Did you forget that important date???

Well, if you’re anything like me you forgot that significant date… the one that comes in February every year, where we celebrate something we often take for granted every day… 

Yes, February 8th, Canadian Food Freedom day. 

Canadian Food Freedom day is a marketing exercise of sorts, developed by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture to highlight the productivity and efficiency of Canadian farmers.   The idea of “Food Freedom” is that by February 8th, the average Canadian household’s income is no longer dedicated to food spending. ie: Canadians spend on average 10.9% of their earnings on food and we are now 10.9% of the way through the calendar year…   It’s sort of a strange abstraction, but meant to point out how relatively inexpensive our food here is in Canada.  Given our sheer landmass of arable soils and well financed, high tech agriculture, one would expect nothing less.

There are only a handful of countries with “Food Freedom” days so early in the year, and are all either “First World” agricultural juggernauts like the USA and Australia, or exceptionally wealthy, small nations like Singapore and Switzerland.

(Percentage of household income dedicated to food spending)

It’s easy to imagine that in most of the grey areas on the map they’re too busy figuring out what to eat to be collecting statistics.  What’s interesting about a lot of these places is not that it’s difficult to produce food there.

Some of these places are actually quite fertile, with abundant water and year round growing seasons.   Take a moment the next time you’re in the produce section at the grocery store this time of year and note where the fresh beans and melons come from, or the pickles and canned fruit.

So, while much of the rest of humanity focuses on how to put food on the table, North Americans enjoy the mixed blessing of food abundance (and excess).  This has resulted not only in obvious outcomes like obesity, but also in eating disorders, broad cultural “fussy-ness” regarding food, and the tailoring of restrictive diets to conform to personal identity and political ideology: true “First World Problems”

I can’t help but laugh at my friend’s grandmother, a lifelong peasant in the mountains of the Bosnia, who when she learned his bride didn’t eat meat, arrived at the logical conclusion that “she must have grown up *really* poor”…

Another aspect of having unlimited cheap food lies at the heart of the truism “you get what you pay for”.   Yes, mass produced calories are cheap.  Are they tasty? I guess that depends on how you’ve trained your palate…  Are they healthy? Evidence suggests ‘no’. Do they support families in your community and create a diverse and beautiful landscape?  Not generally… although I am reminded of the retail displays they had in the Annapolis Valley, where potatoes were grown and a Frito-Lays plant operated:  you’d see signs over Doritos and chips that proclaimed “Eat Local!!!”

The impressive technological development of agriculture and the largess of our food system has not led to a renaissance in cuisine or economic growth in the forms of artisanal small businesses producing high value products… rather it has led to booms in other sectors of the economy which barely existed in our grandparents’ time.  So while we can afford to spend very little on food, we do find a way to spend it all anyway: whether that’s housing, insurance, taxes, communication, entertainment or debt servicing.  A great deal of what we direct our energy and spend our money on today are not actual “things”, but often abstract fees we don’t derive much benefit from.

Grinding poverty is in no way enviable or desirable (on the contrary), but it does make life simple, and one’s purpose very clear.   “Give us this day our daily bread” is also the default setting for most of human history, and so on some level we seem to require that sort of clarity. 

I think that this lies at the heart of what we are all doing together with this “local” thing:  forming personal relationships around the tangible aspects of our world.  And not only having a practical and cooperative social network, but using food to magnify that within our own households: making the hearth, the family, the dinner table, the grounding point and centre of our day to day life through the thoughtful preparation and sharing of food.

Fate and Food

Just like that we’re into the holiday season, and the various preparations and scrambling and spending that goes along with it.  In the uncertain world we live in, holiday food is at least something we don’t have to “figure out”.   Gingerbread, sugar cookies, pies and clementines on the coffee table and buffet; roasts, squash, goose, and gravy on the table.
Traditional meals call for traditional ingredients and the classic Canadian Christmas meal hearkens to a simpler and smaller world – and one with far fewer food options on the table.   It’s a very odd thing that in the current year, while we have more food options, gym equipment and nutritional information than ever in human history, we also seem to be becoming less and less healthy. 

Life expectancy is actually declining, obesity is considered more or less normal, and degenerative diseases like cancer and autoimmune disorders continue to plague us.  So what’s going on?  It’s anyone’s guess:  is it the food?  is it the plastics and various chemicals that saturate our day to day life?  is it an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and too much time in front of screens?

Obesity rates over time

There’s no way to know exactly of course, because it is such a complicated situation with so much “noise” and so many variables, but I tend to think that there is an intangible energetic or spiritual component to this equation. (Or maybe we were just “smoking ourselves thin”!)

Prisons are a great place to study human beings.  It is the definition of a “controlled environment”. Penitentiary food is not particularly “healthy” though it ticks all of the boxes on the conventional food pyramid.  It is high in starches and vegetable oils, and short on things like healthy fats and animal proteins.    Inmates can supplement their diet somewhat with their meagre “wages” at the commissary, but you basically have a baseline diet that reveals our shape and health is determined by more than what we put in our mouths.

The cliche “inmate physique” – absolutely shredded from thousands of chin-ups in the prison yard – is far from what you generally see in institutional settings.  On the contrary, most prisoners resign themselves to their situation, and their health and physique reflect the static and hopeless nature of their lot.  Most inmates are rather pudgy, pale and passive.   What is remarkable is that there are those who, despite the grim nature of incarceration, transcend this, and do indeed look like Greek statues and maintain some measure of mental strength and control over their own lives.
Same food, same conditions, completely different outcomes.  This is based largely (as far as I can tell) on how we let that little spark of vital energy we all have guide our attitude and actions.  Much easier said than done!   Reinhold Niebuhr’s (founder of Alcoholics Anonymous) Serenity Prayer cuts to the quick of this discernment, or where and how we can control our own lives:
God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,The courage to change the things I can,And the wisdom to know the difference.

Which reminds us of the most unpleasant truth about health: it often just comes down to genetics and luck.   The medieval “Wheel of Fortune” (when everyone ate a purely local, organic, seasonal diet and got tons of physical activity btw!) defined a worldview where no matter what we do or who we are, the outcomes of our lives are subject to change and beyond our reign.  A bit fatalistic, but fundamentally true.

So all this being said, I hope you enjoy our food because it tastes good, because it makes you happy, and you appreciate the efforts of our farm.  Unfortunately, it will not instantly transform your health, or make you live forever.  

I recall a CSA farm that went crazy one year and grew the “purple” variety of everything (carrots, kale, potatoes, cauliflower, tomatoes etc.) because of the magical health giving anti-oxidants these varietals are supposed to contain.  I can only imagine the deathbed scenario, as the angels’ wings flutter over one’s head, “But… I ate all of the purple vegetables…!?”
It is very contrary to our contemporary scientific worldview, but I am of the mind that a grateful attitude and hopeful, humble spirit is better for our over all well being than any dietary choices we can make. So as the world turns, and just gets stranger and stranger, I encourage all of us to be of good cheer.  Life is short, let’s make the most of it!   Thank you for working with us on this trip around the sun.

2022 Vision

Well, yesterday I went into a little office in downtown Kingston and they sliced the corneas off my eyes temporarily and burnt what was left down with a laser beam for about 5 seconds per eye and sent me off with some sunglasses and eye drops.

Today I woke up with full 20/20 panoramic vision (they actually measured this) and essentially no discomfort.  I feel like I’ve experienced the greatest miracle in my life.  Having worn glasses since I was ten, I have never seen the world like this in my memory and only wish I’d done this sooner.
You hear about Laser eye surgery and any number of things about it: it’s scary (it is!), it’s expensive (mine came to $2,400 total), it only works on some people (I don’t have astigmatism and have a stable prescription, but it worked for someone as blind as me), and that your eyes eventually revert (I don’t know anyone personally that’s happened to).  So, I feel like a real heel having not taken advantage of this technology twenty years ago.  What was stopping me?

What it really makes me wonder though, is what else am I missing???  What other magic is hiding under our noses, that could dramatically improve our lives, but for which some otherwise minor stumbling blocks hold us back. 

One thing that comes to mind in my own experience is deep tissue massage: it really is just like the movies… You get absolutely hammered: screaming and yelling, the whole nine yards… but it does amazing things that you can’t even achieve with drugs or surgery.  I went by accident the first time I got one, and came away from it pondering how many people suffer from chronic pain, opiate addiction, unnecessary surgeries etc. which could safely and readily be relieved by this?

Note the expression of gratitude!

These sorts of miracles probably fall into three categories: 1) novel use of cutting edge technology (laser eye surgery),  2) ancient esoteric wisdom (deep tissue massage), and 3) common sense traditions that we’ve let ourselves completely forget somehow over the past century.
The best example of that I can think of this third form from personal experience is preparing meals from scratch with whole foods.  Of course this is what everyone did pre-industrialization, but for many individuals and families it has become a foreign, almost impenetrable mystery.  I grew up this way to a large extent: while my mom was adept at roasting meat and boiling potatoes, we also ate a lot of fish sticks, frozen food and mac and cheese.  Cooking was considered a chore, and one to be dispensed with as little effort as possible.  Food was something to fill up on, not necessarily enjoy or appreciate.
So, when I moved out on my own at 18 and had to feed myself, I was astounded, with the help of a few good cookbooks and GARLIC, how much pleasure and interest one can take in the preparation of food.  Not only that, but that the routine can become a grounding place of relaxation, and a focal point for family; that the preparation of food is not only a complex, subtle artform and mastery of the physical realm, but also a way to show others that you love them.

If you’re bothering to go out of your way to shop with a local farm, you’re probably already well aware of this magic of the hearth, and I mention it as a reminder to myself as much as an encouragement for others.  So, as we embark on another year, I hope that we all can find, discover, remember and cultivate as many of these minor miracles as we can.

Of Shelves and Shortages

I had a dream a month or so ago… I dreamt that Morgan and I bought Quattrocchi’s.  (Such are the sorts of dreams produce farmers have).  For those of you who don’t know, Quattrochis is a long-standing institution in Kingston, as both a grocery store and wholesaler of fresh fruits and veggies. 

They’ve been in the produce business forever, even back in Sicily from which they fled – when the Mafia electrified their well and killed their great great grandfather for not paying for “protection”. They came to apply their knowledge and energy here in Kingston and before the current era of grocery titan duopoly (Sobeys/Loblaws), were a major supplier to the city of traditional staples like potatoes and apples and cabbages.

In order to store such staples, they built a warehouse on the corner of Montreal and Railway streets, which has grown and morphed over the years into what it is today.  We do a lot of business with Joe actually, and I can tell you that the insulated, climate controlled spaces – both above and below ground – are absolutely cavernous, as well as largely empty.  Because, like the rest of the retail food system, no one really sits on much inventory anymore.   In Joe’s case he heads with a box truck to the food terminal in Toronto every week, where he buys directly from huge growers and international brokers.

Walmart, Costco, Loblaws, Sobeys et al. have even more integrated and streamlined supply chains, often of course with their own store brands and multiyear contracts with suppliers.  Without a doubt this has created a very convenient and very affordable supply of food.   The economy of scale lets grocers operate on very thin margins, and they offer many products as loss leaders – pulling you into the store for ridiculously cheap food in the hope that you will buy some high markup items on the same trip.    As Joe Quattrochi has told me, “Anything you see on the outside of the grocery flyer – they’re losing money on that.”
It’s something we take for granted, but the modern grocery store is actually one of the greatest wonders of our civilization.  Imagine plucking a peasant of 200 years ago – from anywhere in the world – and dropping them into a high end grocery store.   They would probably cry.   On a less fantastic note, during the Cold War the first view of the North American grocery store was also a miraculous experience for Eastern European immigrants and defectors.

The beauty and wonder of having all of the food, all of the time, is predicated on the “just in time delivery” (JIT) model where global logistics operate with perfect coordination and redundancies in storage and handling are eliminated.   Until recently this was seen as one of our economy’s greatest strengths.   It’s been revealed recently though, to be a major weakness as well.   Once disruptions begin to appear in the system, JIT begins to break down as each interruption causes further interruptions down the line which must be made up for… causing further interruptions.
The good news is that there isn’t a food shortage, no one is going to go hungry.   There is lots of grain and beans and apples and potatoes out there.  There are lots of beeves and hogs and fowl.  What there is however, is worker shortages, reduced processing capacity and shutdowns over covid outbreaks.   There are border disruptions, a lack of parts and diesel fuel costs 50% more than it did a year ago.

Decades and decades of momentum have suddenly been lost, and we’re finding that once you shut something so complex down, it is very hard to get it running properly again.  And this was the impetus for my dream:  I want there to be mountains of food stored safely in the center of town – not contingent on an endless stream of transport trucks. 

Being a food retailer was never really my goal as a farmer.  I like creating a fruitful landscape and working with the seasons.  I like having a farm for my children to grow and learn on, and I appreciate the security I find in a pile of firewood and a spring that never stops running.  Fortunately, I married a very pleasant and friendly and organized woman who has transferred all of her experience and book learning into operating our farm business.

Believe it or not, there are now more than 500 of you who get this email every week.   We appreciate the social capital you’ve invested in the farm – we often hear from you something to the effect of “Thank goodness you guys are around – we’re really gonna need you in the future…”

Statements like that sort of startle me because if we ever got to the point where you were *relying* on our farm for your calories, the world would have more or less fallen apart.  However, with every day that passes, we do in fact move into the future, and the historical anomaly of “All of the food, all of the time” is indeed eroding.  There is a great opportunity here for local agriculture, food processors and the like.   Far from going hungry, we can use this as a way to make progress towards a vibrant and healthy landscape that feeds us.

So, while we’re not going to buy Quattrochi’s anytime soon, after eight years of work, we do find ourselves firmly entrenched in the business of selling food.   We want to continually enhance and improve the service we provide you and to diversify and expand the products we offer.
It’s been great to see your interest in the Davis’ farm products of lamb and duck meat and eggs.  They appreciate all of the positive feedback.  Last night, I went over for a barn beer during evening milking at our friends the Smith’s and we realized it was a no brainer that we should start offering their farmstead cheese as well.

Nigel and Claire are fifth generation dairy farmers with a lovely little family, and have been making cheese by hand on their certified organic farm since 2011.   They work 365 days a year and are a rarity in the landscape, not only for their farming practices, but also their highly skilled, value added production.

Nigel produces a very special product: organic, raw-milk, aged cheese produced on-farm in their own cheese house. We’ll be offering a Gouda (Pilgrimage, nutty and sweet) and a Cheddar (Nauvoo, aged, more sharp) for our deliveries from now on and at our farmstand this summer. The cheese wedges are ~250g in weight and cost $10 per wedge
You can also purchase quarter, half and whole wheels of both varieties of cheese for $35 per kg;  a wheel weighs approximately 6 kilos.  We hope you will consider investing in this premium product.

As we add more producers’ goods to our list, our own products are clearing out.  Hens are very shy of laying right now, and we will be very limited on eggs for the next couple months – so please forgive us if we’re short.   Squash are done for the season, and this will be the final week for onions.   We still have lots of potatoes, carrots, beets and sauerkraut.  Our cold storage has been working out great.  We should have these items for several more months.

Beets

Big. Bold. Beautiful. Beets are robust root veg that have deep red and purple colors and equally deep flavor. They are packed with strong earthiness and surprising sweetness making them a truly unique tasting vegetable. If you normally avoid beets I encourage you to try them once or twice. The earthy flavor gives beets that comfort food feel, but as a veg they leave you feeling fresh and healthy.

Be sure to use both the beet root and the beet leaves. Beets are the same species as swiss chard, but beets are grown to have large roots, where chard is grown for the leaves. This means you can use the beet leaves just like swiss chard. I find the beet greens can have a milder flavor compared to swiss chard so there is no reason to avoid eating them.

Preparation

Start with separating the beet root from the leaves leaving about half a quarter of an inch of stem still attached to the beet. The beet and leaves are prepared separately and the beet will last longer in your fridge if it is not connected to leaves.

Give the beets a good wash in running cold water and leave them to dry. You should trim the beets more than what is shown in the photo as you will get more stalks to eat later.

Wash the leaves in cold water and give them some time to dry.

For the greens, just treat them as you would swiss chard. Simply remove the stems, cut the greens down to bite sized pieces and saute with you favorite seasonings.

For soups and slaws, you will want to trim the beet stem and little tail then peel the whole thing.

For roasting you could leave all the parts attached and remove them once the beets have finished roasting. When I am roasting beets I wrap them in foil and save some of the cooked beets in my fridge. If you are cooking for a family you can really use any covered cooking vessel. Using foil or a lidded vessel allows for steam to build up which is what helps make the skins so easy to remove from the beets. I have the beets trimmed in the photo because I hadn’t decide how I was going to cook with them, but feel free to leave the tail and tops on as I mentioned.

Cooking

Depending on the method you use to cook a beet, the flavor profile will be slightly different. Raw and boiled beet have a similar flavor; forward sweetness and hearty earthy notes. Roasted beet is still sweet but the earthy flavors are more intense.

If you are looking for the dead easy approach then roast your beets. Cover the beets either with a lid or foil and roast them at 375F (40min – 1hour+). You will know they are done if your knife slides easily into the beet. You could eat them with the skin on, but when you roast the beets covered, the skin literally just slides off.

Once roasted, the beets become beautiful and glossy. They are great finished with some form of dressing or with some other vegetables. I wouldn’t bother seasoning the beets before roasting because you will be peeling off all the seasoning. Wait until you have removed the skin then season your beets.

I normally just have the roasted beet as a side with some meat and greens. However, beets have a strong flavor so you can make them the centerpiece of a meal. I have enjoyed roasted beet on whipped goat cheese with dill and vinaigrette.

For the greens just cook them quick and easy. I have cooked them with some rendered bacon and a little onion and garlic. I wouldn’t over complicate the greens, just enjoy them sauteed with some basics seasonings.

Lastly beets have a strong physical structure so they are excellent for soups and pickling. If rainy weather ever gets you in the mood for some soup I would suggest finding a borscht recipe online. Top borscht with some sour cream and dill and you will have a bowl of soup that satisfies the stomach and soul. For pickling there are about a thousand different recipes online. I suggest following a simple recipe , then change some ratios once you have given them a try.

Kohlrabi

What is a Kohlrabi?

Kohlrabi: fun to say and delicious to eat. These bulbous veg are part of the infamous Brassica oleracea species, which includes broccoli, collard greens, kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Kohlrabi is basically two vegetables packed into one. The bulb is like a big juicy broccoli stem and the leaves are like a bundle of collard greens. The whole kohlrabi plant has an unusual appearance that may dissuade the unfamiliar home cook from trying them. With the right know how, kohlrabi can be cleaned and eaten in just a few minutes.

Flavor Profile

The flavors of the kohlrabi bulb and kohlrabi leaves are polar opposites. The bulb has a delicate taste with earthy notes, similar to the tender flesh of a broccoli stem. The leaves have a strong flavor and are full of green bitterness. I recommend seasoning each part like they taste; the bulb seasoned lightly so you don’t hide its delicate flavor and the leaves seasoned aggressively to enhance their strong flavor.

Cleaning and Preparation

It is much easier to work with leaves and the bulbs after they have been separated. Trim the leaf stems at the base of each bulb and continue with cleaning and preparation separately.

Bulbs

To clean the bulbs, wash them under running cold water and leave them in a colander to dry.

To prepare the bulbs, start with peeling the skin. This should be done with a paring knife;  if you are particularly strong willed and stubborn then you could use a peeler. Once the bulbs are naked, slice yourself a thin disc and give it a taste before deciding how you wish to eat the rest of the bulbs. Your desired preparation will determine how you should cut the bulb. You could grate them for use in a slaw, cut them into small sticks for a salad or cut them into wedges for roasting. The world is your kohlrabi; try eating the bulb using different methods to find your favorite.

Leaves

Just as you cleaned the bulbs, kohlrub the leaves free of dirt under running cold water. Leave them to dry before continuing.

The leaves of kohlrabi can be prepared just like collard greens. Separate the thin stem from the leaves. Keeping the stems and leaves separate, cut them both into smaller pieces to make them easier to cook with. Once cut down, you are ready to get cooking.

Cooking Kohlrabi

Roasted kohlrabi bulb on sauteed kohlrabi leaves

The easiest method for cooking kohlrabi bulb is don’t. Roasted kohlrabi bulb is good, but the bulb is superb when eaten raw, thinly sliced, and seasoned with some salt. If you must cook the bulb, coat wedges or thick discs with oil, salt and pepper. Roast them in your oven until they are golden brown. If you have a newish oven I recommend roasting them at 450F. I find older ovens tend to run hot so I would recommend cooking them at about 425F if your oven has seen better years.

The kohlrabi leaves and their stems can be sautéed with any seasonings you see fit. Just add oil to a hot pan, cook the stems for a few minutes first then add the leaves. Add seasonings as you cook and be sure to taste the leaves. You may be surprised at the amount of seasoning you will need to add, so tasting as you cook will let you know how to adjust your flavors. I recommend frying some garlic before adding the leaves and squeezing lemon juice on the leafs once they are done cooking. The lightly fried garlic will add sweetness and the lemon juice adds a sharp tang that will go well with the bitterness of the leaves. If aren’t satisfied with the leaves try reducing some cut up bacon pieces in a pan; add the leaves to the cooked bacon meat and reduced bacon fat. Bacon will add both sweet and salty flavors that balance perfectly with the strongly flavored leaves.

Garlic Scapes

Garlic scape season has officially begun. This is the perfect time to get your garlic fix before garlic bulbs are available later this season. If you are unfamiliar with garlic scapes, don’t let that stop you from picking up a bunch or two this summer. We have created an easy preparation guide and listed cooking tips to help get you started with your scapes. Don’t be afraid to ask for recipes when you are visiting the farm stand; someone working there or more likely someone picking up scapes for themselves, will be willing to share their preferred method for enjoying these seasonal treats.

What is a Garlic Scape?

Garlic scapes are the flowering stem of the garlic plant. They resemble a small garden snake, long, green, swirly, and packed with a strong bite. The small, yellowish bud seen on one end of the scape nests the garlic’s flower. The scape is harvested so the garlic plant can use it’s energy for growing the bulb rather than blooming the flower. Once the final scape is harvested they wont be available until next year. I suggest picking up a few bunches to enjoy right away and getting some extra bunches to enjoy after the season is finished.

How To Prepare Garlic Scapes

Regardless of how scapes are cooked, they should always be cleaned and trimmed down. Start with handwashing the whole scapes in your sink with running cold water. Leave them in a colander for a few minutes to dry before continuing preparation.

Once drained, remove the pointy part that extends out of the bud. This part has a chewy, stringy texture and will not be enjoyable to eat.

After your scapes have been cleaned and trimmed, you can use them for any recipe you wish. I suggest you cut a small slice off one scape to get a taste for their raw flavor. The raw scape will excite your taste buds and your nose with a pungent garlic aroma. I wouldn’t advise you to eat the entire scape raw, unless you happen to enjoy garlic breath or know a particularly annoying vampire. It is always good to know exactly how “garlicky” your scapes taste before you begin cooking them. If your scapes are particularly mild, you might enjoy having them raw and thinly sliced on top of a baked potato or mixed into a chimichurri. Unlike raw scapes, cooked scapes taste quite sweet and earthy, faintly tasting of toasted green beans.

How to Cook Garlic Scapes

There are many ways in which a garlic scape can be cooked. You could sauté, roast, grill, pickle or ferment them. You can really use scapes in any recipe you would normally use garlic cloves. When replacing garlic cloves, be sure to use more scapes than what the recipe calls for, as the scape is much more mild in flavor. If you haven’t cooked garlic scapes before then I suggest you start with a sauté. The produce from the stand is amazingly fresh and packed with flavor that can be enjoyed with just some oil, salt and pepper. This will allow you to get a good understanding of the scape flavor profile and it is the simplest method for cooking them. After trying some of your sautéed scapes, feel free to start experimenting with other cooking methods.

To sauté your garlic scapes, set a pan over medium-high heat and cook them with some oil, salt, and pepper. The skin of the scape will blister and the room should start to fill with a warm, sweet roasted garlic aroma. Be careful not to burn them; just like burnt garlic cloves, burnt scapes become quite bitter and will leave your mouth feeling a little dry. When cooked properly, the garlic scapes will become sweet and tender. It’s a great idea to sauté the scapes when you have guests over. The smell of cooking scapes is absolutely intoxicating and many people have never tried scapes before, making your scapes the best they will have ever had. Be sure to give your guests some of the flower buds as well; the flavor is the same as the rest of the scape, but the texture is much more tender.

If you are someone who likes to enjoy seasonal vegetables out of season, a salt fermentation is a great way to extend the life of your scapes. The scapes will stay crunchy and garlicky and can add a lot of zest to any sandwich or charcuterie board. You can always play around with the seasonings and concentration of salt in your fermentation brine, perhaps making some sweeter, some spicier or some packed with herbs. While you could freeze scapes, I prefer to ferment them. Unlike freezing, fermenting scapes will build a deeper, more complex flavor profile the longer you leave them. Either way, enjoy them fresh while they are still in season and be sure to preserve as many as you can to enjoy them all year round.

2020

Another year in review from Charles’ Iphone

 

 

Æsthetic Beef

It’s one of my great joys in life when someone lets go of their vegetarianism to nourish themselves with meat from our farm. I’m not keeping score against the vegans – I just appreciate how good beef is to eat and what is does for your countenance.

More often than not these folks will use the term “ethical” when describing why they are choosing to do so. I appreciate this because they obviously see that we care about our animals and the land. But I also bristle at this term. I realize that what these lovely people are really trying to say is “humane” (and it is!), but I bristle because “capital e” Ethics has nothing to do with food or farming – it’s actually a very heady discipline of philosophy concerned with “systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behaviour“.

Now the problem with this is that unless we ALL share unified first principles, worldviews and value system (and we obviously don’t), applying Ethical judgement to how people eat and farm becomes a very slippery slope. Which is why I feel we need to look at our food and how it’s grown through the lens of Ethics’ polar opposite discipline, Aesthetics: the philosophy of beauty and taste.

Beauty is hard to ignore, hard to deny, and hard not to feel uplifted and edified by. We can all generally agree on what is beautiful. There is no reason, for instance, we should feel happy just standing there watching cows eat grass, but anyone who tries this cannot deny the satisfaction it derives.  Even the aesthetic conclusion of how beautiful cows are, for example, is what drives the ethical conclusion of vegans that we should not eat them.

yum!

The problem with following the logical outcomes of such an ethical conclusion is that we end up no longer having Cows at all (they’re only here because we eat them!) and we end up eating processed food instead, which is no doubt as unhealthy as it is ugly.

KamadhenuSo while we cannot come to any universal moral conclusions about beef, we can definitely share an aesthetic appreciation for  healthy animals, robust soils, and productive landscapes – the unavoidable reality of this is that cattle are the secret ingredient: the fertility drivers of the sustainable human ecosystem.  Cattle are held up as deities of fertility and providence in every traditional society that raised them.  The lush subjects of 19th century romantic landscapes were these organic, cattle formed environments; the beauty speaks for itself.

There is a lot of negative press about cattle, and a push for us to eat “plant based meat alternatives”.  This is the voice of huge agribusiness concerns twisting the language of environmentalism in order to guilt consumers about making wise dietary choices for their families – in an effort to sell more processed “food”.

You see the big problem that companies like Bayer/Monsanto and Syngenta have with cattle is that  *they just reproduce on their own*.  The same goes for grass. They don’t get a cut every time a calf is born.  They don’t collect royalties on hay.  They don’t own the genetics, they didn’t sell the inputs, and the farmer can do this indefinitely – without their help.  A farmer just takes care of his cattle and the land they live on, burns a bit of diesel, takes care of his gear, and well, nature does the rest.  THIS MAKES THEM CRAZY.

Panoramic View of the Ile-de-France

Crazy enough to tell you with a straight face that a you are a bad and selfish person for wanting to eat healthy food and support local farmers and abattoirs instead of eating reconstituted canola kibble in the shape of a hamburger.  Because unlike a calf, the grain farmer is entirely dependant, every year on BigAg to supply him with the genetics (seed, often modified and copyrighted), fertility (because, well, no manure) and the various inputs, enhancers and crutches necessary to coax the impressively high enough yields to be profitable in a global marketplace (herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, growth regulators, etc.)

Of course, the Canadian government has gotten on board with this program.   The new Canada Food Guide treats meat about the same as candy – a health hazard you should regard as a treat.  As always: follow the money.  Two months after pledging the *Totality of Canadian Agriculture* a $252 million COVID bailout (mainly loans), the federal government announced $100 million in funding for a Manitoba plant protein powder factory.

The “efficiency” of the so-called plant based (which are actually fossil fuel and technology based) food schemes is a technocrat’s wildest dream:  centralized chemical agriculture, delivering industrially processed food to the masses.   It involves minimal nature and humanity:  Satellite controlled equipment sowing and reaping genetically modified crops to be reduced to their constituent shelf stable forms for eventual consumption by consumer unit.  The production and consumption of food, reduced to its lowest mechanical and economic denominators.

Above and beyond its impersonal ugliness, this system is impossible to locally scale.  There is no potential reality of a quilted landscape of small legume farmers, carting their peas and soybeans and lentil crops to the nearest protein extractors, from which it goes to the family run fake meat artisans….  The farming techniques, the processing, the marketing – they’re too large, too rigid, too technical – all non transferable to small, flexible systems.  You cannot runs a soybean processing facility with a handful of people, knives, a bandsaw and a couple of coolers.

Bloor St., 1920.  Look at how young the lad isOn the other hand, a quilted landscape of crops, perennial forages, and woodlots, supplying meat to local abattoirs, sold to local butchers and grocers is entirely feasible.  How do I know that?  Well, it was the de facto order of things until a generation or two ago…  The main problem with that system was that it kept wealth in communities, instead of centralizing it into fewer and fewer hands.  The next time you come to visit our farm, swing through the village of Delta, and look at the size and quality of the pre-WW1 housing.  The amount of embodied wealth in a community of that size is almost impossible to consider in hindsight… but it might be because they made almost everything they needed within their community?

Anyhow, back to Ethics and Aesthetics.  Is it possible to raise beef un-aesthetically???  Yes, and this would not be the first time our anceint relationship with cattle has been subject to disorder…

Like any issue in agriculture today, most of this comes down to scale.  The nature of the beef sector, as a centralized and export driven commodity (Canada exports over 40% of the beef it produces) means that we handle production and slaughter on an industrial scale. How centralized is it?  Well, COVID brought the weaknesses of this system to light this past spring when outbreaks caused plant shutdowns, leading to cattle backlogs, high prices, and bare shelves.  Many Canadians were startled to learn that 85% of our beef goes through only three plants (of course, none of which are owned by Canadian companies!)

Now the aesthetic variables here I can only speculate on, because although I have spent a fair bit of time poking around small local abattoirs like Quinns, I have not experienced the full meal deal of a plant that processes 4,500 head a day, like Cargill’s operation in High River, Alberta.  Quinn’s is a homey, cozy place, full of familiar faces, going about their work in a safe and humane manner; I have no idea how you can reconcile individual humans to a plant that can kill and cut three beeves per minute (the answer is, you don’t!).

So, how do you supply the grist for this mill?  The solution to providing a consistent year round supply of fat cattle here in North America has been the feedlot system.    The cattle that eventually end up your plate are born and raised on pasture.  After weaning they eventually find their way to a feedlot.  Here they spend three or four months eating really really rich feed (mainly grain – barley in the west, corn in the east), and gaining a lot weight very quickly to produce a tender, marbled carcass.   It’s worth noting as well, that they generally don’t move around a whole lot, especially in the roofed lots of Ontario, which are stocked quite highly to economize on floorspace; after all, they don’t need them running that grain off, or toughening the “muscles of locomotion”.   It’s also worth noting that if they stay there too long they are also subject to the same fate as inactive humans who overeat… (premature death).

A texas feedlot from space I randomly pulled off of GoogleThe feedlot is the aspect of beef production I assume most people see as “unethical”, “factory farming”, etc… but are the cattle suffering?  My guess would be “no”, because cattle generally want three things: to be surrounded by other cattle, to be fed and watered, and to be reasonably comfortable (sounds familiar?) and the feedlot provides for these.   Now, what got me thinking about this whole matter of “Ethical vs. Aesthetic Beef” was a cold, rainy, windy night in November a day or two before we were sending a handful of animals to Quinn’s.   I thought to myself, “Self, which animals are ‘happier’: those under a roof with a big pile of corn in front of them, or mine, laying down in wet field of grass with 60km winds coming out of the north?”

Now, outside of the question of “are feedlots good for the environment” or “to what extent can cattle experience happiness?”  I’m sure on that evening my animals would have joined their bros under cover to cozy up for some corn. Does that make the system better?   I’m not about to say that feedlots are “unethical” – I see no moral fault in them, and have no problem with anyone operating one.   But… aesthetically…. are they making the world a more beautiful place?   No.  Does the model of centralized production and processing spread wealth and enrich our communities? No.  Are the animals as vibrantly healthy as those on good pasture?  No.

We are what we eat.  Outside of being literally, molecularly true – this also applies energetically, vitally, spiritually.   Unfortunately, it’s undeniable that we have, to a large extent, turned into a society of people who prefer to hang out inside, eating processed corn and soy products.   Now, I don’t care if this sounds silly, but… this might be because we eat animals that hang out inside and eat processed corn and soy products.  

I, speaking for my family and myself (and I hope for you), want to be a strong person; grounded in his environment; eating food that is healthy for me; tied to the people and businesses in my community.   So, to do so, I need to eat strong creatures, grounded in their environment, eating food that is healthy for them, and handled in a way that is tied to the people and businesses in my community.