This blog is about our sustainable farm and meat CSA. We post recipes, talk about what's happening on the farm, discuss issues of sustainability, and share our thoughts on America's move to a more sustainable "pastoral economy."
In my last post, I spoke of Beth's impending trip to Terra Madre and included a "Donate Now" PayPal button to help raise some money to defray some of the costs of the trip.
Some readers may ask "Why ask for money?" "It's your choice to go, shouldn't you pay for it?" Indeed, these are questions that Beth wrestled with in making the decision on whether or not to go to Terra Madre. The fact that Slow Food Chicago is already footing a good part of the bill made Beth hesitate to pass the hat herself.
But... the funds from Slow Food Chicago exist because of their fundraising. They raise money to send local food leaders to Terra Madre because it is important that their community is represented by articulate, knowledgeable, and passionate food producers that understand the issues of our region, AND because those leaders will use what they learn in Italy to further the Slow Food cause when they get home. Beth is such a leader...and why she was chosen as a delegate.
Beth will represent the Slow Food community at Terra Madre. She will, also, represent the Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm community. Although there are definitely intersections of the two, we decided it was appropriate to allow the CVSF community to be able to support Beth's efforts as well. After all, isn't that what our agriculture is all about?
Okay... So back in the spring Beth and I each applied to be delegates to Slow Food's biennial conference in Torino, Italy. Beth was selected as an alternate - I unfortunately didn't make the cut at all.
Beth viewed her "alternate" status as a pretty firm "no" as who would give up a trip to northern Italy? As the busyness of spring and summer on the farm and at the farmers market and at soccer practices and various points in between, we pretty much forgot about Terra Madre.
.... about a month ago, Beth received word that spaces for alternates had opened up, and we had to make a decision about whether or not she would take one and go.
For me it was a no-brainer, "You're going!"
Beth went back and forth for about 24 hours weighing the pros and cons of going. With overwhelming support of family, friends, and farming colleagues the pros soon outweighed the cons - by a long shot.
Never the less, learning about an international trip with just 8 weeks notice adds some logistical and scheduling challenges -farm chores still need to get done, kids need to be fed, clothed, etc, and markets attended - as well as some financial decisions..,.
Although the Chicago Slow Food chapter is very generously providing much of the funding for the trip there will undoubtedly be additional costs. A rough estimate is that the trip will cost about $600 above the support from Slow Food Chicago. We've been saving for a family trip this fall and can reallocate those funds to Terra Madre and just delay our family trip until spring.
Another thought is to raise some of the money from our community of farm supporters, hence the Pay Pal donate button below. For everyone who donates and provides a mailing address, Beth will send a postcard from Torino. Beth will blog about her trip; and we are brainstorming ideas of how she can share her story with supporters when she returns. A "farm dinner" is one of the primary ideas at this point; of course we are open to suggestions!
A couple of weeks ago I saw an idea going around Pinterest that looked interesting, make ahead crock pot meals. I liked it! I love using the crock pot, it's almost like someone else made dinner, and I often cook things like spaghetti sauce and soup in big batches to put some in the freezer. So I decided to give it a go.
First stop, gather the ingredients. I started with recipes from a couple of different sites (although I never follow recipes exactly, these are pretty close to what I did).
Next it was time to do the prep. This is the step that makes this worthwhile. It took me about an hour and a half to wash, peel and chop everything, which is quite a while, but now I don't have to do that each time I want to start a meal in the slow cooker.
It took about another hour to make sauces and assemble the bags. Regardless of the recipes (told you I didn't follow them exactly!) I did not add any of the meat. I just put in the veggies, sauces and seasonings for each meal into a ziplock freezer bag and labeled each.
I use our meat, of course, so that means no boneless, tasteless chicken breasts, but the recipes work great with whole or half chickens in the crock pot. It just means that when you serve them you're pulling the meat off the bones. (We usually just do it as we eat, but you could bone the chicken and put the meat back in the pot before you serve.)
Finally, the clean up. It looked bad, but really only took about half an hour. All together I prepared 10 meals in about 3 hours. That works out to about 18 minutes per home-made, veggie-filled, processed-food-free meal! It takes just a few minutes to put the meal in the slow cooker and dinner time clean up is easy too, just one pot.
Uncommon Ground (locations in Lakeview and Edgewater) is the creation of Helen and Mike Cameron.
I met Helen at the Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) roll-out party for their Healthy and Humane Farms Funds grant project, and found that Helen is just about as passionate about local foods and sustainable farming as we are at CVSF.
Uncommon Ground now hosts a monthly meat CSA drop off at each location. In May, CVSF will provide meat for a Slow Food dinner that will raise money to send delegates to Terra Madre this fall - hopefully Beth and I will be two of thos delegates.
Just a couple of years into our farming experience, Beth and I were nearly burnt out, and we considered throwing in the towel and going back to our more conventional careers. Starting any business is stressful and time-consuming. Starting a diverse, sustainable, farm in a sea of corn and soybeans is that, plus it's lonely and isolating.
An early frost, ended our second season of vegetable CSA a couple of weeks early. To be perfectly honest, we were glad of it. That's how exhausted and discouraged we were. Fortunately, we didn't quit. Rather we regrouped and registered for our first farming conference - a CSA conference in Michigan. Although we'd beeen growing a Community Supported Agriculture business for two years and had cultivated a community of eaters, we hadn't tapped into a community of farmers.
The Michigan CSA conference showed us just how collaborative and supportive the people involved in sustainable farming truly are. Not only did we learn a lot about making a CSA work, we, also, learned that we weren't alone in our struggles. Not feeling alone was probably just as important as all the new knowledge we brought back. Beth and I credit that first conference with keeping us in farming.
Still, in our part of Illinois, sustainable farms are few and far between and staying connected in our busyness is not always easy - but it's the connections that keep us going. Over beers one night during the winter of 2008, Larry O'Toole and I concieved the North Central Illinois Farmer Network (aka greenfarmers) to make it easy for farmer like us to connect and support one another.
So, we started a Yahoo group and invited all the sustainable farmers within a 1 1/2 hour drive to meet at a independent coffee shop in Joliet, IL, which was a central location. We asked everyone to share the invite as widely as they could. One of the farmers that came to that first meeting was Andrew Tokarz.
Andrew lives in Chicago, but he and a group of entrepreneurial Poles operate a cooperative sheep farm in Lemont, Illinois. The members of the group take turns at the farm caring for everyone's sheep (most have other jobs in the city). Andrew's enterprise is dairy sheep (& amazing sheep-milk cheeses) and Polish Tatras (a rare breed of livestock guardian dogs).
Jody with our guardian dogs - Sasha, Sophie, & Harry
At that meeting, we learned that he had a litter of Tatra pups that needed work. As we have every known predator in northern Illinois living (and eating chickens on our farm), it was serendipity. A few weeks later, Sasha and Sophie arrived on the farm. Harry was added last year. We've found them to be incredibly intelligent, friendly to our human visitors, fiercely protective of all our animals. They've definitely earned their kibble over the past four years!
At Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm our farm revolves around food and soccer.
Richard in goal.
Sometimes I'm sure which one takes precedence. If you ask our boys, soccer wins hands down. It started a few years ago with Richard in a six week long YMCA indoor league (Jody coached). Since it's grown into a nearly year round endeavor. Last fall Richard joined a travel soccer club that trains 11 months out of the year - he gets July off.
Duncan (with his game face on).
Of course, Richards brother, Duncan, followed in his footsteps and started playing two years ago. Last Spring I coached Richard's junior high spring league team - CVSF sponsored the team as well.
Richard starting the 2nd half of a 3-0 Magic victory.
Richard is our oldest, and the only child that remembers our lives before moving to the farm. Fortunately, Richard doesn't pine for the the suburbs having become a true farm-kid. Although not as much for an impromptu hike in the woods as his brothers, Richard loves the wide-open spaces of the farm.
And, although a committed carnivore/omnivore, Richard has deep empathy for our farm animals. If one is hurt or sick, Richard is the first to help. One of our new feeder pigs recently suffered from a rectal prolapse (a very rare occurance where part of the intestine comes outside due to a genetically linked weakness). Richard was the one to help catch it and get it to "hospital" quarters for treatment and recovery. I'm happy to report that the pig has recovered and is back with his mates. When an animal dies (a rarity), Richard grieves the most.
The farm is not Richard's first priority - that would be soccer (see picture above). About a year ago, he asked if he could play soccer in college. When Beth and I had confirmed that Richard was serious and committed, we researched area Richard tried out for and was accepted by the Chicago Magic. We, also, learned that travel soccer is not cheap. Since last summer, Richard has worked in our meat chicken operation and at farmers markets and deliveries for about 150 hours above his normal chores as his contribution to his club dues. He will do so again this season as well. We are ernormously proud of Richard's commitment to his soccer dreams as well as being an integral part of our farm.
I've mentioned in previous posts that I am a member of the Illinois Local, Food, Farms, and Jobs Council. Council members are appointed by the governor, so I've got a big official certificate signed by the governor.
In reality, I've had more contact with Lt. Governor Sheila Simon as she chairs the Governor's Rural Affairs Council and as such has taken an interest in the Food Council's work.
Lt. Governor Sheila Simon meeting with local food advocates.
Last spring, she hosted a group of local food advocates, after the Illinois Stewardship Alliance sponsored Local Food Awareness Day in Springfield which the whole Osmund family attended.
Our first group of chicks of the season arrive at the farm today!
(Beth is off to pick them up at the post office and will post pics of the process of introducing them to their new home.)
Our chicken season begins with a pre-dawn (5:15 a.m.) call from the local post office letting us know that our chicks have arrived. Yes, just-hatched chicks are sent through the U.S. mail (this practice began in the early part of the 20th century). Security concerns following the 9-11 attacks threatened this practice, but small farmers, backyard chicken keepers, and hatcheries across the country made thousands of calls to their representatives to preserve this tradition - not to mention a lot of jobs.
Our van backed in to the loading dock at the post office.
The chicken boxes on the post office cart.
Because we pick up hundreds of chicks at a time, we just go to the back of the post office and collect the chicks from the loading dock. We've done this for a number of years, so the post office employees know us well. When Beth picked up this morning they asked, "Where are your helpers?" One or two of our boys usually ride along when we pick up the chicks. They were at grandma and granpa's house this morning.
Beth taking a couple boxes of chicks from the van.
Today's order was for 800 meat birds. That's eight boxes (100 chicks each)! As it gets hotter, the number of chicks per box will decrease. Day old chicks need to be at about 90 degrees. Hatcheries gauge packing density by predicted temperatures during shipping and are amazingly good at keeping chicks healthy. In nearly ten years of getting chicks in the mail, we've only had one bad experience - this happened when there was a sudden spring cold snap during transport.
Beth taking chicks into the brooder.
Since we've been brooding our chicks in six sided steel boxes four years ago, we've not lost any chicks to predation during brooding! Thanks Frontera Farmer Foundation for funding this project, it has certainly been successful.
A box of chicks ready to get out.
Jody showing the chicks their waterer.
When chicks arrive it is critical that they get water. We hand-dip each chick's beak into the water bowl, so they get a drink and know where the water is.
Jody demonstrating how to hold a chick safely.
Chicks at the water bowl.
A box of chicks is almost as cute as a box of kittens!
This post is going to be about my dad, Richard Osmund and how important he is to our farm....I need some more time to do it justice so I'm putting this up as teaser. I will flesh it out before the end of the A-Z challenge!
As the CVSF meat CSA has grown and we've wanted to add delivery sites, we've looked for places similar to where we've already had success - namely wine and cheese shops. (See my post on K is for Kellner).
One of the best in the Chicago-land area is Marion Street Cheese Market. We're proud to deliver our meat CSA to the best wines shop, cheese shop, and bistro in Oak Park, IL. We are continually impressed by co-owner Eric Larson and executive chef Leonard Hollanders commitment to local, artisansal food and sustainability.
Marion Street Cheese Market is a Greeen Certfied Restaurant and recently earned a three star rating (one of only three "three star" Green Restaurants in the region - we, also, deliver to one of the other 3-star rated restaurants in Chicago, you'll learn about them in a future post!)
A couple of years ago, I encouraged Beth to submit a presentation proposal to the National Women in Agriculture Conference being held in Baltimore, Maryland (this annual conference is hosted by USDA's Extension Risk Management Education service which focuses mainly on conventional producers). Women are grossly under-represented in agriculture, and women in sustainable farming are virtually unknown in convential agriculture circles.
Fortunately, this is beginning to change as Beth and other innovative farm women are stepping into leadership roles and sharing their stories. One such woman is Lisa Kivirist, whom Beth met and bonded with while in Baltimore, and on a bus ride into Washington, D.C. for the Women on Working Lands seminar.
Lisa, her husband John Ivanhko, and their son Liam operate Inn Serendipity , a bed and breakfast in south-western Wisconsin. Lisa and John are eco-entrepreneurs running their inn completely off the grid with integrated solar and wind power system. They, also, produce vegetables for their guests in organic garden plots.
Needless to say, Beth and Lisa hit it off and became fast friends. For the past two years, the Osmund family has joined Lisa and family for a 4th of July reunion. This past month, Beth and Lisa traveled together for the 2012 Women in Agriculture Conference where they both presented. Beth was, also, on a panel that Lisa moderated.
Not only are they innkeepers, Lisa and John are writers and educators. Their latest writing project is the local foods cookbook, Farmstead Chef. (One of CVSF's favorite recipes - Italian Sausage Risotto is featured in it.) The Inn Serendipity team are frequent farm conference speakers, and Lisa has been involved in the Rural Women's Project for the past several years.
Here is Lisa at the RWP booth at the Upper Midwest Organic Conference.
While Jody was attending workshops at the MOSES conference in February, Duncan was hanging out with his good friend Liam.
One of the best things about being involved in the local food and community supported agriculture is the community, and our community continues to grow!