Saturday, May 31, 2008


This is Moo the Cow, as he is now known in our family. Annabel named him Moo after I showed her his picture and explained he would provide us with hamburgers and steak soon. She's a little sad about it. I suggested we think of Moo the Cow and thank him whenever we eat beef at home. I plan to print his picture and hang it on the freezer.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Azure Standard Order Next Week

I'm going to place my first Azure Standard order next week, for delivery on Thursday afternoon. If you would like to join my order and will be available to come pick up your items by 9pm Thursday evening, please let me know. I'll submit my order sometime Tuesday, so get in touch with me by Monday.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

For Years to Come?

This afternoon, Annabel and I got to talking about her namesake, my paternal grandmother, Anna Bell Doll Musser. I have a distinct memory of when I learned Granny's full name. She had a plate commemorating her and Pop Pop's 50th anniversary on a table in her living room, inscribed with her maiden name and Pop's name and their wedding date. I remember thinking that her name was the most beautiful name of any real person that I'd ever known and that Anna Bell Doll seemed an incongruously delicate and girly name for my sturdy, sensible Granny. Somehow, I loved her even more for having this wonderful name. From the moment I knew I was pregnant with Annabel, I knew she would be a girl and early on, before the ultrasound lab tech confirmed for me what I already knew, I also had decided (after consulting Mike, of course) what what my baby girl's name would be. We never considered any other names for her...had she come out a boy, he would have likely spent his first several weeks of life on the outside without a permanent name. She would be Annabel. Pronounced AH-na-bel, with the sensible German spelling rather than the fanciful French spelling, as Mike put it.

So, I was telling Annabel some of this and she wanted to see some pictures of Granny . I have some prints around, but I knew my dad has many old photos up on his web site. I didn't realize the treasure he had put up there and so was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon this page of pictures of Musser Farm, in Manchester, Pennsylvania, circa 1942-43.

A little background about the pictures. Sometime in the early 1940s, Christian B. Musser (aka Pop Pop), decided to try contour plowing his small (acreage, Dad?) farm. The US Soil Conservation Service helped Pop figure out how to go from traditional straight furrow cultivation to contour farming and the USDA, bless 'em, filmed the process over a year long period, in an effort to create a bit of pro-contour-plowing propaganda to convince other farmers of the ease and benefits of contour farming. Contour plowing prevents soil erosion and after millions of acres of farmland lost top soil during the 1930s, the USDA began actively promoting the method through the SCS.

I've watched this short film, entitled For Years to Come, many times over the years and am always utterly fascinated watching my grandparents, uncles, and aunts, all so young, smiling shyly as the camera trains on them picking peaches, carrying baskets of eggs or big jars full of summer's bounty up from the cellar. To see these people, whom I have only known in person as "old," animated in the spring of life is such a gift. To see the Musser Farm, now in its demise with my Uncle Paul (who bought the farm my grandparents in the 1960s) turning 80 this year and none of his kids taking it over, in its glorious, beautiful heyday, pleases me to no end. I never knew the farm with such a variety of crops and animals--pastured no less! I spent weeks there every summer as a child, chasing ducks, helping my Aunt Helen sort eggs, and just generally wandering around and exploring. Many of my happiest childhood memories come from that place.

Anyway, I stumbled on this trove of stills from the film on my dad's site and as I sat there looking at these pictures with my daughter, marveling at the primitive yet ingenious tools they used and the abundant beautiful crops they grew, I couldn't help but wonder about their farming practices. Were they organic? Did they compost? My dad has often commented on the rich dark soil we have here at our place and wistfully noted that Pop Pop would marvel at my soil. What would Pop Pop think of my pathetic garden? Maybe he'd be impressed with my asparagus and artichokes.

I think of Granny everytime I can, with her spectacular bursting-at-the-seams pantry. I wish I understood its organization. It seems somewhat random, but I can't help but think there must have been some reason to it. Did she can small batches and just add jars wherever she had space? Did she put jars in the order she wanted them taken back out? Was life just so unhurried then that she didn't need some high level of organization to keep things from getting chaotic? Oh, Granny, I have so many questions for you.

Please excuse me for going on and on about this. (Well, I suppose I shouldn't have to beg your indulgence. This is my blog afterall. I can go on and on if I want to, right?) I'm rather attached to those people and that farm. I miss them all terribly, especially my grandparents. For years I have fantasized about taking over the farm myself, transitioning it to organic, bringing animals back on the land. I know I'll never live on the East Coast again and I'm too old and out-of-shape to take up farming. Unfortunately, with no one in the family to pass the farm on to and the property being worth so much now, it seems unlikely that anyone wanting to farm could afford to buy this valuable bit of land and its lovely old buildings, now surrounded by suburban development and industrial parks.

I've been sick and down for a couple days...we just learned that one friend has bone cancer and a neighbor has leukemia, another friend's company is going out of business, someone stole the catalytic converter off our truck, and my husband's job remains in jeopardy, too. I'm completely wallowing and now find myself falling even further into my pit o' despair imagining Musser Farm being no more. Could someone please send me some uplifting news?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Birthday Thoughts on Being the Change

Today is my 41st birthday! I'm so glad to find myself still growing and learning. You may already know I am hosting Monique Dupre's Introduction to Sustainable Living on a Budget workshop at my home in NE Portland on July 21st at 7pm. The price for workshops goes up to $35 on June 1st, so register soon! Come learn and grow with us!

One of my mantras these days is Progress Not Perfection. I've been making a lot of the incremental changes toward sustainable living for a while...years in fact. I first became aware of and began consuming organic food in college during the late 1980s, but the changes I made then were small. Three years ago, when my oldest was two I began making more intentional and dramatic changes in my family's diet and home life.
  • It started when I removed all the commercially prepared salad dressings from the refrigerator (though we still have a vast collection of other least seven varieties of mustard and several chutneys and curry pastes). I also began to consciously eschew most processed foods--especially those containing any of the many additives my grandmother wouldn't have found in her kitchen--instead relying more seasonal, local, and organic food. I cleansed our pantry of all the processed foods I no longer felt good about feeding to my family.
  • To maintain our new at-home eating lifestyle after the birth of our son two years ago, I began cooking and freezing batches of stews, soups, and sauces and preparing "freezer marinades" in earnest during the last month or two of my pregnancy.
  • Soon after Luc was born, friends introduced me to Nourishing Traditions and Feeding the Whole Family, and I started cooking with more whole grains and legumes.
  • A year ago, I began a "buy nothing new year," which only lasted six months, but I did replace using paper napkins and towels with cloth equivalents. At the same time, I began purging our home of junky toys and anything that I no longer found beautiful or useful. These early de-cluttering efforts impacted my shopping habits and I now think twice before buying anything. I still find myself shopping for entertainment or when I'm anxious, but more than once I have walked away from a shopping cart full of impulses when I realized what I was doing.
  • In August 2007, I began baking all our family's bread and bagels every week. I was too busy one week before Christmas and another time right before Annabel's birthday in April, but otherwise I've been amazed at how easily I have integrated bread-making into our life. It wasn't easy at first and I baked a lot of loaves that didn't rise properly, but now I consistently make decent bread.
  • For the last several months I have been learning about long term food storage, making cheese, and raw food fermentation, though I haven't begun to put what I've learned into practice, but for a batch of yogurt cheese and quark.
  • I continue with my de-cluttering efforts throughout the house and I donate, freecycle, sell, or recycle as much as possible. I am learning more and more ways to keep my "trash" out of the waste stream.
  • I have also been de-cluttering my calendar, keeping our family's outside commitments to a minimum. This is still hard and I find myself over-committed occasionally, but I am getting better at saying "no" to requests for my time--even when an activity sounds fun or interesting. My husband and I now share a Google calendar which helps us keep our schedules synched. Annabel just has two scheduled activities each week, outdoor school Friday mornings and German school Saturday mornings, instead of the five she had a year ago. She still sees at least one friend a week during my weekly childcare swap and we inevitably arrange one other playdate or outing every week. I worry less, though about getting her "socialized" by other kids and spend more time with her one-on-one.
  • Last week I made another step on the path and ordered a whole Oregon grass-fed steer to share with a group of friends. As I mentioned in a previous post, we've reduced our meat consumption by half over the last few months.
  • After a hiccup in the plan to drink raw milk from a Sequim, Washington, dairy, I picked up a gallon late Wednesday evening and hope to have better luck with persuading Annabel to enjoy it this time. She wants to make cheese with me and I think we'll make some raw milk mozzarella on Tuesday.
  • I'm currently now working on my first Azure Standard order. I've been diligently comparing prices with WinCo, Bob's Red Mill, and New Seasons, and Azure Standard has significantly better prices on everything. It's like Costco for those of us who appreciate whole organic foods, but they deliver.
I have listed all these changes not to brag--not at all--but to demonstrate that these changes take time. I know some people are able to incorporate them more quickly than we have. I still don't have the gardening thing down, despite over six years of trying. It's one of my great frustrations--I come from Pennsylvania Dutch farm stock, afterall! We still eat out more than I would like. Each of these changes has come with some failures and frustrations (bread baking day was NOT as happy time here the first few weeks I tried to experiment with using whole grains, for example).

Success with these changes, I have found, is finding a system that works, attaching the new habits to old ones, assessing what's working and what isn't, tweaking the system, and trying anew. It took me six months of baking bread and making bagels separately every week to figure out that I could bake bread and make bagel dough on the same day (the bagel dough ferments overnight in the fridge). Now, I only have to pull out all my flours and grains and wash my bread mixer once a week. Duh! I can't believe it took me so long to figure that out! I'm sure there will be some issues with this big order of beef and my first few orders from Azure Standard, but I'm also sure I'll figure out ways to make it all work for our family.

I spent my 20s and 30s being an activist but now I find myself more satisfied with making changes at home rather than trying to change the rest of the world. I feel like that's all that I can do these days and maybe that's not enough, but at the same time, I do believe I'm doing exactly what I should be doing. Afterall, I have the next generation watching what I do, very intently!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Calculations and Ruminations of All That Is Grass-Fed

After weeks of research, mulling, querying, and more mulling, I have figured out where to get our meat for the coming year. I decided to buy a quarter of beef and a side of pork from Deck Family Farm near Junction City, located west of Eugene. I hope to go in with friends on those purchases and now just need to get confirmation and deposits from all the people who said, "Yeah, great idea!" when I suggested getting shares of a steer and hog. I'll also be getting a lamb from local writer and homesteader Mary Rosenblum and I just ordered six chickens from Rebecca, who organized a large order of roasters from Deo Volente Farm near Mulino. Later in the year, I'll order a turkey from the Deck family.

When I last wrote about finding pastured local meat, I was still not sure how much of everything I should order. Figuring out how much of a steer our family is likely to eat within a year led me to deciding to make some fairly radical (for us) changes to our eating habits. Usually, we eat meat at least once a day, at dinner time. Lunch often includes meat too, though breakfast rarely does. I know eating so much meat is not sustainable, both in terms of our food budget and planetary resources. I also found trying to calculate our annual meat consumption overly taxing and decided it would be easier to reduce and simplify--my mantra with just about everything these days. So out of both altruism and laziness, I decided to limit myself to cooking meat for the family to just once a week. For about six weeks now, I've been doing just that, cooking a rump roast, pork loin, or whole chicken at the beginning of the week and then using the meat variously--in sandwiches, soups, salads--throughout the week. This has been working out well for us. We're eating more eggs and legumes and while I haven't been keeping any tallies, it seems like I'm spending less on food lately at the same time everyone else seems to be complaining about spending more.

Here is how I arrived at the various amounts of meat to order for our family for a year. The typical steer yields about 195 pounds of meat per side, roughly 65 pounds of steaks, 65 pounds of roasts, and 65 pounds of ground beef. Half that amount, 97 pounds, will more than suffice for our family for a year. That's about five pounds of roasts or steaks and 3 pounds of ground per month. Currently, average American beef consumption is about 60 pounds per year. I estimate that our kids each eat about one-sixth of whatever meat we cook and that my husband and I eat one-third each. If we limit our beef consumption to what we eat at home, my husband and I will eat half as much beef as the average American over the next year.

The typical whole hog yields about 144 pounds of meat, including three pounds of feet, five pounds of head, and 23 pounds of back fat. So, minus the that stuff we wouldn't eat, a side of pork would have about 60 pounds of meat that we would eat. If we again assume Mike and I would each eat a third of that total, our annual pork consumption would be less than half the current American average.

Whole roasted chicken is such a favorite at our house and again, we can feast on the remains for the whole week. I brine the bird overnight, air-dry it in the fridge all day, put butter mixed with salt and pepper beneath the skin, fill the cavity with garlic and a quartered lemon or orange, then roast at 500 degrees for an hour or so (usually less). Although any chicken cooked with this method will yield crispy skin and succulent flesh, I can really taste the difference between pastured chicken and conventionally raised birds. Even the organic, "free-range" chicken from New Seasons isn't as tasty as the pastured ones we've gotten from Abundant Life Farm.

We get a dozen or two eggs a week from my friend Chrissy and her in-laws and I've decided to go back to getting raw milk from the Portland Real Milk network. I stopped getting it for a month or so because Annabel says she doesn't like it, but when I pick up our order next week, I'm going to put it in a container from the store and see if she notices the difference. I think her reaction wasn't to the taste so much as the unfamiliar container and a wee bit of contrariness for its own sake. Some days, whatever I like, she does not, and such is the nature of five-year-old girls.

That's all on the pastured meat, dairy and egg front! I'm so pleased to be saying goodbye to mystery meat and hello to real, live farmers and their fantastic offerings.