Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Draft Horses - a classy way to pull your ride

"Land yachting" is the term that came to mind while watching draft horses and fancy wagons compete at the 25th(!) anniversary of the Draft Horse Classic in Grass Valley. Talk about horsepower! These massive, muscular and beautiful animals have largely become obsolete with the invention of railroad, cars, military vehicles and tractors. Those that have taken care to see that draft horse breeds don't disappear use them for different purposes these days, mainly showing them or for pulling contests. They are also still used on some small farms, mostly by the Amish, as an organic and renewable source of power.
Horse shoeing competition

Draft horses were used to deliver daily dairy products!
Part of the appeal is the many restored wagons folks bring to the show.  For the Americana competition there was a hearse, Santa's sleigh (and Santa!), a dusty stagecoach filled with travelers and luggage, a beer delivery wagon, a fire station wagon and more.

The setting of the Nevada County Fair Grounds, recognized as California's most beautiful fairgrounds and the onset of cool fall weather made this an event to remember.
Wishing I had more locally made Lazy Dog ice cream
And a bit of exciting news that is about to change my life...I was chosen for a 6 month internship at Toluma Farms, a goat dairy on the California Coast-I'll be heading there in November!

Friday, September 23, 2011

End of Summer Bounty

As I spend time selling lamb, beef and sausage at the Auburn Farmer's Market each Saturday, I become more aware of the seasons and what I am eating. I also see the profound effect the seasons have on what I am eating. The end of summer provides an abundance of fruits, vegetables, meat and flowers. There is so much that economical eaters will freeze, jam, dry and preserve the bounty, saving some of the glorious summer flavors to be enjoyed in less prolific winter months.

Currently the locally grown produce available to munch on in considerable quantities includes plums (bad year for plums, too much late rain), Asian pears, apples, raspberries, honey, a large variety of melons, okra, sweet corn, patty-pan & spaghetti squash, peppers, beans, tomatoes, lamb, pistachios, beef and more. Below are a couple of my favorite seasonal creations made using ingredients found at the Auburn farmers market and the Sacramento Co-op:

Green zebra heirloom tomatoes from the garden
Pistachio Basil Pesto Bruschetta with Tomatoes
-2 cloves garlic
-1/2 cup shelled pistachios
-2 cups loosely packed basil
-1 tablespoon lemon juice
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
-1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Put garlic in food processor (ie blender); pulse until chopped.  Add pistachios, basil, lemon juice and salt; pulse until nuts are finely chopped. Add olive oil gradually through food shoot and process until well combined. Add cheese and pulse 2 or 3 times.  Makes one cup.

1 baguette, sliced
Broil in oven until toasty, about 4 minutes

Slather the toast with pesto, top with a slice of tomato, savor the taste and the moment.

Frozen Honey Cream - a lighter ice cream option, but a warning: it is so good you just might eat it all in one sitting!

In a medium bowl, using n electric mixer, beat 1 3/4 cups heavy cream into stiff peaks, then refrigerate. In a small pot, bring 2/3 cup honey to a boil over medium-high heat and cook 2 minutes.

In another medium bowl, beat 4 egg yolks until pale yellow.  With mixer running, add honey in a slow, steady stream. Beat on high until mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 5 minutes.

With a rubber spatula, fold in whipped cream. Transfer to a 5x10 inch loaf pan. Cover with plastic. Eat it soft, or freeze until set, about 2 hours (or for up to a week).
Growing up in a culture where almost any kind of food is available at any time of year (Mango's in California. In January.) I never really connected food with the seasons in which they naturally grow. As I slowly gather and retain knowledge about local, seasonal produce, I have discovered that food picked in season, when it is ripe (ie locally, not shipped in from Argentina) is vastly superior to the blemish-free, taste-free produce found in supermarkets across the country.

In California it takes marginally more effort to shop at a farmers' market rather than a big grocer but the tantalizingly tasty rewards are well worth it. There is also great joy to be found in meeting and supporting directly the people who grow your food (and flowers). Farmer's markets are also an excellent opportunity to meet like minded folks...farmers as well as other shoppers, and to start to see what a wonderful sense of community these markets can build.

A decorative red eggplant for fall-courtesy Ueki Gardens

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Atumnal Aspirations

This weekend my fiance Matt and I were provided a wealth of occasions to enjoy, learn from and consider for the future.

We were invited to visit Toluma Farms, a 200 acre goat dairy in the small coastal town of Tomales (about a 2 hour drive southwest of Sacramento). The drive provides views of sun-baked rolling hills (and pleasant cloud cover), plenty of cows and the smell of eucalyptus to fill our lungs.

Tomales consists of 204 residents, a cute deli and bakery, a couple churches, post office, an inn and general store. Mostly it seems to be a coffee stop for folks traveling through on their Bay Area weekend excursions.

A view of half the town of Tomales

Toluma Farms is another two miles off the Tomales main drag. The Farm offers one internship opportunity about every 6 months; my interest in this internship is the reason we made the visit. There we met Eric, who lives on the farm, is the goat herd manager and general caretaker. He has a BS in Animal Science from UC Davis, so it is no accident that he is the manager of this expanding farm. We also met Anne Marie who was recently hired for her cheese making skills - pending permits from the county, Toluma Farms will produce and sell their own cheese.

Only a small portion of the 200 acres is currently used for the goats; a good amount is rented out for cattle running and dry potato farming. There is a large barn packed with straw for the goats, an outdoor penning area in which the goats commit mischief, a machine milking parlor with a milk storage tank and a building soon to be converted into a creamery. There are approximately 200 milking goats (not all milking at the same time) and the Farm has recently added a flock of ten East Frisian dairy sheep-right up my alley and the same type of sheep I have hand milked (really one of the only kind of dairy sheep available in the United States).

An internship at Toluma Farms appears to be an exceptional opportunity for me to increase and acquire skills in dairying small ruminants and cheese making.

The nearest city to the Farm is Petaluma, a rural, rolling 30 minute drive. We spent some time wandering around their Old Town. One of the neatest businesses we visited is the Seed Bank which sells 1,200 varieties of heirloom seeds out of the historic Sonoma County National Bank building. The Bank is part of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company; I am happy to say we have some heirloom melons grown from their seeds ripening in the garden as I write!

Besides these most agreeable tours of farm and city, we also enjoyed a folksy, mellow rock concert by Fleet Foxes at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley - a cool outdoor Acropolis style venue. The stone steps throughout the venue provide good views for the vertically challenged.

All in all, a successful and full weekend...I look forward to whatever opportunities and challenges the future brings.

Monday, September 5, 2011

9 Lessons of a Shepherd Intern

#9-It is possible to back up a large truck with a sheep cage in the back down a very narrow dirt road without bringing harm on truck, person, animal or environment (you do end up with sweaty palms though).

#8-Setting up electric fence in parched, rocky earth takes a long time, a mallet, a good hat and some personal fortitude.

#7-A tired shepherd and a determined intern can lift a large, sick ewe up a hill and into a truck - just barely.

#6-An unexpected ladybug colony at first appears creepy, but makes your heart smile when you realize they are gentle ladybugs and not giant, pinching ants.

#5-Blackberry bush stalks continue to reach out to rip your skin and clothes to shreds, even after sheep have relieved them of their leaves.

#4-Crowding sheep remind me of what it feels like at the Outside Lands concert.

More than one similarity to sheep

#3-Very important - DON'T open the gate unless you know the plan or Dan the shepherd tells you it's ok.

#2-If you open said gate without a plan or ok and sheep make a run for the hills, two clever border collies and a confident shepherd can fix your mistake pretty quick.

#1-Farming is an incredibly difficult profession that at times offers very little reward.

This weekend felt like a dose of reality to mix in with my idealized farming ambitions. Farming is physically, mentally and emotionally taxing and doesn't always provide the financial return desired for time, effort and labor put in. I can't help wondering, am I cut out for this? can I be successful at this? should I scale down my aspirations?

By late summer most small farmers in this area are run ragged from a long, hot season of watering, feeding, protecting and harvesting whatever their farm is producing. We can show our support for them by buying from them at farmers markets, sure, but what are some more ways we can show support and appreciation for our local farmers? The Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op has a program to raise money for local producers and to preserve future farmland; it's called Once Farm at a Time. If any farmers are reading, what are some ways in which you would appreciate support from your community?