Polyface Farm

Saturday we went out to Swoope, VA to visit Joel Salatin‘s Polyface Farm and pick up our turkeys for Thanksgiving (this Thursday!). Yes, the level of excitement in the group was akin to Bieber Fever. Formal tours can be arranged, but we decided to show ourselves around, discovering on our own all of the inventions large and small we’ve all been reading about the farm. The fact that you’re allowed to just show up and walk around by yourself let’s you know things are run very differently at Polyface, as opposed to your typical farm. We saw the mobile chicken coops that allow the chickens to clean up after the cows, the portable fencing that allows the cows to move from field to field, and the evidence that it really happens – there was a cow-made line in the grass where they had been previously, the grass in the previous field eaten down. The pictures really speak for themselves, though – so let’s cut right to those!

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Canning at the Haven

After weeks of sitting on the sidelines of the local food system, a big group of us rolled up our sleeves, tied back our hair, and learned first-hand how to preserve food by canning. Our host was The Haven, a safe place for the homeless and poor in Central Virginia to spend the day. The Haven offers a number of essential physical amenities, but also connects people in need with local social services available.

Lena was an amazing teacher, having us don aprons and pick up a knife as soon as we walked into the kitchen. Soon 20 of us were peeling, coring, and chopping apples, preparing apple sauce and apples in syrup, while others sanitized jars, monitored the apples cooking on the stovetop, and manned the food mill. By the end of the day, we had dozens of jars of food and a valuable skill to take home with us.

Jealous? There’s still time to join in the fun! We’ll be going back to The Haven on Nov. 16 and Dec. 7. Leave a comment if you’d like to come.

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True & Essential Meats, Harrisonburg VA

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A few weeks ago a small group of us spent a sunny afternoon at True & Essential Meats in Harrisonburg. A slaughterhouse. (A small, local one.) On a kill day. Really.

Owner Joe Cloud spent two very generous hours showing us his operation, answering umpteenthousand questions, and teaching us about what goes into putting food on America’s table each and every day. Some of the surprising things we learned:

  • Cows are huge!
  • Cow tongues are huge!
  • In the springtime when all the cows are eating grass, the meat processing room smells a little like freshly cut grass. Crazy!
  • One of the biggest challenges for small-scale meat processors is operating within an industry that is extremely vertically integrated. Even equipment suppliers and rendering companies are now mostly controlled by the biggest processing companies.
  • Finding skilled labor is another major challenge for small-scale operators. Local training programs for highly-skilled meat cutters are really rare.
  • New USDA regulations treat small and very small meat processing businesses much like the big guys. Joe explained that new regulations issued in March 2010 will require onerous constant testing for small processors, even those with spotless records of operation, and will cost small processors tens of thousands each year.

Joe, thanks for an educational and inspiring afternoon. We are so grateful that there are dedicated people like you and your team, working long hours every day to produce good food, serve local farmers, and support a vibrant local economy.

We’re looking forward to thanking you and all the local hands that feed us at our 100-mile Thanksgiving potluck celebration in just a few weeks!

Friday, November 19th. Mark your calendars, friends!