and bigger than chickens that are more traditionally used for egg production. They pick up the chicks in March, and make sure the calendar is open six weeks later for butchering, because that’s the total amount of time needed to raise up these fast-growing birds before butchering. [Here’s a good “How to” site for raising chicks].
On butchering day we prepare a garbage pail of boiling temperature water (by adjusting the hot water heater that morning for ease of getting about 40 gallons hot quickly). The chickens are gathered from the pen and walked across the yard (away from the sight of the other chickens) and they are thanked by the family, and then with a swift motion their bodies are dropped and the head twisted for a quick snapping of their necks. Next, their heads are cut off with a knife and they are hung upside down to bleed out. Once we have about 15 of them on the hanger, we begin to pull the first ones off that are drained, and dip them in the garbage pail of HOT water, which relaxes the tissues and loosens the feathers prior to plucking.
Next, we settle down to plucking. The best part of this job is the cold beer that you can enjoy while doing the plucking. Other than that, it’s not really “fun,” but the better job you do, the less complaining you’ll hear from your spouse or children about the feathers in their food. I take pride in the thorough plucking of a chicken, it’s one of those little “accomplishments” in life. Kind of like seeing a garden full of lucious produce, or seeing the sparkle on a clean countertop.
Photo to right: Pulling the feathers against the direction that they are laying in is the fastest method of removal. I tend to drag my thumb across the skin to aid in rubbing the base of the feather out of the skin.
The other option to plucking, is skinning the chickens. My friends don’t do this because skinned chicken is more prone to freezer-burn, and their kids are at an age when they can stand to get some more fat in their diets and the kids love the taste of the crispy cooked chicken skin.
After plucking is complete, the chickens are gutted and then placed in another trash can full of ice water. Once all the chickens are in the ice-bath, it’s time for cutting them up into bags of “Mixed grill,” breasts, thighs, drumsticks, wings, and putting in the large upright freezer in the garage. My friends also track the number of each package that they put in the freezer for quick reference in the kitchen. We took our birds home whole and in a vaccuum sealed bag. They’re ready for beer-butt barbeque chicken or a nice baked chicken dinner.
We actually did all of this on the weekend of May 17th, but I was slow on downloading the photos. And, I think it’s important to mention that this was done out of the official city limits of Eugene, but in a neighborhood. If your neighbors can see into your yard, it’s a good idea to notify them before you butcher 30 chickens.
For a little humor, I’ll share why I mention this.
This year, the new neighbors at my friend’s house weren’t notified because they hadn’t been home much recently. So, on the day we were there they had simultaneously planned a work-party on their garden. They were making use of the local high school softball team’s strength — about seven 15 year-old girls. The girls were preparing the vegetable beds, and we started walking across the yard with chickens under our arms. One girl was running a rototiller in the bed and she just stopped, and stared at the chicken and didn’t look at the rototiller, didn’t move her arms, didn’t stop it from tilling… just kept on tilling with mouth agape.
Then, she yelled over her shoulder: “Dad!!! They’re butchering chickens in their backyard!”
May 29, 2008 § 1 Comment
Well if you’re addicted to your local public radio station, then this is “old news,” but if you missed the story on NPR this morning about Stephen Kaffka’s research at UC Davis, have no fear, NPR has audio archives and you can listen at your leisure.
The story was interesting to me because it discussed what aspects of organic produce makes them more nutritious, and the biological processes that impact the nutritional value of the veggies (specifically tomatoes). When I was at the Food and Medicine Culture at the Neighborhood Level meeting, both Charlotte Anthony and Nick Routledge both spoke about their personal experiences helping people who were ill to heal using organic, local, seasonal food.
Harry McCormick of the Ten Rivers Food Web also spoke briefly about the higher nutritional value of food in an interview on OPB’s new weekly radio show, Think Out Loud (which is also archived for audio streaming). Also, the Organic trade association has published more information on the nutritional superiority of organic produce.
The science behind all of this is, again, the most interesting part to me. Flavanoids are the key, with their antioxidant activities… and well, we should all be aware by now that antioxidants have anticancer properties. In the NPR story, Kaffka explained how the flavanoids can exist in an organically-grown tomato that might not exist in a conventionally-grown plant:
On Kaffka’s plot, the conventionally grown tomatoes get commercial fertilizer made with soluble inorganic nitrogen, a form of nitrogen the plants can take up very quickly. The organic tomatoes get nitrogen from manure and composted cover crops. These organic materials have to be broken down by the microbes in the soil before the nitrogen is released to the plants.
“It takes time,” Kaffka says, and the nitrogen is “not instantaneously available.”
With limited nitrogen, the organic plants may grow slower, says Alyson Mitchell, a food chemist at UC Davis. When this happens, she says, the plant “has more time to allocate its resources toward making secondary plant metabolites” such as flavonoids.
Something so seemingly simple as how the plant processes the fertilizer can make a big difference in what the ultimate food product provides to us for our consumption. Beyond the simple lack of petroleum-based chemical residues on our food, the food itself may just be healthier.
May 22, 2008 § Leave a comment
I ran across this article on the best way to prepare vegetables (New York Times), and thought it had a lot of good information. Fresh fruit and vegetables hold valuable and important vitamins and minerals within their bodies, but how can our bodies most efficiently make use of the available nutrition? The raw food movement is gaining steam (especially in the Eugene area), but perhaps raw is not always the best and most efficient use of fruits and veggies. It’s an interesting read, and (forgive the pun) good food for thought. One of the most interesting statistics is that microwaving some vegetables allows the veggies to retain 90% of their nutritional value compared to steaming or boiling. The microwave method is my personal favorite, both for speed and flavor, so it’s great to be “vindicated” a bit.
When we started this blog, one of the stumbling points that we wanted to tackle was how to prepare and enjoy the local bounty. The Willamette Valley can grow a lot of standard delicious fruit and vegetables, and we are quite privileged to live in such a great food system; but, not everyone was raised on an organic farm with good information and ideas of what to do with Swiss Chard, or the deliciousness of beet greens.
If you have good recipes for non-mainstream foods, please write them in a comment or shoot me an email with your contribution (photos always welcome).
May 15, 2008 § 3 Comments
On Tuesday night I came home to find a flyer on my front porch from the Whiteaker Community Council announcing a special presentation at their May general meeting: “Food and Medicine Culture at the Neighborhood Level.” The speakers were Charlotte Anthony of the Victory Gardens Project, and Tobias Policha and Nick Routledge, co-Founders of the Food Not Lawns collective. With the relevant topic being presented, I attended my first Whiteaker Community Council meeting (after living in the Whit for five years).
A couple of upcoming events were announced in the general meeting including, “Eat Here Now,” at the First United Methodist Church on Saturday May 17th from 6:30-9:00 PM. Cost is $5, and it’s a potluck. The other announced event for this month is Perma Jam II (directions at link) on Saturday, May 24th from noon to 4:00 PM. Cost is $10, and bike commuting to the event is encouraged.
Victory Gardens Seeing Success
Charlotte Anthony shared the success of the Victory Gardens project in Eugene and surrounding areas, with 75 gardens established within Eugene proper thus far.
“We want to help anybody put a garden in,” she explained. For a $50 donation to the group, the Victory Garden team will help you dig up your lawn and turn it into a productive garden space, and soil is not a problem.
“We are seeing amazing results from microbes in clay,” said Anthony. The group uses effective microorganisms (EM) to inoculate the soil which causes mycorrhizal fungi to attach to roots and these “till” the soil, making the soil nutrients in the clay available for plants.
And if the thought of digging up your yard and planting things seems overwhelming, that’s exactly what the Victory Gardens team is prepared to help you overcome. They bring in a team of teens from Network Charter School to help dig up the yard, and then provide a mentor that can help you determine what to plant, when to water, and how to keep your garden productive.
Their web site provides gardening tips and tricks to help anyone interested in gardening along the way. With the potential closing of the Lane County OSU Extension Office due to lack of Federal timber revenue and associated county funding for the agency, the Victory Gardens team is looking at the possibility of filing the void that the loss of the Master Gardener’s program would cause.
Food Not Lawns
Nick Routledge shared his enthusiasm and passion for growing locally-adapted seasonal foods. After starting the Food Not Lawns Collective, Routledge has been a suburban farmer in the Eugene area, and has done a lot of work with local growers on seed improvement. Routledge speaks the gospel of food ecology.
“In our efforts to steward the crops in an ecological manner, we step into the ecological territory that economics can’t get to. People in the business of making money can’t get to where we’re getting with our local germplasm,” shared Routledge. And the benefits of this local ecology is not isolated to the plants and crops they produce, but includes our larger community and culture and how we behave.
Tobias Policha responded to audience questions regarding the saving of hybridized seeds, explaining that if you want to save seed it’s best to grown open-pollinated or self-pollinating crops. This also gets you away from the “commercial interests” involved in growing seeds (some audience members raised concerns over Monsanto’s seed practices in the Willamette Valley: , , ). Other options include raising native “wild foods.” Policha suggested that instead of planting a pretty, nice shrub like daphne; and instead planting a currant, which has both edible and medicinal uses. He posited that in the event of a food crisis, these “subversive” food plants could be a boon to gardeners, as food scavengers wouldn’t recognize the plants in your yard as “food.” Big leaf maple is also quite edible, as are dandelions, and nany other plants (see books like Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in the Wild and Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape).
Another recommended read was Gaia’s Garden, which discusses homescale permaculture.
More information about permaculture and seed saving, and a chance to meet up with like-minded inviduals will occur at “Winter Gardening” workshop on May 31st at the Food For Lane County Youth Farm, starting at 3 PM. Seeds for winter gardens will be available, and you can learn what you can grow in this bioregion during the winter.
Other topics were discussed, and to keep this brief, I will endeavor to cover those in detail later.
May 14, 2008 § Leave a comment
On Saturday, May 10, 2008, I headed to the Lane County Farmer’s Market to check out what was available, and to pick up a Yacon start (previously discussed here).
I also picked up a green and purple tomatillo with the intent of making some good salsa verde this summer.
I checked out the consignment booth and found a large quantity of asparagus. I just couldn’t resist and had to buy two bunches. I like it steamed with garlic or lemon. I used part of one bunch to freshen-up a can of Cambell’s Cream of Asparagus soup (also adding about a tablespoon of fresh garlic and precooking the asparagus in the pot before adding the soup mix and milk). But my real desire was to make a fresh asparagus quiche using my farm-fresh eggs.
1/2-3/4 cup milk
1/2-1 cup grated sharp Tillamook cheddar cheese
2/3 lb or 2 cups asparagus cut into 2-3 inch sections
3 Tbs chopped garlic
1/2 cup butter/shortening
1 Tbs apple cider vinegar
3 Tbs cold water
1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (Bob’s Red Mill)
1/2 tsp baking powder
*Preheat oven to 350 F
*Mix crust ingredients together, cutting shortening or butter with pastry blender or knife.
*Add sifted whole wheat flour and baking powder, cut together until “crumbly.”
*Add water, vinegar, and egg and blend well. Use hands to shape dough and mix ingredients well until smooth
*Place dough on floured surface and roll out to round shape
*Place in 12″ diameter springform pan, pressing dough to edges and ensuring uniform coverage (remove excess dough that is higher than the edge of the pan, and use it to fill in the gaps left in other areas)
*Place crust in oven and bake for 15 minutes
*Beat eggs with milk in bowl
*Place chopped asparagus in crust
*Sprinkle chopped garlic over it and cover with grated cheese
*Pour in egg/milk mixture, and try to make sure that the egg batter completely covers filling ingredients
*Place in oven and bake at 350 for 1 hour
*Cool for 15 minutes and then remove from springform pan, or place in refrigerator and serve cold