Day 348–Farmer Spotlight–Carolina Bison

English: Bison bison. Original caption: "...

While I like to think I have a creative brain, some things are difficult for me to envision. Take clowns for example. I can’t imagine them NOT being creepy. likewise, I have a hard time imagining a fall without football. Or Lindsay Lohan without drama. Add to this my difficulty imagining the western North Carolina mountains and foothills teeming with bison. Well, that’s not quite the same as Lilo without the po-po following her, but still. Bison?

Yet, it is apparently true. At one point, millions of American Bison roamed the plains of what is now the United States. I’m not sure they ever called North Carolina home, but that is changing quickly. Several farmers in North Carolina are raising bison as a healthy alternative to beef. Carolina Bison in Asheville is one such business. The business began in 1985, when founder Dr. Frank King noticed that his patients who ate a diet of grass-fed bison noticed substantial health improvements. And so, a business was born!

Why did bison offer those benefits? Well, bison has less fat than beef (almost on par with chicken) and an extremely high amount of digestible protein. So, you get the taste of grass-fed beef with the health effects of eating white meat.

Carolina Bison offers grass-fed, steroid-free and antibiotic-free bison in the form of steaks, ground meat, roasts and stew beef. Since Asheville is a good 5 hours from Cary, I’m going to try the mail order service and see how that works. In the meantime, at least one North Carolina farm is selling bison at our farmer’s market, but I don’t know much about their protocol. We did pick up a pound to try this weekend as burgers for our famished selves after the 2012 Reindeer Romp 5K this Saturday!

For information about Carolina Bison, click HERE! For anyone in NC, they will offer ranch tours in the spring and I definitely want in on that! Maybe it will help with my visualization issue!

Day 316–Finding a Local Farm Near You

 

One of the greatest joys we’ve had on our journey this year is developing relationships with local farmers and farmer’s markets. But we are very fortunate to live an a quasi-urban area that has close proximity to lots of farmland and a great deal of support for small farmer’s markets. We also have several produce delivery services that source from farms statewide. Those resources make locavore living a great deal easier. But how do you find local farms if you don’t have farmer’s markets? Here is a great resource!

 

Local Harvest is a web-based tool that searches by zip code and/or farm type to help you find local food sources in your area! Most farms have a little description of the kind of farming they do, what they grow and roughly what their growing/production season is. I did a search in my area and found several sources that were new to me, including local honey producers!

 

Depending on where you live, you may be able to find the resources you need to buy local produce, meat, eggs and honey all winter long!

 

Day 307–Six Questions to Ask About Sustainable Meat

If you’ve been following the blog, you know how I feel about factory farmed meat. Not everyone has access to fresh, sustainable meat, but if you do, give it a try. Here is a nice article by the Sierra Club about questions to ask your local farmer about their meat products. Since we’re heading into turkey season, this seemed like a timely piece!

Sustainable Meat: 6 Questions to Ask a Farmer

6 Questions to Ask a FarmerLet’s face it, there’s nothing eco-friendly about factory farms. When servings of eggs, dairy, and meat come packaged with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, groundwater contamination, animal cruelty, and hormones, we wouldn’t blame you for losing your appetite. But there are still ways to eat meat without unduly burdening the earth. This week, we’ll offer hints for finding a “greener” pork roast or Thanksgiving turkey.

6 Questions to Ask a Farmer

One big advantage of getting your meat, eggs, and dairy from a local farm as opposed to a giant, faceless corporation, is that you can actually talk to the farmer. Visit your local farmers’ market or check out Eat Wild’s farm directory to find free-range livestock farmers in your state, many of whom sell shares in meat CSAs. You can ask them questions to find a farm that matches your own standards for land and livestock stewardship.

Here are six good questions to get the conversation started:

     1.) Are your animals fed with organic feed?

     2.) Are your animals raised on pasture?

All livestock will eat grass, and not only are they healthier for it, but their meat, milk, and eggs have been found to contain more omega-3s than animals that eat no grass. Pastured animals will also spread their manure out on fields, where it can decompose naturally.

     3.)  Are your cows and lambs “grass finished”?

“Finishing” is also known as “fattening up,” and grain is a healthy part of the diet of poultry and pigs, but wreaks havoc on the digestive systems of cows and sheep. “Corn-finished” or “grain-finished” meat comes from livestock that ate little but grain and other processed supplements for the last six months of their lives, while “grass-finished” animals were fattened up on the pasture. Even pastured dairy cows usually eat some grain for extra nutrients, but should still eat mostly grass.

     4.) How do you handle your animals’ manure?

Manure is a huge pollutant in feedlots, where it seeps into groundwater and rivers. If your farmer tells you that the manure is left in “lagoons,” then it means they’re leaving it untreated, where it can pollute local water systems.

     5.) Do you give antibiotics to healthy animals?

Often, antibiotics are used to keep farm animals healthy when they’re too overcrowded and stressed to fight off disease. This has caused a widespread rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If farmers only use antibiotics on animals that are actually sick, you know that they’ll have been raised in a healthier environment.

     6.) Do you use heritage breeds?

Many “modern” livestock breeds can’t even survive outside of climate-controlled cages, but ‘heritage” livestock are bred to live outside, and are healthier, heartier animals overall.

Feel free to ask about whatever other concerns you might have. The more we demand answers from our food providers, the better choices we’ll be able to make.

–Image credit iStockphoto/jabiru.

Rachael Monosson is an editorial intern for Sierra and a recent graduate of Stanford University, where she studied Earth Systems. She lives in San Mateo.

Day 240–Farmer’s Spotlight–Hilltop Farms

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Fred Miller of HillTop Farms!

If you have been reading along with us for a while, you may remember my lament at being such a terrible CSA participant. The CSA I belonged to was with a wonderful, very local organic farm called Hilltop Farm in Willow Spring. We had terrific produce (at least what I remembered to pick up was great) and farmers Fred and Virginia Miller were always helpful with produce information, cooking tips and nutritional information. Well, even though I have abandoned the traditional CSA for a delivery service (for now), I still buy organic fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs from Fred at the Downtown Raleigh Farmer’s Market. If you visit the market, Fred has the freshest and best quality basil I have seen anywhere. Pesto, anyone?

Hilltop Farms is one of a growing number of Certified Organic, sustainable farms in our state and it is the first and only USDA Certified Organic farm in our county. In fact, Hilltop recently received the Pioneer Award from the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District. Yay! From talking to a lot of farmers over the past year, I have learned a lot about the expense and time involved with becoming a Certified Organic farm. Hats off to any farmer who puts that time and effort in. The fifteen acres at Hilltop used to be tobacco land, so it’s gratifying to see land used for such a toxic crop now used to produce organic vegetables and herbs for local families.

Recently Fred mentioned a new winter CSA coming up. Hmmmm, I’m tempted… Maybe there is an iphone CSA pickup app?

Day 156–What’s Fresh at the Market

Raspberries05 edit

Our list of market vegetables and produce is getting so long now! I can’t wait to get canning this weekend–hmmm, peach butter or cucumber pickles??? Can’t decide. Here’s a list of what is available this week in central North Carolina. Happy market shopping this weekend!

  • Strawberries (can’t believe they are still around!)
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Peaches (white and yellow)
  • Red, new potatoes
  • Corn
  • Butter beans
  • Onions
  • Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Swiss chard
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce
  • Basil
  • Hot peppers

And there’s more! If you live in our area and have a sweet tooth, you’re in luck–we are full up on fruits!

Day 140–Farmer Spotlight–Melina’s Pasta and Pasta With Roasted Vegetables

Melina delivers homemade, frozen pasta to our farmer’s market!

Ok, this post isn’t really a “farmer”, rather a wonderful, local pasta maker who sells her homemade pasta at some of our local farmer’s markets. Melina’s pasta has quickly become a staple in our house. Dried pasta has its place, but buying fresh pasta (we purchase it frozen) has given us the not-so-subtle reminder that when it comes to all foods, fresh is best. Ellie loves this pasta and remarked right away at how flavorful it is and what a great texture it has. So maybe she didn’t eat the roasted vegetables I served with the pasta, but at least she had spinach fettucine!

The spinach fettucine has by far been our favorite so far. We have tried it with roasted vegetables (see below) and with sautéed scallops and lemon (super yum!). I think next week we might try some ravioli. If you are in Raleigh, stop by the Melina’s booth and sample some wonderful recipes she puts together with ingredients from other vendors at the market! Great way to find out how to put your market treasures together for a meal.

Here is a revised version of an earlier recipe we posted using roasted veggies tossed with pasta. The result of this experiment was light, so flavorful and a great way to use vegetables from our Produce Box! This is what we made with our seasonal vegetables, but you could use any vegetables you have handy. Definitely, don’t leave out the onion!

Melina’s Spinach Fettucine with Roasted Vegetables

  • 8 oz. frozen Melina’s spinach fettucine (1/2 bag); dried pasta works, too!
  • 2 small yellow squash, chopped into 1″ pieces
  • 2 zucchini, chopped into 1″ pieces
  • 2 spring sweet onions (white parts only) diced
  • 1 large tomato, cut into 1″ pieces
  • Local asiago-type cheese, grated (about 2 c.)
  • Fresh basil and oregano from our garden, chopped (dried is ok, too!)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together all chopped vegetables + herbs. Drizzle with olive oil to lightly coat and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Pour vegetables onto rimmed baking sheet and distribute to make an even layer.
  4. Put sheet in pre-heated oven and roast vegetables for 30-50 minutes (this really depends on how roasted you like your vegetables–we roast ours from almost an hour).
  5. While vegetables roast, heat a stock pot with water for the pasta. Bring to a boil.
  6. When vegetables are about done, add salt and pasta to the boiling water and cook according to directions (fresh/frozen pasta will take only 4-5 minutes). Reserve 1 cup of pasta water for sauce.
  7. Remove vegetables from the oven and put in a large bowl. Drain pasta, reserving 1 c. of liquid and add pasta to the bowl.
  8. Add cheese and reserved pasta water to the bowl and mix well. The heat from the pasta and vegetables will melt the cheese and the pasta water will make a light sauce.
  9. Serve up to your hungry family with a hearty thanks to Melina!

Day 119–What’s Fresh at the Market?

Our spring weather in central North Carolina has been downright odd. Most of the winter we were in the 70s and now that it’s spring, we’re in the 50s and 60s. Or mid 80s. The weather for the weekend farmer’s markets was chilly, cloudy and windy, with temperatures in the 50s. Blech. If the weather is confusing to us humans, it has absolutely stunned most of our vegetable plants. As a result, we have more greens at the market, but the diversity of vegetables for most of the organic farmers isn’t all that great yet. But still, it is spring, and there is much to celebrate. Here’s what I found today:

  • Strawberries–still plentiful!
  • Lettuce–red, green and romaine
  • Greens–swiss chard, kale, spinach, tatsoi and bok choi
  • Spring onions
  • Spring garlic
  • Radish
  • Carrots
  • Greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Beets and rutabegas

If you love salads, this is a great time to get your lettuce and other greens before the summer heat hits us (which, given our weather extremes, could be any minute now). Get out to your markets this weekend and let me know what you’re finding in your area!!

Day 118–This Week’s Produce Box

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This week, our veggie fairy named Terri delivered a beautiful box of vegetables plus organic strawberries PLUS cheese. Right to my doorstep. Yes she did. We are set to go with another week’s worth of fresh vegetables, including two kinds of lettuce, two pounds of carrots, beets, an herb bouquet, two quarts of strawberries and a local cheese that is similar to asiago. YUM!

So, what to do with two pounds of carrots? I’m thinking of…pickling! But of course! Pickled carrots sound yummy and will be a continuation of my learning all things pickle. These are supposed to be spicy pickles, which sound pretty good to me. I’m NOT posting this idea on Facebook 🙂 If that doesn’t work out for some reason, I’m thinking carrot soup.

What would YOU do with 2 pounds of carrots???

Day 84–Beautiful Swiss Chard

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Some vegetables are so lovely that they are almost ornamental in the garden (and on your plate). Bright Lights swiss chard is dazzling to look at in the garden with its stalks of fushia, neon yellow, bright green and ruby red. In the late winter garden, when everything looks so brown, chard adds some visual happiness to the landscape. It’s also a super healthy and delicious addition to our diet.

This is one of our famer’s market finds this week! Happy market shopping!

Day 63–Heaven on Earth Organics

This week, I managed to make it to the State Farmers Market on my lunch hour, something I hadn’t been able to do in a few weeks. Since my weekend is booked shilling Girl Scout cookies, I was glad to get my shopping done a day early.

I quickly found my favorite organic farm, Heaven on Earth Organics, and commenced to shopping. Farmer Scott Smith is eager to share nutritional information, and patient at answering my many questions. Like most farmers at the market, he lets me try samples of tomatoes, for example, so I can figure out which varieties I want and he often gives me a recipe idea or two. Try THAT at your local grocery!

We are in a strange mid-point with produce here in NC. Winter crops are on their way out, but spring crops haven’t quite come in yet. Still, I was glad to find plenty of lettuce, spring onions, and carrots along with collard greens, sweet potatoes and cabbage.

And SCORE! I was able to get two beautiful fresh roasting chickens from Rainbow Farm. Typically, if I can find them, they are frozen. Can’t wait to make roast chicken for Sunday supper!

Now I just need to figure out what we’re doing with the rest of this bounty!

Happy farmers market shopping! May you score your own fresh treasures today!