Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What's Up?

I figure it is time to spend a moment with my poor little neglected blog! When even my sister e-mails me to mention that I haven't posted in a long time I know I've been MIA. I still make the time to read many of my favorites every few days, I just haven't made the time to do much writing for myself. I want this blog to be a place where I share ideas and chronicle things in my family's life and I need to remember to spend some time doing that. Of course, I'm also 22 weeks pregnant, have an 18 month old, a husband, a job, a home, and a few meals and loads of laundry that also like my attention. I do not claim to be superwoman and am learning over time that often low expectations are called for in certain circumstances. However, I do want to keep blogging!

So what have I been doing? See above.

Actually, I have also been doing a lot more learning about a subject that is important to me. Over the last couple of years I've really wanted to move towards being more self sustaining. We do not have the land to really grow a lot of our own food (someday!), but I still want to have a more active in roll in knowing where our food comes from, how it was grown/raised, and in having stored food that allows us some control over our diet. I'm really proud of the canning I did last year and cannot wait to do even more this summer. (Did I mention I got a pressure canner for Christmas? I DID! And I can't wait to try canning vegetables that aren't pickles or tomatoes.) The last two years I've been a regular at our farmer's market and we are still eating potatoes and cabbages and squashes that I bought the last Thursday they were open. This last week I've spent a bunch of time learning things that make me realize that my baby steps have been on the correct path. And that it is time to really take things to the next level. We have been pricing beef and pork that is grass fed and those that are corn finished here and from a locker we love in South Dakota. (I consider that locker to be 'local' for us because we visit the tiny town when we see my grandparents. They do not have grass fed beef, but they actually know the name of the farmer who supplies all their animals...shocking in today's market place.) I've vowed not to buy any more meat from the grocery store and we are eating through some of our freezer stash as we decide when and where we will get our meat in the future.

As a VERY frugal person this is probably going to be the biggest jump for us. I've found the farmer's market to be incredibly frugal in providing near organic food for a great price. I buy what is in season, I compare vendors, I buy seconds at times and I'll buy in bulk. For instance I bought 50 pounds of potatoes from a farmer who uses no sprays on her potatoes. She isn't certified organic, that is fine with me. Potatoes are on the 'dirty dozen' list and hers are not showered in pesticides and such. The best price I've seen on organic potatoes in the grocery store was 10 pounds for $3.89. For 50 pounds I paid $11 to a local farmer. Call me crazy, but that is pretty frugal. I've bought a bushel of green peppers for $2, two bushels of squash (acorn, delicata, spaghetti, and butternut) for $10, a peck of sweet onions for $4, and on and on. Basically the farmer's market gets me great, local, near organic produce for prices that equal or beat the price on most conventionally grown items.

However, with meat that will not be the case. I buy meat when it is a loss leader. I've paid $.29/lb for chicken quarters, $.89/lb pork shoulder, $.99/ham, $.79/lb hamburger and such throughout the last two years. It is not always that cheap, but it is often close to those prices due to shopping sales and marked for quick sale items. When buying a 1/2 pig or a 1/4 or 1/2 cow we will be spending much, much more per pound. Grass fed beef in this area often gets $3.59/lb for a quarter (often processing is in addition to that price). We can get a 1/4 for about $2/lb from the little locker, but that cow will not be grass fed. (We do not know yet if the cow is just corn finished or if it is a feed lot cow.) And if we go with the South Dakota locker we would have to wait until we go to South Dakota to get meat. And I'd have to make sure they didn't add MSG to the sausage, which the package I bought in January says is added. ugg.

There are lots of questions to answer and details to work out, but this is what I know. CAFO beef is not okay with me anymore. I do not want to support conventionally grown poultry, swine or beef operations. I want farmer's to be paid a fair wage for the work they do in raising my family's food. I want to opt out of a factory farming system. I know we will not be able to do so 100% of the time. We travel, we eat at other family's homes, we eat at restaurants from time to time. However, the vast majority of our meals are made here in our home. I want them to feature meat that is not laden with antibiotics, growth hormones, non-food chemicals, and such. I want the animals to have had a decent life and a swift death. I want the workers who took care of both aspects to have held their jobs with some respect and not be victims of an over industrialized system themselves. I just want to know what is going on when it comes to the food I give my children.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about this as it is an ongoing process of learning. I'm not saying any of this to make anyone else feel bad about their food choices. Goodness knows we are all doing the best we can. I feel about this kind of how I did about how birth is dealt with in this country. I had no idea what I knew and what I didn't know. I started asking questions and I started learning and the more I learned, the more I asked (and am still asking) and the more I asked the more I was sure that things should be more transparent and that I should be more knowledgeable than I am. Than I thought I was.

I had no idea how lucky I was to know the names of the cows we ate growing up. I want my kids to have at least some of that same experience. If that means a dramatic rise in our grocery budget than so be it. Our health is worth it, our responsibility is worth it.

Wish me luck!


  1. Heather...You are doing a wonderful job balancing what you can get from the local farmers market and what HAS to be store bought.
    I will be posting in the next couple of days about the documentary Food, INC. which we have watched twice in the past 3 days. We must take action, and like it says in the movie, we vote every time we take a bite.

  2. Great job. We buy beef off my parent's (or a neighbors) farm. We grew up producing 80% (chickens, beef, pork, veggies & fruit) of what we ate. Until I moved out - I didn't realize teh US didn't eat this way (duh!). Now, we are trying to get back to eating like that - on a suburban format. For me (knowing how food should be raised). Avoid the feedlot animals, but don't get too focused on grain vs grass. Grain (as long as it's not 100% grain) is a fairly normal diet (for a cow) and - most small farmers grain feed winter & graze (grass) in warmer months. Grain feed tastes better too.

  3. Farmgirl Cyn: I've also seen Food, Inc recently as well as read the book by the same title. I just finished a wonderful book written in 2001 that touches this subject in a wonderful way. It is called "This Organic Life, Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader" by Joan Dye Gussow. There have been many others as well and I hope to do some writing about them soon!

    akuhlemeir: I also didn't realize how great I had it as a kid until I realized how bad most of it is now! I've been learning about the grain vs. grass issue as well. I do not think I would be totally against grain used in moderation in the right setting, but cows are really meant to be grazers, not grainers. And the fact that e. coli flourishes due to the change in their stomach ph is a concern. I sure wouldn't mind the benefits of Omega-3s from grass fed beef either!

    As I mentioned this is a journey!

  4. Glad you saw Food, Inc! Great, eye opening movie. Ryan got the book overseas so I'm looking forward to reading that when he gets home. I recommend reading anything by Michael Pollen too. In the Omnivore's Dilemma, that farmer, Joel Salatin talks about how he will buy feed for his animals from a local guy who isn't organic certified versus buying organic feed that has to be shipped 1000 miles.

    I think alot of small farmers do tend to use organic methods though they don't want to or can't afford to go throught the whole organic certification process. Same with beef cattle. I'm ok with some corn fed beef as long as they're not stuck in a small confinement their whole life, but allowed to roam around on some pasture at least. I prefer them to be treated humanely and the way an animal should be treated.

    Its all small steps. We're working on doing the same. I think if everyone started by doing a little we could make a change.