Sunday, January 29, 2012

Who is Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm? Part 1.

It’s more “who are Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm?” than “who is Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm?.” Although Mitt Romney has boldly asserted that “corporations are people my friend;” Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm is definitely not a corporate farm. It is the family operation of Jody & Beth Osmund as well as their three sons – Richard, Duncan, and Jack.

Jody (43) grew up about 8 miles from where he now farms. While growing up, he helped on his dad’s diversified grain and livestock farm in Serena, IL. Jody’s parents, Richard and Eileen, still live in the house and on the home farm where he grew up. At its height, the farm encompassed nearly 700 acres, grazed 100 cow/calf pairs, raised 700 hogs per year, harvested 450 acres divide between oats, corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa hay. The farm, also, had a flock of 150 laying hens. Picking eggs and taking care of the hens was one of Jody’s childhood chores.

By 21st century, conventional agriculture standards the Osmund farm was quite small – too small to support a family on. However, in the sixties, seventies, and early eighties it felt big; it provided quite a good standard of living for the Osmund’s (a family of six) and a neighbor with whom they farmed in partnership.

Things began to change in the late eighties when the farm crisis hit. You may remember Willy Nelson’s Farm Aid and John Mellencamp’s hit “Rain on the Scarecrow” bemoaning bankrupt farmers and lost legacies. Fortunately, the Osmund’s did not suffer dramatically in the farm financial crisis. Still, farming was not the number one (or two or three, or four) career of choice for aspiring, bright, young farm kids in the late eighties. Jody graduated from Serena High School in 1987, went off to college and away to a professional career like so many of his peers.

Beth (43) grew up a “town girl,” but was friends with farm kids. Although a sizeable town for the area, Ottawa (pop. 18,000) is surrounded by farms; and, in the eighties, Ottawa had a lot of farm kids in its schools. Beth first met Jody at the county fair, and eventually was set-up on blind date with him by one of her farm-girl friends.

Upon graduating from Marquette High School, Beth left Ottawa for Northern Illinois University’s college of education. The two dated off and on throughout their college years. They married after Jody completed a year of graduate school with him following her to Salt Lake City, Utah where Beth was teaching Special Education at a school with a large “at risk” population. Her first classroom was in a converted janitor’s closet – perhaps I’ll post on education at another time.

The most important thing to know about Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm

A good friend and fellow blogger (The Other Side), Tim, posted a great question to my post (re)introducing the Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm blog:

“So here is a question, and pretend I am just some guy livin' in the burbs and I know nothing about farming...which is true btw. What would you most want me the reader to know about Cedar Valley Sustainable?"

Of course, there are A LOT of things that I’d like you to know about Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm; but Tim asked what I would MOST like you to know about our farm.

Since Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm is our business and provides the livelihood that sustains us, I want you to know how to purchase food (some of the best meat on the planet) from us. It’s simple, visit our website at Cedar Valley Sustainable.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Breakfast Favorite

Biscuits & Gravy have been a favorite of Beth and mine since we were learning to cook together as newlyweds in Salt Lake City, Utah. Back then, before farming and kids we would spend leisurely Sundays making breakfast and reading the paper. We still enjoy breakfast; but lazing away hours reading the paper is a distant memory. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy this breakfast as much as we do!

Drop biscuits recipe (this comes from Betty Crocker)

2 cups flour

1 T. sugar

3 t. baking powder

1 t. salt

½ cup shortening (Lard is our favorite & makes the best biscuits)

1 cup milk (whole is best)

1. Heat oven to 450

2. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in lard using pastry blender, until mixture looks like fine crumbs. Stir in milk until dough is soft and sticky.

3. Drop onto ungreased cookie sheet – 10 to 12 spoonfuls

4. Bake 10-12 minutes – biscuits should be golden brown. Remove immediately from cookie sheet. Serve warm.

Sausage Gravy

1lb CVSF Italian Sausage

½ gallon milk

4 T. butter

4 T. flour

1. Gently brown sausage and crumble.

2. When fully browned and crumbly, add milk.

3. While milk and sausage heats, make a roux.

4. Melt butter in sauce pan.

5. Add flour to melted butter and stir smooth.

6. Continue heating and stirring until roux turns brown

7. Remove from heat.

8. When milk and sausage is steaming, stir in roux.

9. Continue stirring as gravy thickens. If gravy is not as thick as you like, prepare additional roux 1 tablespoon buter/flour at a time.

10. Serve over warm biscuits.

Sustainable Farm – a blog about farming and life

Okay, I’ve written and posted to the Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm blog sporadically over the past few years, but I just haven’t gotten on a regular schedule.

A couple of posts went up this past week – both are about connections – the currency of sustainability. I’ve begun sharing to facebook when I post. I was astounded that close to 100 people have gone to see those posts. I’ve decided to get more disciplined about writing (and posting). Look for a couple of posts per week.

For those of you who know me, I LOVE talking about what we do. Also, I have opinions and ideas on a range of topics – and given the chance, enjoy sharing them. As we’re fully immersed in farming and sustainability, things tend to circle back to those themes.

Generally, the feedback I get from my in person and blog explications are positive. My goal for this blog is to extend and expand our connections. I will continue to write about the many connections of Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm – how they change with the seasons and how they often intersect in interesting ways. Some other topics I’ll be writing about in the coming weeks include: food and farm policy; rural/urban ties; food webs and niches; media literacy in terms of Corporate Ag’s propaganda push; balancing farm, family, and home education; food – what we eat, how we cook, recipes, tips, links, etc.; food & farm activism advocacy; the politics of food – eating as a political act. Larger writing projects that will receive attention are: a document on writing a successful grant application; creative marketing techniques; starting a Meat CSA – A how to guide.

If one of these topics is of particular interest to you please comment (on fb or on the blog itself), and I will try to cover it sooner rather than later. Comments are welcome; I enjoy good conversation and will respond as much as possible. If you like what you read, please share with your friends and networks.



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sometimes it hurts…

Sometimes it hurts…

Much of the joy we receive from farming is in the connections we have with our customers/members and the other businesses that make CVSF go. At each delivery, we get to talk with our extended farm family. Usually, we hear about yummy dishes made with our meats and good words about our eggs. Sometimes, there’s a comment about something we’ve shared of our farm or lives in a newsletter or on our face book page. Rather than loading our animals on a truck for some distant commodity market and that being the end of our story, our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) business model allows us to complete the circle and connect with our eaters. Farming the way we do make us happy, the many allies we have make us wealthy.

Last night’s delivery was bittersweet. Linda, a long-time member (When I say that Linda is a long-time member, I mean that Linda - and her husband Bill – joined our vegetable CSA in our first season nearly ten years ago. They’ve remained stalwart supporters ever since. They’ve cooked out with us by our creek, and we’ve pot-lucked with them at another member’s home. We’ve shared our lives and they’ve shared ours), was picking up her share after missing her last couple of scheduled deliveries. We learned that Linda had lost her Bill several weeks ago.

When Linda walked in to pick up her share, I gave her a hug and told her how sorry Beth and I were for her loss. She told me it had been a hard day – lots of memories of Bill. We spoke some more and talked inevitably of food. Linda told me that, for a while, she hadn’t done any cooking. It was an activity she and Bill did together. Recently, a friend whose son wanted to learn to cook reached out to Linda. For the past couple of weeks, Linda and this young man have gotten together to cook dishes with our meats; teaching cooking, she has found comfort and connection with our food. In a small way, our work has helped comfort a grieving friend. This makes me proud. I’m sad, but proud.

Today, Beth is on her way to Arthur, IL to pick up frozen chickens we’ve stored in a meat locker there since the end of our pasture season. While she’s there she will stop in to Central Illinois Poultry Processing to offer our condolences to Andy Jess and his family. This winter, Vera Jess died unexpectedly. We’ve grown to know the Jesses as they have processed our chickens for going on six years. Andy and Vera founded the Illinois’ first and only poultry processing plant that can do certified organic processing. The Jess’s hard work and attention to detail allow small, sustainable, and organic poultry growers across Illinois – and neighboring states to offer the best and most humanely processed chickens possible. The Jess’s business makes our business possible. We thank them, and mourn their loss.

Connections are important and enrich our lives, but sometimes they hurt, too. Rest in peace Vera and Bill; you are missed!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Oh, the web we weave - the many connections of Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm.

There is a lot of talk in the sustainable, organic, and local food world of Food-webs. It begins in the soil and extends out to all the living organisms dependent on that soil for sustenance. As a grass farmer, I could speak in depth on the importance of diverse and vibrant Food-webs; but, just as important to our sustainable farm is the network of human relationships that are just as vital to our survival – and our ability to thrive.

Over the coming weeks and months, I will write about the human connections and interactions that enrich OUR farm and community. There will be many branches, cross-connections, and circling back. You will see farms that both compete and cooperate. I’ll detail relationships that are rewarding, synergistic, and multiplying. I’ll contrast the cooperative nature of local foods with conventional corporate agriculture as well as highlight the need for conventional and sustainable/organic farmers to interact in order to move our food system to a healthier model.

Several months ago, Richard Wood of the Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) -  contacted me about a new project he and FACT were working on. Richard wanted to see if I would serve as a farmer/advisor for a modest grant program to encourage farmers to move towards more humane livestock growing practices. Of course, I said “yes,” because I know Rich and support FACT’s mission, and I know the effectiveness of small grants given directly to farmers.

I met Rich and staff from FACT in 2008, when Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm hosted a Sustainable Agriculture tour. The Sustainable Agriculture Tour is a project of the University of Illinois Extension’s, Illinois Small Farms. CVSF was on the tour schedule because we were awarded a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) producer grant in 2007 to explore and expand direct to consumer retail marketing of our farm raised meats. The success of this grant project prompted us to start the first Meat CSA in Illinois.

Since that first meeting at our farm, Rich and/or FACT staff and I have run into each other several times at various local food and sustainable farm confabs in and about Chicago. Not surprisingly, our relationship has grown.

With help from fellow farmer, Greg Gunthorp  and whole lot of work by FACT staff, the Healthy & Humane Farms Funds Project came to fruition. It was feted in October at a launch party held at Uncommon Ground( in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. FACT invited me to speak about our farm, the health and humane benefits of grazing animals, and the grant project. I look forward to reading grant applications this spring and seeing the first grants awarded.

Another farmer, Harry Carr of Mint Creek Farm, also, spoke at the launch event. Richard and his wife treated me and Harry and his daughter, Rae, to dinner after the event. Free flowing conversation followed – it’s always nice to get to be social with otherfarmers. The discussion included Harry mentioning that he was marketing holiday turkeys. CVSF has raised turkeys in the past for our members, but did not this year. Of course, we get requests for turkeys and since we didn’t raise them – suggestions on where to buy. From our dinner talk, Harry agreed to offer his turkeys to our CSA members at the same discounted price (25% off retails) he was offering to Mint Creek’s CSA members. Win/Win!

While at the launch party at Uncommon Ground, I had the pleasure of meeting Helen Cameron, co-founder with her husband, Mike, of two award winning, green, farm to fork establishments. When we were introduced, Helen exclaimed, “I can’t believe we haven’t met before.” Having been involved in Chicago’s local food scene for nearly ten years, I felt the same way. I found that the Cameron’s share our passion for local and sustainable foods and work just as tirelessly promoting it as we do. From this brief meeting springs another relationship.

In January, Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm adds meat share deliveries at both Uncommon Ground locations in Lakeview and Edgewater. Beer pairings with Revolution Brewing beers and CVSF meats promote the new sites. The first was held at the Lakeview location on December 7th, and one is planned for Edgewater on January 11th tickets are $20 and half or the proceeds go to Uncommon Ground’s charity, Uncommon Cause. Also, new CSA members signing up for the new delivery sites can have $30 go to the Healthy & Humane Farms Funds Project by putting FACT in as the promo code on their sign up form ($15 dollars from CVSF & a matching $15 from Uncommon Ground).

Revolution Brewing’s participation flowed from connections to both Helen and CVSF. Uncommon Ground has some of Revolution Brewing’s beers on tap. The tie to CVSF goes back even further. I met Josh Deth back in 2005 as one of the inaugural vendors of the fledgling Logan Square Farmers Market ( Then Josh was a partner in Handlebar working with the Logan Square Chamber of commerce to get it’s farmers market established, brewing beer at home, and dreaming of opening a world class brew pub. As with Richard and FACT, Josh and I have had many interactions over the past few years, and again our relationship has grown. In fact, Revolution Brewing serves pork from our neighbors Mark and Kristin Boe of La Pryor farms. La Pryor farms is from whom CVSF, also, buys stock. We introduced the Boes to Josh a couple of years ago after he had asked about sourcing locally raised meats.