3/29/06 Vol. 3 #3

A little stiff today, yesterday was tunnel sliding day.  Not quite an Olympic sport like luge, a bit more like dog sledding.  Our crack team has done this together so many times now that what used to take parts of two days to complete we did in four hours!  Now I will admit that we only moved four out of six tunnels but I am still quite amazed at our efficiency.  One person has to go around and un-bolt everything (twelve bolts per tunnel) while another takes the front walls off.  Then two people take the back walls off while others are attaching the pull straps and spraying linseed oil on the rails to “grease the skids”.  Finally on the count of three the five us us lean into the straps and the thing lurches forward (this it where it is dog sled like).  Tug, pull, tug down to the other end (only 50 feet away), a little fine tuning to align the bolt holes then the re-bolting and end wall re-installation begins.  Once its all done it appears as if they have always been in this position until you notice that the bright lettuces and other crops that had been protected under cover are now outside squinting in the strong sunlight.

Today the early tomatoes go in the ground inside the their newly moved homes.  With this warm forecast they should be really happy and just take off.  A harbinger of changing seasons.  When you plant the last big round of lettuce and the first round of tomatoes and sunflowers in the same week you know that really warm weather is now only 6-8 weeks away.  Betsy’s big planting of Lisianthus went in this week as well, 3600 tiny plants spaced “exactly” four inches apart in three rows on each bed.  It’s like a precision drill team.

We had an interesting experience last Sunday afternoon and again Monday night.  The Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) committee was meeting in Pittsboro.  RAFT is a collaboration between Slow Food, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, Chefs Collaborative, Seed Savers Exchange and a few other groups.  The aim is to identify food plant varieties and breeds of animals that are indigenous to the US and in danger of being lost from lack of use in culinary traditions.  Once identified they can then be promoted and hopefully saved.  This is how the heritage turkeys where brought back from the edge of disappearing.  Sunday we participated in a blind tasting of four breeds of chickens.  The principle purpose of the exercise was to develop a tasting protocol that can be used for most poultry and then easily modified for other animals as well.  Once developed then good descriptors of the various breeds can be arrived at so when chefs and consumers want to know the qualities of a breed they can be given a fairly detailed description.  After carefully describing, both numerically and verbally, and tasting the white meat, dark meat and the skin of four different chickens and then the next night having a wonderful full meal prepared with the favored breed, Betsy and I are off chicken for a while!

Picture of the Week
Squinting lettuces next to the new warm home for tomatoes
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7/23/08 Vol. 5 #19

A couple of really thick days, the last few, the kind that remind you what living in the south used to be like before air conditioning.  The “Raising Heritage Turkeys on Pasture” workshop went well despite the heat.  They were here all day on Monday in the heat but we managed to keep them in the shade for the most part.  Organized by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, whose headquarters are in Pittsboro, is an organization founded in 1977 that is the pioneer organization in the U.S. working to conserve historic breeds and genetic diversity in livestock.  The ALBC is the group that really has brought the heritage turkey back from the brink of extinction by working with breeders to increase the stock and others like Slow Food to glamorize and popularize the eating of these birds.  As all people working to save endangered food species, whether it’s animals or plants, say “you have to eat it to save it”.

If there is no economic reason to grow a bird or a tomato then they just become museum items that eventually disappear after the last crazy old guy who kept them passes on.  This kind of loss happens everyday somewhere in the world.  The Cherokee Purple tomato that we all love is an example.  One gardener in Tennessee had it in his garden when a tomato collector/nut found it and asked for some seeds and then grew them.  It was so good that he passed the seeds onto several small seed companies who presented it to the world, that was about 1992.  If the Tennessee gardener had died without passing it on we would never have it today.  If you are interested in other endangered foods Slow Food USA has the Ark of Taste, with a list of the foods they are trying to promote and save

Animals are even harder to save for many reasons that one can imagine; size, numbers, room to keep them, etc.  While we grow the Bourbon Red turkeys and are part of the food system that is needed to save them, we are not doing the heavy lifting required to really save the breed.  The breeders are the ones who keep these animals year round, feeding and caring for them, selecting for the best hens and toms to keep for breeding, and hopefully hatching out enough eggs to make it all worthwhile.  This is not like keeping a small vial of seeds to replant next year.  This takes lots of room, facilities and skill.  To keep enough genetic diversity in a flock, a breeder needs to have 200 hens!  So you can see the difficulty, it’s not like raising dogs where you can work with two or three animals and keep a breed going.  At this workshop we were fortunate to have the god father of heritage turkeys and the master breeder, Frank Reese, here to lead the discussion.  Frank has devoted his life to saving these turkeys.  If you have ever had a mail order heritage turkey, it was probably one of Franks as he raises more than anyone else by many many times.  This year he and his partners are raising 17,000 birds!

It has been our search for the best quality foods that we can raise in an sustainable system that brings us to things like Cherokee Purple tomatoes and Bourbon Red turkeys.  The work done by many people and groups like ALBC, Slow Food, the North American Fruit Explorers, chefs we work with and your experiences that makes it easier for us to find and learn to grow these things.  Our job is to interpret the information we get (some times very old), to our farming conditions and system.  Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t but that’s the nature of farming.

Picture of the Week
Turkeys headed out for the days work, eating cover crop and playing in the Zinnias