Dollars and Sense at the Farmer’s Market

Farmers Market Season is upon us!

And I love it.

I love the energy at a Farmer’s Market.

I love the people watching.

I love checking out the unique, artisanal products or heirloom produce that I could never find at a normal grocery store.

I love it all.

This morning Adam and I ventured out to our local Farmer’s Market.

It was a quick trip as we had some landscaping work to do back at the homestead. (… Work that made us realize we really are adults as our alma mater is celebrating its biggest spring event with the bars opening at 7AM.)

The Farmer’s Market didn’t have many produce vendors present thanks to the chilly, late spring we are experiencing. But, we did pick up some bratwurst from a local pork producer. They seemed like a great idea for dinner after a day of working in the yard.

As Adam paid the vendor $15.60 for the ten brats, I thought of the most common question and biggest complaint I always tend to hear in regards to local meat: Why is it so expensive?

Last year, after a trip to the Farmer’s Market, I came home with a free range whole chicken. I was excited about this bird. The vendor was full of information and clearly very passionate. And, I wasn’t sure that I had ever had a free range chicken. I kept reading the taste was amazingly different in comparison to a normal chicken breast at the store.

I also had never cooked a whole chicken. So, it seemed like a fun challenge and I couldn’t wait to see if I could taste a difference.

Adam was excited too… and then he asked how much it was.

I had not told him because in the back of my mind I knew how my [insert nice way to say “tight ass”] husband would react.

And, I was right.

The word “ridiculous” was used often and before I knew it he was researching how to raise meat chickens.

God love him and his “Why pay someone when I can do that” attitude…

Proof of this attitude?  His landscaping project of the day was creating this beautiful wall for our patio.  So happy to give it a little character.

Proof of this attitude? His landscaping project of the day was creating this beautiful wall for our patio. So happy to give it a little character.

So, in early September, we became the proud owners of fifty free range broilers.

The babies from last September.

The babies from last September.

Adam created a “chicken mobile” out of a large wagon. The top of the wagon had bedding, water and feed. Then a little ramp gave the chicken’s access to the ground so they could roam and snack on grass and bugs. We could move the wagon around the yard so the chickens wouldn’t eat one piece of land to entirety.

A chick on the top of the chicken mobile.

A chick on the top of the chicken mobile.

And relaxing in the grass under the chicken mobile.

And relaxing in the grass under the chicken mobile.

We thought it was going to be great. Easy, too. We would have little, happy, free range birds and, in a couple months, a freezer full of organic, natural roasters for far less then we could purchase.

Right?

Wrong.

Okay, not totally.

In the end, the chickens came out great. They taste wonderful. We have enjoyed sharing them with family and friends and love how one bird can make us a couple meals.

However, they were a lot of work.

They required our attention twice a day, everyday.

They ate a ton. They drank a ton. (Note: Getting water to chickens on a cold, dark late November morning? Not exactly fun.)

There was quite a bit of cost to get started and the butchering at two bucks a pop added up fast. (… Although, that was worth every penny, in my book.)

When it was all said and done, Adam and I sat down and went over all our expenses. There was the chicken mobile, the feed, the equipment like heating lamps and water dispensers, the bedding, the butchering, and our labor.

We realized, using basic economics, if we were going to sell them at a market, $20.00 per chicken really isn’t that “ridiculous.”

As consumers, we have not just a choice, but also a voice.

And for the last sixty years or so, American consumers have voiced that meat should not only be available for every meal, it should also be cheap.

It started with fast food. We want a cheese burger for a buck. Five chicken nuggets for 99 cents.

And, it’s now what we see in the grocery store and that is why a $20.00 chicken has such a sticker shock.

We are lucky, in a sense, that in America meat is so widely available and isn’t going to break the bank. In fact, out of all the countries in the world, American’s spend the least percentage of their income on food.

However, farmers feel the backlash of the availability of the cheap food, even though our society demanded it, and some farming practices are coming under fire.

Farmers are smart, resilient and able to adapt. That is what they did and they will do it again, if that is what the market demands.

However, thanks to my food service role in K-12 education I know the reality is that the cheap, widely available meat is likely here to stay. And, I could never completely go over to the one side of this agriculture fence and say “Organic or BUST” because there is not just a huge market, but a need.

I know that I am incredibly fortunate that I am able to make a choice when I purchase food for Adam and me. And my choice in purchases is reflected in my belief to support local growers.

I am also fortunate to have a voice.

A voice that wants to ask, if we really are spending so much less of our income on food in comparison to our peers around the world, couldn’t we ditch the amped up cable package and reallocate that cash to receive a product that supports the earth, local farmers, the local community and provides great nutrition?

I swung by the grocery store this afternoon and couldn’t help but check the prices on bratwurst. A package of five was for sale for just under six dollars.

I spent a whopping four more dollars for my ten brats.

Four dollars that might go back and help that farmer raise more pigs. Or pay his rent. Or send his kid to college.

Or perhaps its four dollars that will stay in my community supporting other small business like my husbands. Or the cute lady who owns this fun accessory boutique that sucks me in when I drop off my dry cleaning. Or the new bakery on the square that I haven’t been to yet, but sounds delicious.

Four bucks.

Four bucks is less than a fast food meal.

… less than my drink at Starbs!

Money well spent.

Egg-cellent Egg Series: Day 1

I started 2014 with a cleanse where I eliminated sugar, alcohol, dairy, grains and starches. I lost six pounds in ten days.

The strong skeptic in me assumes it was because I was saving my daily booze calories… and yes, okay, it was a little drastic. It’s not the best idea to go cold turkey with anything.

But, it wasn’t a huge adjustment for me. I kicked my soda addiction and hopped on the H2O train a few years ago saving myself from sugary beverages. (I was a major Diet Coke lady and this was actually easier than you would think.) Bread has never really been a staple in our house, unless I make my- now famous- Rosemary Focaccia. But, getting out the mixer is a workout in itself so it doesn’t happen often. And Adam and I obviously love, love, love any and every veggie, so incorporating even more into our meals is no problemo at our house.

However, in the spirit of being honest, wine and dark chocolate have been missed.

I actually finally caved and had two glasses of red wine last night. But, in my defense, it’s been nearly three weeks. GO ME! And I have read enough about the heart benefits of drinking red wine that I would basically call it a health food. Basically.

But, what the cleanse really did was make me much more aware of what I am putting in my body when I eat. Yes, I try to eat organic, local and clean. I have for quite sometime now, but I now know so much more about the science behind these and other choices I make.

Sugar has been a big one that I plan to continue to watch. When consuming sugar I want to find it from more natural sources, like fruit and agave. Too much sugar is linked to inflammation and significant signs of aging. Not to mention, many sources of sugar are full of unnecessary calories.

I also plan to put focus on getting a majority of my calories from vegetables and good sources of protein. Fortunately, both of these are found right in my back yard thanks to the garden and chicken’s eggs!

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Over the years, eggs have battled a bad reputation due to their link to high cholesterol and heart disease. I remember “experts” talking about avoiding eggs all together throughout my childhood. But, here’s the deal: Your body needs a good balance with fat and cholesterol. Good fat, like the fat in eggs helps maintain that balance. Fat from fried food? Not so much.

Thanks to the good fats found in eggs it allows for the better absorption of the many other vitamins found in the little spheres, including Vitamin A, B Vitamins, protein and potassium. These nutrients aid in muscle, brain and nerve development. In fact, there are few foods out there that have as many nutrients as a single egg!

The chickens have been major troopers with all the snow and freezing temperatures in Indiana this winter. So, I have decided to showcase them on my little soapbox for the next week to express my “thanks” for their daily gifts: their fresh, nutrient packed, brown eggs.

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Everyday this week there will be a post on Bloom featuring an egg-cellent recipe and some egg-citing facts!

It’s going to be egg-straordinary!

… I crack myself up.

Tough Old Birds

Cue Destiny’s Child, ladies and gentlemen, because I’m a survivor.

While Adam was enjoying himself in Tennessee at a bachelor party, I survived the crazy blizzard and bitter cold… Alone. (PS- Trost? Be prepared for our children to hear about this… oh… just about every time it snows.)

And, not only did I survive, but so did our five little hens.

Although, I did have my doubts.

The coop as the snow fell on Sunday.

The coop as the snow fell on Sunday.

Thanks to the research we did about a year ago, I knew that chickens don’t mind the cold. In fact, they prefer it over the summer’s heat.

But, wind chill’s of fifty below? Actual temperatures in the negative teens?

I wasn’t so sure.

On Sunday night, before the Polar Vortex hit, I hopped on the internet. I was looking for the actual temperature that chickens could handle… and some peace of mind.

The first thing I learned was that people in this country don’t know what real cold is. A woman in North Carolina was concerned that the temperature was going to be “pretty cold!” and go below freezing.

That’s Indiana half the year. (… Or so it seems.)

I had visions of all the sad pictures of puppies in the snow saying “This is abuse” all over Facebook. I needed the actual temperature they could handle. I was not going to be responsible for chicken abuse.

Then on Mother Earth New’s website, I read that hens do not “really start suffering until the temperature inside their coops falls to minus twenty degrees Fahrenheit.”

Adam built a great coop for the hens. It protects them from the rain, wind and snow. But, still… minus twenty was too close for comfort.

After about an hour on the web, and nothing in black and white saying, “It will be fine;” I was officially stressed.

Then my mom called. I explained my current predicament and with a little laugh she said, “Oh, my. You are a Momma!”

… Great. So, apparently parenthood is going to be just one big, giant anxiety attack…?

I considered bringing the birds into the house but I had no way to contain them. We don’t have a dog so we don’t own any cages. And they would get into too much that could hurt them in the garage or unfinished basement.

So that was it. There wasn’t anything I could do. I felt helpless.

Adam called to say goodnight and I told him I tried to do everything I could, but I was prepared for them to not make it through the freezing, snowy, blustery night.

I didn’t sleep at all that night. The wind was loud and strong, just driving that wind-chill lower and lower. I kept looking out to the coop, imagining the birds turning into little chickcicles. I was so worried.

… Man, I really do have that mothering gene.

The next morning I sprung out of bed before I even knew what I was doing. I threw on a ton of Adam’s hunting gear and ran out to the coop, in the minus thirty-seven degree wind-chill, looking like a fat camo Eskimo.

I opened the door and there they were, roosting together with their feathers fluffed out… alive!

I could tell they didn’t really enjoy the weather, but I had four eggs in the hen boxes so I knew they weren’t suffering. I told them to hang in there and assured them it wouldn’t be much longer.

By Tuesday morning, they were moving around and each laying an egg. I was beyond relieved and texted Adam saying, “I think we are going to make it!”

Here are a few things I did to ensure they did:

Home is Where the Heat Is:

Shelter for the chickens anytime of year is important.

Adam built a fabulous home for our chickens. Before he did this, he really did his homework.

The coop in the summer... It's hard to even remember the yard looking so green!

The coop in the summer… It’s hard to even remember the yard looking so green!

He knew to make boxes for the hens to lay eggs in and a roost. The roost is similar to a little ladder and the chickens sleep on it at night. The roost is very important in cold weather because it keeps the hens off the ground and they are able to huddle together to keep each other warm. In really cold temps, hens will puff up their feathers on the roost to maintain their heat.

Puffed up and staying warm.

Puffed up and staying warm.

Adam also made sure the coop has good ventilation. He added windows, which are great to add extra air in the summer. But, he also made ventilation slots where the coop meets the roof.

Ventilation Slots.

Ventilation Slots.

Chickens excrete a lot of hot air through breathing and pooping. This can make their coop humid. If it gets cold and the coop does not have proper ventilation, that moist, humid air will freeze causing frostbite on the hen’s combs, waddles, or toes.

To add a little extra heat, knowing that the temperatures would be well below zero, I hung a heating lamp right above the roost so that it could warm the hens as they huddle together at night. Some people view heating lamps as a luxury in chicken coops, but in our case this week, I felt like it was a necessity. (I know chicken’s survived just fine well before electricity… but, cut me a little slack. I am a first-time hen mother.)

As I said "Goodnight" on Sunday night... fearing the worst for the morning!

As I said “Goodnight” on Sunday night… fearing the worst for the morning!

Stay Hydrated

Chickens need water and in freezing temperatures this can be a challenge because it doesn’t take too long before their waterer is a solid chunk of ice. During the day, I took water out to the coop every couple of hours.

I noticed that in my quick ten minute runs out to the coop I became very thirsty in the biting wind-chill. The chickens were no exception. They eagerly hopped off the roost and guzzled up the water every time I came in with a replacement.

Bottoms Up!

Bottoms Up!

Fight Cabin Fever

Our chickens are used to running around and exploring the yard. With fifteen inches of snow, this wasn’t possible. So, in addition to their normal feed, I brought some broccoli stalks into the coop for the hens to pick at. I read online to use a head of cabbage, but I was snowed in and broccoli was all I had.

I feel so much more confident about our chickies for the winters to come. Although, I am going to hope this Polar Vortex is a once in a lifetime kind of thing…

Egg-citing News!

Yesterday was a Big Day!

I retrieved the first egg from the chicken coop!

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We had been told that it would take five to six months for our birds to begin laying eggs. We brought the few days old chicks home on Mother’s Day, so I knew it was just a matter of time. Adam had also recently switched the birds from Chick Starter Feed to Layer Feed supplemented with oyster shell.

I came home from work and opened up the coop to let the chickens run free in the yard. Side note: We used to let them roam all day, but one day two didn’t come home. (… Can’t help but wonder if a predator was involved somehow.) They still have a fenced in area off their coop they can run in during the day.

Many of the chickens ran out to explore, but one hen hung back. I peered beyond the doorway of the coop to the three roosts Adam had built and sure enough there was a small brown egg. I was excited and kind of in disbelief.

As I stepped into the coop to investigate, it was almost like the hen knew what I was about to do. They normally scoot out of the way of our feet, but she stood her ground.

I felt bad. Was this her showing maternal instinct? I reasoned with my commiserating, female emotion: She didn’t have this maternal instinct thing all worked out. Otherwise, she would have been sitting on this egg. Plus, it wouldn’t matter how long she sat on that egg. She wouldn’t be getting a baby. There was no chicken hanky panky going on.

Shoeing her away with my hands, I made it to the roost and picked up the small, fragile egg. It was a lot smaller than I was expecting, but I read this would be the case in the beginning.

Tiny Egg... Going to need ten of these to make anything...

Tiny Egg… Going to need ten of these to make anything…

I couldn’t help but beam with a little pride as I carried the first of many eggs back up to the house. Once in the kitchen I placed it in a little ceramic egg holder I purchased at Anthropologie right after we got the chicks last spring in anticipation for this moment.

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I laughed.

It was like I had been nesting.

In fact, the whole process of raising a chick to lay eggs seemed a little bit like pregnancy.

The excitement when you first get the chicks.

Seeing them grow bigger and bigger every day.

Getting fun accessories like the egg holder or asking everyone you know to save you their egg cartons because their “coming.”

Then it comes and it’s a lot smaller than you thought it was going to be.

But, it’s wonderful. And fun!

And then you start thinking of all that it could become…

An omlet?

A frittata?

Quiche?

… The possibilities are endless.

Below are some fun shots of the grown ladies. We have seven.

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“Lettuce” Eat Well.

Written June 12, 2013

When I returned home from Virginia I found that I had a totally different garden.  Thanks to the care of my lovely husband, the plants were so much bigger, fuller, and flowering to show that produce was coming.

Adam tending our growing, green garden.

Adam tending our growing, green garden.

Peas were climbing.

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The cabbage was huge and full of color.

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The carrots and green onions finally looked like they were doing well.

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The tomatoes were so full and looked strong in their cages.

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Zucchini’s were budding and I even had a cute, little squash growing!

Yayyy!

Yayyy!

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Even the chicks had grown up!  No longer little, fluffy adolescents, but now resembling real chickens.  Their feet were so different; they were huge!

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But the biggest change had been in the lettuce.  It was big, beautifully green, and ready to harvest.

Trio of Greens!

Trio of Greens!

That night we opted for some fresh romaine on the side of dinner.  I snipped one of the largest heads of lettuce close to the base but not directly on the ground.  Cut here, the lettuce will continue to grow so that we can use romaine from this head again.  To cut the lettuce, I actually used shears that I received at a flower arranging class at West Elm.  (Tons of fun and really informative!  I can keep fresh flowers in my house going for nearly two weeks now.  Check out your store.  They typically do events once a month or so.)

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Once I had enough for Adam and me, I headed inside.  There I rinsed each head very well in the sink, tore the leaves into bite sized pieces and tossed them into the salad spinner.

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I placed a couple handfuls of the romaine in bowls and topped it with a chopped tomato, a little crumbled feta, and a splash of balsamic dressing.

It was the perfect complement to our steaks.

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As we took our first bites of the homegrown lettuce, Adam exclaimed, “It taste like lettuce!”  I laughed.  Umm, yeah?  “I just was nervous.  We have never done this.”

True.

But, not only did it “taste like lettuce,” it had a fabulous flavor.  And knowing that it came straight out of our yard and had never been in contact with any chemicals or processing made it even better.

So, what’s in our Garden?

Written May 28, 2013.

Strawberries– Adam’s favorite. They probably won’t be that great until next year as they are a spring plant. However, the deer beg to differ. They seem to like the big strawberry leaves coming out of the ground. We are lucky there have not been more casualties with the other plants around the strawberry bed thanks to their hoofs and appetites. And, the deer are very lucky that it is not deer season, or else they would be seeing more casualties on their end thanks to my shot gun bearing, camouflage wearing husband.

Please note the deer tracks.

Please note the deer tracks.

Spinach– We could eat spinach every night. We were able to transplant eight spinach plants that we started from seeds. We bought eight more from the store that had been started and transplanted them into the ground.

Caesar, Iceberg and other Lettuces

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Cabbage and red cabbage– These plants are doing so well. They were one of the first plants we transplanted into the ground.

Broccoli– Another hardy plant that is thriving.

Zucchini and Squash– Since transplanting these plants have never looked 100%. Their leaves have gone from green to yellow and back to green again. I really hope these plants take off because I love zucchini and squash on the grill. Adam’s also a huge fan of chocolate zucchini cake. Yes, I am that sneaky wife who hides veggies in dessert. Just wait ‘til we have kids.

Peas and green beans– We tried to grow green beans a couple years ago and maybe got one serving out of our plants because it was so dry. Hoping for some better luck- and weather- this year.

Carrots– We planted these straight into the ground and have not seen anything happen since. I really hope there is some magic going on under ground…

Green onions– These were planted right into the ground and look great. I am so happy because this is the best addition to any stir-fry or Mexican dish.

Cucumbers and pickle cucumbers– This is my favorite vegetable. I cannot wait to see how they do. So far, it’s not bad, but that deer has made some close calls with his feet.

Peppers– Currently, we only have sweet and poblanos. Great, yes. But, I need jalapenos. For salsa, chili, appetizers, etc. etc! When I purchased the large amount of seeds at the home and garden store back in early April on packet was sucked under the conveyer belt. At that point, I probably had fifty seed packets so I wasn’t even going to try to begin to figure out which one was missing. But, it was my beloved jalapenos.

Tomatoes– The definition of summer in my book. We have roma’s, cherry, better boys, and best boys. I love a good, August tomato. With all these tomato plants we hope to give canning a good try. (… Things I have never done before. I am already a little nervous.)

Herbs:

All the herbs are in their own planters as herbs have a way of taking over if they are not contained.
We have basil, oregano, thyme, parsley, cilantro, and rosemary.

Potting soil really brings out the color in my mani.

Potting soil really brings out the color in my mani.

I am sad because the rosemary is not growing like I wish I would. Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs. It is great for chicken, vegetables like carrots or asparagus, and even makes good kabob skewers for some extra favor.

I planted a tomato plant with the basil because I read that, if planted together, they help fight off bugs. So, it’s an experiment.

The parsley and cilantro did great in the starter kits, but I must have sent them into a little shock when they were transplanted into larger planters. The cilantro started to turn a little pinkish purple, which I read was a sign of stress. I am hoping they get used to their new homes. I would think they would have loved the extra root-room. But, as always, you learn something new every day.

My stressed out cilantro.  Any one else have ideas on why it's turning red?

My stressed out cilantro. Any one else have ideas on why it’s turning red?

Oh, and I can’t forget our chickens! We have twelve birds that made the move to their beautiful coop that Adam built in late May. The coop is about eight feet by eight feet with a little door so the chickens can roam in about a thirty foot long fenced in area. We still are not 100% sure how many egg layers we will have as they won’t lay eggs until October or November. At this point we are pretty sure we have about four boys. They are getting little crown combs on the top of their heads. And definitely have a stronger, more seeming to be testosterone fueled demeanor.

It's a boy...?

It’s a boy…?

I never thought I would say this, but we LOVE the chickens. They are a lot of fun to watch and have been pretty simple to take care of.

Adam could watch the birds for hours.

Adam could watch the birds for hours.

In fact, we love everything about this garden. We were afraid when planning it that we might be getting in over our heads. But, so far (knock on wood), it’s been enjoyable work and it’s really neat to see things change every day. Most nights, Adam and I catch up over a beer or a glass of wine as we walk through the garden. Sure beats sitting in front of the TV!

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