Tuesday, November 24, 2009

To Cure or not to Cure...The Truth Uncovered

When placing a pork order with us, we like to offer our customers the opportunity to have their pork custom butchered. For many of our customers, it is the first time they have had the chance to decide how their meat is processed. Often we will aid by asking a questions like,

Would you like your hams and bacon cured/smoked or fresh?
Do you want breakfast sausage or ground pork?
Do you prefer loin roasts or pork chops?

Once in a while customers will ask for my opinion on cured meats. Or more commonly if our meats are cured “naturally without nitrites”. In an effort to provide the healthiest, highest quality, and most delicious foods possible, we have done a fair amount of homework regarding cured meats and naturally cured meats. We have spoken with numerous butchers, visited smokehouses (curing facilities), and read through a fair amount of material. To our surprise, we found that health conscious consumers have once again been lied to and mislead. (Don’t ask me why I am surprised at this point. I suppose I am too trusting.)

At this point I would like to offer a disclaimer that I am not a food expert, doctor, nutritionist etc… I am a farmer who is trying to simplify the confusing information out there. What I present here is accurate to the best of my knowledge. Each side of the spectrum puts forth information to convince that their way is the right way. In studying this I too may have been mislead. Please research this for yourself and form your own conclusion.

Cured meats by definition contain some kind of curing agent like salts. When you read “salts” don’t assume sodium chloride (table salt). The most common curing salt used today is sodium nitrite. Sodium nitrite is what gives bacon and ham its pink color even after it has been cooked. It is used to prevent the growth of bacteria like Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism. It also gives bacon and ham that distinct flavor that so many people love. The health concern with sodium nitrite is that when cured meats are exposed to high temperatures like those reached when grilling, that nitrosamines form. Nitrosamines are a carcinogen and can therefore be linked to causing cancer.

The meat industry counters with claims that the studies connecting cured meats to causing cancer were conducted during the 1970’s and that since then they have reduced the amount of sodium nitrite in meats to 10% of the amounts used in the 70’s. They claim that they have also added erythorbate and ascorbate to their curing solution which inhibit production of nitrosamines and deplete any residual nitrite.

Well what about “Nitrite Free”, “No Nitrite Added”, “Naturally Cured”, or “Preservative Free” meats? (If you have high blood pressure, don’t read any further. I don’t want to be responsible for killing you off!) Products labeled with the claims above all contain “natural nitrates” which by themselves are harmless. In fact, these “natural nitrates” are derived from sugar cane, vegetables, and sea salt. Celery is one of the most common vegetables used as its juice naturally contains high levels of nitrates. There are some farms that intentionally add extra nitrates to the soil so that when the celery or sugar cane is harvested for “natural curing” that it will have even higher levels of nitrates than would normally occur. When this “natural nitrate” is added to the meat, bacteria reduce it to nitrite! While it hasn’t been “added”, the nitrite is present in every way! Since the products are “natural” they are not considered “preservatives” and do not need to be labeled as such. The newly formed nitrites are just as capable of forming into nitrosamines when exposed to high heat. In fact, I am left wondering if the “naturally cured” meat isn’t more harmful as it doesn’t have the erythorbate and ascorbate that supposedly inhibits the formation of nitrosamines! Additionally there is no regulation overseeing the amount of nitrates added to the cured meats like there is when sodium nitrite is used.  The next time you are at the grocery store and reach for those “nitrite free” hot dogs, bologna, ham, bacon etc… and are willing to pay double the price, you may want to think twice.

In our opinion, there is no such thing as a cured meat that is free of nitrates/nitrites!

I recently met up with a butcher who after much begging and arm twisting tried an experiment for me. We injected a ham with a simple brine solution (table salt and water) and then smoked it. We got it back last weekend and cooked up for our Sunday dinner. As usual we invited our guinea pigs sister and her family over for dinner. We slow cooked the pork in the Crockpot and the house smelled wonderful! Just like a good ham. Eating it was different. Not bad, just different. It tasted like ham but looked like a roast. It had the texture of a roast as well. My only regret it that I didn’t have one of my own pigs available to use. The meat was a little mushy which is typical of confinement raised pigs. I plan to try it again with one of my own pigs so that I can make a fair judgment call. We will try smoking bacon the same way and see how that turns out. As it was, everybody thought it was good, but the majority preferred a regular pork roast. Again this may be because we are spoiled on the quality of our own pigs.

As it stands we will continue to let our customers choose how they prefer their pork. The butcher we currently use does a fantastic job and uses gourmet quality recipes when curing the hams and bacon and mixing sausage. The curing solution uses sodium nitrite with the erythorbate and ascorbate as well as brown sugar.  The result is the best tasting bacon and ham we have ever tasted. That being said, a pork roast (alternative to cured ham) is my favorite dinner. I prefer to have a fresh roast slow cooked with diced onions. Our fresh side (uncured bacon) is also delicious and a nice change from bacon.  We like to cook it up and serve it on sandwiches just like BLTs.  The fresh side tastes a little like pork rinds.  Yum!  I like to taste the premium quality of the pork that we have worked so hard to produce by feeding the pigs only the highest quality grasses, alfalfa, grain, fruits and vegetables.  Our pork is loaded with flavor something the store bough pork is missing.  So you will not miss out on anything should you decide to have your pork processed without curing. 

UPDATE: We are making progress.  All of our sausages and breakfast sausage are now  MSG, BHA, and BHT free.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Grass Fed Beef!

We are pleased to announce that we are now offering Grass Fed Beef!  We will be limited in supply as we begin, but we will have more as we approach summer and fall of 2010.  There are huge nutritional differences between beef finished on pasture vs. grain.  I won't go into the details here as most of you already understand the benefits.  For those of you who are learning, I promise to post more soon.

Our Murray Grey steers are treated humanely and have lots of pasture to roam on.  In the winter time, we supplement their feed with a premium quality grass/alfalfa mixture that the cows just love.  There are absolutely no antibiotics, growth hormones or any other weird stuff used.  Our cows are not in areas where plants like sage or rabbit brush can be consumed and cause the to meat taste funny.  We do not feed our cows grain.  They are "finished" on pasture.  This will give the beef a rich, delicious but different taste to the meat than the meat sold in stores.  The beef is also much leaner than grain fed beef which offers more health benefits and more meat for your dollar as you don't have to trim off lots of fat.  Lean beef does not mean that its dry.  In fact our Grass Fed Beef is very tender and juicy.

We are committed to offering our customers the cleanest, most natural, beyond organic, healthy, nutrient dense, and delicious food possible.  Our beef is dry aged by our USDA certified butcher for a full 21 days before being hand-carved into mouthwatering steaks, roasts, and hamburger.  Dry aging the beef for this amount of time tenderizes the beef and helps capture the full potential of its flavor.  Consider that store bought beef is typically on display within 3-4 days of harvesting the animal.  What little aging it gets is done through a wet age process.  The bottom line is this, just like you have noticed a huge and dramatic difference in our pork from other pork, so too will you notice a huge difference in our beef.  Our beef has flavor! And the flavor is in the meat not just the fat like we are accustomed to with store bought and grain fed beef.  Plus our beef is local and not shipped back and forth all over the country.

We understand that we are all in different circumstances whether it be the amount of space we have, the size of the budget we work with, or the number of mouths we feed.  We will therefore be offering our beef by the whole, half, quarter, or eighth!

A typical beef will have a hanging weight of 600-700 lbs.  Sometimes they will be a little smaller and sometimes a little larger but that range is what we shoot for.  Roughly 75% of this will be take home cuts of meat.  The loss is due primarily to bones being cut out (bone loss) and a little fat trimmed (fat loss).  (Pork is much more efficient in this regard.)  Variety meats like liver and heart are available on request.  Just keep in mind that since a beef could potentially be divided among 8 customers that there may not be enough for everybody who would like it.  Prices are based on the hanging weight as this is how the butcher measures and charges us and includes cut and wrap and delivery to a central location.

Whole Beef - $3.00/lb ($400 deposit)
Half Beef - $3.25/lb ($200 deposit)
Quarter Beef - $3.50/lb ($100 deposit)
Eighth Beef - $3.75/lb ($50 deposit)

Please send deposits (checks are fine) to:

Christian Christiansen
PO Box 32
Vernon, UT 84080

Our first mouthwatering, nutrient dense grass fed beef will be available around the end of January/first of February 2010.  Please feel free to contact us with any questions.  Thank you for supporting your local farmer!

PS. We are in the process of setting up a new website which will take online payments and make future ordering easier.

Our phone: 435-839-3482
Our email: chhd01@gmail.com

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It was the best of times it was the worst of times…

It was the worst of times...

Since I want to end on a positive note, I will start out by sharing the “worst of times”. Last week we started running low on apples to feed to the pigs so we decided that on Friday we would go pick up some more at Hollie’s parents’ farm. By now many of the apples have fallen on the ground which isn’t very friendly on our backs. Friday rolled around and we were delayed in the morning by a friend who was having a much worse day than I care to have. By the time we were ready to leave, I realized that we wouldn’t make it to Hollie’s parents’ farm in time to get back and take the kids camping that evening. They had been looking forward to it and you just can’t break a promise like going camping. So we ran a few errands and enjoyed the beautiful day.

We arrived home in time to load the camper on the pickup and grab some hot dogs and marshmallows. We drove the entire ten minutes it takes to get “in the middle of nowhere” by the Vernon Reservoir. The boys and I met up with my brother in law and his kids and later my childhood friend and his kids showed up. We had a good laugh at our campers all lined up in a row. All three are the “cab-over” style that sits in the back of the truck. The three of us combined spent less than $800 on those campers! All three are older than we are! The kids had a blast and were cozy in the campers sipping hot chocolate and popping popcorn over the stove. I absolutely cherish each moment I can spend with my boys and feel very blessed that I can take them camping so easily. The next morning we woke up to snow and I woke up with a head cold. We tried to do a little fishing, but it was just too cold for the younger kids.

We went home and unloaded the camper and hooked up the flatbed so we could get apples. As we pulled into Lehi, the snow showed no signs of letting up. And it never did let up. The kids were going to help pick apples to begin with but since it was so windy and cold we decided to keep them indoors. This meant Hollie would need to be inside as well to keep an eye on them. (If you’re doing the math, this leaves me to pick up apples.) So I went out to the orchard all bundled up to now dig the apples out of the snow.

If I ever had any doubt that my father in law, Sherman,  loved me, it quickly vanished when he pulled up with the tractor and maneuvered the front loader for me to load the apples. He too was all bundled up.

That’s Sherman on the tractor in the picture.

He moved the tractor along as I first kicked off the snow and then picked up the apples. It is during times like these that I begin to wonder if it is even worth the effort. I start to calculate in my head how much an hour I really make raising pigs. I continued to grumble to myself, cursing those pigs all the while those annoying snowflakes keep landing on my nose and eyelashes. Friday would have been such nice day for doing this kind of work. (The picture of me smiling is because I am utterly delirious at this point!)

After a while, we had a good load of apples to take home to the pigs. I dumped the apples to the pigs and they didn’t even say thank you. They just ate and then started using my truck as a scratching post. (I hate when they do that!) So before I decided to “harvest” the pigs early, I called it a day and went in exhausted and running a fever.

It was the best of times…

The next day I slept in a little and woke feeling much better. I hurried and got all the farm chores done. I watched the pigs wake up and run over to the apples and start eating. Then they roamed over to the haystack and started eating some alfalfa. After that they moseyed over to their grain and then up the hill for what little grass is left. The sun was shining even though it was only 15 degrees but it quickly warmed up. Despite my grumpy mood the previous day I realized that I truly love raising those pigs. I hurried and got ready as we were expecting visitors to the farm. Some of the chefs from the Viking Cooking School came as well a few others. Jim Light who I mentioned in a previous post wanted to see the farm and had asked if he and some of his colleagues and friends could make a visit.

We showed them our little farm and then invited them in to sample some bacon, ham and grilled chops.

That is me in the yellow shirt writing down an order with Jim Light behind me to the right.

Everybody seemed to enjoy the pork as was evident by the orders we received. We heard several comments like, “This is the best pork I have ever tasted!” which made us feel good especially since it was coming from a group who enjoys a wide variety of high quality, gourmet foods for a living. Suddenly picking the apples in the snowstorm didn’t seem so bad and maybe even worthwhile. We had a wonderful visit with everybody and decided that we would have to offer a farm visit to all of our customers sometime in the near future.

We have been overwhelmed with the positive response we continue to get with our pork and the many kind notes, emails, comments, and letters we receive. Thank you all for your input and response to our announcement of offering pastured chicken and turkey and grass fed beef. We will keep you updated on this blog as we move forward with these efforts. If you have suggestions or comments we would love to hear from you. We want to grow the natural, healthy food you want. We want to be your farmer!  We are now taking orders for February and April 2010 deliveries.  For ordering information see here.

Since I began this post with the opening line in Charles Dickens', "A Tale of Two Cities", I will end with its final line,

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Turkeys and Chickens

We have been going crazy trying to figure out how to offer our customers chicken and turkey.  The challenge has been that we can't find anybody to process them for us.  We have finally decided that we will just have to process them ourselves.  We don't want to be butchers, we are very content being farmers.  However, we don't see any other way right now.  Assuming we can get all the USDA certifications and other hoop jumping out of the way we are prepared to try a very limited amount of turkeys and chickens.  We will process all the chickens at one time probably in June/July and all of the turkeys at once right before Thanksgiving.  These birds will be raised the right way, on pasture with wholesome grains, naturally without any growth promoters or antibiotics, and they will be treated humanely of course.  All of our animals are pampered like pets and given the best treatment we can provide.  They are stress free and very happy!

We will raise non commercial heritage breed turkeys and probably start with 100 or so.  We anticipate we will be able to sell them for $4.00/lb.  This is far cheaper than other farms we have seen.  As we have stated before, our goal is to make wholesome, clean, yummy food affordable for as many families as possible.  Heritage breeds grow slower than the commercial breeds and take more feed to raise as well.  They are more expensive to purchase as chicks because they are not as common.  Also our farming methods are sustainable and more labor intensive than factory lots like the ones you see in Moroni, UT.  We will also be setting up our own processing station and purchasing all of the equipment necessary.  We really don't anticipate making a profit our first year and will try this as an experiment.  The heritage breed turkeys offer a whole new world of flavor.  When you combine this with our sustainable farming practices and premium feed, it truely offers a mouthwatering, gourmet meal for your family. 

We will also start small with the chickens with 400-500.  We are unsure of which breeds to use.  We have a great source for Poulet Rouge type chickens which are traditional breeds raised on pasture.  Poulet Rouge is a label placed on chickens that are raised on pasture and allowed to grow to the age of 11 weeks+.  These chickens are the not the heavy breasted chickens most people are used to which is why we are a little reluctant to start with them.  Any type of pasture raised poultry has firmer, denser, leaner meat that is similar to turkey in texture.  This is because the chickens actually get to run around and be chickens!  The commercial chickens are raised in such confinement that in most cases they can't even stretch their wings. The non Cornish X chickens have longer lighter breasts and longer legs.  We will most likely try to raise both varieties since we are in the experiment phase and see what our customers prefer.  In crunching the numbers, we will most likely be priced at $3.00/ lb for pasture raised Cornish X (heavy breasted) and $3.50/lb for the Poulet Rouge chickens.

This past year we raised 35 of our own chickens.  The meat is the most flavorful chicken I have ever tasted!  The texture is out of this world!  In addition to eating this delicious food, it is also more nutritious than factory raised chicken and without the chemicals and drugs!  It also feels good to not support the factories that produce meat that comes from animals that in our opinion are tortured.  Did you know in many beef, pork, and poultry factories that wastes like chicken manure, processing extras (guts) and all kinds of bizarre and disgusting things get cooked and fed back to the animals?  It's no wonder that the animals need a constant supply of antibiotics to stay alive.  Nor is it any wonder that we have all of the food recalls and health problems.  I would be willing to bet that if as a country we ate wholesome, local, natural food raised sustainably that a large portion of our health problems would go away.  It sure makes a lot more sense than spending trillions of taxpayer dollars on health care reform.  Let's fix the problem at the source and stop trying to put a bandaid on it.  I'll step down from my soap box. : )   

We actually have 5 turkeys this year that we are selling for Thanksgiving.  They are pasture raised, humanely treated and all natural.  These will be harvested the day before Thanksgiving and be sold fresh not frozen.  They are $4.00/lb.  We can meet you in SLC on Wednesday evening to deliver them.  Since we only have 5 available, you will need to call quick to get one in time.  They will be processed at a facility in Tremonton as part of this year's 4H projects.  We expect them to dress out at 15-25 lbs.  Please call with any questions.

Based on the information above, we would like to know how many people are interested in buying pasture raised chicken and turkey from us.  How many birds do you think you would buy at one time knowing they were only available once a year?  How many a year would you buy if they were availble 2-3 times a year?  Any feedback you can offer us will be helpful in determining how much money we can justify investing and how many birds to buy.  Also, if anybody is interested in a business opportunity and would like to set up a small processing facility we can send A LOT of business your way.  This would allow us to raise more chickens and turkeys as well as offer them at a lower price.  If you are interested in this, call us and we can go over more detail.  Thanks again for all of your support of our local, family farm and loyalty!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Our Dream

Many people I grew up with are shocked when they find out that we raise pigs. I was born in downtown Copenhagen, Denmark and immigrated to the US when I was 6 years old. I grew up in Broomfield, CO, a suburb of Denver, and grew up a city kid. Basically, I had little exposure to the farm life. I had a great uncle who had a cattle ranch in Southern Colorado. Once a year we would go visit and help during the round up. After high school my parents moved to Utah and bought a home on half an acre. They managed to squeeze in all kinds of animals on that half acre. During the time they lived there, I saw them dabble in cows, horses, ponies, chickens, pigs, goats, ducks, and sheep. They have since moved, but have hung on to the horses.

Hollie, on the other hand, grew up on a small 5 acre farm in Lehi, UT. Her dad converted an old dairy operation into a thriving apple orchard. He has about 3 of the 5 acres planted in Red and Gold Delicious apple trees. Hollie grew up with horses and chickens and they dabbled in pigs and cows. Their main focus of course was on their 700 apple trees and large family garden. Hollie grew up pruning the trees in the late winter, planting new trees in the spring, and then picking and selling in the fall. Hollie’s family still jokes about how she could out sell anybody in the family when she sold boxes of apples door to door.

Their family still tries to gather together every year to help with the apples. Sadly, the last few years sales have been down, the grown children are busy with their families, my father in law’s health isn’t what is used to be, and the new generation of potential customers doesn’t seem to have much interest in preserving their own food. Last night Hollie’s dad called and announced that he had broken even for this apple season and was done picking and selling. The orchard still has tens of thousands of apples in the trees but with so much work for so little return it isn’t worth it for my father in law. Hollie and I won’t let the apples go to waste. We will take the kids and finish picking the apples, and then feed them to the pigs. Apple finished pork is delicious and gives the pigs an additional source for nutrients. We are fully aware however, that this orchard will soon meet the fate of so many other small farms in this country. Hollie is the second youngest of 8 children and is currently the only one of her siblings who continues to live the farm life.

After Hollie and I were married, I tried my hand at my own business. It did pretty good considering my lack of business experience and although I was passionate about owning my own business, I wasn’t passionate about the industry. I sold out to my partner and enrolled for school. I decided that in order to be successful as a student and in my career, I would need to find an area of study that I was passionate about. To the disbelief of many, I decided to work towards a Bachelors degree in Agricultural Science (Agronomy). We were very fortunate to find a job managing an apartment complex that helped keep student loans to a minimum. The downside was that we were the new “parents” of 180 freshmen girls who for the most part were living on their own for their first time.

Although I had not been a star student in high school, my college studies came very easily to me. I became very interested in hydroponics and aquaponics and helped initiate the building of the first hydroponic greenhouse for the university. Getting so involved in hydroponic food production opened my eyes to the potential symbiotic relationships that could be developed to utilize waste. Hollie would come visit me in the greenhouses and see what I had been working on. My dream was beginning to form. I cruised through school graduating at the top of my class in 2.5 years. We had also turned a failing apartment complex into a successful and profitable business. The best part was that it didn’t really feel like work. (Except of course unclogging sinks full of hair in the apartments we were managing. That was just plain miserable.)

Hollie and I used to sit in bed at night and read Hobby Farms magazine. (Actually, we still do this.) We dreamed of one day owning a small plot of land that we could grow something on. Then about three years ago, Hollie called me at work and explained that she had found a little fixer upper on a couple of acres for the same price as we were paying in rent. We bought the home and have spent the last three years fixing up the house and cleaning up the land. We decided to put the land to use and start raising as much of our own food as possible. Soon we had a few people approach us and ask if we could raise a pig for them along with the ones we were raising. This lead to a few more and then a few more. We continued to research methods to raise food cleanly and efficiently.

This brings us to where we are today. We have found that we like the heritage breeds the best. We raise our own eggs, chicken, and produce. We also raise Berkshire pork which experts agree is far superior to the commercial breeds. Out of the 24 sensory qualities in pork, Berkshire is 1st place in 21 of the 24. In addition, we raise our pigs like pets. They are pampered and treated humanely. They are free to roam in our field and graze on the pasture. We don’t medicate our pigs like 99% of pigs in this country. It isn’t necessary when you raise them right. Our farm doesn’t stink either. Our pigs are fed locally grown grain and alfalfa and seasonal treats like apples and pumpkins. I honestly feel that the methods used to raise the pigs have a greater impact on the meat quality than the breed does. However, when combined, we are able to literally offer the highest quality, best tasting pork in the state. The best part is that if you look at the cost of the various cuts of meat in the store, you don’t pay any more than when you buy from us. Our pork tastes better, is healthier, is raised sustainably, is raised ethically, and is superior in every way! It hasn’t traveled a long distance meaning less pollution. Economically, buying our pork helps support our local farm and the local butcher that we use as well as other local farmers that we buy feed from. We feed our pigs any garden wastes we have. The chickens don’t get fed at all. They are able to live a healthy life just cleaning up after the pigs. This means that our eggs don’t technically cost us anything. Over the summer we raised 35 meat chickens. Other than the time they were chicks, we didn’t feed these chickens anything either. Our freezer is now full of the most flavorful chicken we have ever tasted. Our farm is healthier because of them. We had virtually no flies because the chickens kept them in check. This is symbiotic relationship because we (family, chickens, and pigs) all benefit from one another’s efforts.

My dream is to expand our efforts exponentially. I have posted before our desire to raise meat chickens to sell with our pork. However, that isn’t even scratching the surface. Hollie and I dream of having a large irrigated pasture (80+ acres). We would like to be a one stop farm. We dream of raising beef cows, dairy cows, meat goats, dairy goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, fish, bees, and a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and mushrooms. Each of these animals and plants can be teamed up with other animals and plants in symbiotic relationships that are good for the land and good for the animals. I would love to have greenhouses full of fresh produce year round. I can imagine feeding the harvest wastes like lettuce roots to the pigs and cows. I would love to process as much food on the farm as possible. We would open a small store where we would sell cheese, milk, butter, cream, ice cream, eggs, beef, pork, chicken, fish, honey, turkey, bread and other baked goods, jams and juices, dried fruits, fresh fruits when in season like raspberries, blueberries, apples, pears etc…, fresh mushrooms and dried mushrooms, year round lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and sprouts. We have even dreamed of opening a small restaurant in SLC that serves only foods that were raised by us and that are fresh off the farm. We dream of opening our farm to visitors and teaching weekend courses in growing a particular food, or preserving food. We can foresee the farm hosting family reunions or weekend getaways where city folks are welcome to come try their hand at life on the farm. The fall would be especially fun with hay rides and harvesting in full swing.

If I am successful in reaching this dream, I will then begin to assist other farms across the country in setting up similar operations. My ultimate dream is to sustainably produce clean, healthy food for the local community. I would love to see everybody be able to enjoy food this good and healthy. For now we are focusing on the task at hand, raising pigs. When we have sold enough pigs, we will be able to buy the land to take the next step towards fulfilling this dream. For now, that means selling a lot of pork! We are passionate about it however, and hopefully that will lead to success.