Oct 24, 2011

Food Day 2011: Facts to Share and Remember

Every day is food day. We should each be free to buy the food that best fits our values.

Access to abundant and affordable food, which comes from many different production methods, is necessary to ensure that millions of American families do not go to bed hungry.

Today’s food system works to address hunger and food insecurity, and to meet the challenge of feeding a growing global population.

Whether we choose food that is organic or vegan, prepackaged or fresh, locally grown or conventionally raised, from the supermarket or from the farmer’s market, we all want food that is safe, wholesome, raised in a responsible way, and meets our family's needs.

The best food choices for one family may not be right for another. We should support the right to choose the food that fits our lifestyle and our family budget.

Supporting a diverse food supply, raised using a variety of farming methods, is vital to ensuring that we all have access to affordable food. If we limit our ability to produce the food we need, we will increase hunger and food insecurity.

We cannot save family farms or feed a rapidly expanding global population by limiting farming methods or returning to outdated technology.

Placing restrictions on the U.S. food system that limit the ability to produce the food we need will increase the cost of food and limit healthy, affordable food choices for all of us, including those who can least afford it.

Supporting today’s food system in order to produce the food we need using fewer resources is the ethical choice for people, animals and the planet.

Today, one farmer produces enough food in one year to feed 156 people.

If we relied on the food production systems of 1950, as some are suggesting, approximately 150 million people living in the U.S. today would be without food. That’s everyone in the 13 largest U.S. states, hungry.

Oct 17, 2011

Large Scale vs. Me

I am currently in the AgriPower IV class through the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. This is a program that selects 20 individuals each year to participate and hone their leadership skills, learn more about the organization and politics. Over the next year I will spend 17 days with my classmates and staff from the Ohio Farm Bureau. At the end of September in Columbus, we met with many elected officials including state Auditor, Secretary of State, state legislators, Director of Agriculture and Governor Kasich. I am sure I have left someone out but it was an excellent opportunity to learn how our government works and how everything fits together.

After our formal meetings, we left Columbus and headed toward Raymond, OH to visit New Day Farms. This is a farm that houses laying hens and also has a processing facility for broken out eggs. It was a very large poultry facility to the eyes of most.

This farm was truly amazing. It had been nearly 10 years since I had toured a farm like this and I must say it was fascinating. We live in a society where people are very removed from the origins of their food. Children think their milk comes from the grocery store, eggs come from the refrigerator case and when you open the door it moos and clucks as an effort to help bridge the gap. When I was growing up I never realized how lucky I was to be raised on a farm. I often thought it was hard work and sometimes got tired of missing out on fun things with my friends because I was doing chores or working with animals.

After living in town for a few years after getting married, Matt and I realized just how lucky we were to grow up in rural America. While the town life was easier we knew we wanted to raise a family in the country. Our neighbors thought we were a bit strange when we would pull up in front of our house with a livestock trailer full of sheep. Our old neighbors who are now very dear friends asked us what we were doing with those sheep in town. We told them they were going in the backyard to mow and fertilize. We were clearly joking but they had concern in their eyes.

We raise layers on our farm and invite all of our friends to come see the hens that produce the eggs they purchase from us. Their children like to collect the eggs in a pretty basket. Our egg production is old fashioned and fun but not nearly as sophisticated, clean or efficient as New Day Farms and most poultry farms across the country.

Most uninformed consumers think big is bad! I as a small rural Ohio farmer am here to say Bigger is Better. My customers pay a premium for our natural antibiotic-free farm fresh eggs. New Day Farms feeds no antibiotics to their hens either. The hens have fresh water and food all the time on demand. I was most fascinated that the farm works with a poultry nutritionist who changes the hens’ diets to adjust for what their nutritional needs are week by week. When the hen lays an egg, is rolls onto a mini conveyor belt which heads straight to the processing end of the farm. All the manure is automatically dropped onto another belt system which dries and is discarded multiple times per week. Can you guess how many flies were in the barn? I did not see one fly the entire time I was there. It smelled a little like a chicken but no odor or smells of manure. The barn is temperature controlled for comfort and is on automatic light timers to ensure proper day and night schedules. Another fun fact about this large farm is that everything on the farm is composted. Even the egg shells are composted into lime which is sold locally. I would have loved to take photos but due to liability, which I understand, we were not allowed to take photos.

I would like to add that this farm takes great care to ensure a safe healthy animal and end product. I had to stay out of my own chicken barn for 72 hours prior to visiting and was in a full plastic coverall and hair net. After seeing this farm, I feel 100% safe buying eggs from the store and so glad we live in a country that values animal safety and consumer health.

The buy local movement is huge and I am fortunate to be a part of it. I love to buy local and I appreciate having this option. Do I always buy local? No, it is not always easy and frankly it sometimes costs more. Larger farms allow for a more cost effective food. Just because something is produced on a larger scale does not make it bad or change the nutritional content. Good, safe food, comes from well cared for birds whether they are on a large, or small, farm. Did you know that we are only 9 meals away from going hungry? Keep reading later this week as I will share more about hunger, food supply and Food Day coming up in one week. Every Day is Food Day to a Farmer.

Oct 16, 2011

Papa's Paw Paws

The Christmas tree farm is an environmentalist's dream. Not only do we have over 30,000 Christmas Trees we also have many acres of wetlands, CREP conservation areas and even a paw paw patch. We sell paw paws to a restaurant when in season and several private individuals. The going rate for paw paws is $10 per pound. The paw paw is a native fruit to Ohio. It is full of nutrients and even more nutritious than a banana. It is said that this fruit can help with stomach indigestion and digestion. It is a fleshy fruit and is only ripe for a very short period of time. It has lots of seeds inside.

Our natural paw paw patch is along our creek bed and is very wet most of the time. They spread through their root system and take over very easily. The tricky part of raising paw paws is that the animals love them just as much as people. When ripe, they fall from the trees, this is what the animals count on. We go out and shake the tree, when fruit falls it is almost ripe. The skin will be soft and turn a darker color as it ripens.

The taste is similar to a banana or a mango. Most either love it or could leave it. There are many recipes out there that are good and most say the less you heat or cook a paw paw the better. This is a delicate fruit that needs to be used within a short window or you will not like the results.

The Reese grandkids call Matt's Dad "PaPa" and he takes great joy in harvesting the native crop with his grandchildren and even daughter-in-laws like me. We think the name PaPa’s Paw Paws is here to stay.

Oct 1, 2011

A Trip to Remember

It has been tradition that around our wedding anniversary I ride along with Matt to do his fall themed stories for Ohio’s Country Journal. This usually entails an apple orchard or an agri tourism story finished by visiting one of Ohio’s wineries. This last stop has become a favorite. Those of you who know Matt know that he is very conservative in his spending. It did not take me long to realize that he was looking for a cheap anniversary gift.

This year it seemed our schedules were jammed packed and the children needed to ride along with us. We knew it would be an adventure, maybe more of one than we expected.

Our day began early to get the chores finished and making sure the animals were able to make it through the day with us gone. On a typical day Matt or I, whoever is around, is in the barn several times to make sure everything is OK. We still have bottle lambs so my grandparents agreed to come around noon to feed the lambs and check the animals’ water. Of course, we had to make arrangements for my family to take care of all the animals while we were gone for a few days working at the tree farm. Having livestock really ties you close to home most of the time.

We packed up the car and headed north to The Pine Tree Barn. This was a story about Roger Dush and his family who operate a Christmas tree farm and an extraordinary furniture and gift shop. It is always fun to see how other tree farmers operate their businesses and get ideas we can use on our farm. This gift shop has heirloom furniture, kid’s gifts, home d├ęcor, Christmas and even some women’s apparel. It was not exactly the perfect place for our children, but the kiddy train corner entertained them most of the time. The weather was not great, rain and cold temperatures were not ideal but, the kids did not seem to mind. They sat on the tractors and rode on the farm caboose. They also have a restaurant, The Granary, which looked a little too nice for my now dirty children. Roger assured us it would be fine so we decided to dine.

We sat down and Parker opened up his menu and he spilled the water all over the table. I thought I had it cleaned up without any of the patrons or employees noticing, but they did and came right over to help me with the clean up. This spill was not too bad. They even brought gold fish for the kids while we were waiting on Matt to join us. We ordered our food which was delish and almost escaped the restaurant without another scene. The check had been paid and we were about to leave. Parker was standing on the bench beside me giving me a big hug. I picked him up and his foot brushed the Hot Chocolate s on the table. One cup hit the other and we had dueling cups of spilling hot cocoa. There was nothing I could do to cover up this mess and it was a mess. All I could do was gracefully flag down the waitress, leave a hefty tip and exit the restaurant as fast as we could. Our waitress was so kind and politely said she had it under control.

The next spot on the tour of NE Ohio was Moreland Fruit farm. The weather was still rainy and chilly but we decided to brave the elements and hit the apple orchard. What damage could my children do out there? We picked apples and they said that whatever you eat in the orchard is FREE. The kids each enjoyed an apple they picked for dessert. They had fun and were running all over getting out all that extra energy. While Matt was still talking and taking photos, we decided to see if there was anything we could do to be of help. There were two Amish girls working in the back filling orders. They gave us jobs and the kids had so much fun. One of the girls was particularly beautiful and Parker must have taken notice. He went outside plucked a flower from the garden and gave it to her. After I explained we do not pick peoples’ flowers, I reassured him that it was a very kind act and pretty darn cute. This was the only cute thing he did on this trip. After a cider tasting, we hopped back in the car with hopes of the children taking naps on the hour drive up to Canton.

We were headed to Gervasi Vineyard and this was the stop I was most looking forward to. We pull in the drive and the wrought iron detailed sign was a preview of what we were to see. It was like we pulled into Italy and the infrastructure was more than impressive. Parker was just drifting off and Campbell was wide awake. We drove past at least 4 buildings including the carriage house and the market place and then were told to drive around the large body of water to meet the owner. At this point I told Matt we would wait in the car until the weather got better and he is ready to tour the grounds.

This is the part when my cute little son turned into some other child I have never met before. He cried and was blatantly defiant for a good 15 minutes. If I asked him to not put the keys in the car 10 times it was 20. He pushed all the buttons, bit his sister, hit and was just plain B-A-D. Of course at this point Campbell had to go to the bathroom. There was no place to go, the building was under construction and I did not think letting her go outside was the proper Winery etiquette. I told her she was going to have to go in one of Parker’s diapers. She was obviously concerned, but she really had to go. I was just mortified and praying that Matt would hurry up this visit so we could leave. With the flashers blinking and screaming that could be heard outside the car doors, I was at my wit’s end. I just wanted to put in ear plugs and take a nap. Matt comes out to find me frazzled and exhausted. He asked me if I wanted to go check out the buildings and I said NO let’s get of out here. We left and I never got to experience the inside of Gervasi, but I saw pictures and it looks incredible.

I wish I could tell you our journey was over but we still had a 2.5 hour car ride to the tree farm in Findlay. It was a long ride full of Parker unbuckling his car seat every 30 seconds and terrorizing his sister. As soon as we arrived at Cracker Barrel to meet Matt’s parents (Mama and Papa) Parker turned on his Reese charm and acted as if he had been a perfect little man all day. Campbell behaved excellent and I was so proud of her for being a big girl. This was a wedding anniversary trip I will soon not forget. Next time I think we may leave the children at home.