Know Your Farmer

Do you believe that eating local will save the world? If yes, read on and cheer. If no, just read on…with thanks to my friend Iris for writing this wonderful post on Lopez Island’s Bounty Project.

Iris Graville - Author

chevreMost Sundays after Quaker Meeting, I go shopping. That means walking a few yards from the house where we gather at Sunnyfield Farm to the self-serve refrigerator at the farm’s licensed goat dairy. There I pick up a tub of chèvre. A couple of weeks ago I also found jars of feta in the fridge and chose one of those as well. To “check out,” I note my purchases in a spiral-bound notebook that sits on a nearby table and deposit cash or a check in the payment box there.

Andre and Elizabeth Entermann of Sunnyfield are among the Lopez Island farmers I know and rely on for my household’s food. Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know more about twenty-eight local farms (like Sunnyfield) that are participating in BOUNTY – Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community.

bounty-poster-fall-2015v3This weekend, more of my fellow Lopezians…

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Makin’ Bacon? ‘Nuff Said.

Guess what, people: pork bellies are a thing! I mean, they’re not just some shorthand for commodities bought and sold on the futures market–which is the only way I’ve ever heard them referenced. No, pork bellies are…get this…really part of a pig that you can buy!

And turn into HOMEMADE BACON.

Vegetarian friends, you might want to stop reading now. Then again, I know vegetarians who make an exception for really GOOD bacon. (Yes there is such a thing as bad bacon, but it’s rare, and a travesty to boot.) So…that’s between you and your conscience, veggies.

I recently had the chance to buy a box of mixed pork products from local farmers trying to free up freezer space for the spring. The box, I was told, could include a mix of my choice of the following: roasts, stew meat, chops, sausage, and “pork belly for bacon.”  I didn’t really need any of the former, but that last phrase hooked me. When I inquired, I received a recipe plus instructions. The whole thing was to take about 10 days, and the ingredients were cheap and accessible.


Why isn’t everyone doing this? I THINK it’s ’cause pork bellies aren’t generally carried by most stores–you have to order ’em. And then the process does use kind of a lot of fridge space. But it’s only for 10 days! And you could always use a cooler.

So: game ON. Step One: assemble your rub. (You can do wet or dry; my recipe is a mostly-dry one, though I added extra molasses.) My ingredients: kosher salt, brown sugar, garlic powder, cumin, red pepper. But there are plenty of other recipes on the internet to choose from.


Step Two: put in container. Most of the internet recipes had you put your belly bits in zip-lock bags, but my friends prefer a dry method, so I’m trying that. But I wanted to avoid aluminum (it reacts with the salt), so I had to cut my big 9-pound belly into thirds to fit it into my largest non-aluminum dishes. Hey, what’s better than one belly? Three bellies!


Step Three: refrigerate, and every day, flip your belly. That’s it–whether dry or bag method, that’s all you do. After 7-10 days, you cut off a bit, fry it, and see if it needs longer curing.


Of course, after the curing process, you can also smoke your bacon for that additional baconity. But my Mate with the degree in public health reminds me that those extra carcinogens can really be dispensed with. “Just CURE it,” he says. “OK,” I says.

Will I keep you posted on the belly-curing thing? You bet I will. See you in 10 days.

When Turkey Day is For Real: Stepping Up to Slaughter

My vegetarian friends: you may not care to read this on principle, but if you do, don’t worry–this post contains no gore. I decided to document my son’s participation in his first turkey slaughter (I refuse to call it a “harvest”), but found myself avoiding certain photos for my own sake as much as anyone else’s.

Back story: Wing Son Two has been working on this farm, owned by cousins of The Mate, since July. The Mate & I & Wing Son One–who is very close to his brother–came out here to spend Thanksgiving together, and to see how our son’s faring as a farmer.

Quite well, it seems. He and the cousins made their time together seem like major highjinks: “Look at that paddock! We built that!” “Tractor got stuck there…” “This field takes forEVER to mow…” But on Turkey Day, which fell three days before what most of us know as Turkey Day, the mood was so serious as to be almost somber.

There were seven victims turkeys, which Son Two & cousins had raised from chicks.

I missed photographing their capture and loading...turkey wrestling!

I missed photographing their capture and loading…turkey wrestling!

After stuffing one bird at a time upside-down into a cone (designed for chickens, so they barely fit) Cousin Jesse had the unenviable task of cutting the throat.

...and of course, someone has to hold the feet. I imagine both men said a little prayer as they were doing this. I think I was.

…and of course, someone has to hold the feet. I imagine both men said a little prayer as they were doing this. I think I was.

Next, Son Two dipped each bled-out bird into the scalder–where, again, they just barely fit. (The largest bird was 16.5 pounds after all the butchering.)

Still a bird at this point, albeit a dead one

Still a bird at this point, albeit a dead one

The most fascinating part of the process, to me, was the plucker, which looked a bit like a washing machine with rubber nubbies, and functioned in much the same way.

Becoming less of a bird by the second...

Becoming less of a bird by the second…



Finally, Sons One and Two, along with Two’s best friend who’s been working on the farm with him, cut off the heads and feet, cut a small hole in the back end, and delicately pulled out all the organs in a surprisingly neat little pile. (Two & friend had had experience doing this twice before with chickens, and The Mate and I delighted in hearing them share their expertise so seriously.)

No longer a bird. Meat.

No longer a bird. Meat.

Suddenly,without heads or feet or feathers, these were no longer birds. They were meat. And we were all oddly the better for having participated in, or even watched, the process.

I am–obviously–not a vegetarian. I try to avoid what I call “concentration camp meat”–anything raised in a crowded feedlot or cramped pen. I’m glad these turkeys had happy, relatively free-ranging lives. I did not like to see them die, and I’m glad I didn’t have to do it myself. But I do feel, as a meat-eater, that I bear some responsibility to the animals I have killed to bear some witness to the process, to acknowledge it, to feel its reality.

As Barbara Kingsolver wrote in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:A Year of Food Life, “You can’t run away on harvest day.” Nor, I think, should you.

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This Vermont farm is a calendar pictures come alive–especially in the snow. We had the most picture-perfect White Thanksgiving together. But along with the joy of being with family, I gave thanks to the birds whose lives we had taken, and felt strangely connected to them, even before they became part of me.

Anyone else had experience with raising his/her own meat? Deciding not to? Please share.