Sunday, January 30, 2011

NEWSFLASH: Monsanto wins the Genetically Altered battle, You and I loose.

I just ran across this newsflash and wanted to share. It is very concerning, especially to farmers such as myself who are trying our best to protect the food suply and the ground used to produce it for the next generation. I have not personally doublechecked the validity of this article, but I do trust the source from which I discovered it, and unfortunately it is totally believable.

The Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto: What Now?

Whats the one paragraph summary of this? Well, it says that hte largest supporters of "organic foods" ... the people that gave us mainstream organics... have given up fighting agasint genetically altered foods being included into organic food. They have also given up in pushing for you and I to have a right to know when food contains genetically altered components. They have settled for being paid hush money to go away, stop fighting "progress" and accept hte inevitable. This means that in the near future genetically modified foods will be included into organic foods. Further in the future the presence of non genetically altered crops will disappear just as has almost happened in soybeans already. You and I will hav no option but to purchase and consume genetically alttered foods in the long run. Our children or grandchildren may never know what non genetically altered foods are.

Why does Monsanto want genetically altered food? Simply, more profit for them. Monsanto is altering our common food sources genetically so that the foundational foods inside can withstand Monsanto's herbicide Roundup. This allows factory operations to use roundup in increasing quantities without disturbing the plants becasue te plants are altered to be immune to the herbicide's effects. No testing, nor consideraton is given to the consequences for the soil, the bugs, or the consumers of the food of using more Roundup. Monsanto just wants to clear hte way legally to do the previously unthinkable, and not even have to inform the public. 

Some people think  organic modification is about "feeding the world", well it isnt. It is about more profits for hte companies like Monsanto producing chemicals and attempting to make hte world dependent on thier chemicals. These chemicals never existed until the last hundred years, and were never necessary. It ks the use of chemicals that makes hte use of chemicals necessary. We dont need chemicals to feed the world, in fact, the reliance on chemicals is what makes feeding hte world so difficult and so reliant on oil.

So once again.... profits takes precedence over common sense and morals. Those that defined organic food to most of america have given up so that a few can make more profit. The sad thing is.. we will not pay the price for this, our children and grandchildren will, and those that made the profit will be long gone.

If there ever was a time to find a local organic, humane, natural, heritage farm near you, today is the day. Find one, support them by buying their products, and stand by the ones tha produce food for you and yoru family. These folks (like us) are quickly becoming the last man standing in this battle to preserve foods and nature.

January is a popular month for little sprouts blog

January ends with the best month yet for the Little Sprouts Farm Blog. The blog site recorded over 2500 hits for the month! What a great testament to the interest in natural healthy food production. There is a steadily growing interest in our food supply, people questioning what goes on behind the scenes and what are we eating. It goes beyond curiosity. The people that contact us are generally very committed to changing thier family's lives by rejecting the factory food production methods and turning to local natural alternatives whenever possible.

A good point to make is that the vast majority of the people visiting our website are within 100 miles of Medford, OR.

I will add that so far, facebook advertising has been the most effective form of advertising we have done to attract local people. That in itself is amazing to me since we tend to think of the interent as a global resource.

How can you tell if chicken eggs are truly healthy and flavorful?

Over the last 3 years we have learned a lot about chicken eggs. The most amazing fact we have learned so far is the simple fact that eggs are not all the same. In fact, there is a vast difference in eggs depending on breed, lifestyle, and food source. Unfortunately  the eggs sold in the grocery store rarely live up to the labels on the packaging. The terms used today are confusing, and few people realize how misleading the term is to how the chickens live.

First, you might want to browse or search this blog for a prior posting on the nutrition of eggs. The truth is that eggs change severly in nutritional value based on how the chicken is treated and fed,. Look for the blog post on this for a deeper discussion on this fact.

So the question is, since we now know that eggs change in nutritional value so easily, how do you know if the eggs you are buying are hte best? Well the obvious and acurate way is a lab test. But this isnt practical as a way to rate eggs for yourself. So.... here's some tips. The best egg can be described as:

Yolk Color - The yolk should be bright orange. Yellow yolks are lacking. In fact the more oragne the yolk is over yellow, the more nutritious it is.

Yolk density - The yolk should be thick, almost like a custard. Thin watery yolks are lacking. When you slow fry a good healthy egg, the yolk stays as a tight round ball while the whites cook. In fact the yolk should be difficult to break open, and when it does it should be thick.

White density - The white of hte egg should have two distinct parts to it. If you crack a good egg open on a plate you will see the yolk in the middle surrounded by a thick white that stands up around hte yolk, and that surrounded by the thinner egg white that spreads thin. If there is not two distinct layers to the whites this way, the egg is lacking.

Shell membrane - the soft membrane on the inside of  the shell should be thick and sturdy. When you crack the egg the membrane should be slightly difficult to pull apart. The membrane should hold the egg shell pieces together tightly after cracking agasint a flat surface. If the membrane seems to be nonexistant or is thin, the egg is lacking.

Shell hardness and thickness - The egg shell itself should be sturdy and thick. Cracking the egg should require some force. Shells that are thin and crack easily are lacking.

Apparently a common test by picky chefs for good eggs is the ability to play ball with the yolk. If you can toss the yolk around in a bowl without it breaking open, the egg is good. (this wording corrected thanks to comment below)

Another sign of good eggs is a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors (hues). In nature eggs of the same breed of chicken do not come out identical every time. There should be slight variations in each. If the eggs are totally consistent in shape, size, and color ou can be pretty sure that the chickens are the factory raised genetically bred chickens. Factory style practices strive to produce identical eggs for internal reasons. Nature produces variety.

So, go check your eggs. If they dont look like what is described above, I challenge you to try fome real farm fresh eggs that are truly pacture raised without a steady stream of commercial soy and corn chicken feed. You will be amazed at the diffrence! And remember, if your egg yolks  are yellow, be careful to follow dietary guidelines about not eating too many, they are dangerous to heatlh.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Three Hogs Butchered Today - time to review the business side

The last three hogs from the very first litter here on the famr were butchered today. The hogs were right at seven months old. So far the timing of everything in our hog business is working out nicely.

The hogs will weight in at about 210 to 220 hanging weight, and have about an inch to inch and a quarter of back fat. All good numbers for this breed.

Here are some interedting numbers concerning the business side of hog farming. I like to split their lifespan of 6 to 7 months in half to calculate feed costs. Over hte fist three months the pigs consume on average about 3 lbs of feed per day. This counts a month or two of nursing. for hte last 3 to 4 months they consume about 7 lbs of feed per day.  That makes a total feed consumed per hog throughout a 7 month lifespan to be :

270 lbs + 840 lbs = 1110 lbs of feed which produces a hog of about 225 lbs.

This represents about a 4:1 feed conversion ratio over the lifespan.

Thus you can see why we need to keep the cost down through use of organic produce through cllecting, donations, and growing, plus the sprouting of whole grains which are cheaper than commercial organic feed.

There is two balancing concerns in the world of farming - quality and cost. At the end of hte day, the farmer has to make a profit or he can not continue to produce. Likewise, the quality of hte product produce has to be maintained to a level that people are happy to pay the price asked. This is a carefuly balancing act that must be viewed and reviewed  from both the consunmer and business side. In addition to this is the scale factor that asks, ho much product can be produced to incease profit without compromising quality. (in Farming, unlike factories, quality is in direct relation to scale, the higher the quantity, the more difficult it is to maintian quality).

For now, we are happy with our pricing model, our cost, and the quality we are able to produce. This primarily due to the fact that we do not depend on any single veture to produce the profit for the farm. If we did, the scale for htat venture would reduce quality to a point where it is not sustainable. Instead, we are branching out into a wide variety of products, species, and offerings. That, in my opinion, is one of  the secret formulas for sucess in farming today, the one that matches the traditional family farm of a century ago.

Time to outsmart the Hogs!

Today is the day... At least two hogs are scheduled to be butchered today. The "fun" part is always getting them into the processing pen to await their fate. This morning I am up bright and early, before the sun, to close the shelter pen gates and coax out the two that I want without letting the others get in the way.

It would certainly be a lot easier to do this the modern way of keeping the hogs in separate small pens and thereby having full control over them. But that would violate the basic principles of Little Sprouts Farm! We strive to provide as natural of a life as possible for each animal, which means we do not cage them like criminals in a tiny cell to live out their lives. Our principles dictate that we allow them free roam of enough land for them to feel free and able to live to their instincts.

So.. here I go to try to outsmart them. The amazing thing about these hogs (I am not sure if all are the same as the heritage breeds) is their capacity to learn. If these guys do something one time, only one, they learn it. I have often tried to simply herd them in a certain point and if I fail only once in my objective, the game is over in that way. You simply cant repeat a failed attempt, they have already learned what you are up to and how to work around it if they disagree. So herding these guys is truly a matter  of matching wits. I have to change the approach enough so that they never know what to expect. I also have to be careful not to let others watch what is going on with one, because they learn that way also. If they see one hog treated a certain way and object, any that watch will refuse to go down the same path. It truly is an amazing testament to their intelligence.

Its even to the point that if I allow any adult hogs to watch me close and lock a gate, they will proceed to test that lock and gate to see if they can open it. Its not a matter of do they know how, its only a matter of can they physically do it. They know how by watching me!

So here I go! Hopefully in a short time there will be  two safely locked away in the barn pen.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Planting in the greenhouse today!

We finally got some time to start planting the greenhouse today.  We have baby broccoli, cauliflower, and just planted heirloom tomato's and lettuce.

We are exploring different options  for planting boxes and pots. For now I picked up some 3 foot  trays about 4 inches deep. We put 3 broccoli or cauliflower in each. That seems a bit close to me but we'll see.  The rest are just in starter pots until they sprout.

The greenhouse is amazingly warm! In the afternoon today it was so warm we were sweating with light work. Its also very humid, water dripping from the roof like rain. To help keep it from freezing we placed in 3 plastic trash cans (dark colors and black) filled with water. I also dumped 6 cubic feet of potting soil into large black plastic planters and placed them on the ground. All this should help to hold some heat in its mass to keep from freezing overnight.

The next step is to pick up a bunch of planting pots form somewhere and some seeds.

I have to say, its sure more pleasant working in the greenhouse than struggling in the mud outside in the winter garden!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fresh garden salad!

Theres just nothing like fresh garden salad... Even if you are a hog. Here's penny chowing down on some just picked cabbage.

Feed Delivery Day! - adding grubs to the menu...

Today is the day we take delivery of about half of the new feed formulations. You may remember that a month or so ago we made the commitment to go Soy Free on our animal feeds as soon as practical. Today is the first step towards that goal.

We should be receiving a ton or so each of the following:

  • Organic Dried Field Peas
  • Organic Whole Wheat Berries for sprouting
  • Organic Whole Rye Berries for sprouting
  • Grub Growing system

Still waiting for delivery:

  • Soy-free complete organic poultry feed
  • Soy-free complete organic hog feed

If you have been following this project, you will notice the sudden addition of "grubs" to the menu. We have been looking for a reasonably pleasant way to grow insects for the poultry (chickens and turkeys) and finally found one worth trying. You can take a look at it here. This little device is supposed to be the easiest, odor free, maintenance free manner in which to grow grubs. the grubs are an excellent source of protein for any animals that are omnivores (chickens, turkeys, hogs, etc) The process is simple, you place kitchen scraps into the unit each day, and a collection of grubs clean and ready to eat show up in the collection tray for use.  Sounds easy enough! The challenge here will be keeping it warm enough in the winter to produce year round. I'm thinking of trying it inside the greenhouse. The grubs themselves create heat as the live and eat, so that will help the greenhouse stay warm. At the same time the greenhouse will buffer the cold nights so that the grubs stay active.  If this experiment works we will expand to several producers so that we can have a constant natural protein supply for the poultry and perhaps even the hogs. That would make it even easier to go soy free since soy is added to feed specifically for the protein content.

The grub of choice is the black soldier fly.

For the sprouting I have settled on a system of plastic 40 gallon trash cans in the barn, sitting on a greenhouse heat pads. I plan on adding about 20 lbs of grains per day to a can and covering them with water. A cycle like this:

Day 1 - 20 lbs wheat in can 1, 20 lbs rye in can 2 : add water
Day 2 - 20 lbs wheat in can 3, 20 lbs rye in can 4 - add water  : stir cans 1&2
Day 3 - 20 lbs wheat in can 5, 20 lbs rye in can 6 - add water : stir cans  1, 2, 3, 4

Continue this cycle for as many days as required to achieve level of sprouting desired. Once that happens, the oldest 2 cans are dumped in the open pig feed buckets, cans rinsed clean, and rotated back into service. This way we have a steady supply of whole sprouted grains. The total feed consumption of the hogs is about 7-8 lbs per day, so adding 40 lbs of grains  amounts to about 1/3 to 1/4 of their total feed intake (on average of 20 hogs being fed)

The complete feed formulations should be arriving soon, but no delivery date set yet.

Exciting days at Little Sprouts!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A cloud of sadness settles over Little Sprouts

Today is a sad day here on the farm. After a long and difficult struggle we have decided it was best to find a new home for Louie, our 3 yr old Springer Spaniel. For a variety of reasons his living here just wouldn't work, and everything we have tried to correct the situation has failed. Before matters get any worse, we decided to say goodbye and find him a more appropriate home.

Fortunately there is a local relative who agreed to take him in so we can still visit him from time to time. Even so, the children's hearts are broken. It seems especially hard on my son who chose Louie as a puppy and has slept with Louie in his room or bed for at least half his life.

Today I find myself feeling lonely puttering around the farm or sitting in my office without  my constant companion at my heels. As irritating as he could be at times, his departure from the farm leaves a hole that will be tough to fill.

This experience reminds me that animals are not so different from us as humans. We can bond with them and they with us. We can have deep relationships without a spoken word passing between us. There is and perhaps always will be a unseen tie between humans and the animals that God put in our charge.

Sometimes I am asked why we take such a strong stance against factory farming. This is one of the fundamental reasons. Its not just about the money, the health benefits, the environment, etc... There is something much deeper. Humans are the highest intelligence placed on this planet, whether you believe that is so by God's creation or by evolution or any other means. We have a responsibility to take care of those that are in our care, those that depend on our intelligence to preserve the earth on which we all live. Factory farming disrespects all those responsibilities and seeks nothing but cash, control, and convenience. Our family is taking a stand that, animals count too. Their lives count. Their lifestyles count. Animals are not machines without feeling, they are not products without thought or breath to be manipulated like a chunk of plastic. They are living, breathing beings that someone has entrusted to our care. Our family is doing what we can to create a world for them that both they and us can enjoy. We will treat each individual animal as just that, an individual member of the world worthy of respect and care.  Every animal in our care here at Little Sprouts is known by us. We watch each to know their personalities, their health, their uniqueness.

Louie will be missed, but in his absence he leaves behind a deeper drive to recognize each living thing on our farm, and our earth, as a unique and worthy member of our world. Every day I hear the silence of his footsteps behind me, I will remember... animals count too.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Quick n Easy Lunch with Little Sprouts Red Wattle Pork Sausage

Here's a quick n easy idea for a lunch featuring Red Wattle pork sausage, the absolute best sausage in the world !

2 cups of cooked pasta
2 cans chunky tomato soup
1 lb pork sausage
1/8 cup of cheese cubed (any type)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (or 2 cloves of fresh garlic chopped)
sprinkle of parsley
sprinkle of basil
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta and drain thoroughly.
Cook the sausage in a flat until nicely browned. Pour off excess fat.
Turn down the heat a bit to medium
Sprinkle the cooked sausage with salt, pepper, and garlic powder and mix in the pan.
Add tomato soup and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Top with cheese chunks. Turn off the heat completely and while cheese melts sprinkle with a mix of parsley and basil.

Serve and enjoy!

If you like a softer flavor for on the tomato, try adding a little milk to the soup, maybe 1/4 can per can.

this oddly tastes amazingly like lasagna, but is sooooo much easier!

NOTE: you could use any type of pork sausage, but it just wont be the same.  Red Wattle sausage, raised to our standards, has an amazing yet subtly combination of flavors that cant be reproduced.

Three hogs available for sale this week!

Great news! We have three more hogs available for sale this week. Each of these are Red Wattle hogs raised to our high standards in feed and lifestyle. The next time we have pork to offer will be perhaps 3 or 4 weeks away, so if you would like to try the famous Red Wattle pork raised here at Little Sprouts, today is the day!

These hogs will probably give a hanging weight of 180 to 200 lbs, so they are a little larger and a little more mature than the first set we offered. BUT.. we have finalized our manner of offering shares down to 1/8 of a hog, so you can buy smaller portions than ever and still enjoy farm fresh pork.You can now choose anywhere from a whole hog to an eighth share
Please contact us through email or phone call ASAP to get your name on a share.

Phone: 541-826-4345

I can personally guarantee that this will be at or above the best quality pork you have ever tried.

Whole Wheat Flour is .... well... What is it exactly?

Perhaps this is a bit off topic for our farm blog, but I'd like to share a pet peeve of mine. So much of what we buy in the store is advertised as one thing, when it is truly something else entirely. We can unknowingly spend our entire lives  thinking we are consuming a food that in fact we are not. That... is disturbing to me.

A perfect example is whole wheat flour. I can attest to you that I am now 100% sure that whole wheat flour bought from the average grocery store is not in fact whole wheat berries ground into flour.  How do I know this? What scientific evidence do I offer to support this claim?  No evidence other than common sense.

The demand for scientific evidence to prove every point is, in itself, part of the problem. Science as we know it today does not include "common sense" and thereby often the conclusions reached through science are often blatantly false. If you need proof of that, just look back over the last 20 or 30 years and ask yourself how any "proofs" have only years later been solidly proven false. I will not present a list here for brevity, but I will assure you that only a little searching can find a very long list of reversals in science. From this we must deduce the often what we "know" today through science will be disproven tomorrow, and disproves yesterday.  So... I offer you common sense.

We have been grinding our own wheat berries into flour for months now. Baking with fresh ground whole wheat is very different than baking with any store bought whole wheat flour. By this I must deduce that store bought whole wheat flour is different from fresh ground whole wheat flour. 

Another bit of common sense evidence is the warning that fresh ground flour must be carefully stored or it will go rancid. Think for a second, is that a real concern with store bought whole wheat flour? How long has the flour in the store been sitting at room temperature on the shelf or in storage? You don't even know today. It is impossible to tell in most cases, not because there is a conspiracy to sell you rancid flour, but because it doesn't matter, Store bought "whole wheat" flour does not go rancid in any reasonable time frame. On the contrary fresh ground wheat flour goes rancid in just 2-4 months, and changes content and baking characteristics in days to weeks. 

So, without going into the legal ramifications, and trying to discover what exactly store bought whole wheat flour is... I present you this one astounding realization... Store bought whole wheat flour is NOT the same as fresh ground whole wheat flour, meaning it can not be  truly "whole wheat." What is it? I do not know for sure, but I don't buy it anymore!

Hmmm, well I suppose then this blog post does fit for our farm blog, because is shows yet another way in which our modern food system has failed us. Not only is the wheat grown today not the same wheat that was grown for centuries which supported man and beast in good health, but it is not even presented to us in a truthful manner. The wheat (meaning flour) of today is something that produces bread that is not the "staff of life" as it has been for centuries.. but rather is something to be avoided as an unhealthy treat, or even avoided all together.

Perhaps Little Sprouts will start selling fresh ground whole wheat flour to those who wish to use whole wheat flour. We could even supplement that with selling our home grown sourdough starter to those wishing to bake traditional breads that improved health of the consumer. Then, perhaps when we have enough land we can grow the wheat that was the "staff of life" for centuries in most cultures. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gardening Mistake 1- Timing of planting and building up

I have been reading a very good book called "ECO FARMING". I recommend it to anyone who wishes to seriously understand the chemistry and biology of soil building and plant producing.

The first lesson leaned in this book is that I have committed a cardinal sin in my garden, thereby severely reducing yields and hampering nutritional value. That is the sin of bad timing.

What I have done for 3 years is this cycle..
When winter dries out enough to work the ground, I add as much organic material as I can gather (shavings from chicken coop, scrape the pig pen, clean out the barn stalls, grass, etc). I applied that to the garden and tilled it under a couple of times, then plant. I  assumed that organic material was good so it could be added anytime. WRONG!

Organic material is good, it is in fact the only way to increase soil fertility. Chemical bagged fertilizers do NOT increase soil fertility, in fact they reduce it. The mirage is that plants seem to grow better with chemical fertilizer, for a while, but its not real. Over time more and more fertilizer is necessary to achieve the same effect until finally we realize that the land is.. dead.  No, organic material is the ONLY beneficial soil building process in the long run.

However, you can not add uncompleted (green) organic material when plants are growing. Green organic material must be added at the end of fall, when it can sit and compost in ground over the winter before spring planting.  Adding green material in the spring right before planting has a detrimental effect on plants for that year.

The reason behind this is that the organisms in the soil that compost the material USE the same nutrients that plants need to grow, so for the time that the ground life is composting the green material in the soil, the plants are left without nutrients and actually starved.  It is only after the soil life (bacteria, fungus, etc) has finished composting and then dies itself, that the nutrients they consume in the organic material and produce in themselves are deposited in the soil for plants. So here again is a cycle of nature. Organic matter added to the soil is consumed by bacteria and fungus, then the bacteria and fungus die and their remains are higher in nutrients that the original material. Plants can then grow in this and excel in nutrition and hardiness.

Composted organic material ( to the point that it looks like dirt)  is ok to add anytime of course.

So, this spring I wont be adding any additional organic material that is not composted . Next fall I plan on adding everything I can find right after harvest, till it in, make mounds to drain the water better, and let it sit for the winter.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New home for Little Sprouts Farm???

You may already know... as the rumors are spreading... Yes, Little Sprouts Farm is looking for a new home. The current location is what I like to call our "starter farm" where I can learn about how to do this without getting myself into too much trouble.  Nevertheless we have realized for a long time that this 10 acres is not large enough nor has it enough variety to do what we want to do.  So... we have been looking for the "perfect" property over the last couple years.

We are committed to staying as close to Sam's Valley as possible, or maybe even within it. This is our home and we don't wish to leave it. The people here are good people and the environment is excellent for raising a family. So the search goes on.

We are not "expanding" into a  big commercial farm. Rather our goal is to remain a small farm with a large variety, and each animal or plant receiving its natural habitat and living conditions. Our business plan is to do a lot of things, but none so much that they overshadow the others. Diversity is a word often used to describe this strategy, and it tends to protect the business from unknown times ahead.

I bring all this up to settle some rumors, and because today I am going to investigate a property that "looks" perfect. Its 180 acres or so nestled between a year round stream and some hills, has flat irrigated pastures as well as fairly heavy forested areas. In a quick preview the other day we were impressed for the first time in 2 years of looking. Is this the one? Too early to say for sure, but its encouraging.

I'll be loading up the gator this afternoon to go drive the entire property and talk to the realtor about details.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cats hatching eggs?

I caught these two snuggled in the chicken nesting boxes. Not sure if they were helping to hatch some eggs or if it just looked too cozy to pass up.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Naturally cured bacon recipe submitted by a customer

Here is another customer submitted recipe

Home-made bacon

I found this one online somewhere.

Make a mixture of Redmond's Real Salt and unrefined sugar crystals, and add fresh ground peppercorns, oregano, sage, bay leaf, or any other spice you might like to experiment with.

Lay the sliced side pork (which is the cut bacon is made from) in a single layer on a big cutting board, plate or baking pan.

Thoroughly sprinkle both sides of the meat with the salt/sugar/spice mixture, massaging it in.

Put the slices into a plastic zip-lok bag and place in the refrigerator.

Massage the bacon each day through the bag, for up to 3 days, turning bag over in rotation.

Remove pork, rinse well, blot dry with paper towels, and bake at 200 degrees to dry and lightly cure the bacon.

It is now ready for storage as bacon, ready to be fully cooked to eat. I didn't bother with the low temperature baking, but went right to a 350 degree cooking. I figured it would store better fully cooked, though I'm told the lighter-baked meat will last up to a week in refrigerator. But why cook it twice? I just warm up the cold cooked meat in a toaster oven when I'm ready to eat more of it.

No smoking involved, which adds flavor and lengthens storage time, but also adds complexity and infrastructure.

I found this simple bacon quite tasty enough and easy to make. It was a bit too salty, and I was surprised that more of the saltiness didn't rinse out. Next time I'll use less salt and perhaps more sugar.
NOTE: views, opinions and procedures expressed by customers do not necessarily reflect the views of Little Sprouts Farm and we urge the reader to do their own research into food safety before attempting to reproduce these recipes.

Pork Chop Recipe from a customer

Here is a recipe submission from one of our pork customers :

Marinated pork chops

Place thawed pork chops in a deep-dish baking pan, wide flat-bottom bowl, or even a deep plate.

Pour apple cider vinegar and the water strained from the simmering of seaweed over the chops.

Crumble bay leaves and sage into the marinade.

Cover and let marinate for at least 4 hours, and up to 2 days, turning the chops half-way through.

Remove and press out extra marinade with one of those mashing utensils.

Cook by baking, pan frying, or barbequeing, but keep them medium-rare, where you can still see some pink near the bone. It's okay, tricinosis is almost non-existent anymore, and is killed at lower temperatures. Lighter cooking makes the meat easier to digest, as does the marinating. Your stomach pH needs to be around 1.5 to thoroughly digest such complete proteins, and that's very acidic-something assisted by the vinegar in the marinade.
Note: opinions expressed in recipes submitted by individuals other than employees of Little Sprouts Farm do not necessarily express the views or statements of Little Sprouts Farm

Sunday, January 16, 2011

USDA processing of meats vs local butchering?

There are two competing methods of delivering meats raised on a farm to the end consumers... through USDA processing, and through local butchering.  Each method has pros and cons, and are fundamentally different in approach, while both bring the same end product to your table. We have struggled with the choice of which method we should use for our primary delivery method. Here I'd like to share our thinking between the two and our decision for now.

How each is done:

Local butchering involves 3 basic steps. The first step is done on farm, without the animal leaving where it lived. This involves kill and basic "cleaning" of the animal to remove uneatable portions. Then the full carcass is transported quickly to the local butchering facility. The second step is called "cut and wrap" where it is cut into usable pieces of meat, sausage, etc. Then for a third step some portions like ham or bacon are sent to a smokehouse to be cured and smoked.  The facilities in the local butcher shop are inspected regularly by the USDA to ensure safe practices but there is not daily supervision.

USDA processing involves 2 steps only, or rather it combines a modified step 1 and step 2. The animals are loaded and  transported live to the processing facility, often hours away from the farm. There they go through a more factory style kill process sometimes involving waiting for periods of time in a holding area. The second step of cut and wrap are similar except that the volumes are much larger so the process is less like an artisan and more like a factory. The last step of cure and smoke is the same, since most USDA facilities do not do their own curing. This entire process up to cure and smoke is supervised by a trained USDA government inspector on premises.

At face value, both methods are similar. Nevertheless, a few differences emerge with some thought.

1. Stress - It is a known fact that stress in the animal immediately before butchering causes changes in the final product. Read this link for a more indepth discussion of stress on meat quality. Considering the two methods, the farm kill and local butchering creates much less stress than USDA processing, because USDA requires that the animals arrive live at the facility. This involves one of hte most stressful events in a farm animals life - loading into an unfamiliar trailer, cramped compared to their wide open pasture lifestyle. They often can not see out of the trailer while transporting, which often takes hours. Imagine spending your life in a open green pasture where you are free to roam and explore with our family and friends, then one day are captured and led into a small trailer with several of your companions. Standing shoulder to shoulder for a few hours you are bounced around in a noisy windy trailer with no food, water, or bathroom facilities. When you arrive there are strangers there herding you into small pens with stranger who have undergone the same process.  Now, does that sound stressful? In contrast, what happens in a farm kill is  the animals are separated into a clean familiar pen, and  when it's time they are "put down" quickly and humanely.
So you can see here that, aside from anything else, USDA processing by design requires stress to be introduced in the animals life, thereby lowering the quality of the meat according to Purdue University and every over study I have ever read.

This leaves 2 strikes against USDA processing in our opinion, #1 - it lowers meat quality due to stress and #2 - it is less humane.

2. Safety - One might at first glance think that USDA is safer because "the government inspector is there to ensure everything goes right".  Before we jump to that conclusion, lets consider it closer. The oversight in a local butcher is you as the customer, and your friend the butcher. Who do you inherently trust more... your own instincts and the butcher who is now your friend and neighbor, or the government inspector who you have never met? Personally I lean on the side of trusting myself over a government employee.

Then we look at the process itself... USDA facilities are VERY expansive. Expensive facilities have to be justified through high profit, high volume business practices. High volume requires efficiencies such as in factories. The focus changes from quality to profit.  High volume also introduces more product moving through, which in the case of biological systems brings more chance for infection. If any one animal carries with it bacteria , that bacteria can quickly spread to the others. Ever wonder why a meat based food recall involves thousands or million of pounds of meat? Simply because the more volume there is, the more end product is affected by problems. Contrast this to local butchering where volume is inherently lower, and therefore chance for contamination is also lower.

(rumor warning !) I have not verified this, but have been told  that part of hte USDA process requires decontamination with various chemical at various steps along the processing cycle. If this is true, it leaves two doubts.. it would only be through the more frequent presence of pathogens that decontamination is necessary, and the chemicals used in decontamination are themselves suspect. (end of rumor warning)

A related point is that the very process of transporting and holding the animals in the conditions described above increases the chances for contamination. Simply put the more animals you place in a small space for periods of time, the more pathogens are generated and spread.

Don't get me wrong.. I am not saying that USDA facilities produce dangerous or bad product, I am only suggesting that by the numbers if something went wrong in a USDA facility it would affect hundreds of times more people than if something went wrong in a local butcher shop. I am also suggesting that the chance of contamination is higher in USDA facilities than local butcher shops. I am also suggesting that some people (myself included) give more trust to people  I know and places I have seen than unknown government employees and facilities closed to visiting.

This leaves another strike against USDA processing - the safety factor.

3. locality (the green aspect) - Transporting and shipping takes time, money, and fuel. It is much "greener" to do everything locally than to be transporting and shipping outside the area. The  cost of transporting the live animals must be included in the selling price. It is not practical to place USDA facilities closer to farms because the volume required to turn a profit in USDA facility requires a larger area of farms to service. Again, it's the model itself that is at fault. The bigger things get, the less it is like farming and the more it is like a factory.

So another strike against USDA for the Green factor and cost of transporting.

So WHY DO USDA processing?  There is one really good reason. The law says that only USDA processed meats can be made available through retail sales of individual cuts. Local butchering only allows for selling of live animals, butchered as a separate process. 

4. But, alas, there are pros and cons here too. In the grocery store is is the competition of labels and names. There is no person to explain the benefits of a certain choice. In the end, retail sales is all about "sales" not quality and production.  In order to market a higher quality product effectively it takes money and advertising that a small farm usually can't provide. Down this road of thinking one must ask the question is it beneficial for the small farm to sell  through retail establishments? This sales model lowers the income to the farm through wholesale vs retail sales, and it requires more advertising and brand building cash investment.  This is not the model Little Sprouts wants to use -- so one more strike.

So what is the bottom line?

Little Sprouts have chosen to not use USDA processing for now. In the future we may choose to do some processing USDA to offer in alternative markets, but that is undecided. For now we will continue working on creative ways to offer only the highest quality of meats to the consumer, highest quality of life for our animals, and closest relationships with our end consumers.

A bottom line here is  the value in a mission statement. USDA processing goes against the principles in our mission as a farm, so being true to ourselves, we will avoid it as the primary business model. What is a mission, if it is too easily violated? Something in business must be constant, even in farming, and we believe that we must either abide by our mission statement, or change it. For now, it stands :)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Salt is deadly?

Ok, so everyone knows that crabs live in the ocean, right? Even the cute little hermit crabs you see in pet stores today have a native habitat near the ocean where they can have direct and frequent access to salt water. Saltwater is a necessary element for their existence. 

Well, today my son purchased a pet hermit crab. Two actually. We took the little critter home and set up a home for him. In doing so I went online to discover what is the best way to keep them.  First I learn that salt water is necessary as is fresh water. The little crabs need both salt water and fresh water so that they can regulate how much salt is in their life by going alternatively to fresh and salt water. That in itself seems a like a good blog post on the amazing ability of even small animals.  But that's not the topic of this posting.

What I learned next was ... surprising. To make this salt water... you can't use salt. Apparently the iodine in our table salt is toxic to crabs. Yet... iodine is a necessary element for their existence.  Somehow this doesn't quite make sense.

Here is an excerpt from the hermit crab association website:

A note for newbies: Table salt must not be used to prepare salt water for your crabs. It contains synthetic (man-made) iodine which is toxic to hermit crabs. I would also advise not to use food-grade sea salt because it has been refined and not enough is known at this time as to whether or not it is safe. Natural iodine found in sea water and seaweed are essential to the overall health of your crabs and is necessary for successful molts.

So lets get this straight....  crabs need iodine in their diet, but the iodine that is added to refined table salt is toxic, and the refined sea salt might also be toxic due to the refining process. Hmm... so in other words, when man in his "wisdom" decided to refine foods, he discovered that he had removed necessary elements, so he creates them synthetically from scratch and adds it back, and the result is toxic to the animals that live in the original form of what we tried to improve on.  There is some true wisdom here if we look closely.

What people have missed throughout this revolution of "improved" foods is three points:

It is the act of refining that destroys the food's value

Refining is the process of breaking whole foods down into individual components and providing those components individually. That simple fact is the root problem in foods today. Refined foods are not whole foods, it is parts of a whole food. Just like seawater contains salt and water, but also lots of other things. Taking distilled water and adding salt does not make an ocean, and does not support life to the animals that need saltwater. It is the process of refining salt and water that removes virtually all the other components that make true natural salt water.

Synthetic is not the same as naturally occurring

When a food component is built synthetically it is a chemistry creation. Perfectly pure compounds are created chemically. These compounds are similar to naturally occurring compounds, but they are not the same. Ask any wine connoisseur if good wine could be created in a laboratory and they would laugh. Good wine is a lot more than the chemicals that make up the liquid of the wine. In the same manner, "foods" created in a laboratory are simply not the same as the same thing occurring in nature through natural processes. In the case of the hermit crab, it is in fact the man made iodine that is toxic where natural iodine is essential. Another example of this is vitamin supplements. on one hand we know that foods high in certain vitamins prevent certain diseases. On the other hand studies have shown that taking synthetically created vitamins do not alter the quality nor quantity of life. It seems apparent that the synthetic vitamins do not have the same effect as naturally occurring.

It is balance within the whole that brings value, not individual components
Just as salt water is a combination of many elements, it is that combination, the balance of everything, that makes it beneficial or not. If the concentration of an element or two is changed, the result can be toxic, or at least not healthy. That is a lesson in all foods. An interesting example of this is that every time man discovers a food that seems to aid in some disease or condition, the medical community attempts to isolate the compound responsible and concentrate that one compound in a pill. In virtually all cases this does not have the same effect, even at much higher doses, as the natural food. I think this points to the need for balance. It is not the compound that does the good as much as the combination of compounds in the whole food. This is a very important that medical lesson has yet to learn.
The same lesson applies to fertilizer. The pseudo-science of NPK is soon to be exposed for what it is. the very notion that a living thing such as a plant only removes 3 elements from the soil and therefore you only need to replace 3 elements to keep the soil sustained forever is.. to put it mildly, quite ludicrous. Soil is a myriad of elements and compounds and life, all of which must be in perfect balance in order for plants to thrive. Adding 3 elements to  soil asked to produce tremendous crops year after year simply throws the balance off within the soil and eventually lays the soil barren, unable to sustain life. Again, it is the balance between everything in nature that makes life work, not individual components.

So here I stare at these little hermit crabs in our simulated environment and realize that they have taught us a great and valuable lesson: don't mess with nature! Sadly, the salt that most people consume today is not life sustaining, and must be limited in the diet because it is toxic, perhaps to man as well as sea animals.  Why would we consume an artificial product that is deadly to the animals that live in the naturally occurring one?

Personally we have been using true sea salt for some time in our diet. Not refined sea salt, true sea salt, evaporated sea water.  The particular brand we have settled on  if the same salt we provide to our animals, Redmond Salt. As far as I know, this is the most natural food grade salt you can buy in the stores. It contains much more than salt, and no synthetic chemicals. It is not refined, only packaged. Its as close as you can get to the natural balance of the sea.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Egg Sales are working with the honor system.

I am very pleased to say that our first experience with selling eggs right off the farm through the honor system is working beautifully.  So far the eggs are disappearing and proper amounts are collecting in the payment jar. While we understand that selling things this way is a risk due to the number of unscrupulous people in our society, it is very nice to see that MOST people are good, honest folks. Thus far we have not lost a dollar not a single egg to theft, and everyone has paid an acceptable amount for the eggs they purchased.

WHAT A HEARTWARMING EXPERIENCE in this day of constant bad news and constant focus on the evils of society to think that we can place some eggs at the end of the driveway with a sign, and people voluntarily pay the proper amount and take only that they pay for. Who would have thought that possible today?

There is good in the world, all around us. Perhaps if we spend less time focusing on the bad and more time revelling in the good, we could gain a more positive view of our life, our country, our neighbors, and our future.

New feed formulations almost ready!

This has been a very busy weak at Little Sprouts! We have been working diligently for quite a while on improving the feed we provide our farm animals. You may recall from previous blog posts that the presence of Soy in animal feed has become a major problem. (Check the archives for that blog post to review). We are happy to pre-announce that the process of removing soy and adding more healthy food sources is almost complete!

Here's a quick rundown of what we have accomplished thus far:

Soy Free Feed:

For both hog and poultry feed (chicken and turkey) we have settled on a relatively inexpensive, healthy, year round available soy alternative for protein in a combination of peas and sesame seed.  In the right proportions this combination can replace soy completely for birds and hogs both removing soy from their diet completely and providing a wider variety of food and nutrients.

Additional Feed sources:

One of our philosophies is that animals in the wild eat a wide variety of foodstuffs, and so they should also on the farm to be healthy. To this end we have been working on a fairly labor free way to routinely sprout organic whole grains just enough to make the grains digestible and more healthy than dried grains. The hogs and to some extent the chickens will have these fresh growing sprouted organic grains added to their daily diet to add nutrients that far exceed those available in milled dried commercial feed.  This move also helps to offset the slightly higher cost of commercial feed without soy.

Acorns! We are happy to announce that we have finally found a year round source of organically grown acorns for the hogs. In the wild, hogs go crazy over acorns. It is definitely one of the most natural foods for hogs of any breed. We have scoured the country and found a source for this tasty food left in natural form. Research shows that hogs raised on acorns have the absolute best flavor possible, winning hands down on all taste tests.  Over time we will explore how much acorns can be introduced into their food to accomplish this while keeping costs in line.

FishMeal! Most nutritionist will tell you that fish is one of the most nutritious foods available for any animal or even humans. We all hear the advice to add fish to our diets to be healthy. Well, I am happy to report that our animals will also be receiving this benefit soon. In the process of exploring soy free protein sources we have stumbled across a supplier of organic fish meal. While this food is not appropriate for the primary protein source for a variety of reasons, as an added "top dressing" or vitamin supplement it is perfect for raising the nutritional value of the meat and health of the animals. It is a nice accompaniment to our natural parasite control.

Finally, Peas. Dried organic field peas. In addition to this being one of the two primary protein sources in the pelleted feed for hogs and poultry, we are purchasing extra peas in raw form in order to feed directly as a supplement and whole food. These peas are also a favorite of our yet seldom mentioned flock of sheep. The peas make a great healthy way to hand feed the sheep, getting them used to being around us as shepherds and allowing us to give the natural parasite control supplement easily. With the female sheep pregnant at this time their nutritional intake and care is rising to the top of the list quickly.

Keep in mind that all of these foods are in addition to the steady stream of fresh produce  as available. Just this week we offered the hogs dozens of pounds of fresh cabbage and kohlrabi from the fall garden, along with the last of the tomatoes, all of which disappeared in minutes! We also keep a steady supply of tree trimmings in the hog area for them to chew on and consume the bark and small twigs. They love certain trees and shrubs! The ones they don't love to eat, become nice playthings to toss around in the cool of the afternoon.

As I said above, this is a pre-announcement... These foods are scheduled to start arriving over the next 2 weeks (time for some serious barn organizing!) By that time we hope to have over 7 tons of food stored away safely in the barn. While some of the above is subject to change as prices are settled and arrangements made, I wanted to share with you where we are heading, and let you know that we have heard and responded to your request for even better quality meats.

As a final note, if you are raising your own animals and are interested in exploring with us in these new feeds, feel free to contact me directly. Most if not all of the products we are using should be available through our local feed store, "Rainey's Farm and Feed" located right here in Sams Valley with us.  The guys at Rainey's have been instrumental in helping us solve these issues and come up with alternatives at prices that work for everyone.

Customer Testimonials page added!

Yes, the exciting news is that Little Sprouts Farm actually has customers now! If anything makes a new venture into a true business, it has to be the presence of actual customers. In farming, as in any business, the happy customer is the end goal. What good would it do to create the best product in the world if no one bought it? Our goal is to create the best product possible in order to serve you, the customer. Not a day goes by when we do not consider you, your family, your desires, your needs.

So yes, having customers after 3 years or preparations is a BIG DEAL for Little Sprouts! To share this milestone, we have added "testimonials" to the blog site. If you look above there is a new tab called simply "testimonials". On that page you can enter your own testimonial as a Little Sprouts customer, and you can read through the reviews of others.

We are very excited to offer this new page where you can hear from people that have actually tried our products before you purchase. We believe that if we do our job right, our customers will be our best resource for growing the farm. It is only through satisfied customers that all of this hard work will come together into a thriving small business.

How to Prepare Bulk Sausage

Sausage is one of my personal favorite morning foods. The simplicity, ease of preparation, and yet versatility of this traditional breakfast meat puts it at the top of my list. We are sometimes asked though, what is the best way to prepare bulk sausage. Not everyone is used to purchasing sausage in this form.

First the basic.. What is bulk sausage? Simply put, sausage is a combination of meat and fat, ground and mixed together with spices, and delivered in a package of some sort without being pressed into a skin or casing.  The spices used can range anywhere from exotic and flavorful to basic and light.

When you purchase pork from little sprouts farm, we always recommend turning a good portion of it into sausage, and having it only lightly seasoned with basic spices like salt. This is how we have our own sausage packaged at the butcher. Doing a light seasoning on the sausage itself allows you versatility at preparation time to create any flavor you desire, and a different flavor each day.  Here's a simple recipe we use:

1 lb bulk sausage (hopefully from Little Sprouts pastured heritage organically fed pork)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 to 2 teaspoon dried herb (my favorite is Thyme, but rosemary also works well)

Simply mix the sausage and spices in a small bowl, being careful to ensure an even mix throughout. You can then either form the sausage into patties or just drop it in the pan crumbled. Either way cook until just starting to brown on the edges and all pink is gone in the thickest parts.

You can use any combination of spices or flavorings. Dress it up with a little jalapeno, brighten it with some soy sauce, soften it with a little milk, or whatever flavor strikes you as tasty. Be aware though not to add too much flavor. Too much flavor will hide the good taste of the pork. When working with commercial factory created store bought sausage heavy spices are necessary to create flavor, but when you start with farm fresh naturally raised pork the meat and fat itself has flavor and texture that are enjoyable and healthy. Hiding that natural goodness is a shame.

Its always important to remember that naturally raised meats are entirely different in texture and flavor from factory produced meats commonly purchased in the grocery store. The recipes used should be adjusted for this fundamental and significant difference. Adding too much flavor to an already flavored meat is both unnecessary and prevent enjoying the true flavor of the meat itself.

So unwrap a package of Little Sprouts bulk sausage and ask yourself... which flavor explosion do I want to enjoy today?!?!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Whole Wheat sourdough bread from fresh ground wheat made in breadmaker!

I have been struggling with recipes for making whole wheat sourdough bread in a bread maker from fresh ground wheat. Combining the ideas of sourdough, fresh ground wheat, and bread machine is amazingly difficult. There seems to be practically no recipes combine all those elements.  Until now.....

Before I share the recipe, here's a bit of background on WHY combine these three elements:

1. Fresh ground wheat instead of store bought

I was raised on whole wheat bread, thinking it was good for you. It's whole grain just like nature intended, right? Well.. think again.. it actually isn't as whole and as healthy as you might think. The reality is that oils in the wheat kernel make the ground flour go rancid very quickly. True whole wheat flour has a shelf life of only 1 to 2 months before going rancid. This can be extended somewhat by refrigeration. However, have you ever seen a "milled"  or "use by" date on a bag of flour? Most don't have it. So, either they are selling food that goes bad quickly without telling you, or they have processed the grain somehow to extend shelf life.   The technology exists to extract the oil from the kernel, leaving what the government calls "whole grain" but increasing the shelf life.

Ok, wait you say.. if it says 100% whole grain, then it has to be 100% of the grain, right? Wrong. Here is the government regulations about labeling:

From the FDA website about food labeling:

Depending on the context in which a "whole grain" statement appears on the label, it could be construed as meaning that the product is "100 percent whole grain." We recommend that products labeled with "100 percent whole grain" not contain grain ingredients other than those the agency considers to be whole grains. Consumers should be able to look at the ingredient statement to determine whether the predominant or first ingredient listed is a whole grain. We note that wheat flour should not be labeled as a whole grain flour because wheat flour is a synonym of flour (§ 137.105), and thus, the bran and germ have been removed. However, whole wheat flour (§ 137.200) should be considered a whole grain flour because it contains all the parts of the grain, i.e., the bran, endosperm, and germ. We recommend that pizza that is labeled "whole grain " or "whole wheat" only be labeled as such when the flour ingredient in the crust is made entirely from whole grain flours or whole wheat flour, respectively. Similarly, we recommend that bagels, labeled as "whole grain " or "whole wheat" only be labeled as such when bagels are made entirely from whole grain flours or whole wheat flour, respectively.

Read carefully, the government considered only the presence of the three basic components of wheat: bran, endosperm, germ. It does not refer to the OIL. IT is the OIL that contains much of the nutrition and also what causes rancidity. By removing the oil or processing it somehow, the shelf life can be extended and still called 100% whole wheat, even though it is a different product than what you would get with fresh ground flour.

Here is a website describing in more detail.

Nutritionally, fresh ground flour looses its nutritional value in hours from milling, so it must be ground right before use to achieve the best product.  This is simply not possible with store bought whole wheat flour. So, we bought a small electric grain mill and mill our own flour in the kitchen on demand.  (another blog post could cover grain mills)

2. Sourdough instead of yeast?

Now that we have achieved flour that contains all the nutrition of nature in fresh ground... we have a new problem. Whole grain flour also contains this magic chemical called "phytic acid". In the world of seeds, this is a magical and necessary chemical. It is what makes the seed lay dormant for months until enough water comes along to support life, and then the seed sprouts with hours.  The phytic acid keeps the seed dormant until enough water soaks the seed to dissolve out the phytic acid, and life begins.

Great process right? Well, there is a side effect. Phytic acid, when consumed by animals including humans, is a negative in our bodies. Through processes I don't understand the phytic acid in seeds prevents absorption of many minerals, including calcium.  What that means is, if you eat enough  whole seeds (wheat) it matters not how much milk you drink, the calcium goes right through you and you suffer from calcium deficiency.

There are two answers to this... you can remove the outer coating of the wheat where the phytic acid is. This would be the wheat bran. There is then no phytic acid, but you also have no whole wheat and little fiber left.  This is what you find in standard all purpose flour.  The better answer is to soak the flour in water for enough time to dissolve the phytic acid, leaving the full nutrition of the wheat intact.  This is called "soaked wheat bread". Obviously those concerned with nutrition opt for soaking instead of stripping parts of the wheat away.

Ironically then, if you consume whole wheat bread that is unsoaked as it is commonly available, you are overall potentially worse off than eating white bread, but in a different way. White bread stresses certain parts of the body potentially increasing diabetes, heart disease, etc. Unsoaked whole wheat bread blocks absorption of minerals, increasing conditions such as osteoporosis and other mineral deficiency conditions.  Neither is a healthy lifestyle choice. Only soaking wheat makes fully nutritious and healthy bread.

Now, if your are going to soak your bread for hours, why not go the extra mile and let it ferment into sourdough naturally. Sourdough is a magic combination of bacteria and yeast that, along with destroying the phytic acid, increases nutritional value in much the same way yogurt is healthier than milk.  It is a nutritionally positive experience (beware again.. much bread called sourdough in the store is not true sourdough, it is yeast bread made to taste sour, which has no value over white bread)

So this is our choice, fresh milled whole wheat flour turned into sourdough and soaked at baking time long enough to destroy phytic acid. the best of all worlds and NO negative nutritional components.

3. Bread machine ???

Simply put.. I'm too lazy to manually make bread every day through mixing, kneading, etc.  As with most things on our farm, if it cant be automated, it doesn't get done regularly. I find comfort in the old saying "If you want to find a way to make something easier... find a lazy man to do it, he will figure out an easier way".

The challenge here is that most bread maker recipes call for yeast that rises quickly, much too quickly to destroy phytic acid. Wheat must soak for 8 to 12 hours to be mostly free of phytic acid, and most bread machines only rise for a couple hours.  We found one with completely programmable cycles, that fits the bill nicely!

Ok, so that is the  background of why this is necessary, and hard.  Nevertheless, here is a recipe that so far is the best yet. It comes out fairly fluffy, airy, tasty, and soft crusted.  More adjustment may be made to fine tune this.

1 cup fresh baked pumpkin
2 cups sourdough starter - i use a mix of fresh ground hard wheat and rye
2 cups of fresh ground flour - again a mix of hard wheat and rye
dash of salt

Just throw it all in the bread maker and hit a button. It is necessary to watch for a bit in mixing cycle to ensure proper consistency. The dough should NOT ball up, but should be pulled away and torn by the paddles. If it balls up, add a spoon or two of water. If it does mixes like pancake batter, add a spoon or two of flour.

The cycle times for this are :

20 minutes mix and knead
12 hours rise
1 1/4 hour baking

Be sure to take the bread out as soon as it is done. Sitting in the pan changed the crust texture.

I welcome all comments, especially if you try this and have success or failure.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Water is surely something none of us can live without... And the sound of trickling water is one of the most relaxing sounds in nature. Nevertheless.... One does not want to hear the sound of trickling water in the chicken coop at 7pm when it's 22 degrees out. Sigh. At least the plumbing made it till January this year!

Someone should invent self warming or non freeze or non burst pipes!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Frustrated heritage turkeys

Well there they are... Frustrated and unwilling to jump the new fencing to cross the gate. Will this last? Only time will tell, but so far so good.

Eggs for Sale now!

Little Sprouts Farm is proud to announce that for the first time ever, our pastured, free range, organic fed, heritage breed eggs are for sale off farm! We are taking all the extras we are producing and offering them for sale for the winter, when farm fresh eggs are hard to come by. The supply will  not be consistent, but we should have a few every week through the winter.

We decided to test a novel idea in selling these. Instead of set price, we are asking people to "pay what they are worth to you". We built a little "portable egg stand" out of an old irrigation pipe carrier, an ice chest, and some homemade laminated signs. We filled it with a few dozen extra eggs and placed it at the end of hte driveway. Inside is a mason jar to place hte money and a sign that says :

In the store these eggs would sell for $5 per dozen. Please pay what you think they are worth to you

It will be interesting to see how well this works!

Containing HeritageTurkeys - take 4 ?

So far one of the most insurmountable problems on our farm has been just how to keep our heritage Narragansett turkeys in somewhat of a confined area (away from our house and on our property). These turkeys can, unlike their commercial over bred unnatural cousins fly quite well.  I have seen them take off and soar for a good 50 yards at 10 feet high without even being startled. I suspect their max flight is at least twice that. While is is quite impressive to see your flock of turkeys take flight together and soar past you... it is also very concerning.

Why? There are several reasons to contain heritage turkeys:

  • They can be aggressive
The turkeys are large birds and the rules of nature say that size matters. The tom turkeys are large enough and aggressive enough to attack our dog, a medium sized springer spaniel. We had this problem once before when we were testing the Narragansett breed and decided to give that turkey away after it attacked our dog and became aggressive around our small children. Turkeys do NOT make good pets with small animals or children! Nevertheless this breed is also the tastiest and hardiest of the heritage breeds we have tried. So, the challenge is to keep the turkeys away from the living areas of the farm.
  • They make a mess
As you can guess, turkeys being larger mean they eat more and poop more. They also tend to be quite human friendly meaning they hang out in the areas where people go. This is a bad combination for walkways, doorsteps, patios, etc.  Turkey poop is very valuable as fertilizer, but not on my patio!
  • They dominate over other birds
Their size also causes problems with the chickens. Being twice the size or more than a chicken means the turkeys run the show when they intermix. The chickens and even the ducks are driven away so the turkeys have first chance at any food or hunting. This presents a problem for chickens that marginally get enough natural nutrition in the winter months anyway.
  • They can escape
Since they fly so well, I occasionally find turkeys in the neighbors yards. This is quite rare but does happen. If we don't learn to contain the turkeys on our property now they could decide that a neighbors house is more attractive then our and go visiting as a flock. Not a way to win friends!
  • They are prey
Even though aggressive, turkeys are birds of prey. If left alone I suspect a decent sized dog could feast on one quite easily if provoked. There is a list of predators that would love to find a turkey away from the safety of our land.

So, our quest continues to find a way to contain these birds. Why don't we just clip their wings? Clipping is painless and prevents them from getting off the ground more than a hop. The reason we hesitate is our goal of not altering our animals unnaturally. One reason to stick to this is the predator problem. If they were ever under attack, flight is their means of escape. In this sense, by altering nature, we again become responsible for providing protection completely. As with other situations, the more we do against nature, the more we have to do to sustain.

So, here is a new idea. I have noticed through studying the birds behavior that they really do not normally fly over a 4 foot woven wire fence. my theory is that unless they are escaping in fear, these birds do not wish to fly over nor hop over smoothing this high. They will, however, freely hop ON a gate or cross beam and then hop down. Its apparently hopping OVER that they don't do. Do to this in their nature, when the birds come into our yard it is by hopping on the gates and hopping down as two steps. I have never seen them hop over a fence in 2 years of raising them.  So, the thought hit me... why not block off landing on the gates? So that's what I did yesterday. I mounted some light fencing material on top of each gate or board that is a landing spot. If my theory is correct, this should severely limit the occasions of turkeys in our yard.

Here are some pictures to show what was done. keep in mind this is temporary... if the idea works out we will look for a more permanent method.

On  the main gate I used orange plastic safety fencing. This has no body of itself, but that might be good because it will be a constant nuisance to the birds if they try to roost instead of chicken wire that pushed down and stays. This is also lighter, and perhaps the color a bit scary to the birds.

For the small gate I used thicker 1 inch wire that doesn't need support. This piece was a leftover from the garden fencing.

I wove a couple of fiberglass posts into the chicken wire that is around the sheep shelter. without this the turkeys would push the chicken wire down and sit on it to roost.

The finished product. Might look weird but maybe it will work!

This is an example of the woven wire field fencing that the turkeys will not jump over, even though a building is on one side and a large mound of dirt on the other.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Hunter goes in the chicken egg business

After waiting patiently for several weeks, we finally found time this week to finish Hunter's new chicken coop. We put it into place behind the barn and he is officially in the chicken egg business! His goal is to make the best eggs in the world and sell them for a little profit. The coop represents our investment into his new venture, but he is responsible for the feed, care, and management of the birds. Soon his first set of chicks will be old enough to join their parents in the new coop.

This coop is based on our original Little Sprouts design, with a few added amenities. The double door with latches open able from either side is a great help when working inside. He also has the first chicken nipple waterer installed. Add a couple of fluorescent lights, a timer, a home built nesting box, a couple of roosts, and this is a pretty nice little coop!

The tarp is tied across the top with UV protected nylon ties, with the sides rolled around a 2x4 that stretches front to back. This allows the sides to be opened or closed just like a window shade. it is tied at whatever level desired with small lengths of wire.

Here is the front view of the finished coop. Notice the double doors with latches!

The first three residents sitting happily on the roost.

Closeup of the door and latches. The string allows them to be opened from the inside, which of course allows one to close the doors and latch them from the inside. A HUGE improvement on my previous design.

The nesting box we built as father and son.

The feeder is just sitting on the grass for now. This will need to be hung soon.

YES! they are comfortable enough to lay an egg!

Closeup of the happy threesome.

Here is a bad picture of the nipple waterer. We mounted 3 nipples under this 5 gallon bucket. When the chickens hit it with their beak, a few drops of water flow out.

Top view of the waterer hanging from the side.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Why use "soy free feed" for farm animals?

Since we announced that we are diligently working on solving the problem of how to get soy free animal feed, I have been asked many times "why?". That is a very good question! While I don't pretend to be an expert on nutrition for animals, here is what I know today:

1. Soy is among the top ten allergens of people in America

Soy is a very common food allergy in America. Some say it is due to the overuse of soy products, but regardless of the reason the allergy exists. Unfortunately soy allergies do not exhibit as other allergies in humans. It's not the case that most people can eat a soybean and break out in a rash. A common soy food allergy has minimal yet significant symptoms which develop over time and diminish over time. Its a slow process and therefore difficult to identify as cause and effect. Nevertheless there is a growing number of people who have realized that soy is the source of their allergy and by eliminating or lessening the amount of soy in their diet, they alleviate a variety of symptoms.

The other problem with soy as animal feed specifically is that soy protein, the component responsible for the allergies, transfers into the animals products created by the soy fed farm animal. For instance chickens eggs from chickens that are fed soy for protein contain identifiable soy protein in the eggs. Many people that are allergic to eggs are apparently not actually allergic to the egg, but the soy protein present in the egg from the animal feed. Remove the soy protein from the animal feed and the egg allergy goes away. This is apparently also true of meats produced from an animal fed soy protein as a major component of their diet.

2. Soy is not the natural diet of farm animals in the concentrations provided

Our philosophy at Little Sprouts is to duplicate and manage nature and natural processes. Soy is not a food that most farm animals would be exposed to in the wild, and certainly not as their primary protein source. This in itself is enough reason for us to change feed from conventional to something more in tune with how the animals receive nutrition in nature.

3. Soy is not used in animal feed in a form that is healthy

We have learned in a number of cases that there are at least three aspects to food nutrition... the fundamental makeup of the food, the growing conditions of  the food, and the processing of the food.  It is the latter of these that also concerns us. Soy as a positive diet component of the Asian peoples was typically fermented, a process that changes the nutritional makeup of the food (cabbage to sauerkraut, barley to beer, cucumbers to pickles, etc). It is apparently consumption of soy without fermenting that introduces the negative aspects of the plant. In addition, the process of turning a whole soybean into soy meal to be pressed into a food pellet again alters the nutritional makeup in a negative manner. Therefore again, soy protein as presented in the dried compressed food pellet bears little resemblance to a soybean with or without fermentation.

4. Soy is used extensively in food products today creating an imbalance in our own diet without our knowledge

Today there are 2 primary food sources grown in American agriculture: corn and soy. Most people do not realize this, but the byproducts of these two crops are responsible for the bulk of food consumed in America by both humans and farm animals. Most if not all processed food humans eat contain large amounts of either soy, corn or both. Speak with someone struggling with a soy food allergy and you will see the extreme measure required for them to avoid soy in the American diet.

Soy, or corn for that matter, are not usually identified as soy and corn on most food labels. The government has allowed food manufacturers to list the names of derivatives of whole foods instead of the whole foods. in some ways this makes sense because there is actually no real food present in processed manufactured food. A quick look at the label for contents demonstrates this fact as you read through a list of words often too large to pronounce. The bottom line here... there isn't "food" in these manufactured products, only chemical by products produced by the disassembly of real foods into components, to be mixed in unnatural combinations and made to look like food.

So, because soy and corn are so prevalent in our diet (in virtually every dish you consume unless you cook whole foods yourself without store bought condiments), there is an overabundance of soy and corn in our diet today. Of these two, soy is the more dangerous imbalance due to the food allergy risk and the processing methods used. By providing at least meat and eggs without soy, we offer a way for our customers to lessen the impact of soy on their health.

5. There is a large market for soy free foods

For all the reasons above and probably plenty more, there is a huge market for soy free farm products. People that study nutrition aside from "commonly accepted and passed along theories" are adamant about lessening today's soy in the human diet. Since there are few sources of soy free foods available, the demand for soy free products is huge. One of the business theories we are testing at Little Sprouts is that the small farm is in a unique position to be the leader in food product science by providing the foods that tomorrow will become the staple. This creates a much better business model than raising a commodity today and selling wholesale, being kept slave to the whims of the commodity market. Freedom for the small farmer comes in a realization that we have a unique opportunity to be the leaders, the innovators, and leave the common shackles of commodity farming behind to be truly independent entrepreneurs.

I personally see nothing wrong with proclaiming that small farmers are worthy of a decent wage for their labors, if they provide better a product. Anyone in business will tell you , if they are being honest, that they are in business to make a living... a profit. Without that truth, there is no reason to continue. This, I think is one of the  reasons that the number of local farms has dwindled over the last few decades. American is built on capitalism, but somewhere along the way the farming industry forgot that making a profit is a prerequisite to staying in business.

So... there you have it.. some of the positive reasons to eliminate soy from animal feed. You may be asking "OK, but what about corn? It seems almost as bad". my answer is .. i know.. but there are only so many hours in the day! We can't solve all the problems at once, so we are tackling them one at a time. After soy is resolved, corn will be the next feed component addressed. It may be that over time, Little Sprouts will find it necessary to move away form commercial feeds even further and rely on a variety of whole foods instead. This is thoughts for another blog post, but suffice to say for now that this is a process. This industry has fallen so far from what it was that a majority of wisdom and knowledge has been lost over the generations. It takes time and energy to regain that wisdom  and knowledge. Stay tuned and learn with us, explore with us, and help us to keep moving towards the goals together by purchasing our products as available. My personal promise to you, as our customer, is that the products will continue to improve in quality and nutritional value over time.