Nov 042018
 

Healthy soil, submerged in water, holds together without washing away.

Do you get tangled up in your food choices? 

I’ve had customer-friends mention over and over how hard it is to make choices these days that they can feel good about.  Whether you are feeding yourself, your kids or your grandkids, it’s tough.

Plenty of people might be telling you what to do or buy or wear or eat.  Eat meat, or never eat meat. Only eat vegan or never eat vegan.  Paleo, keto, vegetarian, organic, commercial, packaged, raw, local, or covered in BBQ sauce.  My gosh, I feel for folks trying to make the best choices for themselves and the greater world.  It’s not easy.

And I have no interest in making you feel bad about the choices that you do make.  There’s enough of that, frankly.  I’ve been there, and though I feel like I’m in a pretty good place nutritionally, socially and ecologically now, it’s been quite a path to get here.

I’ve mentioned before that I considered being a vegetarian, because I thought it was the responsible thing to do. It never stuck with me, although I certainly respect friends and family for whom it’s become a way of life. For me, meat and dairy were foods that my body needed, but more than that, I’ve continually looked back at what my ancestors regularly ate.  Given my mostly European background with a little Native thrown in, meat and dairy feel pretty central to the menu.  And interestingly, if you look at Scotland, England and New England, they are pretty grassed places (around the obvious trees).  Perhaps that’s a part of why grass-based farming has such a pull for me?  Hmmm.

I might get accused of being biased (I do admit that I am, we all are, but I try to be up front about it!), but in my line of professional work, it’s really important that we try to evaluate all the information coming in with as neutral an eye as possible.  I’ve read plenty of research articles about how meat and dairy produced through confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are more efficient uses of water, of energy, of transportation, of feed per ounce of end-product food.   I get it, we can produce food really fast and really “efficiently” in CAFOs. But are we looking at the big picture?  Are they the best choice?

I’m not here to bash CAFOs—there are plenty of people around who can do that.  And, frankly, the large scale vegetable crop farms aren’t really much better.  A whole lot of our collective diets these days come down to processed versions of corn, wheat, soy, and rice. With a side dish of potatoes.

So…how and where did I end up at peace as a farmer and eater? And how can you?

My suggestion: Use soil as your lens.

It all goes back to the soil, which I admit is a pretty funny thing for me to say (as an animal science, not a soil science, person).  I’ve come to embrace that soil is the foundation from which everything else flows.  Not just water and food, but economic development, civilization, communities, every product you can ever think of.

There’s a really neat book called Dirt by David Montgomery that describes how civilizations rose and fell based on their soil (as soil was lost, the civilizations died away). Building soil through natural systems took thousands of years of weathering rocks, followed by creatures living and dying and eating each other and leaving manure and repeating the cycles over and over again to add organic matter/soil carbon as a structure to grow food in. Increasingly, research is showing that we can create the organic matter side through good farming.

Soil from our farm was subjected to the “drop” test this summer to see how well it held together under the force of hitting the ground. It passed with flying colors!

There are basically four rules to healthy soil:

  • Keep disturbance to a minimum—whether by plow, or animal hoof, or tractor tires or fire. These are all types of soil disturbance, and expose bare soil to the air where its carbon is lost.  A little can be OK. A lot…makes soil wash away.
  • Keep it covered—like a blanket or a sponge, making sure something exists between the sky and bare soil (ideally plants!) means that water gets caught and held; something that’s increasingly important since we don’t know when the next rain is coming in lots of places.
  • Biodiversity is key—different plants feed different soil creatures, have different nutritional needs, thrive under different conditions (like heat or wet), have different root depths (some are really deep!), and produce different nutrients and chemicals. Growing a single crop of anything means that it’s a less stable system unless the conditions are just right for that one thing.
  • Living roots—we may not think much about this, but moving around minerals, breaking down manure (the dreaded thing no one wants in the water!), and feeding all those soil creatures, is able to happen because living roots are down in the soil. When we see a bare field with no greenery popping through—that means no living roots.

All the choices we make can do one of three things—build up soil, break down soil, or keep soil as it is.  At the very least, we should try not to make things worse!

Wow, you might say, how can I make good soil choices, when I’m not a farmer?

Think about what plant the food you are buying comes from. Does it come from a bush that blooms year after year (like a blueberry or elderberry bush)?  Or does it need to be tilled and replanted every year or two (like a strawberry)?  Does it come from a tree, like a walnut, or does it get planted in a hill like a potato?

When you think about soil as the filter, these choices become a lot less about vegetarian vs. meat eater and a lot more about how each food was produced.  Beef maybe isn’t so great when it’s fed a bunch of corn produced by tilling the same land year after year.  Then again, neither is tofu, if the land those soybeans were grown on has been treated the same way.

On the flip side, a grass-fed animal leans heavily on a perennial grass system.  Perennial systems are simply systems that last for multiple years. Whether than means grass, fruit bushes, nut trees, or the rhubarb plants in the corner of the yard, these are all examples where the soil is minimally disturbed to produce crops.  Their living roots cycle (however slowly) even in cold weather, they grow with a diversity of plants around them, and they maintain a cover over the face of the soil.

Does this mean organic or local are good or bad?  Does it mean supermarket food is?  Is grass-fed always a good choice?  Is tillage always bad? Are small farms infallible and big farms terrible?  Whew, take a breath!

I’m not a big fan of extremes. The world is full of decisions and information; this is a simply a new way of weighing our choices.

My advice is to take a step back, think about whether the food you eat comes from a perennial or an annual system, and make the best choice you can.  If you want to support improving the soils near where you live, that’s an extra motivation to support perennial farmers in your community.  We’ll help build soil in your little civilization, which will have lasting benefits beyond the meat, milk, veggies or fruits you buy. If you’re already a fan and supporter, thanks on behalf of all of us!

Most of all, be kind to yourself and your food-buying habits.  We’re all on a journey–learning new ways to look at the world–and that’s OK. Let’s keep learning together!

Do you want to listen to a recent Vermont Edition radio show talking about how our food choices impact climate change?  Listen to this great discussion about some of the ways we can all take steps to better manage land and the food we buy.

The ewes and lambs of Howling Wolf Farm adding to the hilltop soil organic matter!

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Oct 222018
 

“I try not to feel guilty about pleasure.”

What a perfect response a friend and supporter of the farm shared with me recently.  Thank you, dear one.

For a few months now, I’ve been trying to learn more about the things that connect you all to us, and how to better serve you as part of our greater community together. After all, if you’ve been reading my latest blog posts, this is really about each of us supporting each other and creating a stronger family where we can all thrive.

Chris and I genuinely want your lives to be better, and that’s part of why I’ve been asking all kinds of questions.

Thank you for your patience and assistance in answering! If you would like to share your thoughts with us, we’ve made the survey into a handy digital form for ease. 🙂

The answers have been surprising, and somehow not.  We seem to be a group connected by a love of great food.  Some of us shop at Whole Foods and some shop at the local market, but consistently foodie destinations are on the map.

Lots of us like to eat AND travel, possibly the best combination of all options.  We travel to places where we meet old friends, like barbecue contests and coffee shops, and places where we find new experiences and meet new people. We are people who like to gather around and celebrate food.

Which is why the answers to one of my questions about guilty pleasures resounded especially with me.  Some of you have mentioned guilt around eating meat, which prompted me to write an earlier blog post about reasons why you can allow yourself to feel good about eating meat, but what sort of knocks me out is that lots of our general guilty pleasures seem to center around food!

(Even the delightful answer of “drinking coffee in my hot tub every morning” was a response to the “guilty pleasure” question.  Personally, that’s a guilty pleasure I can get behind!)

Seriously though, why do we feel so guilty about food, and our enjoyment of it?  Shouldn’t eating food, especially great food, be a joyful experience? Hasn’t food been at the center of our best gatherings?  Does food not bring us together?  If we travel long distances (and short ones) to find, purchase and experience food, why do we have to wrap it up in feelings of guilt and negativity?

Physical and emotional health rise up as our shared concerns in life, both for ourselves and our loved ones.  We are seeking to be happy and healthy, we need to embrace self care, and we want to be good people.  Life is complex and there’s not enough time to get everything done.

My proposal is this: let us try not to feel guilty about the things that give us pleasure in life.  The world needs more health, happiness, kindness, helpfulness, self awareness, and care.  Let’s all be that for each other and let’s encourage a little less guilt and a little more soul-filling.

So, go to that coffee shop and meet your friend.  Hit the yoga class every Tuesday.  Read lots. Travel and experience places through a delight of food, not in spite of it. And take that moment to enjoy your coffee in the hot tub!

If you’re looking for a little cozy, satisfying soul-and-stomach filler as the weather turns cool, here’s a recipe for my favorite citrus lamb stew, which works beautifully with nearly any cut of lamb, especially shanks.

Citrus-Braised Lamb Shanks
I know this says lamb shanks, and that’s the original recipe, but I have made this for every conceivable cut of lamb. Hands down the finest and most versatile recipe ever, and I have had someone ask for the recipe EVERY time!
(From Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Meat Book). Serves 4, but very easily multiplied.

Ingredients:
4 Howling Wolf Farm lambshanks
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
A few sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 bottle of white wine
1 cup lamb stock or water
Juice and grated zest of (each)
1 lemon
1 lime
1 orange
Salt and black pepper
Parsley to garnish

Steps:
Heat some olive oil in a cast iron kettle or deep casserole dish. Add diced vegetables and sweat, without browning, until tender. Add thyme,bay, garlic, tomatoes, wine, lamb stock or water, along with most of the citrus juice and zest (hold a little back for later). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer.
Heat a little more olive oil in a frying pan and brown the lamb shanks on all sides, seasoning with salt and pepper.
Add them to the casserole dish and cover with its lid. Cook in a low oven (250 degrees) (or transfer to a crock pot
to finish cooking) for 2.5 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone.
To serve, stir in remaining citrus juice and zest.
Terrific with potatoes, soft polenta, or creamy beans like cannellini.

Join our farm community and more lamb recipes are headed your way!

Cook Inspired with our Lamb: Six Tried-and-True Ways to Prepare a Classic

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Oct 082018
 

Photos in this post were taken by Ben DeFlorio in October, 2013, because I asked to be part of his portrait project. Best pictures of me anyone has ever taken. Thank you, Ben!

I feel like a whole bunch of people I care about are hurting right now.  All around, our community suffers from grief, confusion, aimlessness, emptiness, loss, and pain.  Be patient, friends.  Have faith.  Have faith in each other, in our human community, and in the bright and beautiful future ahead. Ask for help, and trust each other.

Let me share an example of faith and community.

Five years ago this month, we moved into a little rental house in the village of Randolph, after selling our house of close to 16 years.  In order to sell that house, we did some cleaning, threw items in storage, got it listed with a realtor, and made a handshake deal with our next-door neighbors. Larry, Sr. looked around, nodded his head and said, “yep, most likely going to buy the place”.  That was May.  We didn’t talk about it again until September.

In the mean time, we moved forward.  We threw out eight(!) heaping pickup truckloads of old boxes, trash, books and toys for the thrift store, and built a mountain of scrap metal and items to leave by the roadside for neighbors to take freely.  At a particular moment in the summer, we had to decide whether a modest windfall from Chris’ job would be used to buy our winter wood (the usual choice), or we would have faith that the house would sell and we could invest the money in other bills and other places.  We stepped off the cliff without the net of firewood for the winter.  It created a hard deadline.

We had no idea where we would be able to rent, and we had no idea where our sheep would live. We thought we would be in a place just temporarily while our land sold and we moved to the new farm we had picked out as *the* place (it wasn’t).  I investigated several options for the sheep to move elsewhere; nothing fit our budget so we decided to keep looking for a different option.

These photos were taken just a couple of weeks before our move to the rental house. Thank you, Ben DeFlorio!

If you are reading this blog and have followed our story at all, you know we ultimately found the right farm, and are working diligently to share a space of home and family and community and good food and lively music with the person reading this post, and more people like you.

This post isn’t just about good things happening in our particular life, it’s about having faith in humanity and community, and believing deep down in our hearts that things will be OK.

Our move from the old place is a shining example of that.

Our neighbors honored their handshake on an “as-is” property, which totally could have gone sideways. An acquaintance of 20 years connected us with her husband’s rental opportunity (and we grew closer by sharing some very pivotal life moments together). A friend of my dad’s from high school came to join us in painting the rental house, just because he was between painting jobs and had time.  Our son had the support of his friends as we bounced between awkward living situations.  Our family squeezed itself into a teeny rental to celebrate Thanksgiving as we collapsed after a marathon move.

Turned out, we didn’t didn’t need the wood, but we did need all the help we could get, and were grateful for it.  There were plenty of slips and slides, but in every case, someone stepped in to help in some way.

Photo by Ben DeFlorio.

That pretty much describes our experience in finding and buying the Tilton farm as well, except that we stopped denying our faith in the future and started asking for help on the heavy lift of our life’s dream.  At first it was so hard to ask.  That’s not the way we were raised, except that community *is* a way of life in rural Vermont.  That’s how farmers got harvests in.  It just was, and there was no shame in asking, especially when people or animals would starve otherwise.  Community can’t happen, can’t grow, can’t build success…unless someone asks, “can you help me?” and someone else answers, “yes, what can I do?”.

So, as awkward as it was at first, when people asked if they could help move or paint or truck animals, we said yes.  We asked for help with a financial shortfall—something we would *never* have dared do before.  Every time we asked for help and someone did, we helped build their faith in people, too.  See, helping people is what builds community over the long term.  Helping other people makes US feel good.  I’m coming to learn that not asking is a way of robbing someone *else* of feeling good.

This morning, I remembered a particular example to illustrate this last point.  Several years ago, we met a new barbecue friend.  He saw me hauling heavy equipment out of the trailer and rushed to help me.  See, his parents raised him to always offer help, especially to a lady (his words).  Me, I pushed away his help, because I saw myself as a strong farmer and an independent woman.  Who won out of this situation?  No one.

I hurt my new friend’s feelings by rejecting his kind offer, and I was more tired than I would have otherwise been if I’d accepted his help.  It took me some time to see it, but I’ve learned that accepting help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of openness and a way to help others feel useful and appreciated.

If you are hurting or struggling, my experience has been this:

The most powerful act of faith we can exercise is to let our community help us.

The most powerful action we can take to build a positive future…is to ask for that help.

Thanks for listening,

Jenn

Vaughan. <3    Photo by Ben DeFlorio.

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Sep 252018
 

Plenty of people love to eat meat, but are concerned that they shouldn’t, because of negative stories that they see about animal products. The environmental impacts of flooding manure lagoons; pictures of animals being treated poorly; the long distances food is trucked to get to our plates; and simply not knowing (or trusting) the companies or agricultural system where the animal came from.

I totally get that.

In college, I joined an animal rights group because I felt strongly that animals should be respected and treated well.  I remember sitting in our second or third meeting, feeling a tremendous disconnect from the group’s organizers, who were vegan and proudly wore plastic shoes instead of leather ones.  “How is it that plastic is a better choice than a natural product like leather? Shouldn’t we be connected to how our food affects the environment?”, I wondered. I left the group and found a more practical way to improve animal welfare.

Even the biggest, tastiest ram starts as a little guy who needs care and oversight to grow and thrive.

Looking back, that was the very beginning of my path toward being a more responsible eater, and eventually, livestock farmer.

Along this path, I’ve been gathering reasons about why we should actually feel good (and not just NOT bad!) about supporting livestock farmers and buying products made from animals.

  1. We care. I’ve come to understand first-hand that people who do not care about the animals that they partner with, depend upon, and ultimately gather food from (in one form or another) don’t last long as livestock farmers. This isn’t just a job that we can decide not to show up for, or call in sick to.  It’s an intense and delicate balance to care enough to be willing to be tired, hot, wet, cold, stiff, muddy, and (name your discomfort) while pushing yourself to put the animals first.  And then caring enough to end an animal’s life quickly, when they are sick, or when it’s time to harvest them. Last winter I had to euthanize my two oldest ewes, and I bawled like a baby, but it was the right thing to do because they were suffering.
  2. We manage the land and the animals well. All of our management is focused on keeping the land and animals healthy. We pay attention to where manure builds up, how much rain is soaked up by the land and stays there (instead of running off to cause floods and damage), and give the animals fresh food every day.  Our goal is to be part of a sustainable system that brings more wildlife onto the land, and grows more kinds of food on the same land.  A great example includes the apple trees we have been pruning, which now bear more fruit, and attract the tasty, nutritional venison-producing deer! I spend time every day watching and documenting how the land is changing under our management, because I am out on it.
  3. We let animals have a life and express their natural behaviors. Pigs root, and sheep graze, and turkeys wander and fly. You may not realize, but pigs are great nappers.  Much like us, they only get out of bed for a good reason (like breakfast), and they’re quite fond of a Sunday afternoon snooze (every day).  They love to explore the world through their noses, and are quite easily bored.  A small fenced area with a concrete floor doesn’t really allow a pig to be a pig in its fullest way.  Poking around the roots of trees, finding nuts and berries, laying down in a warm patch of sun in the winter, or mud in the summer—these are signs of a pig at its happiest.  They make little grunting sounds.  That’s what happiness sounds like, and we want them to feel that right to the last moment.

    These pigs grew fat and happy nosing around in the tree roots and hay all winter, just expressing their piggiest behavior.

     

  4. We know (so you know) where the animal came from, how it was raised, and how it died. Some years ago, we bought the Spring piglets from a farm that didn’t raise their own; they shipped them in from Canada. I’m sure the folks in Canada did a fine job, but I really wanted to KNOW where the pigs had come from.  I wanted to have a relationship with a person I knew, and be able to count on our relationship well into the future.  I think it might also be worth mentioning that those pigs always seemed perpetually stressed, and nippy, throughout their lives.  Was it breeding? Was it early life experience?  Was it just that batch of piglets?

    I’ll never know, because since then (for over 15 years), I’ve bought piglets from the same extended family, who live a couple of towns over.  It’s not just that these folks are old friends and adopted family at this point, or that we (through our customers’ support) are helping to maintain two other small farms in addition to ourselves, or that these pigs are blue-ribbon winners at the local fair and are used to help kids get involved in 4H and caring for livestock themselves…NO, it’s about taking some of the mystery out of where our food comes from and adding in some trust.  We trust that our friends raise great piglets (and they do).

  5. Meat such as lamb is nutrient dense. There are good reasons humans have been eating meat for thousands of years, well before the beginning of formal agriculture. Registered dietician Diana Rodgers spends a good deal of time talking about the nutritional benefits of eating meat, and how not all types of meat are equal, either.  According to Diana, “grass-fed lamb has a better than 1:2 ratio of omega 3’s to 6’s, where roasted chicken has a ratio of 1:8. It’s also has twice the iron, 3x zinc, and a 3oz portion of lamb contains 2.2 mcg of B12 compared to chicken which has only 0.3. Lamb is simply superior to chicken, nutritionally speaking. Also, for those looking to cause “least harm,” one lamb can produce a lot more meat than a chicken, and an animal raised outdoors on pasture has a much better life than one raised on 100% grain indoors under artificial lighting for its entire life.”

  6. Some meat production is GOOD for the environment (and not just NOT bad). I know I’ve spent time and blog space above waxing poetic about the pigness of pigs, but the true animal heroines of land management are ruminants. In our case, the sheep. Ruminant animals like cows, sheep, goats, deer, and buffalo, are something magical.  They can eat things we can’t eat (like grass), and gain nutrition from them.  They have a multi-chambered stomach that acts like a giant beer vat, fermenting fiber to release proteins and sugars that are usable by the animals.

    This is a process we humans are simply not designed to do, and it’s a big reason why nomadic people like the Maasaai of Kenya, and folks living in the Swiss Alps are able to survive in very harsh environments; ruminant animals can create food in places that we can not.

    I will talk about what “good” grazing management means in another blog post, but the really important thing to understand about grazing animals and the environment is that the ecosystems of Earth co-evolved with animals.  Grazing animals helped sequester carbon in the soil through plant roots, kept land open for nesting birds, built deep roots to hold soil in the Great Plains, and encouraged a wide variety of species from spiders and insects to wolves and bears.  What we do now using portable fence is recreate what Nature did for millennia before we got involved.

    Compost and soil health educator Cat Buxton led a workshop at our farm this summer; teaching us how to monitor and observe changes on the land.

     

  7. We honor meat all the way to the plate. This is a big one for us, as foodies and cooks. We want to take good care of an animal and give it a full life, but we also want it to taste good.  If we invest our time for months or years to raise an animal, and you invest your money to support us and the animal we raised on our farm, we think you should have the best eating experience possible.  We want to help you understand how to cook meat properly and enjoy it to its fullest.  With every “Stewie” steak and “Tennant” stew, we are grateful for the lives that they share with us, but also it’s an extra way for us to honor them by helping them taste as great as possible. We think the greatest way to honor a life is to lick the plate!
  8. Being a responsible eater means being connected to the life and death that we are part of. Our goals as farmers and good stewards are to minimize and prioritize how much death is involved in our choice to eat. It’s been said, “everything eats and is eaten.” It’s true that something has to die for us to eat, whether you eat meat, vegetables, grains, or other foods.  What might be interesting to know is that what’s the most obvious (above-ground animals) must balance with the less obvious (below-ground animals) in any food system.We simply can not assume that nothing dies when we eat.

    It is true that a sheep dies and we eat it.  But that sheep lived on grass that housed Orb Weaver spiders, ground wasps, grubs, and dung beetles.  Under the soil, there might have been up to 14 tons (per acre) of bacteria, worms, insects, and fungi. In our pasture system, the soil has not been tilled for many years.

    Tillage breaks up the soil “housing” microbes, worms and insects.  Exposure to air releases carbon into the atmosphere, starving the microbes living there.  Tillage is involved in the production of most common vegetable crops, and it is arguably responsible for more death per acre (by number or body weight) than any livestock farm. The path of greater life surviving, and a healthier farm ecosystem, means that the above-ground animal in the system must be harvested. And these concepts about life and death through soil management really put a different spin on whether our food choices are “sustainable” or not.

  9. It tastes really, really good. Chris and I spend a lot of time eating meat, and it’s the star of the show, as it should be. When you feel a deep connection to a food, and you prepare it well, and the flavor knocks the park out of anything you can find in the supermarket; well, it sure feels like all the pieces have fallen together, just right.

If you’ve felt in your heart like buying local and pastured meats are the right way to go, I hope that by sharing some of my own reasons to eat meat, you’ll be better equipped to handle questions and comments by other people.  And that you’ll in general have a better understanding of what sort of life you are contributing to and investing in: the farm, the animals, the soil, ours, and YOUR OWN.

Thanks for reading,

Jenn

 

 

 

 

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Aug 262018
 

There’s a little something extra special about Vermont in August.  Maybe it’s the fact that things slow down a teeny bit (seems like everyone takes a few days off sometime in August!) or that we cling a little more tightly as the evening starts to arrive a little earlier.

It could be I’m speaking a little too much about my own place in life, but August reminds me of the “middle age” of the year. The fresh excitement of May and June has yielded to July, and then August comes on to remind us to value the warmth before winter comes.

What do we love?

  • Parties—Chris and I have August birthdays as do a bunch of our family members…this leads to a host of family parties, tournaments, visits, and hugs. Oh sure, there’s plenty of house cleaning, cooler schlepping and Monday-morning exhaustion to go along, but We Regret Nothing.
  • Family—I can’t explain why, but August is the month we take the time to see people that we don’t see most of the rest of the year. Our family is a tangled delightful mess of birth, marriage, friendship, job, and adopted relatives with lots of friend-family mixed in.  August is THAT perfect excuse to take a Friday afternoon or be sure to go out to hear a Wednesday night concert, because we know family will be there.
  • Blueberries—This farm is a classic reminder that our actions aren’t as much for ourselves as the ones who come after us. Those who knew Otis Tilton tell us that he was glowing with pride over the blueberry bushes he tended. We absolutely understand why.  They were the first farm crop that greeted us just days after we closed on the property and have become a source of joy and anticipation for us each summer.  Someday we’ll figure out a blueberry-related farm product (any ideas?), but for now they are mostly going into our freezer and the mouths of on-farm visitors.
  • Smoked meat—OK, we love smoked meat all year (Who doesn’t? Even chicken and fish are fabulous smoked!), but in particular so many of the events we attend or host are potlucks. It seems like crispy, caramelized, smoky, tender ribs or chicken wings generate the smell and the taste of summer instantly. Sharing meat with people we love is pretty much what we’re all about.
  • Golden days—I was just talking with an old friend who described August as the “golden days” when goldenrod comes into bloom, and farm fields are spread with the deep rich hue that pretty much embodies late summer. I was out moving the sheep yesterday morning and found myself stopping to linger and gaze around at the spots of late-summer sunlight scattered across the pastures.  Goldenrod might be a sign that summer is on the down side, but it’s just as much that reminder to stop and enjoy it while it’s here.

That’s truly what we love most about the summer…taking a few minutes to stop and enjoy it!

Speaking of valuing warmth before winter comes, if you are getting an itchy feeling about the oncoming fall, zip me an email!  I just got back a nice batch of smoked hams and slab bacon.

Jenn

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Aug 122018
 

Ham steaks, roasts and hocks…mmmm….

A customer stopped by to pick up her half pig today.  She lives out of state and waits until the smoked meats are back from the smokehouse to pick up her entire order at once.  She has been a loyal and wonderful customer for many years, but today she confided that she still had some pork hocks (part of the pig’s back leg below the ham, and above the foot) hanging around from the last pig (a few years ago).

“What do I do with them?”

Thanks for asking!  Sure, many people can throw a smoked hock into a bean soup for flavor or stretch a split pea, but fresh (frozen, unsmoked) hocks are like a mystery meat.  So we went digging for some mouth-watering options.

Here are two recipes from Jennifer McLagan’s Bones, a formative book for flavor and using bones to “enhance the taste, texture and presentation of good food.”

Depending on the depth of your love of licorice flavoring, you may choose to include all three layers, or just one or two…

Braised Hock with Fennel Three Ways

1 fresh pork hock, about 2 ¼ lbs.
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
1 small onion, diced
1 inner celery stalk with leaves, sliced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 small leek, trimmed and sliced
½ small fennel bulb, diced
3 garlic cloves, mined
¼ cup pastis or Pernod
One 14-ounce can whole tomatoes
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 cup pork or chicken stock

  • Preheat the oven to 300. Pat the hock dry and season with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven or flameproof casserole, heat the oil over medium heat.  Brown the hock on all sides, then transfer it to a plate.  Add the onion, celery, carrot, leek, and fennel to the pot and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the vegetables begin to brown.
  • Add the garlic and pastis and bring to a boil, deglazing the pot by scraping up the browned bits. Add the tomatoes and juice, the fennel seeds, the pork stock and 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and add the hock, along with any juices.  Spoon some liquid over the top of the hock.  Place the lid on the casserole dish and cook in the oven for 2-2 ½ hours, turning the hock after 1 ½ hours.  When finished, the meat will be tender, almost falling off the bone.
  • Serve the hock with the braising liquid.

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This recipe has a few steps, but the result is totally worth it! Steps 1-4 can be done several days ahead (be sure to store the hock and cooking liquid separately), for a slow-braised dinner that comes together in about an hour.

Pork Hock Cooked with Spiced Honey

1 fresh pork hock, about 2 ¼ lbs (skin on, if you have the option)
Spiced Salt (1/4 cup kosher salt, 1 tsp allspice)
8 cups of pork stock or chicken stock (we actually like chicken bone broth)
5 star anise, broken into pieces
7 green cardamom pods
4 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 long cinnamon stick, broken in half
½ cup honey
2 tsp white wine vinegar

  • A day or two before you cook the hock, coat it in the spiced salt. Cover and refrigerate, turning it a couple of times.
  • Preheat the oven to 275. Place the hock in a large pan and add the bouillion, 3 of the star anise, 4 of the cardamom pods, 1 teaspoon of the coriander seeds, and half of the cinnamon stick.  Bring it to a boil and then remove from the heat.
  • Cover the hock with a lid and braise in the oven for 2-2 ½ hours or until the meat is very tender. Remove the hock, drain it well, place it on a plate. Keep the cooking liquid.
  • Toast the remaining 2 star anise, 3 cardamom pods, 1 tablespoon coriander seeds and the half cinnamon stick in a heavy frying pan until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Crush them slightly using a mortar and pestle (or a smaller heavy frying pan works well too!).  Put them into a small saucepan, add the honey and bring to a boil.  Boil hard for 3-5 minutes or until the froth turns dark and the honey begins to caramelize.  Remove from the heat and *carefully* pour in 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid.  The honey will spit and sputter.  Stir to mix and then reheat gently, simmering for 10 minutes.  Strain through a sieve; discard the spices.
  • Preheat the oven to 350. Place the hock in a small roasting pan and add ½ cup of the cooking liquid. Cook for 15 minutes.
  • Increase the oven temperature to 400, pout half of the strained honey mixture over the hock and cook for 15 minutes, basting 2 or 3 times. Pour the remaining honey mixture over the hock and cook for another 15 minutes, basting every 5 minutes.  Watch the glaze carefully and add a little more cooking liquid to the roasting pan if it begins to burn.
  • Transfer the glazed hock to a serving dish and cover to keep warm. Add ½ cup cooking liquid to the roasting pan and bring to a boil to deglaze the pan, scraping up the brown bits.  Boil until it reduces in half, then add the white wine vinegar.
  • Serve the hock with sauce.

Do you have a cut that’s been giving you trouble, or languishing in the back or bottom of the freezer waiting for the “right” time to pull out and experiment with?  Have you been waiting for a little bit of inspiration?

Drop me a line and let me know. We’ll find the right recipe for you!

And would you like a printed version of these recipes, plus four more?  Check out our FREE downloadable recipe book Hocks and Hams: Cured, Smoked or Fresh–Ideas and Inspirations.

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Jul 292018
 

We bought the farm two years ago this week.  It’s been quite a ride.  This might sound pretty sappy, but our whole reason behind jumping down this rabbit hole has been about creating a place to treat the land, the animals, and people well. Seems kinda Pollyanna, huh?

I started farming back in 2000 mainly because we were meat eaters and wanted to be more responsible about what we ate.  I totally get how people agonize over whether to eat meat or not; I even tried to be a vegetarian for a while.  It didn’t last for me—I was exhausted and anemic in a pretty short time—but I had come from a family that raised our own meat, and that seemed like the best choice.  I started with chickens and then turkeys and pigs.

Wow, it was tough processing animals.  Let’s not even talk about the five hours it took to process three roosters the first year (ugh).

It was harder to take on the responsibility.  It was so emotionally draining if something (as it inevitably did) happened to them.  This sounds ridiculous when we are planning to eat them anyway, right?  Not really.  Raising an animal for meat means giving it a good life and a quick death.  There’s an unwritten contract in there.  We’re partners.  And when that animal dies because I messed up, it hurts (and not just them).

Coming to this farm felt like a contract, too.  If we’re going to belong to a piece of the world, we need to treat it well.  I can’t control what happens in the wider world, but I can make sure that the water running off this farm is clean, that the wildlife is happy and healthy, and the blueberry bushes are cared for.  I’m even scoping out rebuilding some of the old stone walls.  Talk about old school!

It’s not just about land and animals, but people too.  People everywhere could use some kinder treatment toward each other and themselves.  Chris and I bought this farm with a dream to create a place where people could come and feel at home.  Our hope is that people will arrive strangers and leave friends.

We love bringing people together around food, especially meat, because it’s how all these things we care about arrive together in the same place.  We care for the land with the animals, and we gather with friends new and old.  It fills my heart with joy, and gets me through the days when it seems like the world could use a little more kindness.

Thanks for being part of it.

Jenn

Let’s finish up with a recipe you can enjoy on a warm summer afternoon!

Rhubarb lemonade recipe:
6.5 cups water
4 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sugar (we use a generous squeeze of Stevia instead)
Boil for five minutes (rhubarb will be mushy)
Strain, add ½ cup of lemon juice

(If you’d like to save the rhubarb for later, it freezes well.)

It’s naturally pink and absolutely refreshing!

(Special thanks to our Canadian friend Lise Villeneuve for this recipe—it’s a keeper!)

Email me and tell us why what we do speaks to YOU

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Jul 152018
 

Wow, what a whirlwind summer!  I don’t know about you, but based on all the things I have scheduled in the next two months, I keep having to check the calendar to make sure it’s only July. 🙂

I’m guessing that your lists are just getting longer, too.  It seems like we work harder and harder to make time for vacation, and in the meantime, the stress ratchets up.  Whew!

Sometimes, dinner can be the perfect getaway without all the fuss.

When Chris and I were competing on the New England barbecue circuit, we gathered financial support by offering “Competition Practice” dinners to our friends, family and coworkers.  We would cook a full complement of chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder, and brisket using all of the rubs, sauces, injections, and presentation for competition, and serve it for our guests, just like they were judges.

We even brought them grilled appetizers and desserts, and asked them to give us feedback about what they liked and what they didn’t–“real time” judging wasn’t something we generally had the option of.

Sometimes we packaged up the meats and brought it to sponsors’ homes (or in the case of the night before Tropical Storm Irene–a mid-construction house on top of a mountain–we’re still thankful we did not accept the invite to stay the night, because the road was gone the next day!).

One of our dinners with beloved friends!

Unlike a competition with judges and “one-bite wows” and a long drive home if the scores didn’t go our way, these dinners were a wonderful opportunity to connect with the people who loved our food and supported us.  There was no pressure and a short time commitment; just an afternoon with friends and full bellies and lots of laughter. If something needed a little more sweet or a little less heat, they were there to tell us.

We loved these dinners.  They loved these dinners.  At the end of dinner, we all felt more full—not just our bellies, but our hearts.  These dinners were special, and they led to a lot of trophies and happy memories.

We knew we wanted to recreate that experience for friends (old and new) at our farm.

And we are!

Take a breath and enjoy the summer, if just for one evening.  That To Do list can wait!

Eventbrite - On-Farm Dinner with Seven Course BBQ Tasting Menu

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Jul 012018
 

Would you like to spend a summer evening enjoying a unique culinary experience with a fine view?

Let us take your dining world to new heights!

Join us for an over-the-top grilled and smoked dinner hosted at beautiful Howling Wolf Farm in Randolph, VT where we’ll treat you to some of our finest barbecue specialties.

We’ll be serving a “meat-forward,” seven-course tasting menu celebrating some of our competition barbecue team’s most successful competition dishes, including our award-winning flank steak-wrapped scallops, Kansas City style ribs, brisket burnt ends, and even smoked cheesecake–all paired with just the right side dishes to make them even more exciting.

Bring your appetites, and your own alcoholic beverages! We’ll include coffee, tea and non-alcoholic options.

The meal will be served with the backdrop of our gorgeous hill farm overlooking Randolph Village.

Mouth watering yet?  Register here!

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For more than 13 years, Chris Sargent and Jenn Colby, and our talented team of friends and family, competed in Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned barbecue competitions throughout New England as Howling Hog Barbecue. During our career, we won more than 45 awards at barbecue and grilling events, becoming one of Vermont’s most decorated competition cooking teams.

Please note that due to the nature of the menu, substitutions are not possible. Foods may contain wheat, sugar and trace amounts of MSG.

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May 172018
 

Are you drooling? Us too.

  • Do you want to try grilling, but find the choices of fuel, cookers, and timing overwhelming?
  • Are you an experienced griller ready to step up your game?
  • Are you a food lover looking for a fun Saturday spent hanging out and eating tasty treats right off the fire?

Chris Sargent, pitboss of Howling Hog BBQ, will spend the day teaching the tips and techniques he and his team used to become one of Vermont’s most decorated competition cooking teams during their career.

This four-hour class will include an overview of grilling basics, including: types of grills, fire management and food safety; as well as the essential tools every serious griller should have.  Then Chris and his teammates will dive into four award- winning recipes that will demonstrate the essential skills needed to elevate your grilling game.  Recipes will include “Rob’s First Place Flank”, “Curran’s Lime & Honey Wings,” and more!

With the gorgeous backdrop of Howling Wolf Farm in Randolph, VT, come enjoy a day of grilling, learning and sampling some epic food.  

Eventbrite - Grilling Class for Beginning and Experienced Cooks

One lucky attendee will win a “schwag bag” of assorted rubs and seasonings.
Limit 12 participants, sign up today!

About the instructor: Over 13 years (2004-2017), Chris Sargent and his team of exceptional grillers and barbecuers won more than 42 individual awards, competing against some of New England’s (and the nation’s!) most talented teams. 

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