Monday, July 30, 2012

School is cool, and so am I.

Well, I have officially registered for my first semester of classes at Chatham. And I am excited, yes indeed.

In fact, I am so stupid with excitement about this that I've decided to post the course descriptions for next semester's classes up here, because of course everyone else wants to see what I'll be taking.... right?

The first two are core requirements for the curriculum; the third isn't strictly necessary, but counts towards my Applied Electives requirements... plus I just really want to take it.

Food Systems
Examines philosophical, sociological, economic, and cultural issues related to the production and consumption of food. From Agrarianism to the Green Revolution, explores the transformations of industrialization, technology, and migration. Provides foundation in food systems and commodity chains as concepts and methodological tools for uncovering the relationship between communities, agriculture, markets, and consumers.

Food Access
If food is a basic human right, how do societies create universal access to food? In this course, we explore the moral and ethical basis for making citizens food secure despite global inequality. Major topics include the relationship between food access, culturally appropriateness, nutrition, sustainability, and justice.

Growing Sustainably
Using Chatham’s Eden Hall Campus gardens as well as neighboring farms as a case study, students will integrate best practices for sustainable agriculture with theory and research analysis in the classroom. Topics will include basic principles of soil fertility, biodiversity, agriculture history, effects of both conventional and organic agriculture, and the politics surrounding the issues. 

Growing Sustainably (Lab)
Through working on Chatham’s Eden Hall Farm as well as neighboring farms, students will integrate best practices for sustainable agriculture in ongoing projects. Lab component will include work with the western regional office of Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, farm-to-table initiatives, ongoing regional vermiculture* and composting, and garden market development and maintenance for a variety of community partners.

I'm still trying to decide what I want my track to be. The choices are Food Politics, Food Markets and Marketing, Communication and Writing, and Sustainable Agriculture. Talking to my adviser will probably be helpful in this respect. I am very torn between Sustainable Ag, Food Politics, and Communication and Writing, but I'm hopeful that I can meld the requirements from various tracks to customize my own academic trajectory. Isn't that why I'm paying them all that money??

*Composting with worms! EXCITEMENT.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Two Weeks And Counting

After tomorrow, I only have two weeks left here at Clear Spring Creamery, and then I'll be off to my next big adventure... grad school.

On August 27th, I will be starting classes for my MA in Food Studies, a three-year-old program at the new College of Sustainability at Chatham University. I'm starting to get antsy to begin - I've signed my lease, bought my furniture, and penciled in the start date in my calendar. Is it even possible to be any more prepared? I thought not.

I know this blog has mainly focused on my farming activities the last two years, with fun stories about goats and cows and manure and so forth, and I'm not really sure what direction I'll be taking it when I start school. Recipes? Discussions of food systems and policy? The struggles of trying to eat locally/organically on a grad school budget? Pictures of my pitiful attempts to grow herbs on the back porch?

I shall depend upon you, my faithful readers, to let me know. Thoughts, recommendations, constructive criticisms... I want it all.

In the meantime, for another fourteen days I will continue to milk cows, bottle yogurt, and hawk dairy products to passer-by.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Regarding Poop

As a child, I remember seeing an Amish family come into a store when I was visiting my grandparents in southern Indiana.

Actually, I remember smelling them, for they smelled quite strongly of manure. And, being a fastidious child, I was mildly grossed out.

I wonder how that 10-year-old version of me would feel if she knew that, fifteen years later, she would be smelling that scent every day?

In fact, not only have I seen, smelled, and frankly touched manure almost every day this year since I began, but I have come to recognize that it is not that bad. Take the smell - something that once disgusted me is not really at all unpleasant. While certainly immediately recognizable for what it is, manure has a nutty, earthy, almost sweet scent, and probably only deeply unpleasant to those whose only experience with ordure comes when they are flushing it down a toilet.

Little do they know that manure is here to help us. Manure is our friend.

After the last two years, I consider myself something of an expert in manure. Well, maybe not an expert. A dilettante, perhaps. A dabbler, even.

It's pretty difficult to work on a farm (one with animals, that is) and not know something about manure. It's omnipresent. It gets on one's shirt, shoes, hands, and occasionally in one's hair. It must be rinsed off of equipment and pitchforked out of the barn, employing myriad tools such as high-powered hoses, latex gloves and disinfectant.

And yet, there is much to admire about manure, which has long been recognized as a delightful fertilizer.

This is one of the brilliant bits about grass-fed grazing strategy. The farmer does not need to collect the manure and truck it to the field, dispersing it with his/her tractor. What a terrible waste of time and energy and labor this is. Instead, the intelligent farmer lets the cattle takes care of distribution logistics all on its own, by liberally sprinkling the field with their castings even as they replenish their gut with yet more grass for further deposits down the road.

This, of course, is the rub. Grass-fed and free-range animal husbandry allows livestock to live in a way that does not overcrowd the land with more excreta than it can handle. Factory farming, or the practice of raising hundreds, if not thousands, of livestock together in a confined space until they reach slaughter weight, is not nearly so considerate of the earth's needs, as evidenced by the dreadful stench. Anyone who has driven behind a pig truck on the interstate can attest to this.

I thought I would close with a list of my favorite manure synonyms, garnered from

Buffalo Chips. Cowplop. Feces. Fertilizer. Maul. Compost. Guano. Meadow Muffin. Night Soil. Egesta. Evacuation. Excrement.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sudan Grass: A Lifesaver In July

July doesn't seem to be the best time for grass-fed cows... by this point in the year, the grasses and clover are dry and brown, parched from lack of rain and blasted by two weeks of 90-plus degree heat.

But my bovine friends need not fear, for they will be happily munching on fresh, green sudan grass next week. Sudan grass is a warm weather crop that is indigenous to (can you guess?) Eastern Africa.

Farmers who graze with sudan grass need to be a little careful, because it can be dangerous to cows when it's young, due to an overabundance of the cyanide and nitrates that make it grow. Additionally, if the grass is affected by drought and a sudden rainstorm appears, the same chemicals can show up and poison the cows.

For a farmer, making sure a grass-fed herd has access to pasture all year is a daunting proposition, and involves a lot of pre-planning. Hay needs to be grown, mown and baled. Warm weather crops must be planted weeks, sometimes months, in advance. Fences need to be put up and taken down, usually on a daily basis. Thinking of all the factors involved is like trying to solve a giant agricultural Rubik's Cube.

But the payoff can be enormous. Milk from pastured cows is demonstrably better for you - there are higher levels of fat soluble vitamins like A and D, not to mention omega 3 fatty acids, CLA's (the "good" cholesterol) and beta-carotene, which is what gives milk from grass-fed cows its delightful yellow color. What the cows eat affects the taste of their milk, as well - in my experience, pastured dairy cows produce sweeter milk than anything you will find in a grocery store.

I haven't tried it myself, but I think the cows are going to be delighted.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Raw Milk...And Allergies?

Okay, I recognize that anyone who regularly reads this blog is probably getting sick of hearing about raw milk, but I heard something on NPR last month that I wanted to share.

A team of researchers was looking at allergies in children, and they found that being exposed to dirty environments actually lessens a child's likelihood of developing allergies.

According to the "hygiene hypothesis," by keeping children in too-clean environments, their immune systems never learn to cope with foreign substances, and as a result never develop good defenses against them, which can lead to allergies.

Meanwhile, the so-called "farm effect" shows that children raised on farms have lower incidences of allergies.

The study looked at Amish children, who are not only exposed to the dirt and dust of farm life, but also - surprise! - drink raw milk.

A common theme I've heard is that raw milk products are an immune system booster. But now I wonder if it's not so much that raw milk actually boosts immune systems, so much as improving them by introducing them to allergens, pathogens, and so forth that they can then learn to fight off.

Of course, the leader of the study cautions against feeding children raw milk products because of the associated liabilities... er, I mean health risks. But regardless, there is some food for thought in this report.

What I find most interesting isn't even the study itself, so much as the fact that there are actually conventional medical professionals out there who are starting to look at the health benefits of raw milk. In my (admittedly somewhat spotty) research, I have been searching for studies like this, and believe me when I say that it is very difficult to find anyone who is studying raw milk out there. But that is a topic for another day.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fourth of July Cherry Pie

I was feeling rather patriotic this past Wednesday (you know, Independence Day) so I decided to do something quintessentially American, and make a cherry pie.

Well, actually, I canned some cherry pie filling. But close enough.

I do not have a cherry pitter right now, and having tried a trick I read about on Food 52*, I will make the following observation...

Even if you only use it once a year, purchasing a cherry pitter is an excellent investment.

*They make it look all nice and clean, but I assure you it is not. I looked like I had butchered something by the time I was done pitting two quarts of the succulent red fruit.