The Zen of Chickens: the first of several posts on urban farming and backyard gardening

IMG_4757I love back yard gardening…it’s one of the best and most economical ways to take control of your food source, not to mention lessen your reliance on the grocery store, if even just a little.  I could be easily persuaded to take up farming as a new occupation, but for now, it’s not in the cards.  Add to that some chickens and bees and I’d be one happy backyard farmer.  Maybe the title “farmer” would be a stretch, but something I would surely be enamored by.

However for the past two years, we were lucky enough to fall into the great fortune of joining a local chicken co-op just a few minutes from our home.  Our kids also attend the only public Charter Montessori in the US that runs from pre-K-12th grade.  As a part of the community, the school has a complete working farm that fits neatly into Dr. Montessori’s teaching.  Despite dog and cat allergies, we’re an animal loving family and the co-op offered an exceptional source for farm fresh eggs.  More importantly however, is the experience of knowing where some of our food comes from and the work involved in getting it home.

The co-op started with almost 40 chicks and a dozen or so eager families.  Nine of the chicks we raised ourselves in our own home for a few months.  It was fun for the first 3-4 weeks…then when they tripled in size yet lived in the same box, the dust and noise got old rather quickly!  What an experience for everyone though.  The co-op’s intention was not to get cheap eggs, but when the eggs did start coming, they were exceptional.  They were all we had heard about of a farm fresh egg, with bright yellow/orangey firm yolks and non-runny whites.  The taste of a 5 minute poached egg from the farm is out of this world.  A few times I would collect a warm egg from the coop, and it was in the pan 20 minutes later.  Nothing better.

IMG_4764For our own needs, we have the best source at the moment, and we know how lucky we are to have the opportunity.  It’s nice to know more and more families are becoming backyard farmers, and some are even selling excess eggs.  Many municipalities are quickly changing regulations to accommodate this trend too.  If you buy from a local or backyard chicken farmer, be sure you know what the chickens are eating, and visit the coop before you buy. Remember, chickens are omnivores. They really should have full access to the outside air/and the earth underfoot.  In a true free range scenario, they would have access to grasses, bugs, worms, and grubs in addition to some supplemental organic grains and tons of your green waste from the kitchen.  You would think they were never fed when I would arrive with a bag of kitchen waste….it was devoured within minutes.  In a more perfect world, mimicking nature is how Joel Salatin runs his Polyface Farm in Virginia (we got to visit a few years ago, and loved it).  He explains how he rotates his livestock through each paddock, and why the soil, growing grass, and each animal is so critical to one another in this brief video.

In my opinion, eggs are truly an exceptional food source, and finally research is backing this more and more.  Many people avoid eggs due to the misunderstanding that they contribute to high cholesterol, but studies have shown that even an egg a day does not change your cholesterol levels.  Vani Hari (aka the Food Babe) says in a recent cooking segment/blog post that yolks are good for the brain, even helping to protect us from Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.  She pointed out David Perlmutter MD gets into detail on this in his book ‘Grain Brain’.  Even Dr Oz chimed in by saying to “ditch the egg-white-only mantra!”  He goes on in detail to saying how “yolks contain the bulk of the egg’s nutrients, including minerals like calcium and magnesium and vitamins A, D, E, B6, B12 … the list goes on! In fact, eggs are loaded with so many nutrients that some scientists suggest a few eggs a day could provide a bigger health insurance policy than a multivitamin. They have 100% of the carotenoids essential for healthy eyes, protecting them against vision loss. Eggs are also rich in protein and an energy-sustaining food that helps stave off fatigue.”

It is my hope that sustainable farming and livestock practices will gain more and more prevalence, and that a chicken (or two) in every backyard will help sway the trend away from massive, commercial egg farms.  Despite the premise of an automated and sterile environment in which commercial egg farms are operated, the exact opposite results occur.  Sick birds are commonplace despite regular antibiotic use.  Contaminated eggs are not uncommon, including a massive egg recall back in 2010.  This is much more common here in America than anywhere else.  An article discussing eggs and refrigeration makes a similar point.  Finally, it’s no surprise that nutrient content is also being questioned in factory farmed vs free range, organic farmed chickens/eggs, as discussed in more detail here .

Our backyard garden and the chicken co-op work well for us.  We also tried out a first year CSA that shares space on the same farm as the chickens.  The produce was exceptional, although I think we will stick with my own garden this next season, as I work to increase production every year.  There are many options to take back your food, and know where it comes from.  The internet offers a plethora of resources to learn backyard chickening, and my hope is to have more families give it a try.

“True healthcare reform starts in your kitchen, not in Washington”  ~Anonymous

IMG_4762

Advertisements

Free Screening of the movie “American Meat” this week

I love a good book or documentary, especially on food, farming, the environment and the like.  This week, the exceptional documentary called American Meat is being offered in it’s full length entirely for free, as a way to say thanks to our great farmers.  The hope is to raise conversation and meaningful dialogue towards the betterment of the commercial, industrialized food production methods in America and beyond. This movie also just happens to fit right in with my own next blog post that will be live in the next few days!

For a quick overview, the movie trailer can be seen here.

The complete, uncut movie can be seen here.

Many thanks to the great American farmers who have seen the virtues, both financial and ecological, of sustainable & organic farming methods.  May you continue in your efforts, but also set the example for and help train & retrain others in your methods to ensure a farming revolution for the next generation.

AmericanMeatWebsitePressPackageSm

How to Take Charge of the Common Cold (and much more) with Garlic

Whole Garlic Head

Garlic is one of the greatest gifts to our health maintenance, and perhaps even more importantly to acute care when we do fall sick.  One of the greatest successes we have seen over and over again in our house is the effect garlic has on the common cold, among other things.  While it can be taken every day for ongoing health maintenance, peeling, chopping and dicing can be tedious, and time consuming.  Although I love the smell, not everyone does…in fact we have a separate cutting board for garlic and onions so the next apple we slice doesn’t pick up the garlic flavor.  However garlic, like onions are rarely added to the shopping list as an item we need for a specific recipe….they are both a staple in our pantry that we rarely run out of.  We love cooking with Garlic, fermenting it and even eating it raw when something acute attacks.  My kids happily take it by the spoonful when it is covered with a dollop of organic apple sauce, and countless times, I’ve headed off a cold before it got a foothold by multiple doses in a day.  What on earth is up with Garlic?

Split head of Garlic

Split head of Garlic

Both Eastern and Western medicine alike extol garlic for its powerful health benefits, with the Cleveland Clinic listing it on their top 35 “Power Food” list.  It is packed with Phytochemicals which keep the plant itself

healthy, and does the same for us by protecting from disease while boosting our immune system.  According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), among other things, garlic is known to be used to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and even different types of cancer.

Also known for its sometimes pungent smell and bad breath, the NIH also recognizes it as being safe for most people.  There can be some health concerns associated with Garlic, but mostly when you’re taking another pharmaceutical or have a specific condition.  Some general health guidelines are indicated in this article but if you have a concern, you should check with your medical professional before consuming larger amounts of garlic than you may be accustomed to.  Even the FDA includes garlic on their GRAS list (Generally Recognized as Safe).

The relatively recent historical use of garlic shows endless cases from Eastern and alternative medicine throughout time.  Garlic falls into an antimicrobial category, and shows antifungal, antivirus, and antibiotic properties with reported benefits against many flu viruses and the herpes simplex.  It has been known to reduce or stop a cold in its tracks, ease symptoms and shorten the duration of the flu, as well as reduce bronchial congestion.  Internally, it can help treat yeast infections, and topically fungal infections like athlete’s foot, or the pressed oil for middle ear infections.

Fresh Garlic, Minced

Fresh Garlic, Minced

Garlic is wonderful raw or cooked, but when raw, despite the considerable “bite” it seems to really shine as your most potent ally.  It has no odor when sitting on the counter, wrapped up in its skin, but once cut or crushed, the garlic cellular compound’s rupture, and mix, creating allicin…the good stuff, and of course the distinct smell once you start dicing.

Cook with it.  Ferment it.  Supplement with it if you have to…keep it fresh in your pantry (not in your fridge, the jarred stuff is not fresh!).  Do your own research though, and learn how to keep garlic a staple in your diet.  Just think, if “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” just think what Garlic will do for you!

If diet is wrong, medicine is of no use.  If diet is correct, medicine is of no need.- Ancient Ayurvedic proverb

BONUS: One of the greatest new things I learned last year in the kitchen was how to peel garlic.  This was especially helpful when I culture a large batch, but you know how your fingers smell like garlic for 24 hours because peeling it is so tedious?

Check out this 1 minute video on how to peel garlic like a pro in10 seconds.

 See disclaimer information here

Random Post – Lunch

Mom-on-law is visiting, and she knows how we like to eat.  She scoured the fridge and made us a leftover salad plate.  Delish!

Organic baked potato, Kalamata Olives, Spinach, Baby Kale with lemon dressing, Marinated Chicken Thigh, Avacado, the bottom of the jar from an old batch of Cultured Zucchini….containing bits of onion and garlic cloves, and whole grain/wild rice mix.  I topped it off with a spoonful of the fermented “brine” from the vegetable batch as I cant waste anything in my house.  Usually the brine makes an incredible marinade for chicken and Salmon.

Delish - Leftover salad plate

Delish – Leftover salad plate

PS – Unfortunately for me, I was still a tiny bit hungry, so not shown is the Sunbutter and Jam sandwich on GF toast of course:)

Need more culture in your life?

The connection between the mind and gut is finally getting more and more recognition as being a critical one, making what you put into your body so very important.  There is on average 100 trillion bacteria that reside in your gut (both good and bad) and that number generally outnumbers the cells in your entire body by about 10 to 1.  Maintaining the balance of good and bad bacteria provides the foundation for physical, mental and emotional health.  85% of your immunity processes originates in the gut, and it’s also the largest and most important immune organ in the entire body.

 Once again, there is a resurgence to the “old” ways in food preparation occurring and for the sake of this article in the form of immune boosting fermented, or cultured foods.  Before there was economical and efficient refrigeration, food products were canned for long term storage.  Canning is also growing in popularity every year and is a great way to have summer peaches and your garden tomatoes in the wintertime; however most of the nutrients are killed by the heat process involved.  Historically before refrigeration of any kind, meats were often kept in brine, or salted for long term storage, and the use of salt is one of the key methods of fermentation that I’ve incorporated into our every day diet.

 We practice Lacto Fermentation of fresh vegetables in our home on a regular basis.  The staples in our home include: Cucumbers to Pickles, cabbage to sauerkraut and carrots, well…to fermented carrots.  I’ve also done zucchini, jalapenos, garlic, and green tomatoes as well and enjoyed them all.  The very simple process is usually done only with sea salt, water and time.  It creates a very unique flavor that even the kids love (especially the carrots).  Using fresh, clean water and not your average/processed/iodized table salt is very important.  We’re still using quality sea salt because it is pretty economical, but since even our oceans are not as clean today as we would hope, I’d like to evolve to a Himalayan Salt in the future.

Our Current Cultured veggies

Our Current Cultured Veggies + Grape Kefir

 Here are the basics of how this works.  In Lacto Fermentation, it is the bacteria that are responsible for the fermentation process (as opposed to yeast when making beer for example).  “Lacto” refers to Lactobacillus, the specific type of bacteria, of which is growing on the surface of most plants as well as in most GI tracts (The word Lacto does not necessarily mean this is a dairy based process, although whey can be used with or instead of salt).  The Lactobacillus have the ability to convert sugars into lactic acid through the fermentation process, and this acid is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and gives the unique flavor.  This lactic acid also helps facilitate the growth of the good bacteria in the GI tract.  It gets better though…aside from the simple preservation attributes of this process, vitamins, enzymes and even overall digestive levels are increased as a result of the natural fermentation.  Fermented foods are also a natural detoxifier, and provide a much higher level of probiotics than most probiotic supplements.

 There are several outstanding books on the subject….the two most well known are Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.  I also liked the quick and easy to follow Fermenting for Dummies.  The best online resource with recipes and special tools and information is www.culturesforhealth.com.  Although there are some tools that make the job easier, to get started all you need are some mason jars and salt.  The fancy crocks, lids and other knick-knacks can wait till later if you really want to delve in deeper.

Probiotic supplementation is still a part of our daily regimen, but I would encourage anyone to do your own research on the natural fermentation of fresh foods, and incorporate them into your diet.  Later we’ll talk about the “soda” we drink in our house for dinner on most nights of the week….SODA?!!  Yes, well sort of.  Another product always in constant demand in our house is Water Kefir…another fermented product we make regularly in our house, and my kids call it “Dad’s soda” because it is naturally fermented, and quite bubbly.  Two bottles were so bubbly they exploded across the kitchen.  It is SOOOO good, cant wait to tell you more.

 Bonus info on bacteria: I LOVE TED talks and will always be sharing my favorites in my blog.  Want to more about bacteria (well beyond the kitchen)?  Here is an exceptional TED talk.

 Quote of the day: “It’s bizarre that the produce manager is more important to my children’s health than the pediatrician.”  ~Meryl Streep