Thoughtful Food

Human vs. Machine by Leda
May 27, 2010, 7:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

In the last few weeks, an unintentional experiment has been taking place at Four Frog Farm.  Our initial plantings, by virtue of the rainy spring we have had, were all done in beds prepared entirely by hand. These first transplants that we planted about 6 weeks ago were: summer squash, kale, broccoli, and lettuce.

More recently, weather permitting, we have been adopting the less physically taxing preparation process of preparing beds with the tractor. Now that we have planted a number of crops in tractor made beds (strawberries, onions, tomatoes, melons, cucumbers) a comparison between the two methods of bed preparation is almost inevitable.

This comparison is more complicated than it sounds. I will have to admit that I hold a bias towards the work that has been done by hand (and that I have physically participated in). The personal attention that went into preparing beds by hand, and also the fact that those beds were our first plantings of the year, means that they seem special to me. They are also a little uneven, rocky, and may not have the best drainage.  In fact, our first plantings of squash did so poorly that we re-tilled that field and have recently planted potatoes there.

The tractor-made beds look nicer, they are easier to plant into, and boy are they faster to make! But, there is just not as much satisfaction in walking down the aisle of bed that you have not raked out, discarded rocks from, and hand laid mulch on.

There is no question in my mind that the tractor method probably wins on both effectiveness and efficiency.  And we will most likely use this method for the remainder of our bed preparation.  To me, though, the debate has just begun due to the fact that I will have to decide whether the purchase of a tractor (and all the expensive add ons) makes sense for the type of farming that I want to do. The poor weather has negatively altered our original plan for the farm, but it has also brought a myriad of learning experiences to us. I will count this as one of the most valuable: we will not take the tractor and the work that it allows us to do for granted.

-Farmer Leda


Breaking bread is the key to happiness by Stephanie Park
May 10, 2010, 7:53 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I always knew I loved food, but here in Nevada County, people really love all things related to food. I am so thankful that my life’s path somehow led me to this extraordinarily unique microcosm of food fanatics. Before I continue, let me clear some things up. Sure, people around here love to eat well, but that’s not the only thing they delight in. People around here really appreciate the influence that food can have in bringing a community together.

From day one of this internship, there has not been a week around here without a big gathering of farmers and farming/food aficionados from the community. Unfortunately, I missed out on the first meet-n-greet potluck, but Matt and Leda did happen to attend. I met up with them later that night, where we all shared some drinks with the interns, our now good friends, from Riverhill Farm. Since that first potluck, the gatherings of good food and good company have not stopped. The Riverhill interns invited us to a potluck the following week, while we reciprocated with a house warming party/potluck the week after. Just last weekend, we had an awesome time at a cob oven pizza party at one of the Living Lands farm sites. That night, we finally met the Living Lands interns, Mountain Bounty Farm interns, and Heaven & Earth Farm interns. We also witnessed Leda’s childhood dream of becoming a street performer come alive, as she juggled with new friends (she literally went back home to grab her juggling clubs).

The culmination of these events, thus far, has been the Nevada City Farmers Market Spring SowDown, a fundraiser for the Nevada City Farmers Market. We (along with interns from Riverhill and Living Lands) served up bowls of soup to the fundraiser’s attendees and partook in some good ol’ contra dance. Everyone at the event was all smiles, partly from the warm feeling of bellies being filled with soup, but mostly because they were breaking bread with other like-minded members of the community. This is a wonderful place I am growing to love more and more with each new face I meet. Being able to farm and meet the people who appreciate all the care we put into producing their food has instilled the absolute strongest feeling of joy in me. Simply put, I couldn’t be happier.

– Farmer Stephanie

How to kill a chicken (as humanely as possible) by Leda
May 10, 2010, 7:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

In an attempt to become a more responsible meat eater (and also to procure meat for my diet), I began contacting local (read: Nevada County) farmers and ranchers to see if I could arrange a work trade for local chicken, beef, lamb, and eggs.  After exchanging emails, I found myself at a family farm specializing in broilers (chickens raised for meat), layers (chicken raised for eggs), turkey (just raised in the fall for Thanksgiving demands), and most recently pigs. The task at hand for my first lesson in small scale meat production: processing 20 cornish cross broilers.

The steps of processing a broiler on a family farm such as this (my only direct experience) are markedly different from the desensitizing madness that is industrial chicken processing (of which I’ve only read).

some quick comparisons of Poultry Processing by scale:

On-Farm Small Large
Size Outdoor or shed facility 2,000 to 3,000 sq. ft. 150,000 sq. ft.
Equipment Manual Manual/mechanical Fully automated
Cost Less than $15,000 Less than $500, 000 $25,000,000
Labor Family Family/hired Hired
Capacity 50-100 birds per day 200-5,000 birds per day 250,000 birds per day
Operation Seasonal; 1-30 processing days per year Seasonal or year-round; 50-plus processing days per year Year-round, process daily
Marketing Product sold fresh, sometimes frozen, whole birds Fresh and frozen, wholeand parts Mainly cut-up, soldfresh, further-pro-cessed
Comments Independent operation;labor-intensive; low-risk; usually non-inspected, direct sales Independent or part of acollaborative group;requires good marketsand grower commitments Part of an integratedoperation includinggrow-out, processing,and marketing

(Table from: Fanatico, Anne (2003). Small-Scale Poultry Processing”
My experience with on-farm processing looked something like this:

I arrived to find the 20 broilers sequestered (and very calm in a roughly 8″ x 8″ crate with an open top).  The processing equipment was set up in a small trailer  with a partition down the middle.  The left side of the trailer contained the kill cones, automated scalder, and picker.  The right side of the trailer contained stainless steel tables for eviscerating and three wash stand/cleaning stations.

I believe the idea behind the partition in the middle was to separate the different stages from contamination (e.g., no feathers or excess blood would be introduced to the processing area).

The first step was learning the most humane way to kill a chicken.  The farmer we were learning from, I will call him John, first explained the procedure and then demonstrated the correct way to handle the chicken and place the bird in the kill cone. John then proceded to kill three birds with his steady hand and clearly practiced technique (The birds seemed very tranquil, and after being “stuck” went limp except for a few post-mortem spasmic movements John called “death throes”).  The entire time he was very calm and talked me through the process of what he was doing.

Earlier, I had convinced myself that participating in this process in full was something that I needed to do to truly be a responsible meat eater (my own personal choice) and so I summoned the courage to kill the next bird.

I carried one of the chickens from its crate just a few feet away to where the kill cones were set up.  Then, I placed the chicken into the cone so that her head and neck were hanging down through the opening in the bottom and arranged her feet so they were pointed straight up (so she would not kick out of the cone).  As instructed, I held her head steady in my left hand and felt for her windpipe with my thumb.  I steadied the small, but very sharp knife in my right hand and lined up the blade just behind her windpipe (aiming to sever the jugular veins and carotid arteries by sticking the knife clean through the neck).  Adrenaline pumping, I stuck my knife through the neck.  It was a good stick and she went limp as she bled out.

The rest of the processing seemed a bit more formulaic (scald the birds that were bled out, place these birds in a “picker” to pluck the feathers off, then pass the birds through the partition to a table so that the head, feet, and internal organs could be removed).

After eviscerating and cleaning the birds, they were put in a large tub of ice water to chill for about an hour.  Finally, the birds were weighed, bagged, and labeled.  The birds were sold to local customers (I’m assuming they were local because they drove out to the farm to pick up the chickens).

As I reflected on the events of the day, I felt humbled and sobered by the act of taking the life of an animal.  Although I was glad to witness, and indeed participate in this process, I found no pleasure in actually killing a chicken.  I did not like it at all.  But, I do feel that I now hold a greater appreciation  of  where the meat that I am eating comes from, and for that I am grateful.  I cannot comprehend how processing chickens on a larger scale could be as humane, careful, or personal as this experience was in my opinion.  For me, that warrants a decision to eat meat from  only sources who raise their animals humanely as well as slaughter them humanely.  I am looking forward to what my future experiences with animal husbandry and processing will teach me.

-Farmer Leda

The greatest wealth is health by Stephanie Park
May 10, 2010, 1:59 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Farming is a job that requires full use of your body and mind.

Sometime last month, the Four Frog crew had a delicious dinner at Farmer Andrew’s house. Upon returning home that night, I felt my body begin to shut down completely. A slight head-cold overcame me, but not quite enough to deter me away from work – at least not yet.

Hoping that the goodness of the outdoors would cure me, I went to work on the following Sunday. My mild sickness quickly evolved into something more than just “the sniffles.” I felt like my head was in a diving bell, fully submerged at the bottom of the ocean. I stayed home from work on Monday and spent the day sleeping and reading in bed. While at home, feeling useless, I realized how important a farmer’s health was in regards to the success of his or her farm. If one’s body cannot physically endure the seeding, weeding, planting, harvesting, or other demands of the farm, work simply cannot be done. Conversely, there are many professions, where one can make do while battling a cold.

I think one of the lessons I’ve learned here so far is that my body is probably my greatest asset when it comes to farming. Although there is only so much I can control, this lesson has called even more attention to the importance of taking care of my body. I’m now fully recovered from the cold I caught a long while ago, yet I’m still wary of anyone who coughs or sneezes around me.