State of the Farm

Well, here I go again…is spring better than fall, or vice versa? I usually choose the season I’m living in because it feels so good at the time. So I cannot get enough of the prolonged spring we have had this year, starting well into the winter period. The weather is fine, the flowers are beautiful, and the summer grasses are breaking ground. The calves and pigs are frolicking and getting fat and happy. Our world seems perfect. Life is good. It can’t get any better than this, right?

That being said, you’ll catch me talking out of the other side of my mouth when the first cooling front caresses us in early October. The cool, dry breezes will reappear, having been erased by the sultry dog days of August. As the grasses turn yellow, the fall breezes turn the pastures into a rolling sea of grass. Fall whispers to us to slow down; the hard part of the year is over. Life is good again.

So what’s the answer, spring or fall? I guess it’s this: dance with who brung ya. They’re both enchanting ladies (or gentlemen).

“Organic”

What does organic mean today? We at JVF don’t want to sound like whiners, but we do want you to know the facts. And the fact is, it’s not what it used to be. But to be fair, it is better than before the organic movement got legs. That’s also the fact. There are fewer chemicals sold and put down on the ground today than there were before the movement. That’s progress and we should recognize it. And support it when we can’t find it from a local farmer. Our family does. You should too. But you also need to know that when it comes to meat, you have to ask more than whether it is “new organic”. Are the creatures raised in cages or feedlots? Are they fed antibiotics and hormones? Are they sprayed with pesticides to keep the flies off of them. Where are the waste materials dumped? Are the waterways, air and soils being improved? How far away were the creatures raised and how did the government know if the standards were really followed? In how many different plants were the meats processed?

Or you can keep it simple – buy locally from farmers you know. As a subset to that suggestion, true grass-fed and pastured meats are also less expensive than Big Food charges.

Sustainable, affordable sustenance. That’s what it’s all about at Jolie Vue Farms.

Burgers for Many

As we enter the grilling season, lets assume you’re having the neighbors over for burgers. There will be twelve mouths to feed. Unless you’re cooking to order, your first patty is going to dry out before it gets to the bun. What to do?

Here’s my solution. Have a pot of beef broth on a warm spot. Add some butter to it. Make your burgers and hold them in the broth. If you want to add some bbq sauce to the broth, do that too. When you’re ready to eat, pull them out one at a time, dripping in juices. And have a great spring/summer, living large.

Pork Ribs

I like to cook pork ribs on the grill and only on the grill. But tenderness is a big deal to most people – they wrongly assume that tenderness equates with quality. That’s why the beef tenderloin is the most popular beef steak. Not because it has the best taste but because it’s the most tender.

So my grilled pork ribs are a bit chewy but Oh the flavor! The char, the smoke, the fat dripping onto the hot coals then bouncing back up on the ribs, and the pork itself. How can you beat it? But I decided to see how a grill/braise approach would work. The answer — very, very tender but not nearly so flavorful. The braising diluted the smoke and the hot fat.

Maybe I should have braised first, then grilled. You can try that if you want. I’m back to the grill, start to finish. I don’t need tenderness if it’s a robber of taste.

On the ground…

We have had warm winters before but I don’t remember Spring ever starting in early February, do you? That’s what happened this year. But who can complain about an extra 6 weeks of spring-like weather? We in southeast Texas live for the fall, winter and spring – it reminds us to not complain about hot, humid summers because we are grateful for the other nine months of our calendar. Take complaining out of our vocabulary and substitute gratitude instead – we will all live longer and happier. Welcome to our beautiful state of Texas.

But there are implications to this change in weather patterns. For the cattle, pigs, chicken and hens, it’s all to the good. But for the peaches, it’s pretty darned perplexing.

In the orchard

Recall that we had only one freeze this winter, albeit a harsh one. 17 degrees at JVF though slightly higher in Houston. The rest of this winter was mild, spring-like and wonderful for the human inhabitants. But not enough chill hours to get the chill the peaches need to produce their wonderful fruit. My rough estimate is that we will get about 15% of our normal harvest. The pigs, our primary consumers, will be disappointed for sure, not to mention friends and neighbors.

That’s farming.

In the pastures

What we miss in peaches we gain in happy animals. An extra 6 weeks of mild weather grazing is a tonic for the cattle and pigs. More grasses as the winter pastures are sporting the early warm weather grasses and a wide variety of clovers as well. Clovers we have not seen before this year include yellow bud clover and purple vetch, adding to our existing crimson, white, ball and medic clovers. So what do the yellow buds and vetch tell is about nature? She is NOT fragile like some would call her, she is resilient! We have seen this evidence too many times in our nearly 28 years of stewards at JVF. She’s strong! Yes, she will go into hiding when we abuse her resources. But cut out the “fragile” talk. It’s an insult to her.

Clovers are not only great forage for the creatures but life-giving to the soil and its subterranean inhabitants. So there is palpable excitement as we move our creatures from one fresh pasture to another. The creatures know there are good things happening above and below the ground.

The long spring is good for another reason — we have plenty of green stuff to turn under as our winter graaes start to change. We do that by attaching our disks and setting the blades so that thereis just a shallow turn of the soil. We attach the drag behind the disks to accomplish 2 things: the drag breaks up any clots and helps press the grasses into good contact with the turned dirt. Why do this? Because it prevents the surface from getting crusted – a crusted surface sheds water rather than allowing it to be absorbed. Secondly, both the disk and the drag assure that the grass is laid down into the newly turned soil, improving the process of adding to the organic matter in the soil. Good soil is all about organic content and keeping artificials out. We’re making food for the big soil guys – the worms and the beetles – and for the little guys – the ones you can only see with a microscope. That together is what a living soil is all about.

What’s the result? High value food from happy creatures in a holistically sustainable environment. And that’s also what it’s all about!