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forreals free-range farming and a canning workshop

So, as promised, this post is the “meat” of these 3 posts. That’s not saying that this is the most substantial or most exciting post of the 3 – in fact, it might be the opposite for some of you guys. But really, what can stand up to Disney World and Universal Studios? I’m just using the sandwich metaphor to explain in an unnecessarily roundabout way that this is the middle of the the blog trifecta, inserted in between 2 posts of a similar nature.

Coolio. :D

So in the beginning of November (which was a month of ago… oops) my Food for Thought professor arrange 2 field trips for our class, one that was mandatory and one that wasn’t. The first of these outing was to a local farm, about a 20 minute drive from campus. In case you didn’t know, Hamilton is in the middle of a vast nowhere in central New York. Long plains and open land lend themselves excellently to farming, so there are a lot dairy cows, soy, corn, pigs, etc. raised in this area.

Wintergrass Farms is run by Jordan Winters, who raises mostly chicken, turkey, pigs, and dairy cows. Although he’s only been doing this for a couple of years (he’s a pretty young guy), he’s actually apprenticed under Joel Salatin.

Who’s Joel Salatin, you ask? I guess you could say he’s the pioneer of real free-range farming here in the U.S. Michael Pollan actually talks about Joel and his Polyface Farms a great deal in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, having spent a few weeks living with them to see what farming really should be like.

Joel’s (and Jordan’s) ideology for farming is all about working with the land, instead of trying to fight and fix what happens naturally. Joel, and to a lesser extent Jordan, has a system figured out where they rotate different animals over different parts of the land, getting the most they can from the earth while giving as much as they can back.

It starts with grazing animals (like cows) that sweep over a pasture,  eating most of the longer grasses and whose manure fertilizes the land. Then pigs are released onto that same patch of land while the cows move to a different part, and the pigs eat any grasses the cows might have missed. With their burrowing and digging in search for stuff to eat, the pigs mix the cow’s and their manure into the earth, so plops of poop aren’t just sitting in the lawn. Then chickens and other poultry go over the cow-ed and pig-ed pasture, feeding off of the last of the grasses and any bugs/larvae in the manure. When the animals have all been rotated, the farmer ends up with a beautifully clean, well-fertilized piece of land, and animals that are healthy and happy.

You can see how beautiful of a system this is – with just a little guidance from the farmer, the animals do what they do best, which also happens to be what’s best for the land.

This is truly organic, free-range farming at it’s best. The animals are allowed to roam outside all day, they’re fed organic feed to supplement their grazing diet, and they’re never given antibiotics unless they’re actually sick. Compare that to the animals you find in Concentrate Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that aren’t allowed to take a single step within their pens and are stuffed with an unnatural corn and soy-based feed laced with antibiotics because they’re wallowing around in manure up to their knees all day. That’s where the e.coli and salmonella all start.

But yet that’s where the majority of our meats come from. Sad, isn’t it? So it was refreshing to see a real farm – you know, the ones that we imagine when we all think of the word “farm” with happy animals roaming outside in the fresh air.

SO! I know that was a looong schpeel, but I feel that it’s something that I definitely have to talk about in this post. But let’s get onto the animals, shall we?

Seeing how this was about 2 weeks before Thanksgiving, we decided to look at the turkeys first.

gobble gobble

As you can see, Jordan raised 2 breeds of turkeys this year – his “flock” wasn’t all that big because he only grows enough to meet the demands of his customers.

I’d say there were somewhere between 30-40 turkeys.

Thinking about it now, these guys (and gals) have all probably been slaughtered and stuffed for someone’s Thanksgiving table, with bits and pieces of leftovers nestling refrigerated in Tupperware. That’s kind of a depressing thought…

So, moving on.. After our turkey sesh, Jordan led us to a pasture on the other side of the farm.

It was a muddy trek over there. But that’s what pigs love, right?

A happy pig if I ever saw one.

snuffling around for food

kinda cute, aren't they?

I mean, these guys weren’t Piglet or anything, but it was still endearing to see them shuffle close to Jordan and sniff him for food.

We had a little Q&A session with Jordan, and it was here that he talked to us about the organic lifestyle of his animals. He’s able to slaughter his poultry on the farm, although he’s not certified to kill the pigs – he has to drive them over to a slaughterhouse. Jordan sells most of his meat through the Food Shed Buying Club, where he already has a number of loyal customers.

Speaking of the Food Shed Buying Club, that was part of the voluntary field trip the day after. The FSBC is an online ordering site for the nearby community that sells a bunch of other organic, local foods like honey, maple syrup, breads, produce and cheeses. You pay a membership fee for the year, and through that you can order from a variety of local bakers and farmers – every week, you order what you want an go pick it up Friday afternoon.

So while most of the transaction is done online, the Food Shed Buying Club hosted a farmer’s market of sorts that Saturday, with farmers displaying their goods and giving out samples. A few of my classmates and I went there for a canning class, and which just happened to be on the day of this event. So we got to learn AND eat. COOL.

oooh samples. yes please!

local honeys and honey pollens for sale

veggggetables. late in the season, but some are at they're peak!

if it's new york, of course there's got to be maple syrup

And you guys might not know, but this part of New York is known for its dairy farms. So there was A LOT of cheese. Like, a ridiculous amount. All of which, I just HAD to sample; I’ve begun to develop something of a love affair with good cheese – not that plastic-wrapped Kraft stuff. But even this was just too much for me – no lie, think we all went home today with cheese-comas.

cheese curds: since there's no aging, it's technically not cheese, just milk with the whey removed.

A lot of the sellers brought dishes they had made using their own ingredients, featuring and highlighting the yumminess of their local ingredients.

goat cheese tarts

homemade feta cheese in a salad with walnuts and craisins

chevre with a cranberry-ginger relish on top

There was also a potluck buffet-style lunch separate from the samples, that each of the farmers/bakers had contributed to.

err... i'm short, so i can't get a good angle on these kind of shots. my bad.

I also bought some granola and bread from 2 local bakeries.

organic cranberry, raisin, walnut pumpkin bread

YUM. I LOVE PUMPKIN BREAD. This loaf was actually different than you’re average pumpkin bread because it was yeasted – meaning it wasn’t as dense as most of them, being more on the flaky-ish side. But it was still delicious, and I loved how it wasn’t too sweet.

sprouted buckwheat granola

First time I’ve tried buckwheat granola, and I loved it! It’s gluten-free because there are no oats in it, and because the buckwheats are sprouted, it’s healthier than other granolas too – more nutrients inside the little nubs of crunchiness! This wasn’t too sweet either, which I really appreciated – store-bought granola can get so darn sugary. The woman who made this explained that she didn’t bake it; because the buckwheat is sprouted, it can’t be “cooked.” So instead, she mixed coconut, pepitas, dates, raisins, the buckwheat, a little local honey, some spice and salt and “baked” it in a dehydrator. Since I have a dehydrator at home, this is definitely something that I’m looking forward to trying once break starts.

Ok, back to the Food Shed. So as you can see, there was SO MUCH FOOD. SO MUCH OF IT FREE (albeit in small bites). AND ALL OF IT ORGANIC <3.

Well, while I was still reveling in the farmers’ market, it turns out that it was time to start our canning class, so my classmates, my professor and I headed downstairs to the industrial kitchen.

The class was led by Debra, who you might remember from the Slow Food Dig-in and potluck a few months ago. You know how she pickled all those vegetables by herself? She’s trying to become a certified canner, so she was more than willing to take a few of us and teach us how to can.

the goods - homemade grape juice from our garden & canning paraphernalia

Debra had decided that we were going to make 2 things – a grape jelly made from grape juice made from the grapes in Hamilton’s very own 1812 Garden and a cranberry-apple chutney. So the 6 of us seperated into a jelly-team and a chutney-team, with Debra supervising.

I’ll start with the grape jelly first, which I was a part of. (Although I’ll admit I spent more time taking picture than actually helping with the canning… I did do some stuff though!)

So we first emptied 2 bottles of the juice into a large pot and added sugar.

who would've thought this was grape juice?

After we brought the sweetened juice to boil and all the sugar had dissolved, we added pectin – it’s a fruit extract (commonly found in apples) that helps geland solidfy the jelly.

Once we poured in the pectin, the juice went crazy! It was already boiling, but this made it almost spill over – we had to stir hard and make sure it didn’t pour over the sides.

AHH!!

whew. crisis averted. now it's boiling down..

and down..

and down... all in a matter of seconds!

And that was pretty much it for the grape jelly! All we had to do was pour the mix into sterilized baby mason jars, and do the actually canning.

sterilized and squeaky clean

So we ladled/poured the ooey-gooey grape mix into the jars, making sure to be careful because stuff was hot!

The filled mason jars were so pretty – like amber colored jewels of grape flavor.

small jars, medium jars, big jars - it's a family!

Once all of the jelly had been poured into jars, we wipe them clean and popped the lids on them. You know the lids that come with canning jars – it has 2 parts, a ring and an actual lid. We only put the lid on, because that’s the part key to holding the vacuum in the jar.

Then we put all of the covered jars into a pot of boiling water, so they could do their canning thing.

blub, blub...

Now all we had to do was wait while  the vacuum formed. So while we were waiting, Debra pulled out some meatballs and (more!) cheeses from an events that she had gone to the night before.

meatballs made with heritage, free-range beef

with a few feta and spinach-stuffed mushroom at the end

pine nuts, spinach, beef and herbs rolled into little balls o' deliciousness

I don’t think I’ve ever had meat that tasted like this before – Debra told us it was the taste of real, grass-fed, organic beef. They were really good – I had about 5… I mean come on, meatballs are just so dangerously easy to pop into your mouth!

MOAR. CHEEZ.

I think these were what pushed us over the edge into cheese-induced comas.

Anyways, while the jelly-team was busy jellying, the chutney-team had begun chopping, dicing, and grating all the ingredients for the chutney. As you can tell from picture below, this recipe was considerably more involved than our jelly.

chutney ingredients

mise-en-place: everything in its place before you start cooking!

not gonna lie, i snuck some apple slices. NY apples are just so good..

gratin' ginger

Once all the prep work was done, the chutney team just threw all the ingredients into a big pot and let it simmer for a bit.

Until it looked like this:

dark and handsome, eh? spicily fragrant too.

Then they just did the same thing that we did with the jelly – carefully ladling it out into the jars with the use of various canning paraphernalia.

chunky funky :D

Then our jellies came out, and the chutneys went into the pot of boiling water.

A minute or so after being taken out of the water, the jars made little popping noises as the vacuum set in and the lid sealed closed. We actually had a 100% success rate for our canned goods – pretty good for our first canning class, don’t you think?

the finished products of an afternoon's hard work of canning

We all got to take 2 jars of chutney and jelly home, to enjoy with our families over Thanksgiving Break :D

 

Wow, that was a long post – I guess it was pretty substantial after all. Should I have split it into 2 parts?

Took me longer than I thought it would too – luckily I have a lot of homework done already. I’M ON TOP OF MY WORK HOOOYEAHH.

Kind of. Finals are steadily approaching, and I’m starting to get that panicky “HOLY CRAP EXAMS SDLKFJASLKJASDSA” feeling. I know the rest of you guys are probably getting that too. But let’s not stress too much – enjoy the snow and the last few days of the semster! There are only 12 days until I go home, wooot!!

So good luck all, and stay safe and warm! :)

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