FYI- Headlines from this week's newsletter

Now is the time to enroll in farm share. Delivery begins the first week of December an enrollment closes at the end of this month. Don't delay. Follow these links to sign up: Winter Full Share or Winter Half Share

Farm Day is cancelled for this year. We hope to reschedule during a lovely, quiet time in Spring. If you would like to schedule a private tour of the farm for your people, drop us a line, we're happy to show you around!

Turkeys available but limited. Nearly all of our birds are spoken for however, we will have a tiny handful of whole birds available first to shareholders and then to the general public. They will be $7/lb due at pickup. Join the waiting list by emailing Katie@farmgirlfood.com

Not-Meat available for Holiday gifts. This year we have Gift Certificates, Tshirts, bandanas, hand carved kitchen spoons all available for preorder and delivery by black Friday. Keep an eye on the webshop or email Katie for more details.

The boring stuff

Early the other morning, I was looking at Instagram, as we all do (right?!), and one of the farms I follow broke the romantic seal of Instagram with a "truth" post. These are the kind where we farmers talk about how hard it is to make ends meet despite long hours and abundant heart, or when all the machinery breaks on the same day, or the big flood/fire/storm that throws all the pieces in the air. Amy Shliffe of Blue Whistler Farm in Durham, NC found herself picking out animal pictures to post while she pumped gas and realized she should share the reality of how she spends her time "farming"- driving. 

The life of the animals is, in reality, about as romantic as the Instagram posts. They really do enjoy the sunsets, the camaraderie, and the lush pastures pretty much all the time. But your farmers do a lot that is decidedly less photo-worthy to make that life of leisure into a livelihood. I was inspired by Amy's post, mostly because there was no disaster to report, it wasn't a particularly exciting break from the lovely critter life, just the normal, mundane thing she does that makes the rest possible. In that vein, here are some of the mundane things I have been doing the last week that keep the wind in the sails of our jaunty little ship. Like Amy, this mostly means driving.

A parade of storms

Working outside, especially in a field where so much depends on the living thing around us, the weather is everything. We have been grateful to enjoy a milder than usual summer with plenty of regular rain. As the heat has begun to reach triple digits these last few weeks, there has been a merciful parade of afternoon showers to help the critters, the forages, and the farmers refresh. Friday's storm spent a lot of time warning of its approach with booming, rolling thunder and blustery, cool wind, giving me a chance to finally catch a time-lapse of these lovely and dramatic summer showers. Enjoy!

Basics: How to Cook Link Sausages

Knackwurst are one of our most favorite sausages with the gentle mix of traditional German spices and a natural casing that pops to perfectly when you bite into it. But sometimes links like these can come out crumbly, weep out all their fat, or have split casings. This is how we cook ours for that great brat experience every time.

Start with completely defrosted sausages and an oven-safe skillet on medium high heat. Also preheat your oven to 375 degrees

Start with completely defrosted sausages and an oven-safe skillet on medium high heat. Also preheat your oven to 375 degrees

Sear your sausages on all sides

Sear your sausages on all sides

Pop the whole pan in the hot oven for exactly 7 minutes and Ta Da! Perfect links!

Pop the whole pan in the hot oven for exactly 7 minutes and Ta Da! Perfect links!

A little idea makes a big list

A few weeks ago, I was invited to contribute a "big idea" to the Arkansas Times' annual list of ways to improve our state in one way or another. As many of you know, I'm not short on (sometimes unreasonably) big ideas so I was happy to throw my brain waves in with so many quality Arkansas thinkers. With some help with interpretation and editing by Benji Hardy, here is the idea fit for print:

Arkansas needs an alternative to U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected processing for direct-market livestock products. Regulations on meat processing have not caught up to the new, thriving market for locally sourced, humanely produced meat from smaller-scale farms. The USDA has relatively effective meat processing regulations designed to be minimally invasive for large-scale producers. But, in the same way that we don't have the physical and service infrastructure to meet the demands of the local food economy, we also lack the regulatory infrastructure. It is almost impossible for would-be meat processors to enter the abattoir business because of the high costs of opening and operating a large industrial operation. For example, USDA regulations require an on-site inspector paid for by the facility. Despite real interest from chefs, butchers and restaurateurs in Central Arkansas, the cost of running a fully licensed USDA abattoir is so prohibitive as to even daydream about the potential of such a venture. For farmers, this means abattoirs are a bottleneck. We have to work with the limitations of the two or three USDA-approved processors in the state or else drive our animals and products hundreds of miles to reach facilities in neighboring states. The logistics and expense of travel keep us on the highway instead of the farm and cause us to spend huge portions of our operating budgets on services outside the state, further adding to the long hours, stress and heavy operating costs that sink so many small farms before their third year of operation. And still, we can't meet the demands of the growing local foodie culture in the Little Rock area. Meanwhile, almost every county in Arkansas has a "custom processor" — a mom-and-pop shop where local hunters have their deer cut up and where everything is tagged with a "not for sale" label. Custom plants are only for end users, unfortunately. If our farm could use a local custom processing plant to produce cuts that would be sold to consumers, we would be able to lower our prices, offer a wider variety of products and spend more time perfecting our farming as opposed to our driving. Congress has proposed federal legislation to allow a means of regulating smaller-scale processors, but it has stalled. However, some states have created their own rules that meet federal standards for safety and cleanliness. Texas, for example, has set up a parallel system to USDA inspection that creates a license somewhere between a USDA facility and a custom-type plant. The state assigns an agent to supervise the handling of meat and ensure facilities meet basic requirements regarding contamination avoidance, basic humane care standards and so on. Regulation is a good thing, in general. We need parameters to help us define the niche that we work within. But in this case, the regulation needs an update. Our meat production system has swung so far toward large-scale farming in the last 70 years that now we are left only with the tiny remnants of a bygone production system, and not a lot of resources to meet the demand generated by contemporary food culture. For consumers, such reform would mean more choice. Not only would more farmers be able to more easily bring their products directly to market, there would be a huge opportunity for aspiring craft meat processors. Imagine if, like the blossoming of the gourmet food truck scene, we had a thriving community of creative artisan butchers suddenly able to manage the start-up costs of building or taking over a local custom processing plant. Today's foodies are embracing high-minded, highly crafted animal products, and Arkansas's livestock producers are eager to "meat" the need, but we have a dearth of specialists to convey our raw products into artisan food.

Arkansas needs an alternative to U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected processing for direct-market livestock products. Regulations on meat processing have not caught up to the new, thriving market for locally sourced, humanely produced meat from smaller-scale farms. The USDA has relatively effective meat processing regulations designed to be minimally invasive for large-scale producers. But, in the same way that we don't have the physical and service infrastructure to meet the demands of the local food economy, we also lack the regulatory infrastructure.

It is almost impossible for would-be meat processors to enter the abattoir business because of the high costs of opening and operating a large industrial operation. For example, USDA regulations require an on-site inspector paid for by the facility. Despite real interest from chefs, butchers and restaurateurs in Central Arkansas, the cost of running a fully licensed USDA abattoir is so prohibitive as to even daydream about the potential of such a venture.

For farmers, this means abattoirs are a bottleneck. We have to work with the limitations of the two or three USDA-approved processors in the state or else drive our animals and products hundreds of miles to reach facilities in neighboring states. The logistics and expense of travel keep us on the highway instead of the farm and cause us to spend huge portions of our operating budgets on services outside the state, further adding to the long hours, stress and heavy operating costs that sink so many small farms before their third year of operation. And still, we can't meet the demands of the growing local foodie culture in the Little Rock area.

Meanwhile, almost every county in Arkansas has a "custom processor" — a mom-and-pop shop where local hunters have their deer cut up and where everything is tagged with a "not for sale" label. Custom plants are only for end users, unfortunately. If our farm could use a local custom processing plant to produce cuts that would be sold to consumers, we would be able to lower our prices, offer a wider variety of products and spend more time perfecting our farming as opposed to our driving.

Congress has proposed federal legislation to allow a means of regulating smaller-scale processors, but it has stalled. However, some states have created their own rules that meet federal standards for safety and cleanliness. Texas, for example, has set up a parallel system to USDA inspection that creates a license somewhere between a USDA facility and a custom-type plant. The state assigns an agent to supervise the handling of meat and ensure facilities meet basic requirements regarding contamination avoidance, basic humane care standards and so on.

Regulation is a good thing, in general. We need parameters to help us define the niche that we work within. But in this case, the regulation needs an update. Our meat production system has swung so far toward large-scale farming in the last 70 years that now we are left only with the tiny remnants of a bygone production system, and not a lot of resources to meet the demand generated by contemporary food culture.

For consumers, such reform would mean more choice. Not only would more farmers be able to more easily bring their products directly to market, there would be a huge opportunity for aspiring craft meat processors. Imagine if, like the blossoming of the gourmet food truck scene, we had a thriving community of creative artisan butchers suddenly able to manage the start-up costs of building or taking over a local custom processing plant. Today's foodies are embracing high-minded, highly crafted animal products, and Arkansas's livestock producers are eager to "meat" the need, but we have a dearth of specialists to convey our raw products into artisan food.

Check out the full list of Big Ideas for Arkansas here.

If you were a chicken

I would ask you one million questions. Do you prefer roosts made from a cedar limb or an oak? Would you rather have pine shavings or old hay for bedding? Should I turn your house so it fills with light at sunrise or do you prefer to go lay outside like you do? Are you sitting with your friends there? Do you have friends?

I would grill you (with questions) because, dear bird, you are so hard to read sometimes. I want to make you happy, to fill your life with all the riches you deserve. And yet, you walk around in your tottering way, head jerking this way and that, all feathered and everything. If you never furrow your brow, how can I tell when you are displeased?
Perhaps I overcompensate for your inscrutability. Perhaps you don't care whether that grain was sprouted or not, whether the surfaces of your coop are wood or metal, if there's a vinegar tang to your water. If you would just bend your little beak into a smile or frown one time, at one of the million little things I do for you! 
 

Instead I will pass yet another coffee break striving to decipher your unblinking gaze, content to know that in the end my efforts may or may not make you happy, but they do make you delicious.

Building the Road as We Walk It

Before digging into this post, you may enjoy the one before it called "Finding Real Sustainability"

The front valley, April 2015

The front valley, April 2015

In late 2014/early 2015 we bought the new farm and suddenly had a canvas on which to paint our long-simmering farm fantasies. Fantasies which somehow managed to grow and blossom in a million directions despite the 10 years of unrelenting, challenging farm and family building we had already been doing on two other properties. Other than gently rolling pasture, large stands of mixed woodland, tons of wildlife, and a surprisingly decent perimeter fence, the new land came with no useful infrastructure. No water, no power, no structures for people or livestock until we brought it or built it. What an enticing and imposing hill to climb, and most importantly, a real opportunity to integrate our higher vision into our on-the-ground operation. 

In many ways we are already a sustainable family farm. We raise heritage breed livestock with love on pasture and in the woods, we source our feeds locally, we don’t use any hormones or chemicals on our animals or our land. We sell our products locally at farmer’s markets, through community minded businesses, and through a thriving farm share. We work side by side with our children and find deep satisfaction in our labor. Our business is profitable, our products are highly acclaimed, and we have achieved the highest animal welfare designation available to owner-operated farms.

The fifth generation of our own hog breed meets the world

The fifth generation of our own hog breed meets the world

This sounds a lot like sustainability, but viewed from another angle, we are still hitting too wide from the mark. We still rely too heavily on outside inputs. We work too hard, over too many hours. We have a mountain of debt. We have not yet met our own standards of animal welfare or meat quality. So we are sustainable in those smaller, disparate ways but we can do more to create a fuller, deeper kind of sustainability for our farm and our lives as farmers.

Two years of studying and comprehensive planning have lead to our 20 year plan to creating and supporting a multilayer ecosystem that fully feeds our animals on the way to feeding us. The goal is to shift more of our labor onto the animals and the ecosystem of the farm, which will release us from the physical and financial burden of outside inputs. We will weave the outside community into the farm more and more, while steadily increasing diversity in the ecosystem. This plan is broken down into development phases and has five branches that weave throughout- the animals, the open spaces & woodlands, the business, the farmers, and the community. Each phase includes aspects for several branches at once and may last from 2-10 years. 

Roughly speaking, here is the broad plan that we'll flesh out over the next few posts:

One of our Corriente-Angus heifers at the foundation of our breeding program. She'll be bred to a Wagyu bull.

One of our Corriente-Angus heifers at the foundation of our breeding program. She'll be bred to a Wagyu bull.

Phase 1: Foundation; underlying infrastructure development including soils, water catchment and retention systems, and major landscaping like significant brush clearing and large scale tree removal and planting, identify and begin correcting soil nutrient imbalances, developing marketing channels and improving community involvement

Phase 2: Improvement & Introduction; supporting landscape growth and development, improving livestock handling and grazing systems, introducing domestic waterfowl, bees, and small ruminants.

Phase 3: Maintenance; helping it all keep growing well by pruning and thinning trees for balanced growth, continuing selective breeding and culling in livestock herds, applying appropriate soil amendments to continue long term soil development

As we get developed the foundational phase of our plan we realized that the shear ambition of portions of the work ahead would take significant resources to complete. For us, that would mean accomplishing most of it in pieces and over the course of many years. With a relatively small financial boost, we could make big changes in a much more condensed period, and reap some wonderful benefits much more quickly. We want to be able to share the amazing, wonderful products from our permaculture developments with you all as soon as possible! So, we launched a Kickstarter campaign called "Forage Forest for Tasty, Happy Meats"! 

Next time on the blog, we'll begin fleshing out the many facets of each phase in 'A Plan for the Long Haul'