Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kale and Tomato Frittata

Get to know...Kale:

Kale is one of those crops that you're likely to see very frequently if you join our CSA. It's well-adapted to the north, and actually gets sweeter and more flavorful after being exposed to a frost. For the farmer, Kale is a generous and forgiving plant that can withstand a late frost, and can be cut, again and again, throughout the growing season, so you only need to plant 1 planting!

Tender Kale greens can provide an intense addition to salads, especially with dry-roasted peanuts or red-pepper flakes, or an Asian-style dressing. You can bake or dehydrate kale into kale chips, which has a similar consistency to potato chips, but is a much healthier option. It can be added to soups, stir-frys, braised or add it to your juicer blend. I've always found it goes well with sausage and egg dishes. 

Kale is very high in:
-beta carotene
-Vitamin K
-Vitamin C

It is also contains sulforaphane, a chemical with potent anti-cancer properties. And like many other brassica vegetables, kale is also a source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells. 

Kale is not for everyone. Some will love it, some will feed it to their dogs. Farmer Donnie is still struggling to integrate it into his diet, with some not-so-subtle pushes from Farmer Figgins. Here is our latest attempt for Kale. 

Kale and Tomato Frittata:

Makes 4 Servings

- 2 leaves of kale, stems cut out, torn into strips
- 1 tomato, diced
- 1/4 cup cheese (crumbled feta, grated parmasean,
mozzarella or goat cheese works well)
- 6 Eggs
- 1 tablespoon butter
- A pinch of red pepper flakes
- salt
- 1/4 teaspoon dry parsley or 1/2 teaspoon fresh, minced

1. Preheat your oven to 350. 

2.  Cut the stems out of the kale, then tear the kale leaves into strips. 

3. In an oven-safe skillet, saute over medium heat kale strips with a pinch of salt and red pepper flakes in 1 tablespoon of butter, for about 5 minutes.

4. In a bowl, whisk eggs and parsley. 

5. Add a little more butter into the pan after you've sauteed it for 5 minutes, then add the whisked eggs, moving the kale around to make sure the egg is spread evenly across the bottom of the skillet.

6. Top with diced tomatoes and cheese. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.

7. Transfer to oven and bake for 5 minutes.

8. Make sure the center isn't liquid and the eggs are cooked through, serve immediately with Cholula! 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Do we really need industrial Agriculture to feed the world?

Do we need Industrial Agriculture?

One of the most frequent arguments I've heard justifying contemporary industrial agriculture is that we couldn't feed the world or future populations without it. This video from Food MythBusters breaks down this myth of industrial agriculture into the main arguments: 

-That we need to double our food production by 2050 to keep up with population growth
-Industrial agriculture has the technology to grow more than sustainable practices
-Their system works best for farmers and consumers


Food MythBusters also has a great infographic exploring the differences between industrial agriculture and "agroecology," another term for sustainable agriculture. 

I'm calling this myth busted!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pasture-Raised Eggs

Why 'Pasture-Raised' Eggs?

Here at The Shire Farm, we love our eggs. Scrambled, fried, hard-boiled, baked, shaked, in frittata, or whipped into cupcakes, you name it. We usually try to have 2 eggs and 2 slices of toast every morning if we can. Eggs are one of the highest quality protein of any food.  They're an affordable, dense source of nutrition that can be prepared in a variety of tasty ways. What's not to like? Until our chickens start laying, sooner rather than later hopefully, we've been getting our eggs from the store and from couple that raises backyard chickens in Lowell, MI, and you can tell the difference! While we wait for ours to start laying with eager anticipation, we thought we could explain why we chose to raise our chickens on pasture.

First, there's the difference of Quality:

Our Pasture-Raised Eggs
Pasture Raised Eggs produce eggs with firmer yolks, with a stronger color and a richer flavor. When cooking you see that shells are stronger from a diet higher in calcium, they break more cleanly with fewer shards of shell floating in your breakfast. The yolks are stronger and firmer, so if you're a fan of over-easy eggs like us, you'll enjoy fewer broken yolks. Deep orange, the yolk stands up tall within the thick whites and their color, flavor and texture are distinct as each hens diet.  

You can see the difference visually between Cage-Free eggs based on their diets:

Our chickens eat a mix of grain and grass

There's the difference of Health:

Not only are you getting better quality eggs, you are also getting healthier and more nutritious eggs. 

Mother Earth News conducted an egg testing project and study in 2007, and found that eggs produced by truly free-ranging hens were far superior to those produced by battery cage hens on conventional factory egg farms. 

-1/3 less Cholesterol 
-1/4 less Saturated Fat 
-7 times more Beta Carotene
-2/3 more Vitamin A
-3 times more Vitamin E 
-2 times more Omega 3s
-3-6 times more Vitamin D

Eating just two of these eggs will give you from 63-126% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D! All because pastured hens are exposed to direct sunlight, which their bodies convert to Vitamin D and then pass this on to their eggs. 

Because of the difference of Practice: 

A bird's diet and lifestyle affects its health, flavor, and nutrition, as well as its eggs. Because the chickens consume a more natural, omnivorous diet that includes seeds, worms, insects and green plants, and get a lot of sunshine--because we allow them to live a chicken-like life--their eggs are substantially better. Because pasture-raised chickens have less stress and are naturally healthier than factory raised chickens, they are less susceptible to bird diseases, like Avian Flu. In 2006, the Center for Disease Control said, "When it comes to bird flu, diverse small-scale poultry farming is the solution, not the problem."

Pasture-Raised chickens are allowed to express their chickenness, as Joel Salatin might say. They are not raised in an unnatural environment, without sunlight, on an all-grain diet mismatched to their nature as chickens. Instead we allow them to live as chickens, eating an omnivorous diet more natural to them in a healthier environment

For farmers, chickens can help us in this system by eating fleas, ticks, grasshoppers, spiders, slugs, mosquito larvae and almost every other insect. They can even eat small mice and snakes. This does mean that pasture-raised chickens are NOT vegetarians, because chickens are not naturally vegetarian. Besides keeping our pest population under control, their very presence on the fields, eating and pooping, provides manure and fertilizer for the soil, promoting organic matter and fertility. Being able to move their pasture enables a farmer to manage and direct the fertility of the land.  

Factory farm birds--both conventional and organic--never get to see the outdoors, let alone eat a natural foraging diet, and are kept in overcrowded conditions. Instead they are fed the cheapest possible mixture of corn, soy and/or cottonseed meals, with many additives. In conventional factory farms, chickens are often given antibiotics to keep the animals alive in this conditions and to promote faster growth, but it also promotes antibiotic resistance.  Other substances such as chlorine, anti-depressants, and arsenic  and others have been found in super market and fast food chicken. And we haven't even mentioned the environmental consequences of factory farming.

"So, here is the deal. We create hellish conditions for our livestock, then we drug them to keep them numb. Then we drug them again to wake them from their pharmaceutical stupor. Then we drug them to grow faster. Then we drug them so their flesh will look healthier. Then we drug them to withstand the disease epidemics that our overcrowding has created.

Then, of course, we drug ourselves every time we take a bite of factory-farmed poultry.

The bottom line: Our lives and our food have become increasingly complicated by our enhanced awareness of the long-term consequences and ramifications of their production. Sustainable and healthy alternatives to the industrial factory farm system do exist. But it is up to everyone to make the change in their lives. Know your farmer, know your food. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Make the most of your meat with stock!

Chicken Stock:

Want to get the most use out of your meat? Then make stock! 

To make chicken stock, all you need are those left over inedible bones and bits from a whole chicken, water and a handful of vegetables. Basically, you simmer the bones with some flavorful vegetables in water to create flavored water, aka stock. We happened to have carrots, celery and onion on hand, so this was our recipe, but it works with many other vegetables. 

As a rule of thumb, we advise using enough vegetables/vegetable scraps to fill up 1/4 of the pot you're using. Vegetables with strong flavors, root-crops in particular, do well for this. Turnips, beets, radishes, onions, celery, carrots, (I would avoid potato, it's not flavorful enough, really more of a sponge for flavor). You can also keep your vegetable scraps of these foods--ends of carrots, bottoms and tops of celery, onion pieces, broccoli stems, stems of chard or kale--and keep them in a bag in your freezer until you're ready to make stock. Or if not, you can view it as a way to use those vegetables that are on the edge of their shelf life.

The longer you let your stock simmer and stew the stronger and more flavorful it gets, so we recommend starting it in the morning.

Chicken Stock

-1 Carcass of your whole chicken
-16 cups of water (More or less depending on pot size and amount of ingredients on hand)
-2 large carrots
-1/2 head of celery
-1 onion
-1 bay leaf
-A handful of parsley stems, tied together 
-3-4 cloves crushed garlic

1. Roughly chop up your vegetables.

2. Add all of your ingredients to a pot, bring to boil.

3. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and let simmer for at least 3 hours. The longer, the better.

4. Strain the pots contents, then press the vegetables and meats in the strainer over the pot to get out all the yummy juices. 

5. Use or freeze.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Whole Roasted Chicken with Garlic Herb Butter

Since we will be raising chickens for meat this summer, and they will obviously not process themselves for us, we have been practicing cooking whole chicken.  This way we will learn how to butcher the chicken into it's respective cuts, and get the most out of our chicken.  Here's the recipe we have come to use as our special dinner, dinner. 

Doesn't it look yummy!

Roasted Chicken with Garlic Herb Butter

Total time about 1 hour 15 mins, Serves 2-4


-1  Whole Chicken ~ 3-4 lbs.
-2 tablespoons chopped parsley
-2 cloves Garlic smashed
-8 tablespoons/1 stick butter
-1/2 cup water

Firstly don't be intimidated by the thought of dealing with a whole chicken!  It is much easier than that Thanksgiving Day turkey.

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit

 2. To begin you will need to combine half the butter, 4 tablespoons, and the parsley leaves and minced garlic in a bowl or food processor.
It should smell delicious!
3. Then give the chicken a good rinse under some cool water making sure that it is clean inside and out.  Remove any gizzards etc that may be in the inside cavity depending on where you get your chicken.  You'll also want to begin separating the skin from the chicken breast.

 4. After you have the skin separated from the breasts you will stuff and rub about half of the butter between the skin and meat.  Also rub down the outside of the chicken all over with butter.  Lastly rub and place some of the butter inside the chicken cavity. 
Feel free to get a lot in there most 
of it will run out into the pan.
The skin should just pull off

Your hands should look like this when you finish.

5. You will then place the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and the remaining herb butter in a small roasting pan, or our favorite, our cast-iron dutch oven.  Place the pan in the oven with the butter till all the butter has melted and the foam has subsided. 

6. After the butter has melted and just before you add the chicken, add a 1/2 cup of water to the pan.

7. Place the chicken, breast-side down, in the pan and cook 20 minutes.  

8. Baste the chicken,  and now we are ready to flip!  I do this by using a pair of sturdy tongs, and placing them inside the chest cavity and flipping.  Baste this side of the chicken and roast for 10 more minutes.

  9. Baste, and roast another 10 minutes. At this point your chicken should begin to be golden.

10. Turn the oven down to 325F and roast for ~20 more minutes or until the temperature of the chicken with a meat thermometer placed in it's thigh, reads 170F degrees.  A last check is to let the juices run out of the inside of the chicken and they should be clear.

11. If chicken is done remove from oven to a platter and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before attempting to carve.  
yum yum almost there.
12. Now to carve! You'll be able to tell that chicken is done if the bones pop right out as you pull them.

Step 1: Cut straight down on each of the breastbone, following the shape of the carcass. 

Step 2: Continue to cut down toward the back until you reach the joints holding the thigh and wing to the carcass.

Step 3: Cut through those joints to free the entire half of the bird.

Step 4: Separate the leg and breast sections be cutting through the skin that holds them together, hold the knife almost parallel to the cutting board, cut from the breast toward the leg, and you will easily find the right spot.

Step 5: Separate the wing from the breast if you like.

Cut into wing, leg and thigh, and breast
Step 6: Separate leg and thigh; the joint the joint will offer little resistance once you find it.

Serve, Eat, Enjoy!

To make the most with your chicken, save the carcass and bones and make stock! 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Roasted Butternut Squash Recipe

It's cold and blistery outside, so stay inside with this easy and warm dish and some hot chocolate! Just peel, slice and dice, and toss and roast. 10 minutes prep time, 40-50 minutes total time. A great winter seasonal dish and or a side dish for just about any meal. Works well with other winter squash, like acorn or hubbard. 

Roasted Butternut Squash

(Serves 4)

-1 medium Butternut squash, about 2 lbs.
-2 medium sweet onions, cut in chunks. 
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1/4 tsp black pepper
-2 teaspoons dried rubbed sage

1. Line a baking sheet or roasting pan with foil, lightly oil it with cooking oil. 

2. Heat your oven to 400° F.

3. Using a peeler, peel your squash. Then, half lengthwise  and take out all the seeds. Cut the squash halves into 1-2 inch cubes. 

4. Toss the squash and onion chunks in the olive oil and sage. 

5. Arrange on the prepared baking sheet, then top with black pepper and salt.

6. Roast, turning occasionally, for 30-40 minutes, or until browned and tender.

7. Eat immediately! 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Our Top 10 Food Documentaries

Some food for thought and 

some thought for our food...

I don't know about you, but most of our money is spent on our food every month. As a believer in "Voting with my dollars", I want what precious dollars I spend to mean something. But how do our food purchases impact our world, the economy and the environment? There's a long, complicated answer to that, and I encourage everyone to find their own answers. As a life-long filmophile, I thought I'd share my top 10 food documentaries that I've found the most informative and inspirational. And as you'll see, I'm also a big Netflix fan, and let you know just how many of these awesome films are available there for instant streaming. Expect to see Joel Salatin, the Lunatic Farmer, a few times; he'll probably be wearing suspenders.    

-Farmer Figgins

Top 10 Food Documentaries: 

1. Food, Inc.-This documentary has probably done more for the food movement than anything in the past few years. Many have watched it and learned about how our food system was industrialized, and the effects of this industrialization--decreased animal welfare, environmental pollution, and increase soil erosion to name a few.  Since the 1950s, our production of food overall has more drastically changed since that time than the several thousand years prior. Controlled primarily by a handful of multinational corporations, the global food production business – with an emphasis on the business – has as its unwritten goals production of large quantities of food at low direct inputs (most often subsidized) resulting in enormous profits, which in turn results in greater control of the global supply of food sources within these few companies. Health and safety (of the food itself, of the animals produced themselves, of the workers on the assembly lines, and of the consumers actually eating the food) are often overlooked by the companies, and are often overlooked by government in an effort to provide cheap food regardless of these negative consequences. 

2. Fresh-Fresh is unique in that it is gives a more empowering message of how to live better and it really offers solutions to the devastating yet accepted food issues in this country. My major criticism of Food, Inc is that it didn't offer enough positive examples of what can be done and what other farmers are doing to sustainably farm, but this documentary does! Available on Netflix streaming.

3. Killer At Large: Why Obesity Is America's Greatest Threat-This documentary explores the health effects of the industrialized food system, such as feeding ruminant (grass-eating) animals mostly corn-diets and filling our own processed foods with corn in its many forms (high-fructose corn syrup, etc). Most importantly, it explores just what the Surgeon General meant when he said, "America's biggest National Security issue is obesity." Available on Netflix Streaming.

4. The Future of Food-This documentary explores the industrial food system, but also delves into Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in our food system and the ugly politics behind them, and the possibilities of their continued unexamined and unlabeled use in our food. America is one of the only countries that allows GMO ingredients to go unlabeled. Poland, Peru, and Kenya are among the list of recent nations to completely ban GMOs. This documentary also looks into the situation in Cuba and their move toward urban and organic agriculture after the US embargo cut their energy supplies. 

5. Food Fight-Another documentary that tackles the American Industrial Food Industry, GMOs, and their effects on the environment and our health, but instead focusing on how alternatives came about in the 1960s. Alternatives such as local food, organic food, and farmer's markets emerged from the counter-culture of California in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where a group of political anti-corporate protesters--led by Alice Waters--voiced their dissent by creating a food chain outside of the conventional system. Available on Netflix Streaming.

6. Dirt! The Movie- “Dirt is the ultimate natural resource for all life on earth.” When looking at the industrial food system, we hear a lot about air and water pollution, and something called soil erosion. This documentary explores soil, or dirt, the micro ecosystem in our soils that composts our waste, nurtures the fertility that feeds our crops, and that is being lost through the farming practices of industrial agriculture. This film is one of the more empowering on this list, it profiles some great leaders in the field of soil conservation, the Rodale Institute, Wes Jackson with the Land Institute who is studying our native perennial prairie grasses and their ability to hold soil and water and the possibility of breeding a perennial food system. Moreover, it profiles how dirt plays a part in many societies today, from our religions to our buildings. Dirt has been the most common construction material in human history, and is still prevalent around the world. Check this one out for sure! Available on Netflix streaming.

7. King Corn-This documentary follows two men who grow a patch of corn and follow its path through the food system. Much like Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, we can see how corn is being used as the king of all crops in America. For one, it's used to feed our livestock. Two, it gets broken up into high-fructose corn syrup and other byproducts it goes into our fast food and our processed food. Third, its now being used to produce ethanol fuel through an inefficient conversion process that burns more gallons of oil to convert than it saves. American's love of fast-food and quick processed food, helped by corn subsidies that make these foods cheaper for their amount of calories, has made corn king of all our crops. Available on Netflix streaming.

8. The Garden-"The 14 acre community garden in South Central Los Angeles was the largest of it's kind in the United States. It was started as a form of healing after the devastating L.A. riots in 1992. Since that time, the South Central Farmers have created a miracle in one of the country's most blighted neighborhoods. Growing their own food. Feeding their families. Creating a community. But now bulldozers threaten their oasis. The Garden is an unflinching look at the struggle between these urban farmers and the City of Los Angeles and a powerful developer who want to evict them and build warehouses."-IMDB. Available on Netflix streaming.

9. Farmageddon-This documentary brings a spotlight on government oversight of our food production. Part consumer-rights advocacy, part abuse-of-power expose, this film provides quite a lot of food for thought on the plight of the small farmer and the educated consumer. Highlighting regulation of raw milk and raids on small farmers and co-ops, this film  asserts that agribusiness is employing government agencies to harass and monitor small, independent farmers. Available on Netflix streaming.

10. The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil-This documentary examines how Cuba dealt with the US Embargo and the ensuing energy crisis by turning to sustainable, local and urban agriculture to feed themselves. "Today, 80% of Cuba's food production is organic." Oil shortages in Cuba caused an unemployment crisis, but when Cuba switched to organic agriculture, which is more labor-intensive but less reliant of chemical inputs and machines, the unemployed found work on these farms. Now, farmers are far better paid than they were under the industrial agriculture system, and farming become an attractive field that people are moving into. For some frame of reference on the power of this subject: When the embargo was put in place, Cuba used MORE agro-petro-chemicals than the United States did at that time for farming, but they made the switch.  Organic feed Cuba. Could it feed the world? I think so.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The New Coop is Here

A disclosure this was our first real "building" project here on the farm. We learned a lot about what not to do, but a lot of things went well.
And believe it or not the wall is only slightly crooked!
So we finally finished the new coop!  We had been working on this project for some time now, often electing to put things off till it got "warmer."  The current coop was not well enough insulated, well enough lighted, or big enough.  This resulted in us having to keep a heat lamp on to keep the water from freezing, which meant that the chickens were exposed to unnatural light all the time because there were no windows, and they didn't have enough space considering how little time they get to spend outside.  The new coop has power ran to it already and water in the summer (and if we have time to re-dig the line, then in winter too). It has windows for better light and ventilation, as well as it is better insulated, not just one thin layer of 1/4" plywood.  And most importantly, it will have direct access to pasture all summer, not too close to the house. 

First went in the wall, which went up easy enough.  and I am very proud of how nicely the door sits against the studs, and easily swings open and shut.  For the chicken door we just simply cut a hole in the wall between the studs.  We then used 2 2"x4" pieces of lumber we had left over that were longer than the hole we had cut was tall.  We then screwed the two pieces of the wall we cut out to the 2"x4" pieces of lumber to form a ramp for the chickens.  We attached this outside with a few hinges and another hook to lock it closed.

 The nest boxes turned out to be problematic though.  The nest box measures 2 feet wide, 2 feet tall and 1' deep, and sits 6" off the ground (I would make it at least 12"-18" if I do this again).  There are 4 nest boxes in this area leaving a 1 cubic foot area for the nest box bigger than necessary but fits nicely in the space we had. 
The hens are checking out their new favorite place hopefully!

First, we tried to build the nest box using only materials we already had, this resulted in a lot of frustration, and procrastination.  We tried to use small chucks of 2x4s as corner braces but found this impractical and unwieldy. If we had trimmed them down it may have worked but still was more effort and skill than we were willing or able to provide.  In the end we simply broke down and bought some metal corner brackets for about $10.00 at Menards, and we screwed the nest boxes together with ease.
 In the back we cut two small rectangles which we re-attached with a hinge and a hook to lock it closed.  Once the chickens begin laying in a few more months (2-4) we will be able to retrieve eggs without trudging into the coop.  We then finished adding in chicken wire around the nest box to keep chickens in and pests out.

We lastly added 2 hooks into the ceiling for the feeder and water.  Then it was time for the The Great Chicken Migration to begin.