Sunday, March 8, 2015

Herd in Flux

Our herd, otherwise known as a "drift," of pigs has gone through quite a few changes since January. In the end it is all positive, but there have been a couple bumps in the road - just enough to keep things interesting.
Suzy is a snuggler.
This all began with us physically trying to create change. A failed attempt at AI (artificial insemination) produced a bit of frustration, but hey, we wouldn't know until we tried, right? Expensive lesson learned. Enough about that.

With the ladies needing to be bred, and not wanting to rush a search for a boar, we shipped Vera, Suzy and Elsa off for a little romantic getaway with Buddy. They were away for nine days and it was so quiet! Dafney and PBJ soaked up the attention in their absence.

Elsa snoozing and Vera yawning - these two are really buddies.
When the girls came back it was clear that they had bonded and there was now a slight division between the two groups. Vera has always been the alpha female, but now she was picking on the other two a bit. Nothing horrible, they just weren't getting along the same the way they were before. So, we opened the other half of the barn and things settled down. The pigs then began sleeping in different pigs piles every single time they slept, alternating sides of the barn.

Suzy, PBJ and Dafney snoozing.
January passes into February with a hopefully successful breeding and an introduction of a new herd member on the horizon! The first task in selecting a boar was deciding on a breed and the Glouchestershire Old Spot (GOS) traits looked promising for what we are aiming for with our herd.

(Warning: Hog breed tangent, skip ahead to avoid the nerdiness, or read on!) 

Vera is a North American Guinea Hog/Ossabaw Island cross. Elsa and Suzy have those same genetics, with some GOS genetics, as well as a bit of Duroc and Hampshire. So basically they are lovely heritage mutts. You can see more Duroc in Suzy and a lot of Ossabaw in Elsa.

Two years ago we started with a Guinea Hog/Ossabaw cross and we really loved their temperament, size and foraging qualities. These breeds bring qualities of winter hardiness, efficiency of turning forage into meat, delicious fat, docility and the smaller size we are looking for. The Guinea Hog is a threatened species and the Ossabaw a critical species. They have a final weight of 150-200 lbs. Also, their darker skin removes the issue of sunburn, but we need to make sure they have a good wallow in the summer so they don't overheat.

We chose to introduce the GOS, to the Guinea Hog/Ossabaw cross, to produce a pig that would grow a little faster and larger, while maintaining a docile temperament and excellent foraging qualities. With a finishing weight of 275-300, GOS are excellent grazers and foragers. They are well known for their docility, intelligence and large liter size. They are also referred to as the "orchard pig" and are the royal pigs for the British Royal Family.

Side note: For further nerdery, check out the Mangalitsa, which is what the ladies were bred to - it's like a hairy dog-pig.

(End tangent...)

Sir Renfred, in his first few days with us.
Enter Sir Renfred - a pure GOS boar (intact male) who is now five months old. We specifically wanted a young boar, so we could socialize him ourselves. While the ladies are bred now, towards the end of the year Sir Renfred will begin his sire-ly duties. We chose a British name, for fun, and settled on Renfred for the meaning "mighty, but peaceful" as we surely hope, with a top weight of 600 lbs, that this sweet little guy will possess those qualities! Although, Abraham, meaning "father of many" was a close contender.

This was our first time introducing a new member to the drift (herd), which meant pig quarantine, a common practice. Shortly we will be introducing everyone to each other. For now, the ladies gaze longingly in his direction. The next step will be to meet across a fence, then finally everyone will get to hang out! In this time he is gaining a bit of size (just over 100 lbs now), it will be nice to have him a little larger come meet-and-greet time.

Dafney was a sweetheart from day one.
The next fluctuation was the hardest and it came in the form of harvest day. We both feel that it will be difficult each and every time. We care for these creatures, they are smart, amazing parts of our daily lives; we form bonds with them and are grateful to experience each of their unique personalities. The thing that was different about this time was raising them up from piglets and having to pick and choose which gilt (unbred female) to breed or eat. I had picked out Dafney as a keeper from day one, but in the end she was not the right fit for breeding.

"You gotta love the animals you are going to kill. If you don't there is a disconnect." Stefan Kobowiak

So I bawled a little, and I teared up a little writing this, but that is good - I am, we are, passionate about healthy, humanely raised animals, we care. We are fortunate to work with George's City Meats for excellent service and an understanding of our practices, and we are fortunate to have great pork-loving customers who appreciate the way we raise our animals. In the end, we are grateful for the delicious, healthy meat that feeds our family - we know how it was raised, what it was fed and that it did not harm the animal, nor the ecosystem.

Suzy, with her belly beginning to round.
On a final note, Vera, Suzy and Elsa are successfully bred. No, we didn't give them pregnancy tests, basically you determine this by watching for their next heat cycle. They will cycle every 18-23 days, 21 being typical. In addition to the physiological signs they also get whiny, and Vera gets real attached to John. There were no signs, as the last predicted cycle. Now the ladies are beginning to look just a little more round in the belly and their bellies feel just a little bit firmer. We certainly are looking forward to gaggles of piglets joining the farm come May!

Vera. Love those ears.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Thoughts on Eating in Season

Eating in season is more of a challenge here in the North, with such extreme temperatures, but it's not impossible. It may be a challenge to give certain items up, waiting until such time that they are gracing farmers' market tables and filling CSA boxes. Learning the many and varied skills of food preservation can help you build your pantry and fill your freezer, for better winter or year-round eating.

This past week we indulged in local and regional foods heartily. Fish from John's trip to Lake of the Woods. Vegetables, canned or frozen, from our farm, including broccoli, tomatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash, potatoes, carrots, parsnips. Apples from home and our friends at Hoch Orchards. Summery pesto graced our pasta and grape jam our toast. Of course home grown pork and eggs provided protein, as well as local beef. For beverage, both hard and sweet cider pleased our palates, along with homemade apple cider vinegar.


"Waiting for foods to come into season means tasting them when they're good, but waiting is also part of most value equations. Treating foods this way can help move "eating" in the consumer's mind from the Routine Maintenance Department over to the Division of Recreation. It's hard to reduce our modern complex of food choices to unifying principles, but this is one that generally works: eating home-cooked meals from whole, in-season ingredients obtained from the most local source available is eating well, in every sense. Good for the habitat, good for the body."

I love the thought of the "recreation" of local, in season foods. It brings to mind, for me, foraging wild mushrooms and asparagus, as well as the joy of opening a CSA box to see what the week's bounty brings, and customers at farmers' market waiting for the first tomatoes - the thrill is visible.


There are certain items in our household that we never buy out of season - strawberries and asparagus come to mind first. However, when winter peak citrus season rolls around we stock oranges and kiwi to keep our family in fruit, as our apples in the pantry and fridge continue to decline in quality and quantity.

I refuse to feel guilty about eating these items not raised local, as it's done with thought and intent - with a consciousness that is key in the move towards seasonal eating. Keeping our family healthy is of great importance, providing natural snacks at hand to promote healthy choices. Choices and habits only get better with each passing season, as conscious eating is a growth process with a learning curve. We are going against the grain, society does not teach seasonal eating, even if this knowledge was practiced with our ancestors. We must relearn old practices and create our own rules.

"It had felt arbitrary when we sat around the table with our shopping list, making our own rules. It felt almost silly to us, in fact, as it may now seem to you. Why impose restrictions on ourselves? Who Cares?

The fact is, though, millions of families have food pledges hanging over their kitchens - subtle rules about going to extra trouble, cutting the pasta by hand, rolling the sushi, making with care instead of buying on the cheap. Though they also may be busy with jobs and modern life, people the world over still take time to follow foodways that bring their families happiness and health. My family happens to live in a country where the min foodway has a yellow line painted down the middle. If we needed rules we'd have to make our own, going on faith that it might bring us something worthwhile.

On Saturday morning at the market as we ducked into the wind and started back towards our car, I clutched my bags with a heady sense of accomplishment. We'd found a lot more than we'd hoped for. We chatted a little more with our farmer friends who were closing up shop behind us, ready to head home too. Back to warm kitchens, keeping our fingers crossed in dogwood winter for the fruits of the coming year."  -from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver


Strive to be conscious about your food choices, eating as much locally, organically and in season as you can. Do this especially when it is easy, when items are fresh for the offering from your local farmers and farmers' markets, co-ops and CSA program. Strive to try new items and recipes each season and build up your preservation tools. Feel great about your choices and avoid making yourself feel guilty about a bunch of kale going bad, that you still don't bake your own bread, or you forgot to go to market this week. Eating with intention and a consciousness about where your food comes from and how it was grown will naturally lead you towards more seasonal eating.

-Brooke


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Shout Out for Sprouts

Broccoli seeds in a jar.
Seeds. Nature's powerhouse. Tiny capsules filled with all the nutrients a plant needs to begin its life and take hold in the world. Sprouts give you a great way to capture a nutrient burst for yourself! Sprouting your own seeds is inexpensive, economical and pretty darn easy.

Soaking broccoli and alfalfa seeds for sprouting.
It is my goal to keep sprouting seeds in the cupboard at all times, so we can make a batch whenever. We purchase our seeds from the St. Peter Food Co-op's bulk section; when our jars get low on seeds we simply bring them in a fill them up (no packaging!). I'll go in fits and spurts, growing sprouts all the time, then forgetting for a while, but it's an easy skill to learn and have in your toolbox to use when you want.

A wide variety of seeds can easily be grown to eat as sprouts including radish, pea, chick pea, mung beans, alfalfa, fenugreek, sunflower, lentil, and broccoli. Each has its own unique flavor and can be eaten on its own or used to top salads, or other dishes. We regularly use them for salad and sandwich toppers. (We had a friend in Bemidji who used to grow sprouts for her chickens on a regular basis - they loved it!)


Growing Sprouts 

Grab a pint jar with a canning ring, and some cheesecloth. This is my preference, but any small-medium jar will do, as long as the lid allows breathing and drainage (without loosing seeds); there are also specially made screens for this purpose.

Place 2 teaspoons of seeds into the jar and fill the bottom couple inches of the jar with water.

Soak the seeds for 10-12 hours. After soaking drain all of the water off of the seeds, simply by pouring out the top of the jar. The cheesecloth will hold the seeds in the jar.

The next step is rinsing. Rinse 2-3 times per day until the sprouts are ready to eat. This will be about 3-5 days. If some seeds stick to the cloth, just tap to knock them down.

Midway. 

Storing Sprouts 

When the sprouts are finished you will want to let them dry before storing them in the fridge, they will keep longer this way. Transfer to a paper towel, or new container, to let them dry to the touch.

When they are dry, refrigerate in a closed container and use within about 4 days. A clear, preferably glass, container will let you keep any eye on them and remind you to use them!

Finished sprouts, dried and headed to the fridge.

Resources

6 Easy Steps to Sprout Heaven (includes directions for making a sprouting jar)

Sprouting.com: Health Benefits of Sprouts

Ten Reasons to Eat Sprouts

Sprout People








Monday, January 26, 2015

Barn, Breeding & Chicks

Barnyard and Breeding

Looking back at the last farm update I see there is much to report on! Firstly, the pig barn is here and the pigs are loving it. The building is 12'x16' with one human door, two pig doors and four windows. They get great light, excellent protection from the wind and the best conditions to keep their straw nice and dry. It's amazing.

Waking up from a min-morning nap.
Here is a view of the inside. We have it divided in half right now, since we only have five pigs at the moment, to encourage them to cuddle up for warmth (their tendency anyways).



January rolling in meant time for the next breeding cycle (and dreams of adorable piglets). Leading up to this we had many, many discussions and schedules drawn up to plan what we were going to do, how and when to do it. So, long story short, we had a very frustrating and disappointing attempt at artificial insemination (never thought I'd be buying pig semen!) and had to develop a new plan, and push farrowing and harvest back a month.

Currently Vera, Elsa and Suzy are away on a little vacation, visiting with Buddy. Hopefully he does right by our girls, they get along, have a nice time and come back bred!

Chicks and Cluckers

We will be welcoming 25 chicks to the farm in the next week! It will be fun to have those little peepers in the brooder in the basement (that is sure to help with cabin fever). We are adding more layers to the flock (currently 13 hens), so they will start laying by the beginning of summer. More bodies in the coop will be beneficial for warmth next winter as well.

Our first chicks, from 2014.
The hens have been laying great, with a total of 63 eggs last week, or an average of 8 per day for the 13 hens. If you are interested in eggs simply email us at alternativerootsfarm@yahoo.com or text/call Brooke @ 507.412.7605.

Netting around the chicken run, wind-whipped.
The beautiful, mild January weather has been giving us opportunity to  do some projects. It's nice to get some work out of the way to lessen the workload come spring. The prairie wind is strong out here, the netting around the chicken coop was beginning to showing it. I spent Saturday pulling it down and putting it back up. Hopefully it will hold now.

Chicken run netting nice and straight!

Veggies & Winter Planning

The field plan is finalized, seed orders done and some seeds have already arrived in the mail - oh the first signs of spring! I have two calendars - one for inside seeding, one for outside seeding and transplanting - they have both been updated, so I am ready for seeding on March 3rd.

The sheets are designed to contain all the information I need at hand during planting. Number of seeds to plant, spacings, dates, germination temps and days, specific notes and more. A well-planned spreadsheet is a beautiful thing ;) This is necessary for successful and efficient planning, for me, as well as for record-keeping for organic certification.

My planning efforts now are focused on finalizing our 2015 budget in the next couple days, research into the cultural needs of specific crops, and doing some prep work for this season's newsletters, among other items.

Member sign up for 2015 CSA Shares and Farm Shares continues at this time. We do have a few Full and Half CSA Shares yet available, as well as a handful of Farm Shares. We're excited!!


This weekend we had a wonderful meeting with orchard owners Marv and Jill. Each year about this time we get together to hang out, talk about the events of the last year, plans for the coming year and each of our goals and visions for the future. We feel continually blessed to work with them - for this opportunity to manage more land organically and their passion for healthy food and land stewardship!

Phenology Report

If you get a chance to sit outside on a nice quiet night in January you may hear the call of the great horned owl. These amazing creatures are courting and starting their nesting season in the dead of winter, January and February. The familiar hooting can be heard here at the farm, because there is a nesting pair about a half-mile down the road.

Odds and Ends

There have been some requests from folks to hear more about what we do in our own home, as far as sustainable and natural living. I have been musing for a while on sort of a "Know Your Farmer" type theme of blog posts that would address this, so stay tuned and please speak up! Ideas that come to mind include our composting practices, green cleaners and what's in our medicine cabinet. If there is something specific that you are interested in post a comment, shoot us an email or ask us on facebook - we are happy to share our experiences in this way!

40 days until daylight savings!

New Ulm Community Market and Co-op is continuing it's member drive! If every member recruited just one more they would meet their goal. Consider bringing a friend there shopping the next Saturday they are open - Jan. 31st, 9 am - 1 pm.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Eggs + Herbs

Learning to cook with herbs can take a little time, but it's a great way to add flavor and depth to recipes and expand your cooking skills. Adding herbs also means boosting the nutritional, and sometimes medicinal, qualities of a dish, while adding very calories.

Eggs are delish.
We have plenty of eggs these days, so it is nice to mix it up with different herbs. In the summer I just love fresh basil thrown in at the last second with some hot sauce to finish it off.

Basil plants.
Eggs tend to take on the unique qualities of the herbs used with them, as they have a mild flavor. Try experimenting with different herbs to see which are your favorite!

Here are a few herbs that work well in egg dishes:

Chervil
Chives
Cilantro
Dill
Fennel
Marjoram
Nasturtium petals
Parsley
Savory
Tarragon
Thyme

Grow some herbs in pots, right outside your kitchen door, buy them fresh at the farmers' market or get them delivered in your CSA box. Oftentimes if you purchase herbs for a recipe you may not use an entire bunch or package, but extras can be preserved. Make sure to preserve herbs when they are in season for use all winter long. ARF Herb Guide


2015 CSA & Farm Shares still available!


The Herb Gardener: The Best Herbs for Eggs

Soft Scrammbled Eggs, Infused with Herbs


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Monday, January 12, 2015

2015 CSA Sign Up!

Huzzah! CSA sign up is here! It is a really fun time of year for us, where we welcome back members from last year (or the last several years) and greet new faces. It is a time of looking forward to the great season ahead. We hope you consider joining our farm as a CSA or Farm Share members this season - we would love to be your farmers!


We love the CSA farming model, because it gives us a great connection to our customers, as well as to our community. It adds another large layer of meaning behind growing all this great food; behind the sweat, the long days in the field. We love this job, because it connects us to people and the land.

More about CSA and Farm Shares

This year will be our fourth season on the farm, offering CSA and Farm Shares, and our first entire season being certified organic! We will offer 22 CSA Shares this season and 12 Farm Shares. Apple Boosters and Herb Boosters are back again, in addition to an Add-on option from our  new partner Good Earth Mill & Grains.

More about 2015 Shares



Shortcuts...

2015 CSA & Farm Share Order Form

Good Earth Mill CSA Add-on Form


Monday, December 29, 2014

Barnyard Bonanza

Farm paperwork is something that I love doing (yes, I'm a nerd), but it may put you to sleep, so let's do an update from the barnyard!

On Christmas Eve John and I spent some time together giving the pigs a present (?) - new bedding and expanded pasture! Kind of odd staking up the electric fence in late December, but there was no snow and a patch of green forage, so...


...we fenced off a new area, opened the gate and gave them access. Then we removed all the old straw and spread it out over the dirt in their winter paddock. They never soil their bedding, but it's important to keep the straw dry, so new bedding every so often is a must.

You can see the pigs watching us from their pasture.
Tossing straw around got the pigs all excited - they were running around, bucking and spinning in circles. After airing out the shed for an hour or so we then replaced the bedding with a couple dry bales of fresh straw. Go to YouTube for a new straw video.

Vera, supervising the straw delivery.
We are looking forward to more pig adventures in the New Year, we'll be sure to keep you up-to-date on the pig barn progress (it's near completion!) and breeding plans. We added some little porkers to the tree, to mark our first year farrowing and our love of these great creatures!


Ivan gets into the Christmas spirit too!


The pullets have really started laying these beautiful eggs regularly now! The new breeds lay a mix of browns, blues and greens.


We reached an inevitable point with our flock where culling had to happen. While we have had to cull birds before for individual reasons, this larger culling was a different experience for us - not enjoyable, but necessary. For each and every bird we keep we are grateful for their contributions and respectful of their lives. 

After their molt the old hens completely stopped laying, and while we could feed them and keep them as pets forever that is just not what we keep chickens for - we banded Emily's favorite first chickens and said goodbye to the rest. The number of hens dictates the carrying capacity for roosters and four was too many. We put three roosters in the freezer, grateful for the sustenance, and made Edgar (Allen Poe) keeper of the ladies. Maintaining balance in the flock makes for a better dynamic and healthier birds.

Speckled Sussex hens and the new feeder.
Hazel, after hunting she is a snoozy girl.


Other fascinating farm items
The website has been updated for the 2015 season - check out the updated info on 2015 CSA & Farm Shares Sign Up!