Hello, Spring!

Last year was challenging for us with both the Grade Fire and Redwood Valley Fire, evolving the flow of the farm to work with new market channels and land, and trying to juggle it all without sacrificing family life. We made it through, and now that we’re adjusting to life with two children (baby boy was born Dec. 27!), we’re excited for this year of farming more local food.

On the one hand, the wildfires were horrible in that they destroyed livestock fencing and set back the grazing for a year or two. On the other hand, working with our landlord, Golden Vineyards, we can work with a “clean slate” and expand the rangeland pasture available. We are especially excited for the prospect of raising more sheep and goats!

Egg layers in BD olives & vines 2018

Until then, we are focusing on pastured heritage pork and poultry production. We continue to purchase inexpensive organic and non-GMO food manufacturing byproduct that cuts our feed costs on raising meat chickens and pigs. This helps us stay competitive at our scale – much smaller than larger, vertically integrated operations. (We also purchase organic feed to ensure a balanced ration.)

Last year, we rented irrigated summer pasture for our hogs which we will continue to do this year. We plan to bring our sheep and cows there, too, as buying hay is not sustainable. By late spring, we should have those animals moved from Heart Arrow Ranch and to summer pasture.

We also just raised out our first batch of Pekin ducks! This was an experiment for us. It happened that the USDA-inspected processor was able to give us a date to custom process, so we jumped at the chance. As long as we make a few improvements on any subsequent batches, the duck enterprise can be profitable for us. So…if you are looking for local, pasture-raised, organically-fed duck, we have it available now!

Pekin ducks 2018

Throughout the year, we will be raising our pastured, organically-fed broiler chickens. The plan right now is to raise both Cornish Cross and Freedom Rangers. Forget what the difference is? Cornish Cross chickens have a more tender texture and more delicate taste and are ideal for dishes that are cooked quicker and at a higher heat. Cornish cross chickens are raised to 8-weeks old. Freedom Ranger chickens have a firmer, developed texture and richer, fuller taste. They are best for slow-cooked and braised dishes. Freedom Ranger chickens are raised to 12-weeks old.

We also just wanted to put in a plug for roaster hogs! Word is starting to get around that we sell amazing whole hogs for parties, like weddings. Adam can even come out and roast it for you if your event is not too far away. Roasting and eating a whole hog is a mouth-watering experience if done right.

Right now, you can find our chicken and pork on the menu at SIP and SAVOR at The Golden Pig in Hopland. We’re also helping them with eggs. Stop in to try their fresh, delicious fare. They have a full bar with many locally-produced spirits, wines, and beer. They even have a beer on tap from Moonlight Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, where we get spent brewery grains for our pigs.

Pork production slowed a bit last year, but by summer we should have cut-and-wrapped pork available again for filling your freezers. Also, we’re hoping to raise holiday turkeys this year! We will let you know when we start taking deposits on turkey. As always, it helps us immensely when we have orders confirmed before we start raising or producing something, and pre-payments help us cover input costs. Our days of running a traditional CSA (community-supported agriculture) have stopped, but the spirit of having co-producers is still crucial for us to continue farming delicious, healthy food for our community.

Have a blessed Spring!

-The Gaskas

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Please help us spread the word – we’re selling our Farmall 100 tractor! It’s perfect for a commercial vegetable farm or grain farm looking to weed efficiently. We had great success mounding potatoes, weeding corn rows, etc. with it. We need to sell this so we can cashflow the expansion of our pork and broiler enterprises. Our hope is that this great tractor can help another farm increase local food production, too!

farmall-100-for-sale

Wow! If watching the above fast-paced video does not get you excited about a coalescence of international foods, producers, co-producers, and gastronomes, then the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre are probably not for you. This is not another food and farming conference, nor another gourmet food show. Every two years, Slow Food International hosts Terra Madre in conjunction with the Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy with the simple idea of bringing together the active participants of the Slow Food movement who would otherwise never be able to meet each other as food communities. It takes place in October, and this year, I applied and was accepted to attend as a Slow Food USA delegate.

Being a delegate

I’m honored to represent Slow Food USA and Northern California at Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto in October. While the opportunity to learn and taste at this huge event is exciting, I’m looking forward to meeting producers, chefs, and other food and farming advocates and doers from around the world and the US. The chance to visit Italy and eat cheese and agnolotti pasta is thrilling alone, yet I also hope to return home with stories and flavors to inspire what Adam and I do. There is so much to learn about farming practices, food system infrastructure, challenges and innovations, food preparation techniques, and traditions. We and Golden Vineyards are currently hosting a student intern from ESA in France, and we have learned so much from each other about the differences and similarities between our experiences as farmers. Inter-cultural exchange is so vital for food and farming, just as it is for all the arts and sciences!

I have yet to figure out which conference events I’ll attend, but I’ve already signed up for two Taste Workshops, as some of them have already sold out. I’m on a budget, so for now, I’m only opting for two – Storie di maiali felici (Happy Pigs) and I nuovi Presidi dei salumi (New Cured Meats Presidia). If you’ve been talking with me or Adam recently, my interest in these topics is no surprise…Other Taste Workshops focus on wine and regionality, beers, specific street food, and many more highly specific food and beverage topics, and everything in between. There are cooking classes, special dinners throughout Turin, bread and pizza workshops, and mixology workshops that you can pay to attend as well. The conference events are like seminars covering agricultural practices, social and environmental issues, region highlights, and biodiversity.

Slow Food

I never would have known that the snail would creep back into my life as an adult. In high school at The Madeira School, the snail is our mascot and a reference to our motto Festina Lente, or make haste slowly. This is in reference to each woman achieving her personal best at her own pace. So, at 14 years-old, the value of slow and steady was already instilled in me. (Another Lucy Madeira saying: “Function in disaster, finish in style and keep calm at the center of your being,” which has ALSO been an invaluable mantra for me as a farmer!) Incidentally, the snail is the logo for the Slow Food organization.

The Madeira School mascot

The Madeira School mascot

Slow Food snail

Slow Food snail

I read Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean, and Fair by Carlo Petrini in the fall of 2007, just after my first summer farming with Adam. At the time, I was living in San Francisco, applying to graduate schools, and exploring within myself as to why I was so drawn to local, sustainable farming and high quality food. By that point, Petrini’s points about the ills of industrial agriculture and the importance of revamping the food system were not new, but I liked his perspective on gastronomy and making connections for positive change. I thought I needed to continue my formal education and learn about sustainable food and farming through more schooling, but I ultimately discovered the importance of developing my relationship with the Earth and soil, and that I just needed to farm. I eventually found a paid internship at Quetzal Farm in Santa Rosa, and after, moved to Mendocino County to run Mendocino Organics with Adam.

Connections

Admittedly, I only recently officially joined Slow Food as a member. As a paying member of the Biodynamic Association, the Biodynamic Association of Northern California, the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, the Farm Bureau, etc. on a farmer’s salary, it’s really hard to financially support them all! But as with any association one chooses to join, one has a desire to connect with others sharing the same values and interests. Adam and I have always valued good, clean, fair food for all, and it has always been a goal for us to grow and raise it, and make it available to our community. I encourage people to see what their local Slow Food Chapter is up to and start strengthening our food communities.

Toward the end of Petrini’s book, he discusses the importance of a network of gastronomes and the impulse behind Terra Madre. In Petrini’s words about connecting the global food network, “The objective is to reactivate the connections, starting with those meeting the gastronome’s criteria of quality and then extending the network as far as possible.” That is why, after Terra Madre, I can be a node to activate the global connection with my local community, and the impulses and inspirations from Turin can ripple here at home. What excites me most about attending Terra Madre is the potential for possibility in my own creative journey as a food producer. I can read about the black pigs of Italy or rare varieties of rice in the Philippines, but to taste the European cured meats or talk to the rice farmer in person will be priceless. What will other people think about how we raise pigs, sheep and cows in our unique landscape, or how we practice biodynamics with Golden Vineyards?

If you want to learn more about the ills of fast food, the idea of good, clean, and fair food, new gastronomy, and food communities, definitely check out Petrini’s book! In future blog posts, I’ll pick up the Terra Madre themes of Family Farming and the Ark of Taste, and what they mean in my life at Mendocino Organics.

But food, as we have seen, is far more than a simple product to be consumed: it is happiness, identity, culture, pleasure, conviviality, nutrition, local economy, survival.

(from Slow Food Nation by Carlo Petrini, Rizzoli Ex Libris, 2007)

our experiments with cheese, ham, and salumi, amongst wine and olive oil at Heart Arrow Ranch

our experiments with cheese, ham, and salumi are just beginning, amongst wine and olive oil at Heart Arrow Ranch

 

 

When work or life gets overwhelming, we have to take a step back and remember to take care of ourselves. We’re simple people – we don’t often go out to eat, to movies, to concerts, etc. The farm life doesn’t let us do that. For rest and relaxation, we find ourselves in the kitchen. Recently, we had a big hankering for fresh buttermilk biscuits. Admittedly, there is sweet nostalgia in buttermilk biscuits for us – we celebrated our first wedding anniversary last fall at the Philo Apple Farm where they bake divine breakfast biscuits. So, with all the fresh milk coming from Honey, our Jersey cow, we decided to make butter and buttermilk. We love Honey so much, so dairy from her makes the food even better.

butter & buttermilk

making buttermilk biscuits

buttermilk biscuits

It’s easy to get caught up in the grind, but it can burn you out and spit you out, lifeless. So we remember to momentarily step away and focus on the simple things, like a cup of tea, a phone call to mom, a good book, or homemade buttermilk biscuits! Next time, we’ll make gravy to go with them.

 

 

There are few words to describe the drought we have been experiencing. It’s been like a twilight zone. This last rain system, we fortunately received over 8 inches of rain at Heart Arrow Ranch, but we need much more to have irrigated pasture this summer. It’s hard preparing ourselves to possibly sell off half of our animals, as we’ve been working hard to grow our business. So, we continue to pray for more rain! Despite all the uphill challenges, we are taking one day at a time with our work. Today we herded the sheep into the vineyard, and it was a joy to see them enjoy running around, let out of the lambing barn and heading for some green grass.sheep herding 1 sheep herding 2 sheep herding 3 sheep herding 4 sheep herding 5 sheep herding 6 sheep herding 7

Lambing season started off a bit later than usual, and now that it is here, we are in full swing. We are setting up jugs (lambing pens) in the barn, which discourages mismothering. With all the newborn cries and probably hormones flying, ewes can nurse and bond in peace and order. This is an exciting time of the year.

Watch these twins take their first steps.

lamb resting 2 lamb resting 1 view of lamb nursery big lamb nursing colored ewe and lamb in jug ewe and lamb in jug smiling black lamb twin lambs dec 13

Modern Shepherding

Our flock of sheep have been back at Heart Arrow Ranch for about a week now. Last night, we finished inventory of the flock and counted a total of 148 sheep, not including all the newborns.

Last week, we started hauling the sheep from Potter Valley, primarily because the livestock guardian dogs were being bad and wandering along public roads. We had just moved a couple ewes with newborn lambs, too. Out in the open pastures, newborns are more likely to be literally pecked off by ravens. We only have a 16′ livestock trailer right now, so it took us 6 trips to move everyone. We are not like the traditional shepherds who herd sheep miles and miles for the annual migration. If you are looking for a beautiful documentary film to watch while cozied up on your couch this winter, we recommend Sweetgrass. It follows the herding of sheep through Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth mountains. Check out the trailer:

When we move our sheep, sometimes they get a comfy ride 🙂

lamb in truck

It’s wonderful to have the sheep back at Heart Arrow. Now we pray that it rains so the hills will green up. Friday’s snow gave us some moisture, but we’re going to need more to make sure the grass keeps growing, especially during these very short days.