Posts filed under 'Farm to Consumer'

Let’s do our part to help the hungry

blog_for_food.jpgTimes are tough for many these days. We want to do what we can to help members of our new community here in Oregon and we’re inviting you to help too. It does not take much to make a difference and we can’t think of a more worthy organization at this time than the Oregon Food Bank- a wonderful and effective organization that helps hundreds of thousands of people throughout Oregon and southern Washington. The Oregon Food Bank supports a network of food distribution centers throughout the state and works to eliminate the root causes of hunger through advocacy, nutrition education, learning gardens and public education.

As the economy slides the number of people relying on the programs supported and administered by the Oregon Food Bank is steadily rising. Many of us are consumers committed to supporting local growers, producers, and chefs because we believe not only in agriculture but in the importance of healthy regional food systems. Organizations like the Oregon Food Bank work to ensure that none of the food produced goes to waste- every day they are out there recovering and redistributing food from individuals, wholesalers, retailers, and also gleaning from regional farms- this work honors the value of food and the resources that go into producing it. This is an important time to support this part of our food system and those in need. If everyone does a little bit (or a lot!) we can have a huge impact during these challenging times.

Help us reach our goal to raise $5000 for the Oregon Food Bank! To donate you can click here or on the Blog for Food logo above. When you make your online donation please enter ‘blog for food’ in the tribute section of the Oregon Food Bank page so that your donation counts toward our campaign. You can also send checks directly to the Oregon Food Bank at PO Box 55370, Portland, OR  97238- be sure to mention the Blog for Food campaign!

Add comment February 1st, 2009

Protecting raw milk cheese in the U.S.

Most cheese enthusiasts in the U.S. are familiar with the impassioned debates about raw milk and raw milk cheese. Considering the massive amount of press time spent covering food safety issues I am doubtful that this issue will be resolved in the near future. Basically the laws within the U.S. prevent the production or importing of any cheeses made from raw (unpasteurized) milk that are not aged for 60 days or more. So all fresh cheeses and the majority of soft, gooey ones are made from pasteurized milk. Most cheesemakers have accepted this and developed cheeses accordingly- some masterful enough to create bloomy rind and pudgy washed rind cheeses that can clear the 60 day mark and still showcase flavors other than amonia. This is a real triumph considering that most cheesemakers here are learning affinage from scratch- not learning from their predecessors like producers can in Europe.

But there is still a lurking risk that at some point the FDA will decide that cheeses aged beyond 60 days should also be made from pasteurized milk. Thankfully we have a band of producers who are proactively working, with the FDA I might add, to prevent this from happening. A small, producer-run organization called the Raw Milk Cheesemakers Association has formed quietly and is working to support raw milk producers in developing their cheeses and also to develop plans called HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points). HACCP plans focus on examining the production process and creating many checkpoints and safeguards throughout production rather than relying on post-production inspection for food safety so that if/when the day comes that the FDA moves to strike raw milk cheese completely, the producers can present a united, organized front and show what they do make their products safely.

I spoke with Helen Feete of Meadow Creek Dairy recently about the development of the Raw Milk Cheesemakers Association (RMCA) and also the Slow Food Raw Milk Cheese Presidium. She has been involved with both efforts extensively as she believes strongly in protecting raw milk cheese production here in the U.S.

Before you listen to the first bit it is important to understand a bit about Slow Food and how the RMCA relates to it. Slow Food International and Slow Food USA both have been instrumental in fostering the development of this group. It all began with the formation of what Slow Food calls a “presidium” for American raw milk cheeses. As Slow Food puts it,

Slow Food Presidia work in different ways, but the goals remain constant: to promote artisan products; to stabilize production techniques; to establish stringent production standards and, above all, to guarantee a viable future for traditional foods.”

In the case of raw milk cheeses, Slow Food wanted a group of producers to work towards protecting the right to make cheese from raw milk- the most obvious approach being to methodically prove that these products can be produced safely. The American Raw Milk Cheese Presidium has developed protocols or rules that define specifically how raw milk cheese must be produced if they want to be part of the presidia- similar to production requirements of AOC or DOP products. The cheeses included in the Presidium are also representing American raw milk cheese at events home and abroad. Out of the work done by the presidium came the development of a related group called the Raw Milk Cheesemakers Association. This group is intended to be more of a working resource for raw milk cheesemakers to help them develop their products and practices.

One final important point: Membership in the Presidium happens only when a cheese is evaluated and accepted because it meets a set standard of taste and quality. The guidelines or protocols set by the Presidium for raw milk cheese production can be met over time but the producer must show a commitment to the protocols. Membership to the Raw Milk Cheesemakers Association is open to all- and that group exists to offer education and support to cheese producers in the U.S.
Here is Helen talking about getting the RMCA started:

RMCA purpose and development

Next Helen talks about the FDA focus on raw milk cheeses. She mentions Cathy Donnelly, a food safety expert at the University of Vermont who has been instrumental in creating a bridge between raw milk producers and the FDA.

Scrutiny of raw milk cheese in US

Helen on partnering with the FDA rather than fighting against them… Partnering with FDA

There have been some complaints about the protocols or guidelines set by the Presidium- some cheesemakers feel that the requirements are so stringent that they are unattainable for most small producers. Here is what Helen had to say about this:

Debate over protocols

Here are two other clips from my conversation with Helen that I find interesting:

Do producers agree about why raw milk cheese is important?

What can consumers do to support these groups?

Add comment July 14th, 2008

The Storque is Talking about us…

UnFancy Food Show 2008Etsy (the Storque’s mothership) is a business that is all about helping people who are making things by hand get their products to people who want them. Very cool and very much in line with our project all about cheesemakers who craft cheeses by hand. They put up a post about the project today and also gave a nod to an upcoming event here in NYC that I’m organizing with my former colleague Tom Mylan (aka Grocery Guy). It is called the UnFancy Food Show and features local producers and their wares. This year we’ve got double the vendors we had last year and of course there will also be beer. Check it out!

What: An opportunity to meet the people who make your food, maybe even have a beer with them and then take home some tasty eats.
When: June 29th, 12-6pm
Where: East River Bar, South 6th Street between Bedford & Berry in Williamsburg
How much: Suggested $5 Donation

And we have a modest website where you can check out the producers that will be there.

Add comment June 26th, 2008

Austin- CKC Farms

Nancy meets her first goatsWe had a magical experience in Austin, Texas last Friday- regardless of the previous night’s stay at the O’Hare Best Western (missed our connection en route to TX). Our friend and Cheese by Hand designer, Nancy Nowacek got to see what it was like to visit a dairy Cheese by Hand style. The visit was even cooler because it was the Chrissy Omo and her family at CKC Goat Dairy in Blanco which is about an hour outside of Austin. Chrissy is currently a college student at Texas State- she juggles that committment with dairy farming by restricting her school schedule to morning classes. This means that she has two distinct mornings during the week- one milking goats at dawn, and a second a few hours later in a classroom at the university.

Austin in located in the region of Texas known as Hill Country. Because it is Texas, and everything is bigger in Texas, the hills there are long and rolling- stretching out as far as the eye can see. The landscape was much greener than expected for September because the area has gotten so much more rain that usual this summer. Driving around in such a vast expanse of space so soon after leaving New York City blew my mind- even the sky appeared to have grown overnight.

Texas hill country

Chrissy got into goats by participating with FFA as a youngster. She raised meat goats and quickly realized that she wanted goats that would stay around longer than those Chrissy admires her goat herdsold off for meat so she switched to dairy goats. As it goes with so many goat enthusiasts there is a sudden rush of milk at some point and the next logical step is to make cheese. This is exactly what Chrissy did. CKC is currently milking 16 goats but the total herd is up to 87, including a couple billy goats for breeding. They are bred rotationally so that the dairy has a year-round milk supply. The total acreage on the farm is almost 70 and there is plenty of pasture and brambly stuff for the goats to get most of their diet from forage with a minimal supplement of grain.

No premium on space in TexasThe whole family pitches in to support the CKC business. When we stopped by Chrissy’s father was busy painting the tasting room area that had just been completed. One of their local food heroes, Sibby Barrett is bringing a group of her culinary students out to the farm next weekend as part of her “Random Acts of Cooking” courses where the students visit a number of local farms and producers to gather the goods for their cooking lesson. You can read about Sibby’s local, culinary courses here.

CKC produces a wide variety of goat’s milk cheeses- spreads, small disks reminiscent of the French classic selles sur cher, marinated feta, a blue cheese, and soon to come some natural rinded tommes. Their cheese production room is simple and spacious- with ample room to increase volume. They sell their output at a farmer’s market nearby in San Antonio and to a number of small food purveyors local to them and also a number in the Austin area.

We sat around the table with Chrissy, her mother, and her two younger brothers to taste some cheese and hear about the time they spent in Europe together as a family- this is where their love affair with handcrafted cheeses began. Their cheeses are delicious- on par with many American goat’s milk products let alone European imports. I look forward to re-visiting Austin and sampling the aged cheeses as they roll out.

It was a fantastic afternoon. The entire family just could not have been any nicer or more welcoming. We were there for a little over an hour and I think we laughed (hard) more than ten times- always a solid indicator of good company. They enjoy what they do, working hard and making sure to have a good time while doing it. When we got back into the car nancy asked if that visit was representative of what we’d done on our tour last summer. I replied with a resounding “Absolutely!” while Michael said wistfully, “Man, that was a great summer.”

Michael and the la mancha

Add comment September 11th, 2007

Quick organic update

Lucky for us, the Cornucopia Institute saw our post and actually sent us some additional information that will be helpful to all of us who hope to purchase dairy products that come from companies with responsible practices. You can read all the information about their study here.

I recommend reading the Understanding Brand Ratings document because it explains fully how they scored the dairies. Interesting survey to review because it reminds that organic is not necessarily more sustainable- often it means importing feed from a longer distance and also I’m not totally on board with the ‘no antibiotics ever’ rule. But- I do like the transparency of this organization’s study- you can look at both the results and the study that produced them.

Add comment August 28th, 2007

Good news for organic?

USDA OrganicWow. I was thinking that it was time for a post with pictures again- with cheese notes or something slightly lighter than recent fare. However I cannot resist posting about something that one of my favorite retailers of all time (Steve Ehlers, Larry’s Market in Milwaukee) has brought to my attention- serious, serious news about organic dairies. There are two articles I want to direct your attention to and they are both on this incredible website that you also should know about: The Cornucopia Institute. This group focuses on economic justice for family-scale farming. Hoo-RAY!

The home page today has a fantastic photos contrasting two distinct models of organic farming. One might call them family-style and industrial-style. Further down the page are the two articles that peaked my interest. The first is a New York Times piece from earlier in the week about the serious lack of any real oversite for the organic regulations that exist today let alone resources that would tend the evolution of organic policies as our knowledge grows. Second is an article done by the Cornucopia Institute about an ongoing investigation into the practices of an industrial organic farm that ships private label organic milk to stores that we all know too well (Wal-Mart, Trader Joe’s, Costco, Target, etc.). You’ve got to scroll down a bit to get to this article on the home page- it is from August 14th.

In both articles there are a number of comments about these large-scale companies “skirting requirements” or “cutting corners” and this is the disheartening news. There has been a small triumph in the public with more people encouraged to pay attention to the production of their food and willing to shell out a higher price for organic products. Unfortunately it looks like at least some of the more broadly distributed organics- at least milk- are not being produced according to the current organic standards. This not only threatens the little progress that has been made but also, as the second article points out, really screws the smaller producers who are producing legitimate organic food.

Of course this kind of negative press has the potential to be a stepping off point for change- for improved definition and regulation of organic practices. Not sure that this will be the outcome right now given that there is a skeleton crew working at the National Organic Program Office- a team of nine people is all we have working to enforce and update existing regulations. However it will prove interesting because there are some larger scale organic producers like the quoted exec from Organic Valley who are really quite pissed off that another large producer is threatening their business. But then- how do we know what Organic Valley really does either? Ugh.

I remember talking to cheesemakers throughout the summer last year who were frustrated by so many things related to labelling their products- the terminology, the misinformed consumers, the ambiguity, cost, and upkeep to name a few. Of course it is understandable that we consumers want a silver bullet- we want a label that distills all the complexities of agriculture down into one or two words. Seems simple enough until you actually begin to explore the full spectrum of food production- both types of food being made and the scales on which they are produced. How can a dairy milking 40 animals use the same language to describe what they do as a dairy that milks 5,000?

I’m not sure that nine people alone can resolve the organic question. It might be that the best path to certainty where your food is concerned is to do what you can to know the people selling it to you. If you can’t get a farmer-direct relationship going, do what you can to get within a couple degrees of separation of that (CSA, reliable shopkeeper, etc.). Do I even need to remind you all that investing faith in stickers and pretty packaging is risky business?

Add comment August 23rd, 2007

Non-ACS tidbits

Some interesting things we’ve stumbled on recently that discuss or report on agriculture in our country. First up- this group I had never heard of which looks like they are doing great work- called Food and Water Watch. They’ve put together a great interactive map and accompanying report on all kinds of factory farms in the U.S. Check it out here.

That is just one of the interesting things to explore on their website- they’ve got all sorts of campaigns related to dairying in the U.S.- one of which is targeted at getting Starbucks to stop using milk with rBGH hormones.

There was also a great piece in the NY Times Monday about food miles and the public discourse on carbon footprints. The author raises many interesting questions and points out that issues of agriculture in the global economy are much more complicated than we’d like them to be. Rather than glomming on to one specific term or concept he is encouraging consumers to think holistically about our larger system of agriculture.

Double whammy in the NY Times yesterday with a piece about rising prices for agricultural real estate as a result of the ethanol boom and an article singing the praises of raw milk. Curious to know what you think about both of those topics- I’ll post my thoughts on them in the next couple days but wanted to point you to them now.

Add comment August 9th, 2007

1st Annual UnFancy Food Show is a Success!

UFFS FlyerFirst and foremost- anyone who did not know about the UFFS a week ago Sunday please accept our most heartfelt apologies. It was a raucous success with nine food producers from the Northeast sampling and selling their wares to a crowd of a couple hundred people on a scorching Sunday afternoon at the East River Bar in Brooklyn. Thanks to Nancy Nowacek for our stellar flyer and UFFS logo- displayed here on a lampost in Brooklyn.

Why were Tom Mylan (Grocery Guy), buyer for the Marlow & Sons shop, and myself driven to create this event that brought 9 regional producers and a couple hundred people to a bar in Williamsburg to eat food and drink beer together? We have been to the Fancy Food Show and while we understand that it serves a great purpose for the business end of speciality food (i.e. producers can come to this show once or twice a year and see all of their biggest clients) it lacks the things that brought us to food in the first place: eating and drinking great food with friends and direct contact with the people making the stuff.

   McClures Pickles    UnFancy food learnings  UFFS Setup

Our goal was to strip away the business arm altogether and create more of a farmer’s market vibe with one important addition- BEER. The entire gig was much more Ramona Quimby than Martha Stewart- no brochures or big fancy booths- just basic tables with butcher paper and great food. On Sunday afternoon, as waves of people kept coming, we determined that we are not alone in our desire to talk directly to food producers ovJon from Wheelhouse & Mateo from Jasper Hill Farmer cold brews.

The show had serious HEART. Thank you to the 8 producers who came and sweated it out for the people.Bob McClure of McClure’s Pickles, Darlene and Carol from Gorilla Coffee, Sebastian of In Pursuit of Tea, Jon from Wheelhouse Pickles, Chris from Consider Bardwell Farm, Mateo of Jasper Hill Farm, Jessica from Fleisher’s Meats, Roger Repohl of Bronx honey, Taza Stone Ground Chocolate, and Anna was there representing the Diner Journal (get a subscription!).

Hope we see you at UFFS in ‘08.

Add comment July 16th, 2007

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