Sunday, 19 January 2014

Construction and Destruction

Well it has been a busy week on the farm.  We have settled into a bit of a pattern with the apples, it is irrigation time now and after we do some more thinning (removing surplus fruit so the remaining fruit can get big) there won’t be much to do on them until harvest in April.  The fruit we have been focused on is looking pretty good, and we think we will pick some extra throughout the orchard.

We have been using the extra time to work on a number of building projects.  The first pig shelter I built wasn’t a success, being too small for Tinks or Peter Pan, they just lay around outside it (I really did forget how big these two were), so I took some outside inspiration and knocked up a couple of “mark 2” pig shelters.  These are much bigger and will hopefully do a much better job.  The mark 1 will still be good for weaners and smaller pigs.  The new ones are in place in the new paddocks, as we just today separated them for Tinkerbell’s farrowing.
Not big enough!

New design...

Fully tractor mobile

A happy fit!

We also built a “mark 2” mineral trough for the cows, complete with lawnmower wheels for easy, one person, moving.  Following the success of this I then retrofitted the mark 1 sheep mineral trough with wheels as well.
Quite proud of this one, and the cows seem to like it too!
The other side of the week has been destruction.  One of the arms that holds the 3 point hitch on the back of the tractor (the hitch we need for using all of our implements and as a result doing things like watering our animals) broke off.  I was lucky to see it before there was any damage done to the slasher I was carrying with the tractor at the time.  I managed to scrounge a replacement to do the job while we waited for a new one.

In addition, when running our irrigation pump I noticed some water coming out of a valve, then a lot of water.  After an extensive digging operation I found the leak, a join in the PVC that must have come loose, so a clamp is required there too.
I dug a hole, and this one's filling with water.
The final element of destruction has come from the sheep.  The neighbour’s sheep that we were given had spent the last four years in the orchard ring-barking trees.  We tried to put them on a program of minerals so they wouldn’t need to do it, however they have shown no interest in the minerals (even when mixed with some of the normally-addictive-sheep-pellets) and have continued to absolutely smash the trees in any area we put them in.  The Wiltshires we bought are absolutely fine, and this has led us to the conclusion that the new mob consists of an unreformable bunch of reprobates.  We are going to have to sell them, gumtree here we come.

Yesterday was a blast from the past, going back over to Fat Pig Farm to help Matthew and Sadie prep for their upcoming series of farm picnics.  As it always seems when we visit, we came home with 10 litres of their delicious milk from their Guernsey and (new!) Fresian cows.  Cheese making time!
Matthew and Sadie's Clarissa has lovely piglets!
The coming week we are doing our day course for our firearms licences, plus Cor’s parents and uncle Robert arrive for a visit, which promises to be exciting.  Can’t wait to have them here and show them what we are doing, and spoil them with some of Tassie’s amazing produce.  The roadside stalls are now out in force, with rich cherries, juicy peaches, sweet nectarines, tart apricots, tasty tayberries, and bursting blueberries all for sale at ridiculously cheap prices.  It is an amazing time of year, we may even do a preserving session or two so stay tuned for pics.

Until next time, enjoy your good life!

This girl has eggs, so fingers crossed we get more Muscovys!

Tinks fooling around.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The nature of compromise

Cor and I consider ourselves to be reasonable exponents of eating well, that is, eating animals and vegetables and fruit that have been produced with a high level of care and consequently, a high level of flavour.  But we compromise.  Everyone does it, and on a recent road trip I was given cause to consider the drivers of compromise, staring down at the decidedly non free-range bacon and egg sandwich from a roadside café that was to be my breakfast.

We get a lot of lecturing.  People telling us we should eat organic, free range, biodynamic, RSPCA inspected, local, sustainably caught, responsibly farmed, the list is endless.

But all too often these lecturers don’t try to understand or respect why people compromise when it comes to their food.  As far as they are concerned, there is no excuse for not eating food that falls into the aforementioned categories.  Or if they do look for a reason, it is all too often blamed on the big food retailers, for stopping the march of the citizenry towards better food.  Actually, the first time I have really seen compromise even acknowledged was in this great Milkwood post:

The reasons we compromise, as I see them, are threefold.  I believe they are:
1.       Time
2.       Information
3.       Money

So you are, like us, on a roadtrip, looking for a quick breakfast on the go.  You don’t have time to seek out the one backstreet café in town that serves locally made bacon on their sandwiches.

Or you have a couple of kids, you and your other half leave for work at 7am and get home at 7pm, eat, put the kids to bed, steal a couple of private moments in front of TV before falling asleep.  And weekends are no better, ferrying kids around to sporting or social engagements.  When are you supposed to have the time to seek out this wonderful food you are being told you should be feeding your kids?  If it isn’t packaged in flashing lights at the supermarket when you do the Saturday afternoon shopping trip, it doesn’t make the pantry or even the trolley.

Of course, like everything, this driver is one of choice.  You could spend your weeknight spare time tracking down these producers, or restaurants, or markets, but sometimes you would rather spend the time decompressing, or if you are the road, driving on (I personally love it when we “make good time”).

Start out with some herbs like we did....

This one is related to the time driver, because it takes time to understand our food.  The way things are these days, with an endless stream of jingo-istic food phrases thrust at us, it takes time to follow each of them through to what they actually mean.  Organic?  When it comes to meat that doesn’t mean free range, just that it has been given feed grown with organic chemicals (though there are some approved non-organic ones too).  Free range?  That just means given access to an outside run, not necessarily for the whole life of the animal nor one that allows the animal to scratch, or root around, or do what it does naturally.  Most citizens don’t know this stuff.  The simple information they have been provided is: organic/etc = good & expensive; everything else = not so good & cheaper.  Hell, even people who sell organic stuff don’t know that an organic certification actually allows the use of chemicals and some drugs, nor how dangerous some 100% organic chemicals can be.

So if you don’t have the time to research all these things, you aren’t going to be informed.  And labelling, contrary to what the demagogues think, is not the be all and end all answer.  Labelling will never explain fully where a product comes from, the conditions it was grown or raised in, and whether the grower is receiving a fair price for the product.

Solving the information problem takes time, and I know that there are lots of people out there trying to help in this regard.  But I will make two easy suggestions for those not sure where to make a start.  The first is to borrow or buy a copy of the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  It is incredibly compelling while being very informative (think Bill Bryson), and goes a long way to explaining how food is produced in modern America, and many of the techniques that have been adopted elsewhere.

The second suggestion is to buy go back to buying your meat from the butcher.  It isn’t any more expensive than the supermarkets (unless you want it to be) and when you are looking in that glass case at those pork chops, you can ask the simple question “where did those chops come from?”  The butcher won’t be offended by your impertinence, he will relish the chance to share some of his knowledge of his supply line.  Whether it is from commercially farmed (confinement) large white pigs, or free range Berkshires, or something else entirely, you will have in a few seconds increased the amount of information you have about your food, and taken a valuable first step towards knowing your food.

The other important element of information comes to flavour.  Not knowing that certain types of produce taste better, and thinking that “a tomato is a tomato and a chicken is a chicken” is the one of the greatest information obstacles that we must overcome.

I left this one for last, because it seems to be the most sensitive one.  The fact is that yes, food that is produced in a caring manner, and that gives a good return to the farmer usually costs more.  But, and here, is a big but, it doesn’t have to.  That’s right, it really doesn’t have to.

Sure, if you don’t have the time to make the effort or the information on where to go, and you want to buy your high quality food from the supermarket, yes it will always cost more.  However if you do your homework, and change your buying habits, you can get it for the same price as you would pay for the food you normally buy.

You find that person in your area with their own free-range chooks, you won’t pay $6.35 a dozen you will pay $4-$5.  You find a few people with a similar outlook, and you can buy a side of beef, cut up, for $8 a kilo.  There is no way the supermarket is going to beat that price.  Same thing works with pork.  Sure, you have to stock your deep freezer, and order in advance, and do some running about, but this comes back to the time consideration.  Find the market gardener in your area, maybe at your local farmers’ market (if you have one).  Buy a week’s worth of veges from them and then compare it to your normal bill.  Pleasant surprise almost guaranteed.

Overcoming the Drivers

So those are my thoughts on the compromises we make.  I will finish this post by charging my fellow food-lovers with a challenge.  When next you find yourself saddling up the high horse (as I too often do, I admit it) get down for a minute and think about which of these compromise drivers you can help your audience to overcome.  The more we all pull together to do this, the closer we will get to what I believe will be a “tipping point” in our society’s relationship with food, and restore the relationship between the citizen consumer and the farmer.  I am going to try and do my part, want to give me a hand?
...and end up making your own sausages!