Tag Archives: farmers market

A video lesson on catching chicken.

I have officially signed up for another year working out for my uncle on Purring Dog Farm and I still don’t know why I participate in the ritual masochism.  It’s going to be my fourth year and the farms fourth year as well.  The only difference between this year and the past few is we’ll have a few interns on hand and I’m actually going to be scoring some college credit as well.

I’m making this my goal for the week, even though it’s going to take a summer.

A taste of Tennessee.

Where else can you release a batch of homicidal chickens out to get eaten by coyotes?

Seed Savers Exchange: They’ve Arrived!

It's finally time to get some seeds in the ground and they have just arrived! We're still at risk for frost here so at least for the time being it's going to have to be an indoor operation to get this years crop going.

With Seed Savers Exchange giving a quick delivery I have finally gotten to start planting my garden, indoors albeit.

I’m working as a goal this year to reduce my food budget by planting a sizeable garden that will keep producing until the end of the growing season.  The little parcel of land that comes with the townhouse we are renting doesn’t get enough light to really be of much use for food production of any scale but for $35 and 6 hours of volunteer work I have been able to secure a community garden spot within walking distance of my house.

To get seeds to turn into transplant vegetable starts doesn’t take very much I have discovered. A cold fluorescent light hanging from the ceiling on a chain gives an adjustable height light source that will cost less than $35 dollars for the whole setup.  I bought start-up trays with covers that provided extra moisture for plants and a spray bottle to occasionally blast them with mist.

A Compact fluorescent light, a tray or even yogurt containers and some potting soil is the recipe to and early garden.

This year when I planted my seeds I didn’t even cover them with soil in their trays. One of my eccentric professors, Elizabeth Howley, explained to our class that the soil is really just their to provide even moisture to the seeds. True to form the germination rates have been nearly one hundred percent for me so far.

These trays and optional greenhouse covers can be purchased almost anywhere this time of year.  Just stumble into any store with a garden center and look around.  Prices for the trays wont be more than a couple of dollars.

My step for this week is to create a detailed plan to reduce my food budget for this year.  To start working towards this I have mapped my garden and will need to make a crop schedule.  I have bought a few varieties of storage onions and garlic that should last in storage and I have started succession planting greens for early spring.

The life and death of a small farm hog.

Early in the summer these young hogs were living the good life, one day change it all. From pen to pork

Pigs are dirty, smelly, rotten animal,s unworthy of a good life or a large space because they will foul up any piece of earth that you give them.  Although this description fits a majority of politicians, my experience with pigs has taught me they are not the unclean, bestial organisms that I’ve heard a lot of people write them off as.

In that last few months I’ve watched four hogs go from small critters to slaughter-sized meat producers.  We’ve taken two off to the butcher and two more are awaiting their end of days. At first it was almost sad sinking my teeth into the first pig we’ve ever raised for food but as the thoughts started drifting through my mind I took comfort in the fact that these were probably the happiest pigs I’ve ever digested.

I’ve only seen hog operations a few times throughout my life. The first operation I saw was an indoor cage, complete with spillways that allowed for the animal waste to wash into the center of the pen so it could be easily cleaned. The only other operations I have seen were online and the pigs didn’t seem to have very much space to move and breath, let alone stay clean.

The operation that Purring Dog Farm has running for hogs is a humane one. I have spent a little under an hour a day the last two months working side by side the hungry, misunderstood creatures.  Every morning feeding them their daily allotment of corn and whatever else may be on hand.  Throughout the weeks I have watched how the animals think and interact and laughed at the way they’ll  trip over each other like kids on cake, to get the prized commodities of eggs and watermelon.

The last meal for future food.

Rolling in the mud and getting dirty is the way they stay cool, similar to elephants and dogs.  The faint smell of their waste isn’t the first scent that hits when entering their 100 ft by 100 ft enclosure.  In fact the first month and a half that I was on the farm, I only smelled the foul odor of their digested corn once.  Pigs are similar to dogs in the sense that they prefer not to wallow around in shit and urine if they don’t have to. If given enough space they will gladly deposit waste in a far corner of their structure, the only spot left that is green from under use.

Between playing and sleeping all day our hogs still make time to attempt eating gloves and boots while they are still on the wearers feet and one has developed an affinity for using my aunt April as a scratching post. When the first roast was made up, April was having a hard imagining how she could eat it after spending the time watching, feeding, scratching and admiring the 200 lbs of fat and muscle. We all agreed that she made the right decision, in a pan with gar

lic and butter.

The day before we took the black-speckled pink walls of meat to the butcher, my uncle Bill and me made a practice run of getting them into the horse trailer, making sure the next day went smoothly.  Our plan was to herd them, by pinching them in with two doors forcing them forward. After 3 minutes of getting pushed around, we headed indoors defeated and feeling weak. After

The stalkyard and final hours.

tearing through farmers books and scouring the internet more thoroughly than any porn addict, we resigned to faith that the next morning would pan out, expecting the worse. It was a six-o-clock morning, early for us lazy farmers, the pigs had to be in by 9 a.m. or else the official “pig killer” would go home, a man paid by commission not by the hour and who didn’t like to wait.

After backing up the trailer, we went with honey instead of vinegar. By cutting watermelon in half and throwing them to the rear of the transport we found the pigs loved the food enough to jump on in. After two filed in we closed the doors. The day before had taught us not to be picky. We fed them a last meal of their favorite treat, eggs, and left for Morgan’s Meat Processors.

On arriving we had to remove the pigs, this time force was our only option. Getting them out of the trailer was less of a task than getting them in, if you did it right. Hogs do not respond to being pulled but they will eventually let pushing them make a difference. The last time we saw our hogs they were playing together and wallowing in the puddles of mud, in a stalk-yard like coral.  After filling out the cut-sheets before their eyes, we took off waiting for a call telling us the deed was done. Hanging above the entrance to the slaughterhouse a sign reading “absolutely no unauthorized personnel allowed.”

Later, when we picked up the freshly processed pork, 127 lbs of the tastiest, best kept meat was waiting for us. Ethically speaking the practice was sustainable but on a level of understanding that everyone can agree with, I can say, home-grown pork beats anything you’ll ever find on a shelf. The twinge of guilt I felt while watching the pigs play out their last few minutes of life was only a reminder that every meal involves a life and suffering. I don’t doubt for a minute though that if the roles were reversed, those hogs would have been more than happy to call me a meal. And life goes on …

Dixie Lee Farmers Market: An almost interview with the manager.

Ginger, far right, speaks with a constomer about the market outside the managers booth. My uncle has now been selling at the Dixie Lee farmers market for the last 3 years.

I had an interview recorded on my cell phone with one of our market managers, Virginia.  We were talking about the advantages of shopping at Farmers markets and why she initially wanted to get involved.   But somehow between the end of the conversation and the time the cell phone/recorder was getting slipped in the pocket the audio was lost.  Unfortunately I lost the glitz and glamour of having her quotes and I’m stuck having to paraphrase what she said.
Ginger with her husband Jess created the Dixie Lee farmers market just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee.  What I found out about there experiences wasn’t a punch in the face type of surprise but something a little more subtle and uplifting.

Jeff and Ginger have somehow conned a master gardener into coming to the market every few weeks. This board that she brought describes different aspects of raised bed gardening. The market isn't just a selling place, the idea is to create stronger and more self reliant community.

She started off with a story.
A few years back Ginger asked a girl where lettuce came from and the girls flat, innocent and honest response was, Ingles( a local grocery store).  This was a sad statement for Virginia, or Ginger what people call her when they aren’t acting professional.  Building from that she said that one of the biggest benefits that people gain from shopping at farmers markets is an understanding of where food comes from and meeting the people who get their hands in the ground to make it.
She went on to discuss the debate between which is better, organic or local and commented that what people are coming to find out is that local food seems to be winning the debate.  Organic is nice in concept but just because it’s earned the label doesn’t necessarily mean much.  The food that isn’t organic isn’t necessarily worse, many farmers work with a policy on food that isn’t organic in the government certified version of the word but the process’ that these farmers use can actually be more beneficial to the health conscious consumer.  She went on to explain how some organic produce is sprayed with “safe” pesticides and explained that even if food is organic it can still come from anywhere.
Organic cows from Nebraska being shipped to Tennessee may make for healthier meat, but odds are the farms that produce them are corporate owned and the cattle don’t necessarily get a better life, just better feed.  Another point of concern to the truly sustainably minded consumer is the fuel used.  Buying from local farmers will save on the price hike for gas as well as the environmental consequences brought on by shipping mass amounts of Organic corn fed cows.
What I brought away from my conversation with Ginger was a sense of understanding food.

Just as a disclaimer I can’t remember if she actually asked the girl where lettuce came from, it could be any vegetable but my mind has a hard time retaining the subtler details.

After a short hiatus due to traveling and exhaustion, I am now returning to the weekly step.  This weeks step is I will be planting a garden.  I’ve been picking brains and planting seeds all week so tomorrow I’ll starting plotting my progress.

Dixie Lee Farmers Market