Searching for a Sustainable Cuisine

farmed-and-dangerousTo spread their message of “food with integrity,” Chipotle is launching a television comedy series on Hulu. The four program episodes are titled Farmed and Dangerous and, according to their press release, takes a satirical look at industrial agriculture.

“The series follows a fictional industrial giant called Animoil that develops a new petroleum-based animal feed called PetroPellet. The product promises to reduce factory farm dependence on oil by eliminating the need to grow, irrigate, fertilize and transport vast amounts of feed needed to raise livestock. There’s only one downside: the cows that eat the pellets have a tendency to explode (with cheap but amusing special effects).”

Sustainable agriculture is to farming what recycling is to manufacturing. Everyone is for it, as long as it is Continue reading

Eggs-A Most Perfect Food

Easter hen and eggsEaster is nearly upon us, and with that, many young ones will be looking for a bunny with a basket filled with the most perfect of foods–the egg. I am passionate about eggs and chickens.

When I was a little girl growing up in England during the war (WWII), I had a pet chicken named Lucy. I would take her for rides in a pram (baby carriage for you Americans). She’d look around in all directions from her captive spot, like a tourist, not wanting to miss anything. Perhaps, she welcomed the distraction from her most important task–to lay an egg.

Remarkably when we mention that another has laid an egg, we titter and snicker and think Thank God, Not I! Yet, a well-laid egg cannot be matched. Its shape, its flavor… My favorite breakfast is a soft-boiled egg, toast and tea.

There has arisen a recent urban craze to raise chickens for eggs. A chicken farmer is one food job that one cannot sleep through.

Here are a few words to live by when it comes to thinking about eggs–the very symbol of fertility.

“Love and eggs are best then they are fresh.” –Russian Proverb

“An egg is always an adventure; the next one may be different.” — Oscar Wilde

“Eggs are very much like small boys. If you overheat them or over beat them, they will turn on you, and no amount of future love will right the wrong.”  — Anonymous.



Farmers’ Markets Bloom

A handwritten sign tacked to a tree announces: CORN, NEW LAID EGGS, STRAWBERRIES, and the driver’s foot eases off the pedal. The car slows as we scan the road ahead. And there it is — the roadside farm stand, that is as much a part of the rural landscape as the white-steepled church, standing calm and quiet on the fresh-cut lawn, and the blue-painted clapboard houses with the American flag moving softly in the summer morning breeze.

Around the rough, wooden lean-to, there are small family groups reaching for the just-picked fruits and vegetables. A wooden plank stretched between two sawhorses holds homemade jams and jellies and honey with their labels written in a spidery hand. There are mushrooms and berries; strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and on two or three days a year, red currants and gooseberries and raspberries as sweet as sugar and as intense as stained glass.  Fresh-baked breads and pies and cookies, gingerbread and muffins and scones are proudly arranged in doily-lined baskets, and at the end of the table are bunches of basil, parsley, thyme and sage, and jugs of newly pressed cider.

On the ground are bushels of baskets filled with apples and pears, plums and peaches, potatoes and onions, leeks and carrots, zucchini (always heaps of zucchini), burstlingly ripe, juicy tomatoes, and big and baby black eggplants. There are beets and lettuces, and shuddering green greens and brilliantly red radishes. On a side table are the eggs, brown and white, laid this very morning before the cock crowed.

The car is filled with more vegetables than we can eat in a month of dedicated consumption. But, we will worry about that later. Nostalgia drives us to buy too much. Temptation always overcomes reason.

The simple country farm stands are miniatures of the urban green markets that’s are springing up everywhere. These city markets are places where friends run into friends and pretty women wear straw hats and toddlers sleep in strollers while their parents amble from stand to stand. Here there are even more choices than in the country.

There are dairy stalls displaying fresh goat and cottage and artisanal cheeses. There are a dozen kinds of wholesome breads, dark and raisin-studded along with a scattering of onion wisps baked into the crust. There are trays of ‘good-for-you’ sprouts. The chickens are free-range, the ducks plump, and the little poussins come from local farms. Smoked meats, bacon and pork and venison sausages sell fast, as do the blush wines from the neighborhood vineyards.

And in the fall, there are a dozen kinds of apples, tiny squashes and pumpkins big as a bathtub.

Street musicians fill the air with the sound of fiddles, and little children shyly step forward to drop a coin in the hopeful hat.

Shoppers buy from their favorite farmers, whom they know by name. Warm hands receive the money and pass the fresh foods they have themselves nurtured, hand picked, and packed into trucks before the morning’s first light.

These markets are our continuing link with our real or imagined past.

Here, we feel renewed and refreshed, for there are few things that give greater pleasure than shopping at the market, carrying everything home, and transforming it into a beautiful lunch for friends, who will spend the rest of the afternoon with their elbows on the table, a glass on wine in hand. Blissfully satisfied.

Cleaning Up After Irene (and Lee)

Taliaferro Farm by Roy Gumpel, Chronogram

Chronogram Magazine is a fascinating magazine. Its mission is to report on the arts, culture and spirit of the many upstate New York counties abutting the mighty Hudson River, namely Ulster, Dutchess, Greene, Columbia, Orange and Putnam counties.

It also champions the farmers of the Hudson Valley, who cultivate the the rich and fertile soil formed by glaciers aeons ago.

While some Valley residents grumbled about sitting in the dark without electricity or water for a couple of days in late August, it was the farmers who truly suffered the wrath of Hurricane Irene (and later, Lee’s’) wrath.

The waters here have now receded to their former levels but the farmers are still suffering. The fruits and vegetables they grew and whispered to and nurtured from tiny seeds have drowned. Their once fertile fields have fallen silent and there are few outward signs of life.

To put this in stark terms, and to quote Brian K. Mahoney, editor of  Chronogram:

“Ulster County’s devastation was on par with a one-hundred-year meteorological event…Three thousand acres of vegetables were ruined in Ulster County alone. Taliaferro Farms in New Paltz lost 80 percent of its crop. At RSK Farm in Prattsville–the true ground zero of the flooding damage–not only was there total crop loss, but “Potato Bob” Kiley lost all his topsoil as well. The Schoharie Creek rose and swept it all away, leaving only the bedrock underneath.

For those of us who care about farms, the agricultural apocalypse visited upon the Hudson Valley and Catskills is a call to arms. Farms are not just a scenic addition to the landscape but an integral part of our communities–primarily as sources of locally grown food whose provenance we can be sure of, but also as a robust sector of economic activity…”

I have met some of these farmers in the many local farmers markets I visit from spring to late fall. I’ve munched their juicy apples and savored their baby greens, just-dug potatoes and newly harvested tomatoes and berries.

Simply because Irene has left, we still need to chip in,  clean up after and help the farmers who have fed us with their bounty. I urge you to visit Chronogram‘s Farm Aid page, to see how you can help the farmers buy the seed and soil and move on from this meteorological event.

This is the time to value the hard work and dedication of  farmers everywhere and contribute to co-ops wherever we live.


Farm to Fundraiser

View of Hudson Valley

View of Hudson Valley

I am the most fortunate of women.

I live in the Hudson Valley.

Yesterday I went food shopping in Adams Fairacre Farms, a locally-owned super supermarket. It carries glorious fruits and vegetables, many organically grown by local farmers; fabulous fish — and smoked salmon supplied from a local smokehouse. There is free-range poultry, (including duck, goose, young turkeys and baby poussins), and pastured, grass-fed beef and lamb. There’s a huge variety of cheeses, creme fraiche and locally-churned butter.

There’s honey personally delivered by a neighborhood bee-keeper, farmhouse pickles and preserves, prize-winning cheeses from Valley cheese makers as well as ice creams and sorbets from a nearby creamery. There are handmade chocolates and cookies and a vast selection of breads, biscotti and cookies from nearby brick-oven bakeries.

The store doesn’t carry wines, but there are 167 wineries in this region and they are readily available. (Clinton Vineyards provided wines for Chelsea Clinton’s recent upstate New York wedding.)

“Aha,” thought I. Here’s a business — a food job!

There are more than a million visitors to the Hudson Valley every year. Many travelers are looking for a gift to take home to the kind person, who looked after the children or the dogs and cats.

How about a gift basket overflowing with artisanal foods and Hudson Valley wines? If you’d love to give such a present, imagine how much your friend would like to receive it!

No matter where you live, there are regional specialties to arrange in an attractive container to be hand delivered or mailed.

Offer your creative services to food shops, florists, hotels, bed and breakfasts, historical homes, wineries and wherever tourists gather together.

Suggest different price points and several options and be willing to do the mailing.

Give a commission to the sites that display your “for real” or photographed gift basket ideas or make a contribution to a local worthy cause with every purchase.

In this way you have your own business and you have benefited many others!

Fish Farming-Still Swimming Upstream From the Purists

Fish Farming Courtesy of JLM Visuals

Fish Farming Courtesy of JLM Visuals

I was recently surprised to learn that fish farming is one of the world’s fastest growing businesses. According to TIME Magazine: “Close to 40% of the seafood we eat nowadays comes from aquaculture; the $78 billion industry has grown 9% a year since 1975, making it the fastest-growing food group, and global demand has doubled since that time.” This is an astonishing number in view of the rapid decline in stocks of wild fish.

Salmon is now farmed in nearly every country with a cold deep- water coastline. Already more than half of the salmon eaten in the United States comes from fish farms. salmon

Yet, aquaculture, which began in China circa 2500 B.C., really is the aquatic counterpart of agriculture. We evolved from hunters to farmers, and just as we decided to cultivate food rather than venturing out to capture savage animals, a parallel can be drawn to those who farm fish rather than brave stormy seas in search of wild ones. An added bonus of fish farming is that each species is raised separately without needlessly catching and destroying other unwanted species.

A well-managed farm is a place where the advantages of aquaculture are most clearly seen. Experts decide when the fish have reached the desirable size and weight. At that moment, thousands of identical fish are channeled into a filleting factory where they are cleaned and sent off on their way to market. The fish farmers can go home for lunch and never need invest in a sou’wester (traditional fisherman’s waterproof rain hat) or even own a pair of waterproof boots.

The sparkling fresh fish are delivered clean and safe to eat on a predictable schedule and at a predictable weight and price. In contrast, commercial deep-water fishing is the most dangerous trade in the world. More men die at sea than in coal mines.

The rapid growth in fish farming was made possible with the development of super-technology — growth lights, nutritional food pellets, vaccines to protect the fish against bacteria and viruses, and underwater video monitors to watch over them. Like farm animals, “factory” fish depend on the farmer to ensure that they don’t become sick, overcrowded, or hungry. Robots feed them on a strict time schedule with precisely measured quantities of formula. Special mechanized equipment creates movement of the water in the pens so the salmon, for example, develop firmer flesh by swimming against man-made waves.

U.S. fish farmers also have an economic edge over their competitors in other countries because the feed for fish farms comes not from the ocean’s food chain but from grains raised inexpensively on the land. As feed constitutes such a major cost in raising fish, farmers are constantly seeking more efficient ways of increasing what they call the “conversion.” Though some may argue the numbers, a pound of soybeans and fishmeal, generally speaking, converts into a pound of fish: a ratio of 1 to 1. (Beef cattle, in contrast, require 15 pounds of feed to produce just 1 pound of meat.)

However, because of their diet, many farmed fish are not considered nearly as beneficial as fish caught in the wild. Fish farming is not yet a panacea for solving our problem of over-fishing, but it is a growing and useful segment of agriculture, or more correctly, aquaculture. It’s the way of the future and when responsibly operated, lets the natural life of the oceans regenerate. Surely, there are great opportunities here.

Getting Started

Fish farm entry-level positions involve assisting with the growing and cultivation of fish and the maintenance of fish farm premises and equipment. Fish farm hands may be employed in either fin fish farming or shellfish farming. They usually work outside, either on or in the water or at shore-based facilities located in sheltered waters. Most fish farm hands are expected to work overtime, particularly in the summer months. Some employers also require a diving qualification and/or a license to operate a barge. This means that to work on a fish farm, employees must enjoy outdoor work, have a reasonable level of physical fitness and be able to swim.