Don’t forget what’s in the pantry, root cellar or freezer

figs and plums canning pantry 030 canning pantry 025Perhaps this can be a reminder of the payoff of “putting up” the garden in spring, summer and fall:  we have extended our homegrown eating pleasure into the winter months with some basic preservation methods.  If you froze, dried, canned or otherwise preserved fresh fruits and vegetables in 2012 do not forget about them (or horde them for some unreasonable time.)

First, open the freezer and assess what’s there:  blanched Romano beans with some ice crystals forming inside the freezer bag?  Plan a stew for dinner.  A big bag of grilled corn (from Gallrein’s, which you cannot beat) sliced from the cob?  This corn is so sweet we just use it as a side dish with a little salt and pepper.  The tomato and zucchini mixture is holding up well so I will search out anything else that is starting to look freezer-weary.

Spring peas are ready to be steamed in a little water and finished off almost sautéed in olive oil with some garlic.  These were blanched briefly, iced down to cool, drained and frozen in deli containers.  Better than grocery bought from the frozen vegetable aisle.

On the pantry shelves I can reach for canned tomatoes for my cottage cheese or chili; lacto-fermented green beans go great with roasted potatoes and olives.  Next I will make a salad of pickled beets, walnuts and blue cheese.  Some blackberries preserved in balsamic vinegar was great on vanilla ice-cream last week, I know that sounds weird, but it was really good.  That plum compote would be good on pork.  And of course, Andy’s oatmeal has our dried apples, figs, persimmons and pears in it; the combination made more complete with peaches from Mulberry Orchard.  My husband’s routine peanut butter and jelly is not complete with my blueberry or blackberry jam.   How much to shelve is a calculation based on how many sandwiches need to be made before the berries come ripe again.

Root vegetables

There are many vegetables that do not need to be transformed from their fresh state to be preserved for later.  For example:  we are eating turnips from mid-summer that I just tucked away in a plastic bag in the back of the crisper drawer.  I like to eat turnips raw and after several months chilled in the refrigerator these turnips not only remain crisp but they have largely lost any of their heat.  I am also getting turnips from my friend Janice Walls and her later season harvest taste as fresh as one’s just pulled from the ground.  This is why people used to eat turnips…they lasted and they fed you and your family through the winter.  This is no lowly vegetable

And, at my fingertips in our basement, I have loads of potatoes stored on slated racks.  I admit they are getting a little shriveled but quite frankly once they are roasted, stemmed or mashed no one would suspect anything other than perfect potato.  The winter squash are holding up well, as we monitor for any decay which means you get eaten next.

I do realize I am obsessed with all aspects of food but it didn’t seem like I went to great measures to stock up for the winter and 2012 was a busy season that took me out of the kitchen more often than not.  Still we have good food that we grew and we have chicken, eggs and lamb to make the meal complete.  I am so grateful for each animal, fruit and vegetable, perhaps that’s where the obsession comes from.

And, I must share this last anecdote about the early summer harvest.  My friend Mary Courtney gave me a big, beautiful head of Napa cabbage back in June sometime.  We enjoyed that Napa cabbage cooked, raw, on BLTs, and as an experiment in freshness.  I kid you not; I have one lone piece of Napa cabbage in a little zip lock baggy in the refrigerator today (yes, February 2013).  I will deliver it back to Mary as a symbol of how great or local farms and farmers are.

January 30, 2013Permalink

2012 Reflections from the Farm: Follow Your Instinct

Follow your instinct…ewes first day home

If there was anything that I came to understand more profoundly this year it would have to be the power of instinct: mine, our animals and the forces of ideologies of which I agree and disagree.  I reread my year end column from 2011 which reminded me of where I was 12 months ago; it helps me better appreciate where I am today.  It seems we did not do too badly, after all, and it’s all because both Andy and I recognize the power of instinct.

Before we got sheep people kept saying “sheep are stupid”; and chickens are stupid; and nature needs to be mowed and paved and tamed and sprayed…I could go on.  I think that these naysayers have been wrong largely because they never took the time to notice instinct.  Sheep eat grass and in order to do so effectively they need to move forward, that’s what they do.  It is smart if you live off of grass; and if you don’t want to live around your own manure.

Chickens eat grass, too, and move about in search of it and other protein sources (and away from their manure): they are maybe better omnivores then humans. Don’t judge the knuckle head moves like getting jammed into a roll of wire fencing or going broody. When we decry the instinct of an animal we do so in an anthropomorphic righteousness that deems any behavior outside of what we want “stupid.”  This year consider it otherwise.

Last December I wanted to raise chickens for eating; and last December we had 10 pregnant ewes that I hung my hopes on delivering lambs in April. They delivered in so many ways.  We had 13 lambs (I know, we were bound for some trouble!) We lost our first born to a crushing accident which taught me lambs will get into trouble if there is anything in their midst that might allow for trouble.  I was sick to my stomach over my oversight as their shepherd.  We lost another little girl to parasites, which is the number one killer of sheep, second to domestic dogs.  I finally got the hang of it a raised some happy, healthy animals for a fall harvest. The lessons learned were about good animal husbandry, protection, life, death and the completion of a life cycle meant for food.  This year I learned more about death than the average year! My first crop of lambs would, of course, be harvested for meat. This was why we got into the sheep business, after all.

The challenge of 2012 was to grow food beyond vegetables, fruit and eggs.  We wanted meat to make the offering complete; and to fully use our gift of land.  We harvested 6 ram lambs and nearly 150 chickens for our customers and ourselves.  My friend Angie said “you have done what you set out to do,” as I cried in anticipation of taking our lambs to be processed.  I did not cry over the chickens because it was very hard and dirty work during a recording breaking hot summer.  I did love every one of those chickens but the human emotion is stronger (which is our instinct) when a living being has eyes and lashes and a personality that we can more closely relate.  The chickens had personality, to be sure, but the lambs knew how to manipulate me with more finesse.  The totality of the farm was cared for with great affection; they lambs were sweet to me, the broilers not necessarily so, they just wanted me to feed and water them.  I suppose the lambs did, too, but they also courted me in a conscious effort to be favored.  Favored here, is a lambs’ instinct to get food and affection.  So perhaps we are more alike than we ever imagined?

Early on in my shepherd training I was instructed that lambs forget their mothers a few months after being weaned.  I do not agree: #0010 (also known as Violet) ran straight to her mother, dropped to her knees and tried to nurse when they were reunited in a pasture several months after weaning.  Her instinct was no doubt keen but mama was long dried up. To this day Violet and her mother Brownie are still best of friends.  And, with them as a guide, we will raise more food for local tables in 2013.  Happy New Year!Violet and Brownie

January 3, 2013Permalink

The 2012 Lamb and Chicken Harvest is Complete

The 2012 Lamb and Chicken Harvest is Complete

The animals we raised for food this year have all reached their full potential, if you will.  The 6 ram lambs and some 150 chickens have found their way into local freezers and onto local dinner tables.  The farthest that any of it will travel will be to Montreal in a carry-on bag by my side so that I can eat my own lamb with dear friends later next month.  It was a year full of many lessons and you can read more about the trials and tribulations in the January-February edition of Edible Louisville.

IMG_3287The winter season progresses with a supply of eggs and frozen whole and half chicken for sale.  The egg shares are sold out for now; winter solstice is December 21st so as the days start to lengthen so will the prospects of more egg-laying! We are also pleased to know have Animal Welfare Approved status for our laying hens and eggs.  This is a nod to our responsible animal husbandry practices.Animal Welfare Approved

Let me know if you would like any pastured poultry for winter roasting.  Andy and roast a chicken each week and eat on it for several days, we have determined that the texture and flavor stands out as the most significant difference between the taste and texture of factory farmed poultry (plus we are not contributing to antibiotic resistant bacteria, contamination and pollution!)

We will be doing this again and hope that our customers will continue to support the farm by purchasing Ky grazed poultry, eggs and lamb.  Happy New Year!

December 15, 2012Permalink

The lambs are at Bluegrass Lamb and Goat

On thursday Andy and I loaded the lambs into the back of the truck at 5 am to head off to Paint Lick, Kentucky where our processor, Bluegrass Lamb and Goat, is located.  Optimism is overrated when it comes to loading livestock without the right handling equipment.  It took twice as long as we thought.Our plan partially worked to use a hay bale to have them step up on and then heaved into the cage we have built for the truck.  Once we crowded them into a smaller area and once we had two loaded, the rest were eager to follow. I felt desperate at times; Andy kept us on track.

We drove about an hour and half quietly contemplating the morning and the the surrender of our 2012 ram lambs.  They were indeed happy animals, friendly and curious and well cared for; I now trust Bluegrass Lamb and Goat to complete the circle.

After we left Paint Lick we traveled another hour to Cardwell where my lamb mentor Eileen O’Donahue and her husband Randy Banks live.  Eileen operation, Two Shakes Ranch and Kentucky Lamb, is a place Andy I always leave feeling a renewed commitment to growing our own operation and what better way to recognize that than to get my “rental” ram from Two Shakes Ranch.  Maurice is a fine Dorper hair sheep that went straight to work once he arrived at Swallow Rail.  Instinct is a powerful thing.  In less than 24 hours I had 3 ewes marked by the yellow marking harness that Maurice is wearing so we can monitoring when ewes are bred.  It helps to know when we are expecting come April.

November 2, 2012Permalink

Baxter our Maremma livestock guardian dog at 10 months

 

Baxter just celebrated his 10 month birthday; can you guess his weight?  He has turned out to be great at protecting the Freedom Rangers down in the nut grove but he is still not trustworthy with the sheep.  No doubt he is protecting them, too, with his presence and imposing bark but he cannot be in the same field just yet.  We tried that for a few weeks in the summer and he ended up chewing on “Brownie’s” legs.  She is fine but he did leave abrasions that took some time to heal.  His training continues and it is reasonable to let him reach adulthood before we expect his full instincts to kick in.

The freedom Rangers at 9 weeks and growing…..

Operation Drumstick Part III (ODS III) is underway with a breed of chicken called the Freedom Ranger.  This active chicken forages well and plumps to broiler weight in about 11 weeks.  We have about 70 in the nut grove ranging freely and supplemented with a 20% grow ration that is antibiotic and animal by-product free.

We feel strongly about not feeding any of our livestock medicated feed which makes it more challenging to source. The good news is that I think I finally found a locally sourced product that meets our specifications.  As feed prices rise due to low 2012 corn yields (due to heat and drought throughout the west and mid-west) I am concerned where my feed dollar goes.  If I have to pay a premium I want it to go to someone close to home…not Cargill.

The Freedom Rangers from ODS III will be harvested on Election Day in November so we should have whole chicken to last us through the winter until the cycle begins again in early spring.  Consider a whole chicken for Thanksgiving! ~ Jeneen

September 28, 2012Permalink Leave a comment

Sorting Lambs

Sorting Lambs

From Swallow Rail Farm

Our routine is changing a bit because I am back to teaching part-time at University of Louisville.  Sadly, this means I am no longer at Courtney Farms in the morning to help put the fruit CSA shares together; I do miss the conviviality of the barn.  It did feel good to be back on campus, however, as the students greeted me eagerly.  I have a unique opportunity to share the realities of the farm in the course that I teach called Food and Body Politic, so we can continue our work.The Deluxe brooder

Speaking of which, the work continues at home: irrigation has begun as the drought settles in (hoping for rain out of Hurricane Isaac) still picking figs, drying apples, making jam and pickles In fact we reached another milestone in our shepherd management:  we sorted our ram lambs away from their sisters.  At about 5 months the lambs reach sexual maturity and we don’t need any premature accidents!  We were able to entice them out of their temporary pasture with a trough of food, we only allowed the rams through the opening, and then they followed our buckets back to the nut grove pasture. All are secure in three separate pastures for now.and tending to the flock, both 4-legged and 2-legged.

Separating lambs

75 Red Rangers in brooderWe also were able to weigh and dose copper sulfate for parasite control last weekend.  My mentor and friend Eileen O’Donahue brought her livestock scale so we could properly does each lamb.  Copper sulfate is a natural and very effective wormer BUT it can kill your sheep because they are susceptible to copper toxicity.  Everyone is still standing and has pink noses so we did good; anything less than pink indicates anemia and high parasite loads so we monitor for good color in eye membrane, noses, etc.through a practice called FAMACHA.

And, the new deluxe brooder is complete in the barn.  75 Red Ranger chicks arrived in the mail late last week and they are running around enjoying their large accommodations.  These meat chickens should be less labor intensive then the Cornish x broilers and they will range freely in the nut grove once the brooder stage is over.  In the pasture with electro-netting around them, Baxter the Maremma guardian dog around that and woven wire fencing around that should keep them secure! We will have more whole chickens available in November from this batch of Red Rangers.

The Chicken is in the freezer!

The chickens have been harvested and are now in our new freezer!   They were processed and frozen at Marksbury Farm Market, a USDA inspected processing facility in Lancaster. I have an average weight of 5.15 pounds for each bird so they will feed an army.  See the Pricing menu for details on how to order.

Support Your Local Farm

Support Your Local Farm

Welcome to Swallow Rail Farm, home of Jeneen Wiche and Andy Smart.  We offer a variety of farm products including blueberries, pasture raised poultry, Katahdin lamb and eggs.

Our AmbitionMy family moved to western Shelby County in 1979 when I was ten years old.  My father’s desire was to develop a horticultural experience that emphasized ornamental and edible plantings; today my husband Andy and I continue to care for his legacy while we reshape the focus of Swallow Rail Farm. Daddy named the farm after the barn swallows and the two rail roads that flank Conner Station; and all remain true to the name. Today, Andy and I want a small working farm that can enrich our lives, the animals we raise and the customers we hope to serve.  We can experience a farm to table relationship that means fresher food for you and a new model for Community Supported Agriculture that allows for unilateral support for Kentucky agriculture.  Connecting the farm directly to the consumer is the goal here.  My farm experience allows me to participate in the very thing I enjoy advocating and communicating through teaching, lectures, workshops and writing: our local farm economy around Louisville does exists so please support it. We have Kentucky raised lamb, poultry, eggs and fruit just outside of Metro Louisville. Thank you. 
April 20, 2012Permalink 1 Comment