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Spring has sprung

Posted 10/16/2013 12:03am by Samantha .

(Taken from our old newsletter)
In the last 24 hours, we’ve seen the return of the Robin, the Red winged black bird and the Canada Goose. Spring is here. Thank Goodness! Doesn’t that sun feel good on your skin this time of year? We have lots of share with you, because so much has happened on our little farm in the last few months. I will focus on a few farm updates, as well as the price of sustainability.

Firstly, cows! We got our lovely certified organic Jersey cow at the tail end of 2010. Her name is “Summer” and we are so pleased to have her on our farm. Right now, she is giving us wonderful milk and cream, and in July, she will bring a little Jersey calf to the farm. Cows are very much a herd animal, so shortly after Summer arrived, her friend “Winnie” came too. Winnie is a purebred Dexter, and she is due to calve in May. Dexter’s are an old breed of cattle that are prized for their ability to provide both excellent milk and excellent beef. They are on the Rare Breeds of Canada watch list. The best way to prevent these cows from becoming extinct is for farmers to raise them, and customers to drink their milk, or eat the beef! We added cows to our farm to increase our sustainability. Nothing better than a lawn mower on four legs to improve pasture growth. The more we can improve our pastures, the less we have to rely on off-farm inputs. As well, more pasture means we can raise more chicken!

Some advance planning last year has made for a better certified organic pastured egg supply this coming year. Our newest laying hens have finally begun to produce eggs. These eggs will be small at first, but get larger by the day. Regardless of size, they are from happy hens that produce eggs rich in nutrition. The richness in flavour of the egg will begin to increase as there is more vegetation available to them. There are few things more wonderful than an egg laid by a pasture raised chicken in the summer time! We hope to be able to maintain this increased supply from here on in, but as always, predators become an issue. The best eggs are produced by organic hens than can freely wander outside. If you put them in a fenced run, it quickly becomes dirt, rather than grass, just look at our winter pastures when the snow thaws to see what we mean! So in the spring, summer and autumn, we let the birds roam throughout our farm, this also allows our winter pasture to rest and grow back before the end of autumn. These plucky little hens eat bugs, grass, frogs and anything else that turns their fancy, including garden tomatoes and lettuce if we don’t protect them! However, this freedom makes them more susceptible to predation compared to the birds laying tasteless barn eggs. Our farm dog is very good at running off coyotes, raccoons, skunks and wolves, but she has yet to learn how to deal with hawks. So we will see what the summer brings. Due to the current increased supply, we are now happy to take advance orders on eggs
    For those interested in stewing hen, they are not available until late fall.

We are still planning our summer flocks of certified organic pasture raised broiler chickens. We anticipate later flocks this year to give the pastures more time to grow, as we only raise our broilers when the grass is growing. We had substantial rains last autumn, as well as some back-hoe work done to take out tree stumps, and this has left some scarring that needs to be repaired before any of the animals get out on to the grass. We’ll keep you posted on the dates we expect to have broilers ready. For those that are interested in chicken this year, we can add your name to a waiting list, or to the 2012 chicken list. Raising the broilers on quality certified organic grains with a side of grass, fresh air, bugs and sunlight makes for the tastiest (and probably healthiest!) chicken you’ve ever tasted. This probably accounts for why our chicken sells out a year ahead. As we increase our pasture areas, and our labour force (children) get older, we hope to be able to produce more chickens each year. People have asked us about raising additional flocks in a coop during the winter and for us that is not an option. These broiler chickens need growing grass and ample sun to perform at their peak.

Our certified organic pasture raised heritage breed pigs are doing great, they just love the skim milk and whey that our cow provides! We now have two sows (both are Berkshire x Tamworth), and they are expected to farrow in April from our boar who is a purebred Berkshire. We hope that this can keep us in the bacon for a bit longer than usual, but it’s not likely! The traditionally smoked nitrate-free bacon is fantastic, and seldom lasts more than a week after it comes back from the smoke house. The chops and ribs seem to sell fast as well.  Feedback from our customers is excellent. The pork has great flavour and texture, and the meat that goes into the oven is the same size as what comes out of the oven. No shrinkage or waste, just beautiful meat, and rich gravy! That is the beauty of a heritage breed hog. This is pork like your grandparents ate. When I look through my old cookbooks from the early 1900’s, the pictures shown of the pork look nothing like what you would find in a store, but look as though it is our pork photographed! Well 
marbled, dark, and a nice cap of fat over the roasts. No pale, anemic, lean pork here! We have one or two sides not spoken for this spring, and there is space to book for the fall as well. If a side is too large for you, why not get together with family or friends to split a side. Purchasing your meat this way is the most economical method to get the most exceptional meat. We also have been offering prepared lard at the Ottawa Organic Farmers Market on Saturdays, and it has been a hit as well. We love to use lard in our cooking, baking and frying.

We had some custom pork sausage made for Stone Soup Foodworks to serve at Winterlude this year, and the reviews were great. It was a Mexican Chorizo and we enjoyed it so much (as did our hungry customers!) that we’ll be sure to have some made every spring and fall. We’ve also been working on a breakfast sausage patty. One is a savoury flavour, the other Maple. Once we have it perfected, they will be available for sale at our farmgate and at the Ottawa Organic Farmers Marketwhere we have a table every Saturday year round.

We have no major renovation plans for our gardens this year, as we expanded them considerably last year. We do have plans to grow more carrots. For those that had them, you understand why we called this winter crop ‘candy carrots.’ They were so sweet! We hope to pull the last of them this week or next. We were also pleased with the heritage varieties of lettuce that we grew. We’ll be sure to grow more of these fine fresh certified organic veggies this season.

Once the mud has dried and the grass is growing we will begin farm tours again. We try to hold a few scheduled tours each year and these are free. Tours are also free to any customers that come out to the farm to pick up their orders. We love to show people around the farm and explain how we work with the animals and the land to build the health of the soil. It’s a great way to see a small, diverse, certified organic farm in action, and to get to know your food better. If you would like to book a private tour for yourself or for a group, please call us to book it. Cost for private tours is $30. A full tour can last as long as 2 -3 hours, but we can also manage quick tours if you have less time available. Locavore Tours will also be making a stop at our farm once or twice this year. This is also an excellent way to visit, and save gas. They have a tour bus and usually visit two farms in a day.

Over the winter, which was a challenging one to be sure, we gave much thought to our farms sustainability. As we watch our children, and the children of our customers grow right 
before our eyes, we wonder what kind of legacy we will leave them. Sustainable food culture, or sub-standard plastic food? Productive farms or poisoned water? It is a goal here on our farm to do somethingbetter. Our goals are to produce organic food, but to gobeyond organic. For food to be truly organic, it must be more than chemical, antibiotic, hormone or GMO free. It must be sustainable. Fuel prices are rising, so is the cost of electricity, and taxes seem to go up more than down. We are on the verge of a major global food crisis. It takes more money and person energy to grow organic foodcompared to conventional food. Our farm also had a few hard hits in the farm vehicle department this year. We tend to buy used vehicles (they range in age from about 8 – 15 years old), which cost less, but seem to catch up to the pocket-book eventually. It didn’t help that our hog/feed trailer died a month ago too. Anyone welders out there know how to replace a broken wheel, axel and frame?

All these factors make it hard to produce real, nutrient dense food and have enough cash at the end of the day to pay the mortgage. As many of our customers have pointed out, if we can’t pay our mortgage, we are not a sustainable farm. That if my husband has to work an additional 40 hours a week off-farm, he is subsidizing the cost of the food we produce. Hearing those things cut me to the quick. I’ve always thought of our farm as sustainable. A farm that has a future. But if farm can’t pay it’s own bills, than it is certainly not sustainable, is it? This spring, a few, but not all of our prices will go up. You must understand that we agonize over price increases. We see the prices of the food in the stores and are subject to the marketing that bombards all of us in print and radio, (we don’t have satellite or cable). Fortunately, many of our customers point out that our food is different from ‘store food’, and also needs to be priced differently. Our prices reflect the true cost of the food. No hidden costs like polluted water, air or soil. No increased burden to our health care system, but perhaps even a decrease. We think it’s important that you, our customers, know what else we are doing besides a small price increase, to insulate ourselves against the rising prices and availability of gas, electricity and organic feed sources. Our short term plans for the next year or two include the following:

 -  Adding evestroughing and containers for water collection to all farm buildings to store or divert water to where it is needed. This will help prevent soil erosion and reduce our electricity use, as our water pump is electric.

-   Increasing pasture areas with hogs and cows. The hogs clear
the pastures of scrap trees, rocks and shrubs, we re-seed them, and the cows mow them. No fossil fuel tractor required, (except to move the odd stump, and that is a one time thing). This also reduces our feed needs in the summer months and improves our pastures. Using the hogs and cows also increases the fertility soil and quality of forage. In the photo above, you can see Marley 'rock picking' and the  picture below shows how we were then able to turn the area into gardens. 

-       Adding a hand pump to our water supply. This means during power outages, we can still bring water to the animals and gardens.

-       Increasing the amount of feed we can grow on our farm, for example, a field pea and oat blend to feed the hogs. The more we can grow here for our animals, the less we need to purchase. Off-farm feed is expensive, and costs us time and gasoline to get it. The more animal feed we can produce, the less we are affected by market price fluctuations. Because we do not use GMO’s we can also use our own seed for these field crops. If we plant small plots, we can harvest by hand, or let the animals self harvest, reducing fossil fuel use.

-       Replacing our broken trailer. We can pick up larger loads of
feed, which reduces miles we travel to produce food. A longer term goal of ours is grain bins. If we can order grain in bulk, we can get a better price and again, it means less driving to feed the same amount of animals.

-       Continuing to source out other certified organic foods from local farms. We can’t possible produce everything here (there are only so many hours in a day, and we’re already both working 15 of them!) so we look to other organic farms. We have been able to offer certified organic pasture raised lamb, cheese and butter thanks to the hard work of other local organic farmers. We are currently looking for someone to provide us with certified organic lacto fermented foods, as well as certified organic goat milk products.

-       Continuing the use of buffer zones around pastures and gardens. These are areas that we leave as brush or forest or swamp. They create lots of habitat for local animal and plant species. When there is lots of bunny food, there are lots of bunnies. When there are lots of bunnies, there is lots of food for coytes and other predators. This reduces our losses in the chicken department. Buffer zones also help retain water in the soil, provide shade for animals, and natural shelter from wind.

-       Continuing to use the innovations thought up by other farmers, like our Joel Salatin inspired 'Egg-mobile' and chicken tractors. These portable chicken shelters reduce our feed and electricity needs,  as well as keeping the birds in top health and the food in top quality.

-      Working towards hiring an intern or farm hand. This is a twofold goal. One, we need to teach the next generation how to farm. Two, we really need help, and an intern or farm hand may prevent us from burn-out.

I’m sure there’s lots more that I could tell you about how we are working towards long term ecological and financial sustainability, but I have a giant organic certification renewal form due in a week or two that’s calling my name, as well as the farmers market to get ready for. So, I’ll end by saying thank you. 

Thank you to my dear, encouraging, make-us-feel-better-when-we-feel-like-giving-up, cherished customers who I consider to be friends. Without you, we would have thrown in the farming towel long ago and focused on raising food for our family alone. This is the hardest work I, or my husband have ever done. It is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year. No breaks, no vacations, no sleep-in’s, no days off. With all that is going on in the world, it feels rather hopeless sometimes. 
But you, dear friend, give us hope that the world does care about properly raised, sustainable, tasty food, and a future for our children.