Monday, October 17, 2011

More Farms Please! Part one - Saturday.

My understanding of food has grown over the years with a very slow learning process, adding tidbits of information upon tidbits. I've read books that "will make anyone go vegan" and watched movies about the food industry that just make you want to cry (I have cried). One of the most influential series I watched was Blood Sweat and Takeout - a sister to Blood Sweet and Tshirts - I recommend both series. It's enough to make you not want to eat food at all. I had a passing thought once about going vegetarian, but in the end decided that I will try my darnedest to eat whole, local, humane raised and killed, organic, pesticide and antibiotic free food. Of course I falter for one reason or another here & there (Yes, I am eating a slice of chocolate Babka from Panera right now. The middle path people, the middle path) but I do try. Finding out exactly where my family's food comes from is important to me. Lucky for us, we have the opportunity to visit local farms during the Annual New Leaf Co-op Farm Tour.

I started mapping out my ideal route for the farm tour in August. Each year we seem to have something already scheduled. This year I was determined to visit some farms. During this pregnancy I have been craving pork, like a mad woman. Crazy, because I recently noticed that my aversions with Lottie were pork and eggs. ALL of our pork has been coming from Thompson Farms Smokehouse in Georgia. This was my number one stop - I had to see those pigs! I also wanted to go somewhere with the family and a hayride was a must do, so I added Kurtz & Sons to the list too. I thought a day of beekeeping demos at Full Moon Farms would be one of my highlights, but it fell off the list when I slept in on Saturday morning.

Here are the farms we visited and highlights of what we learned!
I have to apologize for the lack of pictures. Lately I have been too busy living in the moment to take pictures - yea that seems ridiculous, but for a while I felt like I was living life behind a lens.

Thompson Farms Smokehouse - I could not find a partner on Saturday to visit farms that were not child friendly. While a day of solitude would have been nice, I decided late Saturday morning that I would prefer the day with my husband and Bean. So we all headed to Thomson Farm, not knowing exactly what to expect. I wanted to see how the pigs lived and learn about how they were killed, but did not want to necessarily see sausage being made! It was a nice adventurous drive - a wrong turn took the Mini Cooper down a dirt road for a good while.
We arrived in time to catch up to a tour, jogging past a huge field where the some of the pigs lived. They were about 2 to an acre, open pasture surrounded by a little piece of electric fence. They each had their own hut and shared a water hole (think mini retention ponds, lots of them). Did you know that pigs do not sweat? Lots of cool mud pits were to be found for the pigs too.
When we arrived at the slaughter house we learned that the Thompsons used to keep 50 pigs in 3 separate, small cement pens -- that's 150 pigs in a very confined area. Now there are many, many more in large, open fields. Mr. Thompson mentioned that it takes longer to fatten the pigs up since they have room to exercise but the trade off is they don't get sick as much and the meat is much tastier. After a quick call back after our visit to find out why they switched to a humane certification, Donna explained that when they moved the pigs outdoors to grassy areas, things "naturally went more natural." Then, when the Thompsons started selling to Whole Foods distributions in Altanta and Florida they had to go humane. It was right around this time that they started selling to New Leaf as well. Whatever it was that first fueled the fire is not significant at this point, but I am just glad they did (oh and my phone call taught me that I may be able to find Thompsons pork in Daytona)!

With the humane certification the killing has to be humane also. The pig must be able to walk, on its own, to the slaughter house. We walked the path into a clean, empty slaughter house (thank goodness!)  to learn about the process. They stun the pig in the brain, first, then in the heart. One. At. A. Time. And check to be sure it is NOT coming back. Then the pig continues through the process. One. At. A. Time. Moving to a different station when the prior pig is finished, one butcher doing each job, sanitizing the knife between pigs.
I wont go in too much detail, but the most important part for me was that the pig was TOTALLY dead before it was de-haired and only one was butchered at a time. I've seen the scenes of  loads of animals getting forced down lines and 20 guys slicing and dicing as fast as their underpaid selves could. That's how mistakes are made, cross-contamination, entrails opened up, e.coli creeps in and all ick ick ick! That is not happening to my pork!  I also learned that they only butcher 34 pigs at a time. This means that the sausage from Thompson farms is only from 34 healthy, humanly raised and slaughtered pigs as opposed to who knows what parts, from how many pigs, from who knows what locations and countries, over how many days of slaughtering. Seriously, look at the point of origin on your meat. Is it one origin? Two? Just a country labeled? You don't know, do you? Unless you know your farmer.
Thank you Thompson Farms for a wonderful tour and a true understanding of where our pork comes from.
For even more information you can see the Whole Story.  Be sure to watch the video at the bottom of the article. And a Local Spotlight from New Leaf Market.

Oh and Lottie loved seeing the piglets!

A synopsis on what I learned about animal breading and nursing is a whole other post to come.

Heavenly Homestead - As the afternoon crept in we headed to Heavenly Homestead. Golden Acres and Backyard Farm were on the wish list, but with hayride scheduled on Sunday already and the option to do Backyard Farm tour anytime, Heavenly Homestead won out. This place was busy! We arrived in time to play on their swing set and see the chickies before the last tour of the day started. On the tour I learned that this small family farm was in transition, moving some animals from a leased farm area to their new 5 acre property. It wasn't the white picket fence, grassy knoll, story book setting for a farm that one would expect. Instead it was a wild Florida yard, ready to be thinned by the new goats in training and broken down further by the chickens.
The orchard was especially inspiring. It opened up a dialog between me and my husband about the types of fruit trees I would like to place in our tiny urban yard. They also had meat chickens and pork that produce goods for sale.
Farmer Rick was charismatic and gave a great tour. I overheard that Amy, the woman of the farm, is a homeschooling mom, surely working hard throughout the day. Rick mentioned they have all the duties of a farm plus his 9 to 5 job. I would love more info on some boys clubs that meet out there or how other homeschool families could come out and learn about farm duties while possibly lending a helping hand. I would like to see how much the farm evolves over time. This family is surely one to contact for information on what you can do with a little space and most importantly, a supportive, hardworking family and some ingenuity.

The farm bug had hit me. They day was done and we were exhausted, hungry and dirty.  I couldn't wait to wake up and do it again. Oh how I wish farm tours were quarterly or bi-annual. I really want to see where ALL our food comes from. The eggs, cheese, butter, beef, fish. Who grew those greens?


Our Sunday synopsis is soon to come.

Happy Food!

1 comment:

  1. Great post -- brave and honest. I love it when people are not afraid to talk about meat (so many people choose to ignore its origins -- as if when packaged neatly and in the supermarket refrigerator it never lived, breathed, or suffered).
    When I was a little older than Lottie, I visited a farm in England that had sheep and pigs. The piglets were so adorable and they would come and suckle on your fingers!

    Rick Harter still has a day job?! Some day I really, really want to go volunteer a day with them -- for a practicum of sorts, but also to find out how on earth they do everything they do!