Thoughts about food

Do you know where your food comes from?

“Natural Meats” -- What do we mean?

No-nitrate cured meats

Do you know where your food comes from? posted Dec 27, 2013

Our farm is certified organic. We use only manures and lime on the soil and feed the animals (chickens, turkeys) either certified organic grains or (pigs) minerals and “natural” grains that are non-GMO and locally-raised and milled. Feeds do not contain “non-food additives” common in commercial feed (antibiotics, growth promoters such as arsenic, etc.). Animals are raised with access to the outdoors as much as possible given their ages, predator pressure and conditions of the pastures and weather cycle. The animals are humanely raised and safely processed at local butchers. You are welcome to visit our farm anytime and see all of this for yourself.

We recognize that it takes extra time and effort to find, buy and store locally produced, seasonally available food. However, with recent events in the world, the importance of building local food networks has never been greater. Consider the "quality" of industrial meats and other foods, food safety issues, chemical residues, our carbon footprint and food sovereignty.

Now we hear that US chicken will be sent to China for processing and sent back for consumption here ( see link #1 below) and Chinese companies are buying Smithfield, the largest pork company in the world (link #2 below).  Do YOU want your food coming from China??

The act of buying local food, besides providing you with the best, healthiest food on the planet, is assuring the survival of small farms and a thriving farm economy in your own neighborhood. Your food dollar is going almost 100% to support the local farm economy. Our daily farm operation pays the organic farmer that grows the grains we use, the suppliers of chicks, local store-keepers, hardware stores, farm supply and repair shops, our processors, our neighbors who sell us straw and hay - all local, small farmers and businesses. It's this simple: your vote with your dollar helps us all to keep a viable local economy! 

Farmers and eaters need each other to stay healthy physically and economically!

(1) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/04/chinese-poultry-processor_n_3866877.html
(2) http://money.cnn.com/2013/07/10/news/companies/smithfield-shuanghui-deal/

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“Natural Meats” -- What do we mean? posted April 11, 2013

Seems like every time I turn around, there is something else weird being fed to animals. I already know about arsenic being fed to chickens. But, recently while reviewing Animal Welfare Approved Standards for pigs (see: http://www.animalwelfareapproved.org/standards/pig-2013/#20-breeds-and-origin-of-animals) we find that a product called ractopamine is prohibited under these standards. Really? But what the heck IS ractopamine anyway and why are “regular” pigs being fed it?? Check it out at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ractopamine

Needless to say, we don’t feed this stuff.

Our animals are fed locally-produced grains (corn, oats, barley, soybeans) and minerals and vitamins. The chickens and turkeys are fed certified organic feed with these ingredients. The pigs are sometimes fed organic if we can afford it; or just locally-produced ground grains/minerals/vitamins otherwise. Either way, there are NO other additives, antibiotics, hormones, implants, heavy metals, or non-food substances etc. in the feed. 

Our animals are grown in small batches  = pigs 8-12 at a time; chickens 80-150 at a time; turkeys 80-120 at a time.

They have plenty of room and access to the outdoors during the spring, summer and fall.

Winter pigs are raised on a deep “bedded pack” of straw and sawdust under roof to keep them and the bedding and food dry and warm.

Besides castration of males, none of the animals’ body parts are chopped off (tails, teeth, beaks, other).

They are butchered individually by local butchers and products such as sausages, hotdogs etc. are 100% meat with only seasonings added. Cured products use a no-nitrate cure.

This is what we mean by “natural” meats.

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No-nitrate cured meats posted April, 2013

Curing meats is a way to preserve them for future use (meaning keeping it from spoiling due to microbes) and to flavor the meat. There are lots of kinds of cures; dry cures with salt, “wet” salt brine mixtures, “corning” beef (salt and vinegar) and pickling with vinegar. 

Wet cures for hams and bacons are most common in the US. This typically involves soaking and/or injecting the meat with a brine mix containing water, salt, sugar and a bit of potassium and/or sodium nitrate.  (Some mixes also contain MSG.) Nitrates are what give hams, hot dogs and other cured meats a pink color. Nitrates are also stronger microbe killers than salt alone. Many people wish to limit their intake of nitrates, so we take our bacons, hams, ham hocks up to Leona Meats in Troy PA. They provide a no-nitrate wet cure and smoking process.

Ingredients of the brine: 14# water (~1¾ gallon) to which 13oz salt, 2oz of sugar, 1oz of clove oil is added. This quantity is enough to cure a total of 80# meat. Leona injects this brine into the meat and lets it permeate for about 3 days. Then the meat goes into the smoker. Depending on the bulkiness of the meat (ham vs bacon vs hocks), the meat stays in the smoker from 9-11 hrs. It is pulled out when the internal temperature reaches around 150degrees F.

When NOT using nitrates (which are stronger anti-microbial agents than salt alone), the cooling process of the meat is more critical in making sure bacteria do not have a chance to grow. This is why Leona makes smaller, boneless hams for us – the meat must to cool down faster. The first hr out of the smoker, the meat must cool down to 85 degrees. Over the next 5 hrs, the meat must cool down to 55 degrees.

To learn more about these dynamics, there is a great description of wet cures, dry cures, nitrate vs non-nitrate etc from Hank Sawtrelle at: http://www.culinate.com/columns/ask_hank/curing_meat.

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