September 2010


M and A modeling the latest fashion statement.

I have never understood why some parents spend massive amounts of money buying the latest and greatest plastic toys for their kids!  My kids spend minimal amounts of time playing with that sort of toy.  Most of their time is spent being creative and playing with the oddest things around the house.   They have been known to sled down our grassy hill on a cardboard box, build intricate tents out of a blanket and some furniture, and most recently, dress up in paper bags and play in different roles.

S pretending he is wearing a protective motorcycle vest and riding his cycle.

I have found it doesn’t take much to entertain them once their creative juices get flowing!  Some basic household essentials, and you have a game that will entertain for over an hour.

A motor-skill activity involves a bowl full of water and a sponge, and have the kids race to sop the water out of one bowl, run across to an empty bowl, and squeeze the water out. They have a blast! Just make sure you have them dressed in something that can get good and wet!

Of course, it could be as simple as just providing something for them to climb on and hide inside. 

This former dog-agility A-frame -turned sand box -turned toy box is the perfect hiding spot! It gets emptied of toys regularly, and serves as a bed, a bunny play pen, a house, a hiding spot. As long as the toys get cleaned up afterward, I really don't care!

So, I think I will continue putting our finances toward more useful things than plastic toys.  The kids seem to be just fine on their own!!

Amidst the busy-ness of our weekend, we are proud to announce that we have added some furry additions to the family!  If you recall a post I did some time ago (here), I discussed our desire to start our farm’s foundation stock on heritage breeds.  I had gotten my heart set on a breed of rabbit called the American Chinchilla, a beautiful, large, meat-type with soft, silky fur that looks like a chinchilla.  It is a very rare breed of rabbit, and, in fact, is listed on the “critically endangered” list of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy records.  Because they are so rare, I couldn’t find any within a day’s drive.  So, we settled for what we could find–mini-lop rabbits.

"Smokey" and "Stew," the mini-lop rabbits

It wasn’t easy to find any rabbits around here, but I thought I had finally found a reputable breeder/rabbit showman.  We originally had taken 3 rabbits, as one seemed sickly, and we figured if all 3 survived, we would harvest one to try rabbit meat.  Sure enough, one wound up having a previously dislocated and then fused knee joint.  We harvested her about 6 weeks ago.  We were convinced we had a doe and a buck remaining.  The buck had a defective eye that the breeder had sworn was a mild infection.  It had cleared up nicely, but wasn’t exactly a sign of hardiness.  The remaining rabbit seemed healthy in every way, and even I was convinced it was a doe.  Something seemed off though, so I re-evaluated again last week, to discover that our “doe” was actually a defective buck.  He was a cryptorchid, with very mishapen parts.  He had also become quite difficult to handle, resulting in scratches to the kids everytime they tried.  Our farm will not have a place for difficult animals! 

As S and I were debating whether to let the kids keep the bunnies as pets or harvest them, I got an e-mail on Friday from an American Chinchilla breeder I had been in contact with some time ago.  He just happened to be coming to a rabbit show about an hour from us on Saturday and offered to bring some.  I talked to the kids, and we all agreed to harvest the rabbits we had and start fresh with the breed we wanted anyway.  So, early Saturday morning, JR and I left to head to the rabbit show.  This guy certainly knew his stuff, and was a much more responsible breeder than the previous lady!  The only problem was, I had NO idea how massive a 4-month old American Chinchilla rabbit was!  My little carrier I had taken to bring them home in was only big enough for one!  JR wound up having to hold the other on his lap the whole trip home!

M holding "Peter" rabbit.

We had to get creative with caging arrangements for the 24 hours in which we had 4 bunnies.  The next day, we let the kids tell their smaller bunnies good-bye.  It wouldn’t have been wise to sell them anyway, as they were less than the quality desired for passing on genes.  Harvesting (isn’t it such a nice word for a tragic end?) them was really the best option.

JR and Smokey

M and Stew (aka Foster and Jay)

Sunday afternoon, S did the deed, and we had a delicious pot of Brunswick Stew with rabbit meat for dinner.  Talk about fresh! 

So now, S has successfully dressed 3 rabbits this summer, and we have purchased our first heritage foundation stock for the farm!  I am so thrilled to have gotten these rabbits.  I will do another post on them later, as it is a breed worth sharing!

As usual, life has been so crazy busy, and I am loving every minute of it!  Our big news so far this week does not involve sutures for once, but it will soon enough. 

For little A’s future sake, I will not reveal details, but for a while now, we suspected a little, personal issue with A.  We finally got to see a specialist who confirmed the issue.  As a result, A is now scheduled for surgery on Oct. 12.  The good news is that it is a minor, very common surgery that should completely correct his issue.  The bad news is that it will involve half-starving the kid before surgery, driving an hour and half to the surgery center, watching them anesthetize my little boy and wheel him into surgery, waiting for him to come out of surgery and recover for several hours, then dealing with his pain for several days as he heals.  Then, we will spend the next 4-6 weeks hoping and praying the wound heals correctly to fix the issue (improper healing will cause a re-ocurrence). 

On one hand, I am greatly looking forward to solving his current problem.  On the other hand, I am dreading seeing my little boy go through all that.  I witnessed put little N under anesthesia for his MRI back when they confirmed he had CP, and seeing him lay there, so helplessly asleep certainly tugged at the heart strings.  I once read somewhere that no surgery is minor when it is on your child, and I have developed a new understanding of that. 

So that is our big news for now.

My kids are growing up, and it’s happening so fast.  Most of the time, they seem so little, but then some opportunity will come along that allows them to show just how “big” they are.  And it hits me that they aren’t babies anymore. 

Making PB and J's for lunch

Recently, we returned from a lengthy and exhausting bike ride.  I was so tired, and my sugar was running low after the exertion.  It was lunch time, and I wanted nothing more than to collapse on the couch.  JR offered, “Mom, why don’t you let me and M make lunch today?!”  The thought was enticing.  I asked what he would like to make, and he volunteered their favorite, but rare, lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I agreed, sliced the bread for them, and then set JR up with half the bread slices, the peanut butter, and a knife, and gave M the other half the bread slices, jelly, and a knife.  They eagerly set to work, creating their first lunch by themselves.  Of course, the mess on my counters afterward testified to the fun they had creating everyone’s lunches, but it was a moment they enjoyed immensely.  They were so proud of themselves that day!  I will never forget those smiles! 

As if that wasn’t enough to convince me, JR got a new pair of hand-me-down shoes recently.  These were his first big boy shoes WITH LACES!  He was so excited!  I gave him a brief lesson in tying the shoes, expecting to give him many more over the next few months.  Then, a couple mornings later, he walked upstairs, with both shoes on and perfectly tied!  I was so stunned.  It was as though he had grown up overnight! 

It seems like it wasn’t that long ago when I was a college student, wondering if I would ever get married or have kids.  Now, just 8.5 years later, I am happily married to the most amazing guy on earth, have an amazing life, I have 2 toddlers, a 4 year old, and a 6 year old (at the end of the week).  Guess you could say I have done some serious growing up too!  Oh, where does the time go?

I am finding that having a big family means we get to celebrate a birthday quite often!  This month, we have two!

My wonderful, amazing, Irishman and farmer wanna-be’s birthday was this week.  He got his gift a little early, as I needed his help to get the right one. 

Wood-mizer LT15

He got a sawmill for the farm!  I think I am as excited as he is, as it offers so much potential!

We realized some time ago how much expense we were putting into lumber at the hardware store.  We still had sooooo many projects yet to go.  Wood for fence posts, fence top rails, animal shelters, chicken coop, garden bed frames, barn renovations, and before too long, we even have to replace our roof and wood siding on the house.  We knew that was going to be mega-bucks.  At the same, every winter we were losing good, hardwood trees on the farm to the ice storms.  Since we had no other options, it was all being chopped into firewood.  What a waste!  We decided it was a much better deal to invest in a small, portable lumber mill, and use all that hardwood for the upcoming projects.  It even has an attachment that will allow S to make siding and shingles for the house in the future.   Furthermore, we can use the wood free of those pressure-treating chemicals.  It may not last quite as long, but with proper home-treatment and drying, it will still last plenty of years for our purposes! 

Unfortunately, although the mill has been delivered, and, thanks to his brother, fully assembled, S will not get to see or use it until our next trip to the farm over the holidays.  In the mean time, it may get some use from his brother and friends, family, and neighbors already requesting to rent it from us.  Hey, we may have a side income we hadn’t even considered!  Imagine….it might pay for itself before we even get to the farm!  OK, back to reality….

Happy Birthday, Honey!  I hope it was a great one!!  And although you are getting old, I look forward to many, many more years with you!

So, I guess when your day starts off with a visit to the ER, things can only get better from there, right?

This morning started as usual, with the kids waking up, eating breakfast, and going off to play for a few minutes as they finished.  JR and A decided to go out on the porch to play while waiting to start school.  I went out to call A in to get him dressed.  He was up on a toy box, and as he climbed down, he slipped and fell backwards.  The fall itself was not bad, as the toy box is not that high.  But when he fell, his head hit the end of Daddy’s free weights beside the toy box.  He cried, and I didn’t think much of it–A falls ALL the time.  He is the clumsiest kid I know!  I went to scoop him up and saw blood dripping onto the porch from the back of his head.  That’s when I knew there was a problem.  I rushed him inside, grabbed the closest cloth to me to stop the bleeding, then had M hold the rag on his head while I went and got the ice bag.  After icing it for well over 10 minutes, I realized A’s curls were so thick I couldn’t see anything to do with the injury.  The hair was just continuing to mat up with blood.  Fortunately, my first-aid training has taught me that even minor head injuries bleed profusely, so that didn’t bother me.  I just needed to locate that wound!  That’s when my past experience as a veterinary techinician kicked in, and I grabbed the clippers.  Once I was able to slow the bleeding with the ice, I shaved a spot on his head around the wound.  Although I know peroxide is not ideal for a wound, it was all I had.  I then wiped all around the shaved spot to clean the blood up so I could locate the actual injury.  In doing so, I finally found the wound, a relatively decent-sized gash.  Memories of M’s lip a few short weeks ago flooded into my head, as I realized another E.R visit was likely in our future. 

I re-applied the ice to the pin-pointed area of the wound to control swelling and bleeding.  I then decided to get a second opinion as to whether to use home treatment or take him in for sutures.  JR ran over and got a friend to come help me out.  She, too, wasn’t sure which approach was best, so we decided to error on the side of caution and call the base’s acute care referral line for a referral to the E.R.  You have to love military medicine!  45 minutes later, we had been on hold 3 times, on 2 different phones, disconnected twice, and still not gotten permission to take him to the E.R.  During this time, S had been notified, and had borrowed a car to drive home and help.  While he was on hold yet again, we mutually decided to at least do what we could to control the bleeding, prevent infection, and close it as best we could.  He gave me his close-shave clippers, which I used to give A an extra close shave.  I again cleaned up the blood with peroxide, swabbed around the wound (not in the wound) with an alcohol pad, applied a bit of neosporin antibiotic, and placed a couple of steri-strips to pull the wound shut.  About the time I finished, S finally got through to a live referral person, who gave us permission to take him to the E.R.  S stayed with the other 3 kids, while I drove A to the E.R.  During our wait, several nurses exclaimed over the professional job I did with the steri-strips.  After waiting about an hour, we finally got to see the doctor.  He walked in, asked what happened, felt around A’s head, and told me that sutures, or the equivalent were needed.  However, he thought I done such a great job cleaning and closing the wound with the steri-strips, he was going to leave it just like that and let it heal.  He walked out, told the nurses I had done his work for him, and to let us go home.

I had to laugh.  After all that, and my work was sufficient.  Although the morning was a complete waste, and my little boy had a big head injury, it sure made me feel good!  I guess all those hours learning from my dad (a former medic), working as a vet tech,  first responder training (back when I was a storm chaser with the NWT), and the countless hours watching doctors patch ME up, have finally paid off! 

Now I just have to figure out how to make the most hyper-active child on earth stay calm enough not to continually rip that thing open.  (Notice the fresh blood in the pic? We had only been home about 30 minutes!)

I picked up this week’s food shares and thought it blog worthy:

Technically, my weekly share consists of the 2 dozen eggs, the 2 bags full of peaches, pears, nectarines, and apples, the squash, cucumbers, zucchini, spring onions, lettuce, collards, potatoes, lemon cucumbers, kohlrabi, eggplant, carrots, hot peppers, dill, parsley, cabbage, baby spinach, and more lettuce.  In addition, I also received my canning share for the week–2 full boxes, which equals about 45 pounds, of green beans, as well as a 20 lb. box of broccoli to make up for the aphid-infested bunch last week.

S and I were both up until almost 11 last night chopping and slicing what we could for the dehydrator, I froze all the cooking greens, and blanched, chopped, and froze as much broccoli as I could stand.  After working for over an hour, I finally called a fellow-CSA member/friend and offered her the remaining 10 lbs or so of broccoli.  I have officially lost count of the number of gallon-sized bags of broccoli I have processed between last week and this week! 

Now, I have to start canning.  I hope to complete one canning project each day to be done by the weekend.  I have the green beans, which will be mixed with some wax beans from last week’s share, and some cucumbers to turn into pickles.  I also have some cabbage, zucchini, and squash to chop and freeze yet.  Whew, I am finally understanding why harvest season is such a busy time for farmers!!   But it will be so nice to have such delicious and nutritious food put away for this winter!

This weekend, we decided to attend an event put on by our CSA farm.  It gave us an opportunity to tour the farm, play with critters, entertain the kids, and hear a favorite author speak–all in one day!  Enjoy the pictorial:

Welcome to Harvestical 2010. I loved this sign! So creative!

One of the first things to greet us on the farm were the highly publicized, member-painted, mobile hen busses. A small portion of the farm's layer flock, and most of their araucauna (easter egg) chickens calls these busses home. The busses are rotated around the farm, and the chickens are always free-roaming to eat bugs, worms, forage, leftover crops, and anything else that tickles their fancy. These are happy hens!!

At night, the hens return to their bus, and someone simply shuts the door to keep them safe.

The duckling pen. The CSA raises ducks for meat. This temporary pen and shelter housed 2000 ducklings.

The catapult. We actually succumbed, and paid $5 just for the thrill of witnessing a watermelon fly through the air from this gigantic catapult. The kids found it quite thrilling, and I admit, the resulting total destruction of the watermelon was rather impressive!

Bobbing for apples. This was the kids first experience bobbing for apples. Not only does the early bird get the worm, but the early kids get the apples that have the stem attached! Even A managed to grab a stem in his teeth, have to get nothing more than the tip of his nose wet.

Jersey milk cows. These were A's favorite. He has suddenly developed a fascination with cows.

Miniature horse. Apparently, the farm actually rescued 2 of these little guys from a circus. Due to abuse however, the other has reportedly still not become brave enough to be on public display.

Sheep. In addition to veggies and fruit, our CSA also offers a selection of meat to their members, including duck, goose, lamb, pork, and beef.

I have to admit, I found the hogs rather entertaining. I just couldn't resist their snorts and grunts as they happily dug around in the dirt looking for a cool, moist spot to lie down.

The petting zoo's donkey. She had been thoroughly fed that morning, and really wasn't interested in what the kids had to offer.

This little goat was pregnant, which fascinated M. She, too, had been thoroughly fed that morning. No amount of enticing could convince her to eat the treats offered by the kids.

A giant hay stack. The kids spent more time here than anywhere. If it hadn't been for all the kids, I might have been tempted to jump in. What fun!!

OK, I'm convinced...I think I am going to have to build one of these on our farm! The straw was piled 2-3 bales high, and the kids had so much fun burying themselves, jumping on it, falling on it, and whatever else they could think of.

M managed to get herself lost in the straw maze for a solid 20 minutes. S would peek over and catch a glimpse of her every now and then.

The craft tent allowed the kids to paint flower pots and giant zucchini. I guess that's one way to use up those massive zucchinis.

There were 2 stilt-dancers, a giant chicken and a sunflower. M was nervous about them at first--she has never been a fan of costumed characters, but after a while, she warmed up and wanted to investigate.

The art barn allowed the kids to paint walls to their heart's content. I should have known better than to dress JR in his best pants for a trip to the farm (it was the only clean pair he had!). Oh well.

We let A and N participate in most activities, but refused to let them paint the barn walls. With good reason, I feared that if they got to do that in the barn, everytime I turned my back at home for the next 2 years, there would likely be some unwelcome decor on my walls at home!

The whole reason I really came to this event.....Joel Salatin! We own all but his most recent book, and his farming practices and tips have completely changed the way we plan to farm. This guy is impressive!

What was I thinking dressing poor A in a flannel shirt?! I realized he was going to bake once he fell asleep in my lap, so I had to unbutton and try to cool him down. Guess he wasn't quite as interested in listening to Joel Salatin as I was!

Think of the beef you eat for dinner.  What do you know about it?  How do you know if it’s safe for consumption, and not swimming in E. coli bacteria?  Do you know what the cow ate while it was living?  Do you know how humanely it was treated?  Do you know how the owner felt about his cattle?

In light of the recent multi-million pounds of beef recalls, I thought this would be an interesting post.  If you have followed my blog for any length of time, then you know we like beef.  You may even know that we like to buy our beef direct from the rancher.  But do you know why? 

Let me tell you….

Did you know that the average beef cow spends only 1 year acting like a cow, and grazing the open range?  After that, he is herded tightly into a livestock semi-trailer and hauled off to a feedlot, where he will spend the remainder of his life–anywhere from 3-6 months on average.  Have you ever seen a feedlot?  Let’s just say, it is hardly the relaxing, peaceful picture of cows grazing in green pastures, as many of the grocery store beef labels would lead you to believe!  Rather, it is a picture of death, sickness, and the stench is overwhelming for miles around!   While they come in different sizes, they all consist of a system of cattle pens and chutes.  The cattle are herded off the truck and into a pen with lots of other cattle.  Some feedlots may have as many as 250,000 cattle crowded into a few hundred acres of pens. 

Each feedlot has its own system of pen sizes and sorting, but it is not uncommon to see anywhere from 50 to several hundred cows/steers crowded into a single pen.  Generally speaking, there is no shelter, the ground is dead, pathogen-infested, highly unsanitary muck, mud, and manure, often left over from the last batch of cattle to be housed there.   There is usually a head-gate style feeder on one side or the other where the cattle can stick their heads through to eat their “scientifically” produced rations. 

Feed bunk pic found at http://www.livestocktracker.com/

While these rations are advertised to contain the perfect balance of vitamins, nutrients, and other essential components for a healthy cow, in fact, it typically consists, in large part, of synthetic or processed additives, genetically modified, mostly nutritionless corn for fattening the cows, soybeans in some form, and ground up and processed beef and chicken parts and chicken manure.  Yes, you read that correctly.  In order to deal with the tremendous amounts of waste product from massive, commercial animal industries, they grind up the waste, “sterilize” it, and feed it to HERBIVORES!!  An herbivore is designed to eat grass and plants!  Not animal parts and manure!!  To help prevent disease in the feedlot, the ration contains antibiotics.  Then, in order to make this unpalatable and disgusting mix appeal to the cows, it is loaded with molasses to disguise the undesirable tastes and smells.  The rations these animals are fed is so foreign to their bodies, that it completely changes the dynamics of the micro-organisms in their gut.  It is believed that if the cattle were not sent to the processer when they are, then they would die anyway within another 6 months.  They can only survive a short while on this ration, and absolutely cannot thrive. 

All you have to do is look around and use common sense to know that these cattle cannot possibly be “happy cows” as many commercials would lead you to believe.  Herbivores have an instinct to spend their day grazing fresh, green forage, and playfully romping around the fields.  Cattle then like to lay around and chew their cud.  Yet, they are packed so tightly into these unsanitary pens, with flies swarming and biting all around, and muck stuck to their coats and weighing so heavily on their tails that they cannot even use their God-given “fly-swatter” to shoe the flies away.  Almost every picture you see of a feedlot cow is covered in grime and muck of some sort.  And our society wonders why we have so many problems with illness-causing pathogens in our meats? 

It is not uncommon for a cow to be near death shortly before it comes to his time for processing.  Sadly, instead of dealing humanely with the “downer” cow, because law requires the cow be standing in order to be processed for human consumption, some feedlot operators will do ANYTHING it takes to get that cow up!  Just google for PETA videos and you will see more than you ever cared to!   And while I am no fan of PETA, I can certainly appreciate some of the animal treatment issues they bring to light!

The simple fact is, when a company is dealing with hundreds to hundreds-of-thousands of animals per year, multiple contracts with ranchers, beef raisers, and retail outlets, and then, when you consider that each piece of meat you eat has likely traveled well over 1500 miles from ranch to feedlot to processor to retail outlet to you, it is much easier to realize the enormity of the danger of this type of meat.  It is also easier to realize how absolutely impossible it is to give these cattle any type of humane quality of life!  At that scale, it is all about profit and efficiency. 

I also want to mention briefly that an operation of that scale has a LOT of waste!  In order to handle just a portion of it, they build “manure lagoons,” which are essentially holding ponds full of water to dump the manure and urine wastes into.  It is nothing more than a disgusting sewage pit, and it kills any sort of plant or animal life near it.  If one of these lagoons happens to overflow, it contaminates nearby crop fields, leaches into our ground water, and can pollute nearby rivers and streams with its toxic sludge. 

Now, let me show you where our beef comes from…

I do my research to find a natural, grass-fed beef rancher.  One of my favorite websites for this is www.eatwild.com.  I call around and ask questions about the size of the operation, the treatment and diet of the cattle, any medications and such that might have been used, any certifications the rancher or operation might have, price per pound, whether I could tour the ranch, etc.  With almost every call I have made, I have been able to talk directly to the rancher himself.  The ranches may be large acreage-wise, but the cattle operation aspect of it tends be sized in such a way that is just a family-run and managed business.  The phone numbers listed are often their home phone line.   If a rancher ever discouraged me from touring his ranch and seeing the cattle, I would take that ranch off my list.  I consider it very important that they be willing.

So, once I make my decision, I place the order for my beef.  Ranches work differently in this area, and it often depends on the processor they use.  Generally, however, they have a favorite processor they use in a nearby town to reduce any stress on the cattle in shipping.  Then, we go from there. 

This weekend, we got to go visit the ranch where we bought our recent dexter beef from.  I had already met the rancher, but I wanted to see the cows first-hand.  Oh, what a difference from the feedlot! 

The dexter herd (22 cows) grazing in a roughly 13-acre pasture.

These were happy cows!  The rancher had about 150 acres of grazing land, divided into about 13 different pastures.  He rotated the cattle to a new pasture about 1-2 times per week, depending on pasture conditions.  He currently has only about 22 cattle, with one herd bull, but is working his way up to about 30 cattle.  We were able to walk out to the cow pasture and actually pet the cows.  It was obvious from the moment we walked up that these cows were used to people and receiving some attention!  They actually RAN (a funny site with cattle!) from the far side of the field to meet us at the gate.  Several young heifers stuck their noses right up to the fence for pets.  Even the bull was inquisitive and close enough to pet.  Unfortunately, we were all having so much fun asking questions and petting cows and calves, S totally forgot to take a single picture up close!  He and his wife run the ranch, and he is in charge of hauling the beef to the processer and making the sales.  That’s pretty much all there is to it.  The calves are born and raised in the same herd, on the same ranch, grazing and acting like cows should act, until it is almost their time to become someone’s dinner. 

I was so impressed with the ranch.  It was nothing fancy at all, rather just simple, clean, and humble.  I had no reservations about letting the kids play around the holding  pens. 

In the case of this particular ranch, apparently the processor gives very short notice to the rancher when he is ready for the next cow.  Because the rancher has to be ready when the processor calls, for now, he has decided to bring the dinner-to-be cow/steer up to a holding pen for a short period of time.  He is able to sort him while the herd is in a pasture close to the pen, which reduces stress and simplifies the process. Then, the cow has free-choice mixed-grass hay 24-7.  We noticed a lot of old hay scattered around the ground outside the pen, and asked about it.  The rancher explained that he had gotten a delivery of hay earlier this summer that wound up moldy.  He refused to feed it to the cattle, and instead decided to scatter it around the ground to allow it to compost and help prevent erosion of that sandy area.  Although the holding pen is small and consists of dirt (no fresh grass grazing), I was still impressed with how clean it was.  There was absolutely no muck or mud, and probably only 2-3 piles of manure.  He cleanes it daily, and tends to the cow regularly to ensure it’s safety and comfort.  He never feeds preventative antibiotics or needless hormones.  He simply tries to treat his cattle with respect and give them the attention and care they deserve.  Notice in the pic below, there is no yucky muck clinging to this guy’s hide. 

A steer in the holding pen, waiting his turn. He looked healthy and perfectly content. Ideally, he would be out grazing with the others, but I understand the circumstances here hinder that.

Eventually, the processor calls, the rancher runs the cow directly from the pen, into a chute, and into the livestock trailer.  He personally hauls him, and that same day the cow is killed and the meat hung to age.  10-14 days later, the rancher personally calls the end-consumer, and arranges pick up or delivery of the meat.  He literally knows everything about that cow from the time of conception to the time of death, and then even follows up to ensure the customer’s satisfaction.  Now that is service!  And I don’t have to worry about supporting an enterprise that pollutes the environment with stench or sludge, feeds cows animal by-prducts, or whose meat contains as much as 500 times the saturated fat of healthy, grass-fed beef!

So, now comes the hard questions….where does your beef come from?  More importantly, which industry are you supporting with your hard-earned money?

I am quickly discovering one of the lesser-publicized aspects of self-sufficiency, and I’m not liking it one bit!  I don’t know how to deal with it.  Bugs, worms, creepy crawlies, ickiness, webs, cocoons, microscopic legs, wings, and beady little eyes.  IN. MY. FOOD!  YUCK!!  I am getting the shivers thinking about it. 

OK, so I always kinda thought of myself as a farm girl.  Not much grosses me out.  I am willing to sample a boiled cow-tongue, go out in the middle of the night to tend to critters, and cobwebs don’t bother me (too much).  Recently, though I am realizing I have some very deep issues I must deal with.  And soon.  I knew it was going to be tough to eat a rabbit we had raised or to eat a beef tongue sandwich.  It was different.  But I overcame and I did it, and I was proud of myself.  I admit, I do have major issues with roaches that I will probably never overcome.  Therefore, I intentionally chose to retire in a location where the roaches were generally no larger than my fingernails.  I could handle that.  But this?….

We get the vast majority of our produce through a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm.  The produce is entirely organic, so it has never seen pesticides.  I like this idea.  It’s natural, just the way God made it.  However, I am now learning there is a reason for pesticides.  Simply put, IT KILLS PESTS.  I knew this little fact.  I have studied it thoroughly, and have developed all sorts of plans for controlling the pests at our little farm when we get going.  (Whether any of those plans will actually work is yet to be determined).What I didn’t know, though, was just how bad the pest problem could be on organic, pesticide-free, fresh food!   I got the full picture (at least, I REALLY hope it was the full picture!) last night, as I was up to my elbows in a fresh delivery of broccoli stalks.  I had ordered the broccoli (a bit over 20 lbs. of it) to freeze for winter, when the CSA season is over.   Mind you, this broccoli was beautiful and perfect.  Most of it was bright green, with just a hint of reddish-purple in the some of the florets.  It was the type of extra healthy broccoli that you just wanted to dip into some ranch dressing and pop in your mouth!  

I took it out of the box, and decided to give it a good rinse in a sink full of water and chop it up to prepare for freezing.  Well, I quickly realized my water had odd ..um…. things floating in it.  I also noticed that the cute little green leaves that grow on the stalks were falling off  with some ease in the sink.  Then, on closer inspection, I realized it wasn’t “things” and “leaves.”  There were HUNDREDS of little, grey, mite-looking bugs hiding in the florets, falling off in the water, and crawling around my sink.  The leaves were, in fact, little green caterpillars.  I have the chills just remembering my horror!  I quickly changed the water in the sink.  And more fell out of the soaking broccoli stalks.   UUGH! 

So, I did my best to disassociate from my bug-hating brain and the thought that my hands had to enter that water and work with that broccoli.  Over the course of several hours, I rinsed each stalk a minimum of 3 times–once to get the worst of the infestations and caterpillars off, then cut it up and put it into a bucket where I massaged the florets to attempt to get more bugs off, then drained, strained, and rinsed under the faucet to try get more bugs off.  As I went through this process, I discovered that the bugs had a definite preference for the tighter, denser florets, the tightest of which would have countless bugs and some type of related sacs just filling up the little areas between the leaves.  Although this was only visible on extremely close inspection of an otherwise perfect floret, it was bad enough to cause me to toss out far too many florets.  If I wasn’t able to get those bugs out in 3 rinses, one of which included a thorough massage of the florets with my bare hands, than I just couldn’t stomach the idea of eating that piece!

So went my evening.  A job that probably should have only taken about an hour (or less), took me about 3 hours due to my nit-picking (no pun intended) thoroughness.  My husband got a good laugh (he will literally eat ANYTHING, and just considered the uninvited guests to be extra protein on the menu), but mean while, I found myself picking caterpillars and bugs to the point that I started finding them crawling up my arms.  YIKES!  About mid-way through the second hour, I realized my brain had started playing tricks on me, as I was starting to unexplainably itch all over, with the vision that bugs were inside my hair and clothing.  I now fully understand how a person could potentially be driven to insanity. 

It almost happened to me last night!

I am well aware that I didn’t come close to eliminating all the bugs, and I am also well aware that the freezing and cooking processes will kill what remained of them.  Furthermore, I have been well-educated in the laws that allow even commercial food industry to have so many bug and rodent parts per package of food.  I know we eat bugs.  It’s just the idea of KNOWINGLY eating bugs that gets to me.  Am I making sense here? While I am proud to say I did freeze about 5 gallon-sized bags of broccoli for later use, I need advice from you more experienced food-preservers!

Is there a better way to eliminate bugs in a situation like this?  Should I have steamed/blanched the stalks before even bothering to rinse and cut them up?  Those are sticky little critters, and they don’t like to come off easily!  Is it something you eventually just learn to accept?  OH, I am so disgusted right now at the thought of the many critters in my freezer bags, I can’t even think about it!  I am going to have nightmares for weeks, I fear!  I would seriously be reconsidering my self-sufficient, food-producing, farming goals, IF I weren’t already so incredibly committed.  Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!

In the mean time, I am going to go scratch my itches, and then go take a shower.  Again.

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