Polyface Farm, a quick tour

Claudia and myself at Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley, VA

Claudia and myself at Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley, VA

 

Claudia came to visit me this week from New Hampshire and recently, she had read a book by Joel Salatin called, “Folks, This Ain’t Normal”. I remember reading about Polyface Farm in Michael Pollan’s book Omnivores Dilemma. So, when Claudia wanted to try and go and visit this farm, I was excited to take her there. We got up early and headed south on I 81 to Staunton and followed the directions that took us way out into beautiful valley farmland. It was incredibly picturesque and the farms were large and connected by beautiful fields of green, some of them dotted with hay rolls, some of them clearly growing corn, probably for Monsanto and some of them had housing that was probably full of hens and chickens that would be trucked to a processing plant nearby. When we arrived at Polyface, however, you quickly got a very different picture as to how farming is all about a balance of lots of processes and not just one specific crop.

On some days, Joel or his son are available to talk about how they run their farm and you can have some personal time with him to ask questions. But the farm is open every day and that if they aren’t available,  you are welcome to come and walk around the property and see everything they are doing on your own. When we drove up, as luck would have it, Joel was giving an interview on the picnic table with a film crew in the front of the house and he motioned us to come on around. We found a place to park and walked around the property and didn’t want to interrupt their interview.

As we traveled down I-81, I told Claudia that I hoped that we wouldn’t get there and it be the day that they are slaughtering the chickens because I wasn’t sure I could watch them do that. I truly believe that if more of us were to SEE how our food is processed, we would all change our minds about some of the items that we eat. Also, as luck would have it, they WERE slaughtering chickens and that is the first thing we saw and heard when we got out of the car. I did manage to get my nerve up and take some photos so beware when you look, you may want to skip over those in the photo album that I am attaching.

greenhouse with tomatoes

greenhouse with tomatoes

Beside the place we parked the car were some greenhouses full of lettuces and tomato plants. The first thing that struck me was the fact that there were rabbit hutches in the greenhouse lining one of the walls. Clearly, the rabbits were adding the fertilizer to the greenhouse floor and this could easily be racked from underneath over to the plants so they could benefit from this nutrient. The second thing that I noticed was the fact that they were heating this greenhouse with a wood heater. I’m not sure how this actually worked but it was situated in the corner and had a chimney coming out the front of the greenhouse. The tomatoes were tied to the ceiling of the greenhouse and were just beautiful!

wood heater in the greenhouse

wood heater in the greenhouse

The second greenhouse was full of lettuces and greens. Again, it had the empty rabbit hutches lining one of the walls for fertilizer. This one wasn’t heated and I’m sure that, just like my cold frames, these lettuces did fine for them in the cold. The lettuces were close to bolting but were still very much edible.

Next, we walked to a chicken house that had some baby chickens that were about 2-3 weeks old. The chickens on the farm are clearly at different stages of development and, if you have read Omnivores Delimma, then you are aware of Joel’s technique of moving the animals around on the farm so as to get the full use of the animal while it is in connection with the land. These chicks were big enough to be graduating to the next stage and we were able to see them load them up into crates so that they could be taken up onto another part of the farm where they would live for another phase of their lives, fertilizing the land underneath their feet and getting fattened up on the natural elements that are inside their cages.

2-3 week old chickens

2-3 week old chickens

2013-06-25 10.08.28

Claudia in front of the chicken coups

As we walked up the hill we encountered that next phase with larger chickens out in a field. The coups were scattered about on the hillside and as you walk you can see the squares where, clearly, the coups had been in the previous days. In addition to seeing the vegetation that had been fertilized with the chicken manure, you can see that recently there had been cattle in the same area because there was the occasional dried cow pattie that the chickens had been eating the grubs out of, essentially eating what, if left alone, would hatch out as large black flies that would be a serious nuisance. The chickens love the grubs and at the same time they are eliminating something that would make the cows very unhappy and possibly sick.

chickens in the coup on the hill

chickens in the coup on the hill

 

So, we continued our walk on up the hill and found the turkeys. They had their own pen and had a turkey tractor so they could also be moved after they had done their bit in making that section of the farm fertile. They also have a roosting shelter.  This pen also has an electric fence to protect them at night so that foxes or other predators don’t come in and get them.

turkeys

turkeys

 

Back down at the farm, we looked in the barn that the laying hens were in and that is where the rabbits are housed in the summer months. The hens were busy in the roosting boxes laying their eggs. The rabbits were in the hutches above the hens

rabbits and hens

rabbits and hens

and according to Claudia, in Joel’s new book, he says he hasn’t really figured out how to add the rabbits into the field scenario but they do have them for their meat.

So before we left, we went in to the shop that they have on the property, where you can purchase the meats that are grown on the farm and Claudia bought us one of the hens from the freezer case and some of the sausages. She bought a souvenir shirt for her hubby and while we were in the shop, Joel came in and she was able to meet him, ask him a few questions and tell him that she had read his latest book. While she was checking out, I managed to get my courage up and go around the side of the building where they were still slaughtering the hens and take a few photos.

I think we had a great day at the farm and got to see some of the techniques that I’m sure, as Joel leaves his farm and drives out to civilization, he wishes he could stop along the way and teach the farmers that he passes, how to better care for the land that they are tending and to better care for our planet as a whole.

 

 

Woodchuck Woman

woodchucks

two woodchucks

Claudia spent the entire summer storing up food and herbs as winter’s rations. Her hard work has paid off and now she gets to reap the rewards. When I spoke with her last Thursday it was 1° above zero and she was telling me about all the layers of clothes that she was wearing at the time. I’m sure that is what got her thinking about feeling like a woodchuck. I just hope that she remembers to come above ground in time for Groundhog Day on February 2nd. If not, she will at least have a wonderful batch of soup to keep her warm for another 6 weeks of bad weather.

Dear Susie,

I’ve been thinking about woodchucks lately, or more accurately, wishing I were one.  It was 1 degree above zero this morning. Here in New Hampshire we are sure to get colder weather before winter is through, but still it made me reluctant to go outside for my morning walk. I waited until the temp climbed to ten to do that.  If I were a woodchuck, right now I’d be slumbering away below ground, protected from the cold by my thick fur coat and generous layer of fat. The fat would feed my body as well as keep me warm until spring, when I would awake nice and svelte and ready to eat as much as I wanted all the long spring and summer. What a life.

Claudia's pantry

Claudia’s pantry

I’m afraid that over the holiday season I have put on quite a generous layer of fat myself,  but I don’t need it because my burrow is filled with plenty of put-up food.

A few days ago I boiled up the ham bone from Christmas Eve supper to make a nice broth and added a jar of tomato sauce, potatoes, onions, carrots, corn, green beans, and a handful of herbs to make a nice vegetable soup.  All that I added, either I, or my friends grew.  It feels good to have a pantry full of put-up food, a freezer full of frozen vegetables and fruits, and dried herbs  in jars as well as fresh herbs from plants on the window sills. This may not be as convenient as living off my own fat, but almost.

Claudia's Dried Herbs

Claudia’s Dried Herbs

Like woodchucks I love greens and I have to say that I am envious of your cold frames full of greens. I’m afraid that the lettuce under my heavy-duty row cover has finally turned to iceberg. Next year I hope to perfect the Eliot Coleman double-tunnel system so I can have salad with the soup. If I can do that there will be much less reason to venture far from home to get previsions. I can now add eggs to food we don’t have to go to the store for. The hens from our little urban chicken project are laying enough for me to have half a dozen a week. I’ll write more about that later. For now I am enjoying eating up the last of the Holiday cookies with family and friends here on the 12th day of Christmas. I’ll start on that weight loss program come February. Right now, I’m looking forward to a long woodchuck sleep tonight. If you haven’t heard from me in a week or so you might want to check and see if I’ve gone into hibernation.

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies

I hope that you are cozy, and have stored up plenty of winter previsions. Remember that sensible animals should be doing plenty of sleeping in winter, just like Badger advises in the Wind in the Willows.

Claudia

Building Community

Claudia has been busy making sauerkraut using the cabbages from her garden. She refers to a video that she found four years ago to learn how to make sauerkraut.The little girl in the video is adorable and you will enjoy learning how to make your own sauerkraut, just like Claudia did. What is your absolute favorite food and can you make it for yourself or is it a food that you can only get at the grocery store? Building a community around our love of a special memory or food is something we all can share and enjoy. I hope you enjoy Claudia’s letter about Sauerkraut as much as I did and I wish I could’ve seen the look on Franz’s face when he tried the kraut that she took him when hers was finished. I think she made a new friend in her community.

 

 

Do You Save Your Seeds?

Last week I received my seeds from Johnny’s Select Seeds for the winter greens that I have planted in my cold frames for the past 2 years. I only spent about $20 for the seeds that I purchased for this year. With money a bit tight, I ordered a few of the varieties that I have gotten in the past, but I have also learned that I only really need a few packs to get the frames planted for the winter season so I probably had been wasting money in the past.

A few weeks ago, I started prepping the cold frame beds. Herb turned our compost bin and we put our sifter, which is a stand we built out of scrap wood that has carpenter’s cloth wire screen on top of it, and sifted compost into the empty beds. I turned to soil in each bed and mixed in the fresh compost. This added some fresh nutrients and red worms to the beds so that the plants will have a good start with soft soil.

The zinnias that I used for the flower arrangements at John and Erin’s wedding in July were in these garden beds and were just beautiful but I needed the space for my winter greens. I decided to save those zinnia seeds so that next year I don’t have to purchase those seeds. I pulled out the plants and cut the blossoms and put them in a box to allow them to dry out for a week or two. In the past, when I have saved seeds, I use an office sized envelope, lick and seal the flap and then cut it in half. This gives you a packet for your seeds. Often, a charity will send me a “free gift” of address labels to get me to send a donation to them and I save those labels and found those to be a perfect way to seal the envelopes filled with the seeds and then I use a sharpie and label the pack with the seed name and the date. The seeds are then stored in a cool place ready for next year.

Some additional great resources for you to get info from:

Cold Frame Gardening

Visiting the Pacific Northwest and seeing how Seattle is such a wonderful place for fresh vegetables and organic foods and composting and recycling and rain

Grapefruit sized Onions at Ballard Market, Seattle

gardens, (it has been sunny all week, BTW) I thought I would put a new link to my old “how-to” for building a cold frame so that you can grow winter greens and veggies. I have changed the host of my blog since the first posting of it and I think it lost some of the information that had been on there the first time around. Anyway, here is the link for the cold frame guide when I built my frames… I’ll go back next week and try and get my own replanted and the winter greens started in my own backyard. In the meantime, from Seattle, here is a little gardening inspiration for you.

Warning: this posting could save your life!!!

Salad Greens in Cold Frames

Many of you remember in late 2010, I built and planted cold frames in my backyard after reading Eliot Coleman’s book “Four Season Harvest”. I wanted to see if I could also have fresh greens year round living in Zone 6. I didn’t realize just how wonderful it is to have these fresh lettuces and greens and the different flavors that they have. They are, or seem, much more tasty than those that you can get at the grocery. And there is certainly so much more variety than I can buy locally. At least in my local grocery store.

This spring, one of my favorites was this salad green mix called Elegance Greens Mix from Johnny’s Seeds. This mix included Pac Choi, Red MustardMizuna, and leaf broccoli. In addition to this mix, I also have a deer tongue lettuce, a butternut lettuce, a romaine and claytonia and spinach and chard. All of which, when you cut and mix them in a bowl with some salt, pepper and olive oil are unbeatable.

So last week sometime, I cam across a Facebook posting about a documentary called Forks over Knives and added it to my Netflix que. It is a documentary that discusses a strictly plant based diet and how if we were all to switch to this that many of our diseases would disappear and certainly our obesity rates would plummet. In the film, one of the scientists did a decade long study comparing the diets and disease rates in other countries as compared to the US. Many of the countries didn’t have the same diseases that we have here in the states and now that many of them are adopting the western diets they are now seeing the diseases come into their populations.

In the film, they follow at least three people who have serious health problems and you watch as they spend time with a physician who helps them eliminate their meds by changing how they eat. The physicians actually take them shopping and show them how to prepare the foods. Each of the people lose weight, feel more energetic and aren’t dependent on a pill to change how they live. I think that we have become so dependent on medicines to help us to fix our health that it never occurs to us to just try to change our diets. Or eliminate things from our diets. The food industry as well as the drug industries are making money from our dependence on all their products. I would much rather give my money to Johnny’s Seeds for my lettuces and vegetables than to the drug companies and for genetically modified foods.

I have been trying to shed a few pounds with the upcoming wedding of my youngest son and had been trying to eat as many of the lettuces up before the summer heat takes over and takes them away for a few months. I have been also using the spinach in smoothies that I make for myself in the evenings as a healthy snack. I use a sugar free vanilla ice cream, just a scoop or two, a couple of dollops of fat free yogurt, a handful of almonds, about a cup of frozen blueberries and a couple of handfuls of fresh spinach leaves. When the mix is blended I throw in ice cubes to give it a frozen drink feel and I have to say it is yummy. After watching FOK though, I think that I need to find an alternative to the ice cream and yogurt.

I’m not sure that I can totally go to a full plant based diet, but I know that I can cut back on the my meat intake. I know that if all of us were to have even a couple of days a week that we eliminate meat that our planet would be better off. The film goes into some of the statistics of ratios of cows on our planet to people and the aspects of taking care of all those animals.

I highly recommend this documentary! It certainly opened my eyes to myths that I think we all have about some of our foods and what effect they have on us. And I certainly wish that many parents of small children could see this and the kind of future that they may be facing in a world where it seems our food is not so good for us anymore.

In the meantime, I’m going to check out the recipes and see if I can find something yummy for lunch to have with my salads. Anybody want to join me?