October 08, 2010

woah, boys.  easy now.

while attempting to introduce our two new bulls to the herd (located several fence lines, over the hill, and halfway to grandma’s away), a lapse in one section of our temporary alley allowed the transferees to undermine the plans.  one second they were in the alley, and the next second they were in full trot, in tandem, towards the farthest possible location they could find—the tree line, three hundred yards away. 

son of a.

i can’t quite describe what these moments are like.  not panicky, as you might guess.  and compared to other moments, not really much urgency either.  there’s just nothing you can do, besides wait and see what they do.  no amount of sprinting, screaming, or freaking will solve your problems now.

after quickly eliminating our options, we landed on the idea of grabbing our trucks, and slowly herding them down the pasture and towards either a) the alley we had them in, or b) the same overnight holding pen they were in last night.  either one will do at this point. 

and it almost worked, too.  after two three quarter way successful efforts, and a whole lot of sprinting, jogging, zigging, and cornering on my end, john ivy politely pointed out that i-between me and the bulls—was the only one getting tired.  at that moment, i wished i could have traded all the power under my hood,  for one real horse.

so we gave up.  the two bulls, at last sighting, were napping in the woodline on the far end of their pasture.  we closed off every exit except the one that leads to their holding pen from last night. 

like a middle aged man luring school kids into his van with candy and balloons, we laced the holding paddock with a mound of sea kelp, a pile of alfalfa snacks, and the only access to water this side of seven thousand volts.  the hope is they will enter, spend the night, and we can try this again in a day or two.

this is where we stand.  to be continued.


p.s.  to me, the live action commentary to start the clip is hilarious in retrospect.  at that moment i knew nothing.  an hour and a half later i was red in the face, and defeated for the day. 

October 07, 2010 l’chaim!

light a cigar, and pop a cork, cause dr. richard kimble has a new brother!  i went to the sale barn yesterday, and bought my second cow—my second cow, ever—at the northeast georgia livestock auction.  if you missed my video last week, you have to see what this place is like.  my mind done gone blown.

the bidding started in the mid eighties, there was a lack of interest, and it dropped to the low seventies.  i bid .seventy two, the other guy .seventy three, me .seventy four, and he walked.

seven hundred and five pounds of delicious bull taken home at .seventy four cents a pound.  it will take a little over a year to raise him up over a thousand pounds, but it will be an endeavor that benefits both my wallet as well as my palate.

so far i haven’t come up with a name for this rust coated beauty, but the person who comes up with a winner will receieve a free im high on cooking t-shirt. 

so, whatdya got?  send your suggestions to facebook, twitter, or shoot me a line: imhighoncooking@gmail.com

September 27, 2010 raindrops keep falling on my head

for the first time in what feels like forever a substantial rain has fallen.  in mid summer it seemed like the rain would never stop, and then just in time to get what we wished for, it hasn’t rained since.

bed rows at the vegetable farm are cracked over and crusty.  pork chop hill has a dust cloud swirling over head.  and the grass.  well, let’s just call it thirsty.

all day today, the crack pop of thunder and the drip drap of rain lulled the town to a hushed pace—singing lullabies with the wind and painting the sky a heavy grey.

today made me recall a quote i once read in a piece a friend recommended.  “to know a place, first get out in all weathers.  walk the land at least; at best, work the land.  in this way the subtleties of place become familiar.”  words by brian donahue, from reclaiming the commons—words that deserve another read. 

so i did just that, and i walked.  the cow pasture came alive with the sudden reappearance of water, it’s once familiar companion, and for the first time all month the ground gave a bit as i squished out to check the cows. 

just another day at the office for these boys, though.

September 25, 2010 see ehn en

the three years before i began farming i was working on the floor of the new york stock exchange.  through the collapse of lehman brothers, the recession, the bail out—you know the story—i was working in the belly of the beast.  with my tie pulled tight i’d dodge reporters and protesters on my way past the security that surrounded the historic building.  cnbc filmed fifteen feet away from where i was working, all day every day.  on the closing bell, each day at four, the intrusive shine of a spotlight would hit me from the side as a camera man walked by, cruising for stock footage of monkeys slamming keys. 

after all this hooplah, i had to move to rural georgia and work on a farm to be interviewed by cnn.  amusing, no?

today we were visited on the farm by cnn editor/producer wes.  coincidentally, as completely random, not at all pre-meditated, totally innocent luck will have it, i just happened to be wearing a freshly pressed imhighoncooking t-shirt for the shoot. 


wes is doing a piece on farm burger, farm255’s sister restaurant in decatur (atl), and he came to film us out on fowler farm, doing what we do best.  contrary to what you may expect, he’s no company hack, sent out to film whatever the big wigs tell him to.  he was clearly genuine in his interest, and this piece was an idea he developed and pitched himself.  his questions intelligent and his curiosity keen.  

his interest in farm burger is two fold—well, maybe multi-fold.  it’s not just a farm to table restaurant he wanted to shoot, for that task is becoming easier by the month.  as with most good ideas, however, swarms of posers, half-assers, and quick-buckers sink their claws into the backs of innovators and visionaries and come along for the ride.

the difference between farm burger and farm255 vs. other similarly described restaurants is that as opposed to merely sourcing quality ingredients (which is probably still more than many so called farm-to-plate menus can say) we actually grow them ourselves.  it’s not farm to table—it’s farm AND table.  (booyah!)

taking it next level, wes was keen to the fact that farm burger is serving this food at economical prices—giving access of farm fresh food to the people.  not just some people.  all the people. 

coming from brooklyn, eating farm fresh food at a hip restaurant is no tall order to fill.  the bill, however, is a horse of a different color.  even a niche industry such as ours, which prides itself on treating farmers fairly, can be criticized for mainly catering to deep pocketed soccer moms and big city socialites.   

preaching about food access is one thing—delivering is quite another.  developing farm to table concepts that holds access as a priority needs to be a focus going forward.

the cnn piece is slotted to air on the twenty seventh, and i will put a link up as soon as it does.

February 04, 2010 the kill floor

first, a spoiler alert.  there are many pictures of a cow being butchered below this text.  although i, people who grew up on farms, or anyone who frequents a proper butcher shop won’t have a problem with seeing a skinned animal, some people would rather not see it.  for those people, i would suggest even more that you do.

the societal divide between what people eat and where it comes from has led to systemic failures.  failure to provide humanely raised meat, safe and decent paying farm jobs, healthy and safe meat for consumers—basically a failure on all accounts.  on the other side of the spectrum, there are some who opt out of this system all together, and the farm i am apprenticing on has done exactly that.

it should be made clear the vast differences between animal husbandry, which i’m here to learn, and large scale industrial animal operations.  on this farm animals are raised from birth to death completely on fresh pasture.  they are rotated daily by means of cheap, efficient, highly portable, electric wired fencing.  this rotation is what allows not only fresh grass for the cows, but sufficient rest time for the remainder of the pasture.  this method encourages natural vegetation and improves soil health with appropriate levels of manure.  on this diet they steadily gain about a pound per day and rarely fall ill.

the other option is called a cafo, which stands for concentrated animal feeding operation, and it’s goal is to maintain cheap, readily available products.  instead of grazing in the sun these animals are raised in stifling confinement and mechanically fed grain mixtures instead of grass.  according to jo robinson of eatwild.com, “the main ingredients are genetically modified grain and soy that are kept at artificially low prices by government subsidies…the feed may also contain ‘by-product feedstuff’ such as municipal garbage, stale pastry, chicken feathers, and candy.” unlike the beneficial manure deposits in a rotational system, the cafo produces enormous amounts of waste in a small area leading to ground and water pollution.   the two methods could not be more different.

with intensive management of a pasture the animals can live a healthy, happy, and as close to natural life as can be provided.  depriving them of old age is natural as animals in the wild would face predators and injury.  this meat is healthy for the animals, the land, the producer and the consumer.  grass fed animals are leaner than grain fed animals, which means they are lower in both fat and calories.  they are several times higher in omega three fatty acids as well as antioxidants.  the entire system is beneficial.

yesterday, i helped stake out the next cow paddock with electric fence and moved the cows to fresh grass.  we also loaded a cow into the trailer and drove him to the butcher.  unlike the butcher shops i frequented in brooklyn (hook and marlow), this is an old school country butcher with zero frills, zero designer candies, and zero beer koozies.  the animal is killed and its head and limbs are removed.  the skins are salted and sold to a tanning company.  the innards are removed—some used, some discarded (i took home the kidneys for the dog).  the animal is hung with meat hooks from the ceiling and skinned by hand, which takes about an hour.  it is sawed down the middle lengthwise and then knifed in half widthwise.  on the same hooks it hangs from it slides on a track into the meat locker to await processing (the steakification of the animal, if you will).

the cow pictured here is a polled hereford, and it was twenty eight months old.  it’s head looks so dirty because it eats grass all day, not because the kill floor is dirty.   the whole process was very efficient and artful.  at various points the large carcass halves were gently swinging in a circle around the butcher as steel sliced through flesh.   if the hour and a half i spent with him taught me anything, it’s that he’d want to knife me for the coming comparison, but it was an elegant dance.

for me, being on the kill floor on day three on the farm felt natural and right.  to deliver the cow to the butcher last night, without viewing the slaughter, left me feeling uneasy.  respect for the animal is what the whole process is supposed to be about, so it felt good to see it through for my first time.  the dog didn’t mind the bone gift either.