Tuesday, November 27, 2012

First Year Turkey Processing

The business of processing chickens is routine around here. A serious chore to be done respectfully, but often and with a familiarity similar to many of the other farm tasks.

But turkeys, they are no small feat. With a live weight around 25-40lbs, and huge wings capable of giving a black eye (no really, that happened) , it's a much bigger proposition to turn fowl to food. Our small set up does not have the equipment capacity to process turkeys, even the scalding pot we use to loosen feathers can only fit 1/3 of the smaller birds.

So on last Monday, the big trailer owned by a place with the right equipment showed up to herd our flock of 60 in for their final trip. As a general rule the turkeys followed us around the farm when they has escaped their pen, cheerfully and relentlessly requesting additional rations despite being fed at least twice a day . We don't leave feed out all the time because we want the birds to eat pasture and bugs, rather than hoarding corn and not moving around. But when that trailer backed up not a single bird would respond to my requests to come along. Maybe they knew, but more likely the trailer looked mighty strange and like an open mouthed predator. Slowly and calmly we adjusted the position of the trailer and worked the birds in with a little grain coaxing and slammed the door.

I won't lie--it was a mix of things watching them pull away, the turkeys character added a real vibrancy to the farm. But their care was also exhausting and relentless- and we love to eat turkey. I had butterflies at the thought of sharing them with customers and friends. I barely slept overnight, worrying about their size. Being our first year with these guys, judging their weights was extra tricky, and I wanted to be sure we filled orders as close as possible.

It was ok that I slept on needles though, the alarm went off at 3:30 the next morning. We bundled up and took care of the residents still on farm. Kim's sister Deborah was still trying to catch a few more moments of rest upstairs, she would be joining us for the day of work.

By 4:30 we were all headed over to the processor, with coolers and freezer bags and labels packed into a borrowed van and our tiny prius.

There were some hiccups getting started, and we didn't really get moving with the birds until 6:30. Kim and I were sweating the time, we needed to be back on farm with 60 processed birds by 1pm when pick ups started, and in the van by 3:00 with our full delivery to get to Albany. But we had to stay focused on the task.

I worked in the dispatch area first, gently catching each bird from their holding pen and steadying them for the man with a knife. He commented how calm our birds were, they were so used to being handled they barely fussed when being picked up. Having worked with this crew before, I was at ease knowing just how fast they really were, and how skillful. My arms were a little sore from helping a fellow farmer process 170 birds a few days earlier, and my hands were so beaten you could no longer see my knuckles. That's sayin something since I hand plowed 2 acres with less pain.

Once the birds hit the scalder and the plucker they were sent to the next room, where Kim and Deborah worked with the crew to remove organs, clean remaining feathers, take off necks and prep the birds for packaging. It's kind of like an assembly line, everyone moving quickly to get the birds cooled down and safely clean in the right amount of time.

When the first batch of 30 was chilling in huge vats of ice water, and we had to stop to reset all the equipment. I switched over to packaging, the birds came out of the chill tanks to get the final cleaning, and once over. A pack of giblets was set inside each once, then we vacuum sealed them and set them in coolers outside to be weighed and labeled. Despite the late start, everyone picked up their pace and we had birds packed in cooler bags with ice and name tags.

While the guys took a quick coffee and donut break, the girls and I started matching turkeys to orders. The turkeys were gorgeous and we received great compliments from the processing team which made us swell up with pride. Some did dress a little lighter then we expected, but were remarkably healthy.

Soon it was time for the second batch and it wasn't long before they were chilling too. It was getting late, everyone pitching in to keep up a fever pace. Then, of course our scale broke. We had to move all 60 turkeys up to a spare scale the place owned, setting us back at least a half an hour. While I helped scrub walls and haul out guts and feathers, Kim and Deborah frantically worked to keep the birds cool and get correct weights/labels. Remarkably, we managed to speed out by 12:30 and race back to the farm.

I made a quick stop on the way home to drop off a 15lb donated bird, while KIm stopped for additional ice. We met back on the farm and set to sorting the birds ito on-farm pick ups, Albany delivery and staying behind or extras. Then we loaded the van with all if the other products for delivery, kale, carrots, cranberry sauce, potatoes etc.

The first customers arrived about 2, we took turns handling the transactions while eating quick sandwiches and getting much needed showers. The day was only half way through. Every customer was so excited to receive their turkey though, with our brand new logo labels that I had a good strong burst of energy.

By some kind of miracle, we all got on the road in time, 6 turkeys already picked up on farm successfully. Another 6 would be picked up Wednesday and both fridges were bursting at the seams with turkey.

We made it to All Good and it was only moments before we were loading huge orders into chipper customer's cars. Deborah had never before processed poultry and today had been a trail by necessity. But even she was so proud and happy when we handed months of work to each person. It really does make it worth it when you have people who are delighted to get the food you've poured your entire body in to. The aches fade, and you're just left with the knowledge that it means something.

Before long the van was empty, and after a quick delivery to a member out of town, we were back on the road. A friend was meeting us in near-by Troy for a beer, dinner and the final turkey hand off.

Wearily, the day finally catching up and the adrenaline wearing off, we three poured ourselves into the restaurant booth. I can't say we were much good company for the friend we were meeting, it was 7:30 and we were ravenous. By 9 we were on the road and Kim heroically drove our zombie selves back to Copake.

The sight of the farm was so welcome, and we barely made it to 10:15 before our heavy lids snapped shut.

It was an intense, busy, taxing and wonderful day. We did it--with some good help. The taste of those turkeys was beyond our expectations. They were raised and processed with care, and sold to people who prepared them with the same care. That, feels like a job well done.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fair Share CSA scholarship

We are launching a big campaign today and need your help!

Our sustainably grown food is good, great even. But it costs more to grow, and consumers have to pay more to get it. We do what we can to make payments manageable and accessible. Now we want to do more.

We are starting a scholarship campaign to fund a full-year's share from our farm. Veggies, poultry, rabbit- all of it. There is nothing more healing then a good meal after a long day. We both know how it can be to struggle to keep ramen on the table, never mind sustainable organically minded food. We also have seen how discrimination and other factors have further limited the incomes of folks living with long term mental illness and/or physical differences. So this scholarship, should we reach our goal will be specifically promoted to those communities.

We have posted a lot about our recipes, our cooking tips, our farming tactics. But when it comes right down to it- this is what matters. Getting real, clean, good good to everyone.

Give a little if you can- and PLEASE spread the word. Thanks!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A few Thanksgiving prep photos

We are having a bit of respite for a few days after a very busy first turkey processing/delivery. Here are a few pics of cooking dinner in the meantime!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving Blitz

Full speed until the holiday, not much time to update. We worked a long day yesterday helping the farm I did an internship with process 170 turkeys. The are the model of processing efficiency over there, everyone worked and and all 170 were done by 3:00pm.

Our firewood stack is low, so despite some sore hands and wrists, cutting wood is on the must do list for the day. Baking for the holiday starts today, along with cleaning the house. CSA holiday delivery prep is in full swing and tomorrow I will pack potatoes, pick carrots and kale and organize orders. Along with CSA prep we have outside turkey orders to fill, Tuesday will be a blur of turkey processing and deliveries to Albany.

Around 12 on Tuesday we will deliver one of our turkeys to the Reform Church of Copake for their free holiday dinner. We managed to sell enough birds to cover our costs, so this is a small way to give back. We have big plans in the works to start our real campaign to make our food more accessible, so stay tuned!!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Being thankful

It's a good practice to always think of what one is grateful for, and many folks think about it especially this time of year. I try to be thankful a bit each day but it can be hard when your body is sore and your mind is racing.

A few years ago I lost a friend in a terrible car wreck. She was very young, just planning for grad school and one of the hardest workers I have ever met. During services in her honor, I learned she had kept a journal dedicated to what she was thankful for. This didn't surprise me about her, she was one of those people who genuinely appreciated others, and believed in good. Since that time, I've often paused myself in a moment of tantrum about something stupid to just be thankful. It's not always easy, and there are circumstances when I don't want to try and find that bright spot. But being thankful isn't supposed to always be easy, or pretend everything's grand. I think it's mostly about acknowledging that every moment is temporary and the great moments are worth playing back. It's about acknowledging the negative, but moving forward to the good.

So today, I'm thankful for many things, including friendly neighbors who drop off firewood and stop to chat. My back is sore, I'm worried about income, and I have to go to traffic court for a speeding ticket. But I'm also thankful. It's a good habit to get in to, and not just because there is a holiday around the corner dictating it. More because in a moment, everything will change and we need to replay the good to cope with the less good.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Side Dressing

Today's task is making cranberry sauce for the Thanksgiving delivery. We have been busy trying to process the rest of the chickens, we are close to the end now. The freezer is close to packed, we may need to borrow relatives spare freezers to store the last of the birds (not a bad problem to have).

We have been working to finish up some furniture moving projects and decorating tasks too. After 10 months, it's starting to looks like people live in the house, as opposed to just a storage unit for muddy jeans and work boots. It feels good, and it helps us fall even more in love with the farm.

All of the plans for next year are sketched out, waiting for more financial analyzing and details. In two months we will begin recruiting new members, so the details will need to be firmer by then. It's a balancing act, keeping share holders in all if the goods through May, while prepping for next year's season. Next year is bound to be another tough one, we have big additions to our production along with increasing the productivity of existing enterprises. But I'm excited, I think of how far we have come, and how much potential there is.

We are looking for a haflinger team, knowing it could take a while to find horses that are the right fit. We have been reworking budgets and financials to ensure we are prepared for such a big investment. We are hopeful to find a team a few months before we will need them to do any work, so we can build a relationship and have plenty of time to collaborate with trainers. I'm thinking we will be getting our piglets early in the season, they are excellent tillers. We will use them to prep the veggie field before the horses go anywhere near it. This way, the ground will be partially broke and fertilized. Plus, there is already electric line running there, so it will be a safe pasture will we set up summer pasture for them in the woods.

The ground may be just getting tucked in for winter's rest, but we are awake with plans and work!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

They're predicting snow!

We love snow days on the farm, especially the kind that slow you down but don't set you back. The snow makes a farm look magical and clean, blanketing the manure and painting the backs of wooly residents.

A few things had to be done before we retreat inside to tackle the dishes. Extra grain for the turkeys, tending the chickens, hay for the rabbits and stacking firewood. I pulled some tools from the field and while I was at it picked the last of the sprouts and broccoli. I'm hoping the kale will with stand the snow enough for the CSA drop on Saturday, as the greenhouse is plugging along slowly.

I will pull the hoses in so they don't freeze, and do a bit more tending. I wish that we didn't still have meat chickens to worry about in the pasture. They will be ok, tucked under cover and clustered together. But it's just more evidence we planned too long of a season.

There is a good meal in the crock pot and plenty of laundry to fold. I don't mind the time inside, though by January I will be restless. For now the it's exciting, the air smells cold and sweet- a sure sign flurries are coming through that pale grey sky.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Turkey Biscuits and Gravy

Almost everyone knows (and I think most agree) that one of the best parts of roasting a turkey is the left overs. This turkey (and I swear I'll stop talking about it after this post) is tender, rich, flavorful and juicy. It doesn't even need gravy- but, of course a good dose of gravy didn't hurt it at all.

After a great brunch with friends on Sunday, we all headed out to Kringle Candle and Yankee Candle for our annual field trip. We didn't have a lot of budget, but we had saved up a bit for some seasonal candles to keep the farm house smelling sweet throughout the winter. Mostly, the trip was about spending time with some dear friends taking ridiculous pictures with even more ridiculous holiday decorations. A good use of a Sunday!

By the time we got home, it was dark and chilly, but the wood stove had done her duty and kept the farm house fairly warm. After checking in on our critters, I whipped up a quick batch of biscuits. While they were baking, I stoked the fire and set to work on gravy with left over turkey. In a half an hour, we were curled up with warm bowls and sleepy dogs.

The farm isn't always picture perfect moments or easy going days. But when it is, boy it is.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Turkeys under attack!

Of course, the day after we decide to sell more of our birds, the predators realized they are in the field. One small one took a decent injury and since we were processing chickens, we decided to process her too. She may not have healed quickly enough to be in top shape before Thanksgiving processing, and may have suffered a bit or struggles to get to the food.

It was a beast to get the bird prepped with our small set up, so I'm glad we decided to send the whole batch out for processing to another farm ( where we will help ). But I'm very excited to cook it tomorrow as a trial run for Thanksgiving! I can practically smell it cooking...

We have the electric fence set on high tonight to hopefully keep the rest safe.

I will update with the results tomorrow!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Eternal Spring

Our greenhouse is utilitarian, constantly messy, and often the felines leave their day's catch. But, things are growing! Radishes, scallions, salad and cooking greens... And some experiments in pushing the limits of seasons.