Posts filed under 'Farm to Consumer'
I go to the farmer’s market here in New York City’s Union Square a couple times a week. Wednesdays are the best because it isn’t as crowded as Saturday and some of my favorite vendors are there: Tamarack Hollow Farm (selling pigs and chickens) and Three Corner Field Farm (selling all things sheep- mutton, lamb, yogurt, cheese and milk). Not only are their products excellent but I almost always walk away from their stands having learned something about farming or about their experiences.
It is one thing to think about farming conceptually- farmers work the land, care for the animals, then they bring them to a central location and we pay them for their work- and quite another to consider what the farmer’s day is actually like. I know that since returning from our tour, and watching the temperature drop (finally) over the last couple weeks, when I walk out my front door and that first gust of wind blows through my jacket into my bones I often think about the farmer who got up earlier than I did and went to work outside. They aren’t the only ones who do this… cops, construction workers, garbage men, landscapers- all of them are up and outside too it’s just that I’ve had farming on my mind.
A couple weeks ago, on a particularly frigid Wednesday, I stopped by to see Karen Weinberg (owner of 3 Corner Field Farm) and shortly after I arrived she got a phone call that she absolutley had to take. I hung around her stand to field questions from customers while she paced in the patch of sunshine between her stand and the neighboring apple booth. As soon as she was on hold she explained that she had been waiting for this call for months- it was from the USDA.
The basics of the situation Karen was discussing with the USDA are this: Months ago there had been a problem at one of the slaughterhouses Karen uses for her lambs. Meat from another farmer had been tagged as potentially contaminated and the USDA had done an investigation. No conclusive evidence of actual contamination was found but the USDA put an indefinite hold on the any meat that was in the slaughterhouse during the time that the allegedly contaminated meat was there. Indefinite holds and perishable products don’t go together so well.
Karen had taken fifteen lambs to the slaughterhouse, watched them go in the front door and then never saw any trace of them after that.
The slaughterhouse wants her to take it up with the USDA because they had imposed this unending hold on the products and the USDA wants her to hold the slaughterhouse accountable because they had been in possession of the product at the time it disappeard.
Karen broke down what losing these lambs meant for her in financial terms- which is not insignificant. Retail pricing on the various cuts of lamb that she sells range from $9-15.50/lb. I looked at her and immediately thought of the emotional value of the animals. I remembered what she said to me this summer (we visited her this summer on the tour) when I asked her about the first time she took animals to slaughter. She said that the first time had been so chaotic- she was so worried about them escaping or something that she had not been able to be completely present to what was going on… and then she said that over time, as she felt more confident about how to transport them, taking the animals to slaughter had actually gotten harder.
And then I thought about all the time and care she had put into those lambs to then have to think that they were slaughtered and wasted. Not sold, cooked, eaten, and celebrated but wasted.
Here is the thing about this entire situation- most of us, even meat eaters, don’t like the idea of animals going to slaughter. And yet the reality of cheese is that one of its byproducts is young animals that are born for the purpose of kicking off the cycle of lactation in their mothers. Dairy farmers cannot afford to keep all of these young animals and let them live out their years on the farm. If they do keep them around, like Karen does, many of them have to be raised for meat because only a handful of the females are needed each season as replacements for milking ewes that are being retired.
Just for a minute lets put all the feelings we have about this situation aside and look at the slaughterhouse situation for non-industrial dairy farmers. If a dairy farmer wants to be able to sell meat from their animals in cuts (not as whole animals- the rules are different for this) then they have to have them slaughtered at a USDA regulated facility. Doesn’t sound so bad except that these facilities are more expensive and not necessarily the closest facilities to a given farm. The end result can be that the farmer pays more, might have to transport their animals farther (which creates more stress for the animals), and can have a difficult time finding such a facility that is willing to take a small volume of animals at a time.
Karen is left wondering why she paid more for this facility when the USDA doesn’t seem to be offering an incredible level of service to either the slaughterhouse or its customers.
Small slaughterhouses are going out of business all over the country because they cannot afford to build new facilities or upgrade existing ones to meet federal standards that have been developed with industrial animal processing plants in mind. This is a major problem for farmstead artisan cheesemakers or any other small dairy farms. Part of maintaining a network of sustainable agriculture and cheese production is ensuring the existence of regional slaughterhouses to support it. We absolutely want the animals from these farms to have the best possible experience throughout their lives- even at the end.
If you care about preserving small farms, the existence of these slaughterhouses (with acceptable sanitation and animal treatment practices) is mandatory. If you enjoy cheese, milk, butter and yogurt from these farms- even if you never eat the meat- this is still an issue you that needs your involvement. I don’t know how to fix this problem but I bet that a great next stop would be to talk to the farmers that provide you with great animal products (this includes dairy) and ask them if they need your support.
January 31st, 2007
Unfortunately we are not on the road again. Just back on the proverbial cheese trail. Given the upcoming debate of the 2007 Farm Bill I’ve been reading a lot in various papers about the state of agriculture- something I have been thinking about often since we returned from our trip.
If you are interested in learning more I would recommend the “Harvesting Cash” series in the Washington Post that has run over the last few months- many interesting pieces there, a number involving the dairy industry.
And, of course, I also recommend that you take a look at Dan Barber’s Op-Ed piece that ran in the New York Times last week. I’ve seen references to his piece on many a food blog- just in case you didn’t see it- here is a link to make sure you do. “Amber Fields of Bland“
January 20th, 2007
Now I’m not particularly patriotic but I get really into the all-American cheese board for Thanksgiving. I guess I feel like all the smaller scale dairy farmers and cheesemakers in the states represent the entrepreneurial and pioneering spirit that makes me feel inspired about our country. I do understand that lines at the specialty cheese shop swell during the holidays but I’ll admit that my two favorite days to volunteer to emerge from my post in the basement and sling cheese behind the counter at Murray’s were the day before Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.
I loved these shifts because:
a. Most customers shopping on those days were willing to invest time in the line and tolerate the hectic scene because of their commitment to having cheese as part of their big holiday meals. That alone warmed the cockles of my heart.
b. Many of these shoppers reminded me of my father when he shops during the holidays: relatively good humored even in their bouts of impatience, interested in spirited banter with the “experts” on the other side of the counter, and often not incredibly tactful (this makes for better storytelling later).
c. People were under duress; they wanted their holiday meals to be excellent and were often more willing to swing out and taste new things for possibility of discovering an unknown, out of the park, home run.
d. I didn’t usually have to work until closing- just to be totally honest- this is the perk of being a volunteer and a tribute to the generosity of the managers of the store who valiantly sent us home as early as they could.
So many of the things on my list meant that I could get customer to try American cheeses and many of them were pleasantly surprised. I LOVED this… both because I am incredibly excited about artisan cheese in this country AND because I love surprising people and being right (again- brutal truth).
Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday, whether there is cheese on the table or not (gasp!), and check back with Cheese by Hand for a review of our T-day cheese board.
Hot listed cheese of late for me are:
Twig Farm: Anything. Everything. Seriously. Michael Lee is making sweet dreams for us while living out his dream as a cheesemaker and goat farmer. Square Wheel, Goat Tomme, Twig Wheel… get what you can.
Meadow Creek: Grayson that is pudgy should not be left behind. Buy extra because if you have leftovers you can make a smashing panini with this cheese, a little bit of jam (I used fig), and some lightly sauteed shallots.
Jasper Hill: Bartlett Blue. Do not overlook this cheese in favor of Stilton. In fact, being who I am I would bring it home and tell people I had the best Stilton they’ve ever tasted… and then when their eyes roll back upon tasting I’d break the news that Stilton’s days at the top of the holiday blue list are numbered.
November 22nd, 2006
Name: 3 Corner Field Farm
Owners: Karen Weinberg and Paul Borghard
Location: Shushan, NY
Animals: Milking 120 ewes and raising hundreds of lambs each year for meat and some for replacement milkers.
Cheeses/Products: Brebis Blanc, Shushan Snow, Feta, Ricotta, milk, yogurt, grass-fed lamb meat, sheep skins
More info: www.dairysheepfarm.com
Karen Weinberg has always known that she wanted to be a farmer. She didn’t grow up on a farm, she didn’t spend time working on a farm- yet somehow she just knew that farming was in the cards for her. Being the ambitious woman that she is she lobbied hard for her dream with her husband Paul and yet she was humble enough to take his coaching. He explained to her that in order to be a successful farmer she needed to have capital and an education. Once she had her PhD, her first baby , and the couple owned a small apartment in Brooklyn they began looking for farmland in New York state.
They settled on the farm they own now after renovating and selling another property in Washington County. Shortly after purchasing their farm Paul took advantage of an offer to work in Paris and they moved to France with their two young daughters. During their years in France Karen fell in love with cheese and began to dream about making cheese herself someday. When they returned to New York she hit the ground running to transform their property into a sheep dairy; rennovating existing farm structures and evaluating the pastures. Their initial plan was to milk sheep and sell all of the milk wholesale, they had an outlet for this nearby- Old Chatham Sheepherding Company. This plan got them started milking sheep and eventually they transitioned to making yogurt and cheese on their own. In recent years they expanded their offering by raising their annual crop of lambs on pasture to add meat to their list of products.
3 Corner Field Farm is approximately 100 acres with about 40 acres of grazable pasture. Karen has worked with neighbors over the past 5 years to expand their grazing land to 120 acres through leases. Many people in their community were doubtful when they began, they said that running sheep on the land would destroy the pastures (this is the reputation of sheep). 3 Corner’s pastures are luscious, verdant- teeming with variety and life. Karen explained that after a couple seasons neighbors noticed the transformation in the pastures that had been grazed by the sheep and began to approach her to offer up their fields for grazing.
As we strolled around the farm before dinner, Karen talked about he meat side of her operation. All 3 Corner lambs get milk from their mothers for a few weeks and then they are transitioned carefully onto pasture. Lambing is the only part of the year when the animals (ewes and lambs) spend time in the barn. Male and female lambs are separated and rotated through different pastures- each of these paddocks is protected by a guard dog. Beginning in September, groups of lambs are selected (by size) every few weeks to go to slaughter. Either Karen or Paul drives the lambs to the meat processor (who has been carefully selected)- they do this in large part because they are committed to knowing that their animals are handled well throughout their entire lives, right through to the end.
Sheep at 3 Corner Field Farm are out on pasture their entire lives except when they are first born and then when they give birth. During the winter months their long coats protect them from the cold and the frozen ground provides them with a dry and solid surface which is good for their hooves. Bales of feed are strewn about in different sections of the pastures so that the sheep’s manure is spread across the land and not overly concentrated in one area. The pastures are hayed periodically throughout the growing season, in between the times they are grazed by the ewes. There is a great, detailed explanation of the cyclical/seasonal progression of the ewes and the farm on the 3 Corner website.
The next morning we headed out to the milking parlor. Paul is the designated milker and is enjoying the arrival of fall because it means they have recently dropped to one milking per day. When the sheep come through the parlor they get a bit of grain to supplement the forage which makes up most of their diet. We were visiting the farm during a damp weather spell so while Paul milked he was also closely examining the ewes’ feet for soft spots. This is something that happens to their hooves when they don’t dry out completely- little irritated spots crop up in the crevices of their hooves. It is something he can treat quite easily when the ewes are all in the stanchion.
After milking the ewes are walked out to pasture; they are put on a new section every day. We followed them with Karen and their trusty sheep dog Sweep. The pasture was amazing- the alfalfa was at least knee high and there were numerous other species growing up around it. While we watched the sheep wade into the green that touched their bellies Karen debunked myths about sheep destroying pasture. She explained that sheep love the most tender parts of the plants they eat evidenced by the previous day’s pasture where we could see that all that remained were stalky, woody shoots of grasses and legumes. Sheep who are turned out on meager pastures will get close down to the earth and nip at the tender, fresh beginnings of grass thus their reputation as pasture ruiners. Like any other ruminant sheep will overgraze an area if they are not managed properly and given enough pasture to eat.
In the afternoon we made Feta. Karen takes immense pleasure in the cheesemaking part of her day. Often she makes on her own although these days she gets some help from her eldest daughter Emily. Her vat is small and she does everything completely by hand including cutting the curd with a knife and stirring it for about 20 minutes with her hands and arms. She likes the direct, tactile interaction with the curd and feels it has helped her learn more quickly because she is working with all of her senses.
3 Corner Field Farm is made up of four small businesses: a sheep dairy (not to mention a haying operation- they put up a lot of their own feed for winter), a creamery, pastured-lamb production, and also sheep skin processing. The latter two bring in additional income and they honor the tradition of respecting the animals in that the farm provides them with the best life possible and then does not waste any parts of the animals once they are slaughtered.
During our trip I’ve thought a great deal about the lack of connection in the way that we think about dairy products and the animals it takes to produce them. There is not much to remind us of that connection in our day to day lives and at 3 Corner Field Farm the connection is completely visible. This farm reminded me to be thankful to the sheep for providing us with food and also to be thankful that people like Karen Weinberg and her farmily become farmers.
September 30th, 2006
I wanted to let all you cheese enthusiasts know about a couple cheese events in the near future that might also be near you…
Event #1: Wisconsin Goat Bacchanal
What: If you are anything like me you are asking this question: What happens at a goat Bacchanal?
I don’t know about other ones but at this one there will be some celebrating of Wisconsin’s artisan goat cheeses and the goats and cheesemakers who make them possible. Although the goats pictured here are in Oregon- they give you some idea why you would want to celebrate the goats in Wisconsin. There will be delicious food and also some cheesemakers will be there to unveil NEW VARIETIES of GOAT CHEESES. Participating goat cheesemakers are:
Sid Cook, Carr Valley Cheese
Felix Thalhammer, Capri Organic Creamery
Todd Jaskolski, Caprine Supreme
Diana Murphy, DreamFarm
Anne Topham, Fantome Farm
Al Bekkum, Mt. Sterling Cheese Cooperative
Arnaud Solandt, MontChevre
Tom Torkelson, Natural Valley Cheese
Mike Watters, Sunshine Farms
Where: Milwaukee Center Atrium- located at 111 E. Kilbourn Ave (corner of Water and Kilbourn)
When: September 21st from 6-9pm
How much: Tickets are $20 and include all cheese tastings, wine, hors d’oeuvres and desserts. Attendance is limited so if you’re interested you need to get in touch with Steve Ehlers ASAP 800-236-1307 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Event #2: Autumn Leaves Cheese Festival
What: A celebration of traditional cheesemaking, small farms and handcrafted specialty foods from the Northeast Region. There will be awesome cheeses and specialty foods from over 30 small farms and artisan producers throughout the Northeast. You get to sample all the foods, meet the cheesemakers and other food producers PLUS observe the cheesemaking process, take pasture walks and/or hay-rides. Something for everyone- even the foliage fanatics.
Where: Taylor Farm, Londonderry, VT
When: September 30 from 10am-4pm
How much: Admission is $15 (12 years and under slip in free).
More info: www.artisanmade-ne.com OR call 203-264-2883
Have a great time and make sure to eat lots of cheese.
September 19th, 2006
Name: Hendricks Farm
Owners: Trent and Rachel Hendricks
Location: Telford, Pennsylvania
Animals: 36 Ayreshires and 2 Jerseys, 100 Saanen and Alpine goats (not yet on their new farm), a few working Horses, at least 10 pigs, and a handful of chickens
Cheeses/Products: Cabriejo, Goadacious, Bluebells, Ticklemeblue, Bavarian Swiss, Gruyere, Telford Tomme, Telford Reserve, Aged Gouda, Parmesan, Cow Pies, Cheddar Blue, Pub Cheddar, BlueBeard, Franconia Jack, CaerPhilly, Asiagoat. Grass-fed beef, goat, lamb, whey-fed pork, eggs, raw cow and goat’s milk, cream, whey, buttermilk, yogurt, butter, cottage cheese, cheese curd.
More info: www.hendricksfarmsanddairy.com
Trent Hendricks is a first generation farmer in a family of real estate developers. He and his wife Rachel (and their four children) are creating something we should all be paying attention to in eastern Pennsylvania. Last November they relocated their farm to a spot about two miles down the road from the original operation.
The farm has grown out of the Hendricks’ interest in having food for their own family that is produced in a truly sustainable way, meaning ecologically and financially. Trent is committed to continually reducing their reliance on fossil fuels. When we arrived he was out by one fo the old farm structures with his daughter watching the pigs and checking on the young calves and newborn horse. It doesn’t sound so different from another farm until Trent explains that the horses are working horses and he shows us the new John Deere manure spreader he recently acquired. It is a horse-drawn model with steel tires- selected for its independance from petroleum products. He also confirms that the main reason he brought pigs onto the farm was to have an outlet for the whey from their cheesemaking. A local bakery has partnered with the farm by giving them their day old breads and scraps to feed to the pigs.
We walked the property with Trent for the next couple hours. The highlights as we saw them were:
- Heating for the parlor, cheesemaking facility, offices, farm store, etc. is produced by a digitally controlled wood burning furnace. The furnace heats water which then travels through pipes throughout the building and there are fans can be turne don in each room to blow air over the pipes to create warm air.
- They built a state-of-the-art pit-style milking parlor with two interesting features- both of them involve iodine. The high pressure hose that mixes water with iodine to spray down equipment in the parlor and the iodine mixed with air to make foam that is used to clean the teats.
- Their custom designed barn takes advantage of natural cross breezes to keep the area cool and comfortable for cows. Trent got the construction crew to use the paneling that was intended for the side to be used as a roof addition that creates a small sheltered area for storing and feeding hay.
- Trent is making all 17 of his cheeses in a 70 gallon vat and using an old fashioned press for his hard cheeses.
- There are plans for an on-site demo kitchen where there will be cooking courses that use foods from the farm.
At Hendricks they are milking 32 Ayreshires who are strictly grass fed. Trent has them on a rotational grazing program. After they finish grazing in a paddock, sheep go through and finish the grass- taking it lower (which improves the regrowth) and also helping to manage parasites. When different species go out on grass the parasite’s host cycle is broken.
As for the cheeses, Trent is producing an impressive range of styles of cheeses: pressed and soft-ripened and also some surface ripened blue cheeses. And to us, he is curious enough that he will continue to expand his line of cheeses. We finished up our tour with a big tasting of more than ten cheeses. The variety of textures make his offering a beautiful selection. The bad news about the cheeses (for those of us not so close to eastern PA) is that they are sold almost entirely on the farm. The good news about them is that when you do go to the farm you will be richly rewarded with promising cheeses and all of the other products available for sale: raw cow and goats milk, butter, cream, yogurt, eggs, beef, chicken, lamb, whey-fed pork, and goat. The bonus? These are all foods that you can feel good about purchasing- both because they are delicious and because your money will be supporting a farm that is taking the best of old practices into the new age of agriculture.
May 23rd, 2006
Name: Appleton Creamery
Owners: Caitlin, Brad and Fiona Hunter
Location: Appleton, Maine
Animals: 32 American Alpine goats. She also buys sheep (Dorset Freisian cross/Freisian) and cow’s (Jersey/Holstein cross) milk from neighbors
Cheeses/Products: Chevre, Feta, Chevre in olive oil (YUM), Crofter’s Cheese, Sheep Milk Yogurt, Caprino di Vino, St. George Blue, Brebrie, George’s Highland… really you just need to catch her at the farmer’s market because she changes it up often. We hear a new Camdenbert is on the horizon.
More Info: www.appletoncreamery.com
Farmers’ Markets where you can find Appleton’s cheeses:
Orono, Belfast, Camden, Rockland, Damariscotta, Bath (check the Maine Organic Farmers and Grower’s Association- MOFGA- for days and hours of each market)
We pulled into Appleton Creamery around 4pm and cheesemaker Caitlin Hunter’s husband Brad greeted us. He walked down from his sail-making workshop (New England is almost irritatingly rife with craftspeople), which occupies the structure next to their home. Brad walked us through their 5 acres which are aesthetically pleasing and, more importantly, laden with incredible projects. As we headed down the stone path, flanked on either side by a thriving flower garden, toward the barn Brad pointed out the micro-vineyard behind the house, now in its fifth year of growth. There is a lot of cheese being made on the farm and he feels obligated to develop a variety of washes for them so he is grafting some rare cider apple species onto older root stock on one end of their land and growing hops up the side of his workshop for home brewed beer later this season. They are preparing to seed their fruit and vegetable garden and we will do our best to get back for the harvest as they focus on heirloom varieties.
After seeing the spread of active projects happening on their farm we should have expected to discover a cheesemaker producing a crazy variety of goods but based on the size of the cheesemaking room we thought otherwise… Brad described it accurately when he said, “it is like making cheese on a boat”. The cheesemaking room is one section of the barn (which was built by Brad for Caitlin’s five goats years ago), making up about 20% of the overall space. The room is a long rectangle, maybe 6 feet wide and 20 feet long. Everything has its place and Caitlin moves around fluidly in this space, she has been making cheese her for over a decade.
When we wandered over to the barn, Caitlin was finishing up cheesemaking with her first apprentice of the season. Now- let me just say that if I worked in a “cozy” make room and was at the end of my day and already deep in the throes of teaching one person, I am not sure that I would have invited two people inside to hover over me for a couple hours. Lucky for us, this is precisely what Caitlin did. Once we began talking to her about how she became a cheesemaker this magnanimous behavior made sense and also made us some of her biggest fans.
Caitlin is a back-to-lander who became interested in goats and cheesemaking in the late 70’s. She is largely self-taught as there wasn’t anyone to learn from in cheesemaking or goat rearing. As a result of going it on her own and growing her business slowly, she keeps her equipment low-tech, “if I can’t fix it myself, I don’t really want to use it”. Another interesting outcome of her own path of development is her commitment to new cheesemakers having access to better information than she had. She has learned so much in her years of cheesemaking and has a lot of knowledge to share and every year she does just that by bringing on not one but often two apprentices. I know from experience at both Murray’s and Artisanal (in NYC) that having interns is both an enormous help and also a big commitment of time and energy. Teaching in the cheesemaking room requires a special kind of patience and Caitlin has endless amounts of it.
It is clear that the goats were her entry into the cheese world; making cheese was a way to keep the goats around. After years of larger and smaller herds, she has settled on a number that is manageable for her to care for (also keep in mind their land base of only 5 acres) and leave enough time for all the cheese she needs to make and sell at farmer’s markets. She has the great fortune of being surrounded by neighbors who were looking for outlets for their own milk. One neighbor sells her cows milk and another who wanted to be a shepherd but wasn’t quite ready to get into cheesemaking herself so she found Caitlin as an outlet for her sheep’s milk. This is a cheesemaker’s dream- you get to have a herd size you can manage and you have great sources for additional milk so you can produce a more reasonable volume of cheese (not to mention the fun of working with a variety of milk types).
If you are wondering why you have not seen many Maine cheeses in your local cheese shop that is because there is something unique happening in the state of Maine right now: cheesemakers are selling out locally. After tasting Caitlin’s cheeses this makes me feel both bummed (selfish me who wants to eat Maine cheeses wherever I am) and psyched that the products are consumed where they are made. Appleton Creamery is ideally situated to serve four farmer’s markets in the mid-coast region which is chock full of tourists at the height of milking season. Caitlin is the president of the Maine Cheese Guild (I know- we can’t believe it either- and she still has an off-farm job twenty hours each week in the local school system) and explained that as a group, the cheesemakers are focusing their attention on training more cheesemakers in the state rather than marketing their cheeses nationally. We appreciate this because every time we look at the beautiful Maine Cheese Guild poster our mouths water and our tummies grumble for all those cheeses we have to venture to Vacationland to get!
(If you are looking for some good cheese décor I highly recommend the posters- they are for sale on the Maine Cheese Guild website)
May 15th, 2006