Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Open Letter to Detour Drivers

Dear Road Construction Victims,

Welcome to my road!  I hope you enjoy your new route to the outside world and that it be most temporary.  I understand that detours have the ability to adversely affect your life in the form of longer commutes, lack of turn lanes, and low shoulders.  Please allow me to give you a short orientation to my road, in the hopes of improving your experience.

1.  My road is extremely picturesque, please enjoy the view.
2.  On the West side, among others, you will see undulating fields, cattle dotting the hillsides, a few mules (look hard!), a barn with the flag painted on the side, and some quaint, broken down, rusty old farm equipment deposited oh-so-lovingly in someone's field.

3.  To the East side, among others, you'll see a round barn, some chickens, a shelter-house, a horse farm or two, as well as the requisite undulating fields and cattle dotting the hillsides.

4.  If you happen to have car trouble, don't panic.  A friendly farmer will be along shortly to help you.

5.  Please don't flip that same farmer off as you pass him/her at 80 mph tomorrow morning when you're late for work.

6.  You are lucky to be driving through the rolling hill country of Illinois.  A few 20 miles south of here, it's flat for as far as the eyes can see.

7.  On that note, I'll make the respectful request that you don't pass me on the uphill when I'm on the way to move cows, driving the farm ATV.

8.  Yes, it's legal to drive farm-related ATV's on the road.

9.  No, it's not fun to off-road it when you're loaded down with fence posts, electric wire, and a 50-lb. bag of salt/mineral blend.
10.  This area of the country is called the Heartland, not the Wasteland.  The bread basket of the world, not the waste basket of the world.  Get my drift?

11.  Ahhh, it's harvest time.  What a wonderful time of year.  You have the unique opportunity to observe, up-close and personal, how our nation's crops are harvested.  Take advantage of it!

12.  You also have the unique opportunity to be squashed into an accordion by a random bale-mover crossing the road if you decide you can text and drive on our quiet route.

13.  WARNING:  There are farm implements, attachments, and trailers sticking out, parked along, and blocking the road entirely at any and all random times and locations throughout harvest season.

14.  Rural people are friendly.  We're also isolated.  I know you had a bad day at work, but put it behind you and wave at us, for Pete's sake.

15.  Oh, this one is important!  Rural people in cars wave by raising their pointer finger off the steering wheel.

16.  Yes, we're raising a finger at you.

17.  No, not that one.

18.  I know you're frustrated that you can't get to work on the main thoroughfare and I'm so sorry for your inconvenience.

19.  Our stop signs are not optional.

20.  We love to have people stop by and visit our farm animals.

21.  Not all farmers feel the same way.  Ask first.

22.  Which reminds me:  the fences are electrified, the horses and goats can bite, yes, that's a bull in the pasture, you might get some chicken and/or cow poop on the bottom of your shoes, and we have rusty nails galore.  Keep your wits about you and don't sue me if you or your kids do something foolish.
23.  We try our best to keep the chickens out of the road, we really do.  They have wings.  Enough said.

24.  Please don't go bowling for chickens.

25.  The speed limit is 55.  Not 65, not 75, and certainly not 85.  Please SLOW DOWN.

26.  If a farmer is pulling a wagon loaded with grain, s/he absolutely can't pull off to the side to let you pass.

27.  We also really don't enjoy holding up that long line of cars behind us.

28.  Unless you're one of those who flipped us off while passing us at 80 mph.  Then we do.

29.  Farmers love to flag down other farmers, idle in our pick up trucks in the middle of the road, ideally at a corner or on a blind hill, block traffic, and chat about the corn yields over coffee in styrofoam cups.

30.  You should try it sometime.

31.  Finally, farmers know that manure stinks.
32.  If you don't slow down, a random farmer might just lay a strip of that stinky manure down the center of the road.

Well!  I'm so glad I've had this opportunity to show off my Midwestern hospitable nature.  Once again, enjoy the drive and rural scenery.  Soon enough you'll be back to your regular route and our quaint little farm road will be but a distant memory.  Until then, be well and have a wonderful day!

Most sincerely yours,
The Farmer

Monday, September 13, 2010

Product Endorsement

I hate to make sweeping generalizations here, but farmers don't traditionally have a lot of money.   We're what you call asset-rich, cash-poor--all of our money is tied up in land, equipment and livestock and pretty much the only way to access that money is to sell the farm.  You can get the money but then you're out of a home and job.  (Please remind me once again why I signed up for this?)  Of course I use the word 'we' here in the most general sense.  Marcel and I are even better off:  asset-poor, cash-poor.  Please dial back your envy.

Anyways, the point of this post is thriftiness.  Thrift-i-ness.  Farmers have to be thrifty because we don't have alot of cash on hand.  I know most of you are used to the common definition of the word thrifty--showing thrift; economical or frugal, but did you know that thrifty also means thriving or prospering?

That makes sense, doesn't it? If you're thrifty you'll become thrifty and probably stay thrifty, unless of course you start being unthrifty.

Wait, what?

In the spirit of thriftiness, I'd like to now endorse a product that has enhanced my life dramatically in the past few months. It is Pampered Chef's Quick-Stir Pitcher.

I purchased this pitcher from my lovely cousin who used to be a Pampered Chef saleswoman.  I unwittingly attended someone's Pampered Chef party, enjoyed the company, admired the hostess' ability to unabashedly sell her wares to friends and family, and then promptly gagged on the free veggie pizza slices as I saw how much everything costs.  High quality?  Check.  High class?  Check.  High falutin' tootin'?  Check.  Affordable for poor ole little ole thrifty me?  Nope. 

So I did what I always do at these types of events, I frantically flipped pages and searched through the catalog until I found something that met my criteria:  1) useful, 2) not a million dollars.  I found it in the Quick-Stir. 

To be honest, the Quick-Stir Pitcher pushed my sensibilities a bit.  I mean, how hard is it to stir up a chunk of frozen cran-lemon-raspberry-tea with my trusty wooden spoon?  Not very!  And yet, the next affordable, halfway useful item was the cheese knife, for which a butter knife had always done the trick.  The Quick-Stir won out, if only for the fun name.  Quick-Stir, Quick-Stir.  I could say that all day.

I used it.  I did.  It came in handy a few times here and there, even though it wasn't as pretty as my cobalt-blue pitcher I had bought in college.  (I have no idea why a college student need a cobalt blue pitcher, but I've been glad many times over for that unthrifty purchase.)

Fast forward approximately 9 years and 3 months, give or take a few years, and the darn Quick-Stir is my best friend.  Best friend, I tell ya!  Ever since Honeysuckle, our bottle calf, was born we've had to make up first 4, then 6, and now sometimes 7 or 8 bottles of dry milk replacer per day.  I'd start out by adding the dry powder to the bottle itself, slopping it on the sides of the bottle and the porch floor, all the while making a sticky, fly-attracting mess. Then I'd add the warm water and shake, shake, shake, shake, shake.  Shake until my back hurt, shake until my brain hurt, shake until I could shake no more.  The milk would mix, but inevitably there'd be big chucks of powder floating around in it, stopping up the nipples and frustrating the calf. 

And then I remembered the Quick-Stir.  I got it out, added the milk powder and warm water, and plunged.  Plunged, plunged, plunged, plunged plunged.  No mess on the bottles, no mess on the floor, and I'm pretty good at plunging now, just in case the toilet ever gets plugged or some sort of nonsense.  I plunged that nifty little plunger up and down until the liquid was a perfectly smooth milky mixture.  Remove plunger, pour it into the bottles, and Viola!  Breakfast is served. 

$16.50.  That's it.  That's the cost of my nifty, thrifty Pampered Chef Quick-Stir Pitcher, the one that makes my porch cleaner, Honeysuckle's milk smoother, and my life easier.  I gotta say, the next time you have a bottle calf on your hands, you just gotta get yourself one of these!  Maybe I'll pitch (ha ha, sorry) a new name to the company while I'm thinking of it--The Pampered Farmer has a ring to it, don't you think?  

Thriftily yours,

Farmer Jackie

Friday, September 3, 2010

Where's the Beef?

It feels like fall today, which means it's the season for pot roast, chili, beef stew and round steak over buttered noodles.  Yum.  Or perhaps a few grassfed rib eyes or hamburger patties are just what you need for your upcoming tailgate parties. Either way, now's the time to place your order for Irish Grove Farms' delicious 100% grass-finished beef.

Our cattle are rotated through organically-managed pastures and have free-choice access to an organic salt, mineral and kelp supplement. They are fed absolutely no grain, hormones or antibiotics.

You can order by the whole ($2.75/lb hanging weight), the half ($3.00/lb. hanging weight), the quarter ($3.25/lb hanging weight), or a 25 lb. beef variety box for $150, which contains steaks, roasts, round steaks, hamburger patties, ground beef, etc.

Email Jackie at to place your order. Or call (815) 742-6781.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Egg Recall

If you live in a bubble, you may be unaware that there was a recall of a half billion eggs recently due to salmonella contamination. If you're not in that bubble, you may wish you were--especially if you're one of the 1,400+ people sickened by the salmonella in your breakfast burrito or western skillet.

As a small farmer and small-time egg producer, I've gotten lots of attention from the egg scandal. I've had friends post comments on Facebook telling others to buy safe eggs from Irish Grove Farms. I've had comments on this blog asking how I ensure our eggs are free from contamination. And just yesterday I was contacted by our local Channel 13 News team, wanting to come out to the farm and interview me about my supposed increase in customers since the recall. (I was at work, so unable to do the interview. Whew!)

Have I had an increase in customers after the recall? I honestly don't know. But the reason I don't know is because I had so many customers before the recall, an empty fridge and disappointed customers is nothing new around here.

The reason my eggs are in high demand, however, is not because they're salmonella-free (even though they are). It's because they're so dang delicious.

A recent news release from Reuters about the FDA inspection at the two contaminated farms stated that, "During inspections conducted on August 19-26, officials found rodent holes and leaking manure at several locations run by Hillandale Farms of Iowa, and non-chicken feathers and live mice and flies at houses owned by Wright County Egg, according to reports posted on the FDA website."

As a consumer, this sounds gross. I get it: rodents and birds are dirty and carry disease, as do flies. But as a farmer it sounds normal. Can you please take me to a farm that doesn't have troubles with mice? Or flies? Or barn swallows and bats finding a way in?

Another article made it sound worse, though. At WebMD, it says, "FDA investigators found:

* Huge manure pits open to outside animals.
* Evidence that rodents, wild birds, and other animals could enter the henhouses via missing siding and gaps in doors and walls.
* Actual sightings of rodents, birds, and bird nests inside the facilities.
* So many live flies that they were crushed underfoot on walkways. Maggots "too numerous to count" were seen in at least one manure pit.
* Farm workers went from henhouse to henhouse without cleaning their tools or changing their shoes or clothing -- which can spread germs between houses.
* Uncaged birds tracked manure from the pits to the laying houses.

Some of the egg-producing hens were caged above manure pits four to eight feet deep. The weight of these vast manure pits had burst open outside doors."

OK. So some flies and mice are bad. But manure pits bursting open doors and live flies crunching underfoot is ghastly. *Shudder*

The part that has been overlooked, though , is that the egg-wash water was contaminated with salmonella. According to the Reuters article, "DA officials also said inspectors found salmonella in a water sample collected from a Hillandale Farms plant. The sample came from spent egg-wash water, or water used to wash the exterior of eggs traveling down conveyor belts to the packing facility, said Jeff Farrar, FDA's associate commissioner for food protection. DeYoung (a spokeswoman from Hillandale--Jackie's note) said eggs at Hillandale are also rinsed with water containing chlorine as an additional step to kill bacteria."

This is where the public doesn't understand what's going on. You may think that a final chlorine wash will kill the bacteria on the shell and all is well. Except for one major, glaring problem: Egg shells are porous! They have little tiny microscopic holes throughout the entire shell!

If egg shells were air-tight, how could a baby chick could breathe during development? The tiny holes in shells allow air to enter the shell, and if air can get in, so can egg-wash water. Egg-wash water contaminated with salmonella, in this case.

This is something all egg producers know. And it is why small flock owners like myself that sell "Nest Run Eggs"--meaning they aren't processed (washed, graded, candled) for commercial sale--don't wash the eggs! The eggs are wiped clean, perhaps, with a damp cloth, any nest bedding materials is flicked off, and the eggs get put in the carton as is. (If I collect a 'poopy egg', as I so technically call them, I throw it away if it's really bad, or I eat if myself if it's passable, washing it directly before use.)

When a hen lays an egg, it's wet. The wet layer on the surface of the shell is a protective coating made of protein (called a cuticle) that keeps bacteria from entering the shell. When you wash an egg this coating is lost and bacteria can pass freely into the egg. Washing eggs for a store or for market, which I can do as a licensed Egg Broker, is tricky. You must use the hottest water possible, to make the insides of the egg expand and effectively push back on the water trying to enter. If you use cool water, the opposite will happen and the egg will absorb the dirty water.

So don't be fooled when a company says they can use dirty wash-water because they give the egg a final chlorine rinse. It's not the shell you should worry about in this instance, it's the egg inside--swimming around with salmonella-wash-water. Mm, mm, good.

So what can we do? Well, we can follow the American Egg Board's recommendations: Cook eggs until the whites and yolks are firm, meaning no more eggs-over-easy or sunny-side-up, no more soft-boiled eggs, no more raw eggs in smoothies....and goodbye eggnog and custards.

And/or you can buy Nest Run Eggs from local producers with healthy birds and wash the eggs directly before use.

And/or you can buy eggs from trusted, preferably small producers that wash their eggs following safety procedures and cleanliness standards.

If you decide to buy eggs from Irish Grove Farms, though, and please do....the problem you encounter may lie more in a lack of eggs than in the quality.  Consider yourself fore-warned.