Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Chefs Collaborative

The Farmer and The Chef Blog is featured on the Chefs Collaborative Blog...http://chefscollaborative.org/category/blog/
We are truly honored.
If you have a moment, do yourself a favor and browse their website. The resources it contains for Farmers and Chefs are great.


And...mark your calendars!

Chefs Collaborative National Summit:
Redefining Our Culinary Traditions-
Building on the Past to Ensure a Sustainable Future
October 3-5, 2010
Boston, Massachusetts

Call for proposals!

Chefs Collaborative is seeking ideas and proposals for workshops and panels at the 2010 National Summit in Boston, Massachusetts.

We expect 300 chefs and culinary professionals to join us for this educational and community-building conference focused on the theme of integrating sustainable principles into regional culinary and agricultural heritage. We are open to any and all ideas related to sustainable food and the culinary profession, although preference will be given to proposals that align with the theme.

The Summit program committee will be accepting and reviewing all proposals received by the deadline, March 12, 2010. Click here to learn more and to download a proposal submission form.

Please feel free to contact Melissa Kogut, Executive Director, at 617-236-5286 or melissa@chefscollaborative.org with any questions about the proposal process or general questions regarding the National Summit.


Friday, February 19, 2010

What Does ORGANIC Really Mean? Made in CHINA of course!

video

A Chef Contemplates Cows And The Grass They Eat


Cows are ruminant animals. Generically speaking this means they are animals who eat grass and then regurgitate what is known as 'cud'. The cud is then swallowed and moves through the four chambers in the cows stomachs. Grass is mostly cellulose and because of a cows natural design it is able to convert that cellulose into energy and protein that the cow needs to survive. The different chambers in the stomachs of cows allow the grass to slowly pass through while billions of naturally present micro organisms break it down into useable fuel. As the grass is broken down great things begin to happen for the health of the cow which carries over to the nutritional benefits in the rib eye steak on your plate. Grass fed cow meat contains higher levels of Omega 3's (which disappear in feed lots), vitamin E and conjugated linoleic acid. These are indisputable facts in the case for grass fed beef. It is healthier for the animal and the human, period.

As a Chef, one must make a conscious decision to serve only the best available products to guests.

All cows are on a pasture at some point during their life. Many will remain there until the day they are 'harvested' however an enormous amount will be loaded up into trailers and sold at auction. Cows are docile animals and raising them to sell at auction is like a Chef who cooks green beans out of a #10 can. There is no craft involved. Once sold at auction the cows are then trucked to feed lots all over the country, some right here in Virginia.

Feed lots are horrendous expanses of cows confined shoulder to shoulder where they are 'finished' on a diet of corn, soy, grain and God knows what else. Because cows are not designed to digest LARGE amounts of grain and corn kernals, the acid levels rise in their stomachs and cause them all sorts of problems and distress. When this becomes apparent, the 'farmers' up the doses of antibiotics in their diets, which ends up right where those Omega 3's once were. These cows are often harvested at only 18 months of age with the last 6 months of their life spent fighting for food and water, knee deep in mud and fecal matter, on the verge of certain death. A cow doesn't spend all that much time in a feed lot because the conditions aren't conducive to life itself. By the time a cow is harvested it wouldn't have been able live much longer either way, as the amount of hormones and antibiotics has taken it's toll, and dead cows in feed lots doesn't look good for big agriculture.

A Chef should know what he or she is serving at all times. Before service Chef's are tasting all the sauces/purees to make sure they are seasoned correctly, checking the chef de parties station to make sure they aren't serving something they shouldn't be. It all seems kind of lame if one compares the passion of making food just look and taste good without any REAL regard of its origin. Spare the guests of the names like White Marble Farms because it sounds local or 'farmy' too. The movement of 'farm to table' or what ever one may call it isn't becoming watered down, it has been flooded already. It's up to the Chef to make the call. The fact that it is deemed trendy to use local product does more to hurt the cause of feeding your village first than it does any good what so ever.

Beef is one of these things that make it hard to walk this line as a Chef.

In Southwest Virginia there are pastures a plenty and they are full of fescue grass, just like the grass on a front lawn. It's thought that soil nutrients don't affect the nutrient qualities of the grass growing on it. And the animals wouldn't know a difference either way. Fescue is a cold climate loving grass, drought resistant and easy to grow. It's doesn't translate into very much flavor for a cow however. By disposition a grass fed cow will be leaner and contain less intramuscular marbling than a feed lot cow and if its on a pasture of mostly fescue it becomes a hard sell to the general dining public. While the meat is exponentially better for the human body, many diners who have grown up eating regular old American beef, cannot get over the smell and/or the lack of fat in a true grass finished piece of beef. For those who appreciate the nuisances of pure grass fed beef there may still be a noticeable difference in the flavor of beef raised mostly on fescue rather than in conjunction with legumes such as clover, alfalfa etc. which do not grow in abundance in certain areas of the US.

Some farmers such as Bill Niman of Niman Ranch fame humanely raised cattle on pasture and then sent them to feed lots. The feed lots designated for Niman Ranch were closely monitored when he was a part of the business. Strict guidelines were followed concerning the transportation of the cows and they were not slaughtered with other farmers cattle. The cows were finished on a grain diet but were not given antibiotics or hormones and if they were they were pulled from the Niman program. It seems as if Mr. Niman has begun a similiar practice with BN Ranch, his new venture, as he has split from the company that still bears his name.

Animal Welfare Approved designates great guidelines to help Chefs source sustainable beef that is raised humanely. While pure grass finished beef can walk a radical line it does have the ethical appeal to raise awareness of the bigger problem: feed lots. Under the AWA label a farmer can finish an animal on grain up to a certain percentage of the total diet. This may even take place in the true green pasture itself, the cow eating only as much of the grain supplement as it wants. This makes complete sense. That can't be done in a feed lot...there's no grass in a feed lot. By supplementing a cow on a small amount of grain, sometimes grown on the farm or by a neighbor, the intramuscular fat content is increased and the health benefits remain. There is no need for antibiotics nor hormones either. If so the animal is not sold for consumption. Amazing. To save or ease the pain of the animal it is treated but it is NOT sold. The level of antibiotic administered just to make sure the animal remains safe and healthy is astoundingly low compared to the levels administered just to keep a cow alive in a feed lot. Hmmm.

What breeds of cattle can be raised in Southwest Virginia besides Angus that have been bred through the years to have great intramuscular fat? Are you raising a breed that you are proud of? We'd like to hear from you!




Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sustainable Poultry

Cows have calves on the farm, Ewes have lambs on the farm, so why don’t most Chickens and Turkeys have chicks and poults on the farm?

The definition of “sustainable agriculture” is varied and has changed dramatically over the years to often include profitability motives.  However, for our purposes here, let’s start with the definition of sustainable agriculture from the Alliance of Sustainability: “A sustainable agriculture is ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just and humane.”  This is a simple definition and hard to find a major fault.  From here we will investigate the world of sustainable poultry.

In the 1950’s, poultry that our grandmother’s served for Sunday dinner where indeed sustainable birds.  They roamed the farm, forage for bugs and insects, scratched and turned the earth.  When the sun and moon were just right, in the early spring, they would get that frisky feeling and barnyard courtship would ensue yielding fertile eggs that hens would nest upon to yield a new crop of Sunday dinners some three weeks later.

But as economics of mass-production tended to take hold in agriculture, confinement feeding of cattle, lambs, hogs and chickens became the norm.  The race to create the biggest, fastest growing bird began.  Genetic engineering began in earnest and not only did large poultry houses and hatcheries enter the race, they also entered the game of “genetic ownership”.

Movies like the Oscar nominated movie “Food, Inc.”  and “Fresh – The Movie” documented the ills of Monsanto’s ownership of modern corn, but little has been spoken of Hubbard’s long time ownership of the genetics of today’s commercial poultry.  Taking a tour of the Hubbard website (www.hubbardbreeders.com) is much like touring the show room of a BMW dealer.  You can purchase the Hubbard Flex F-15, or if you wish to “produce the maximum saleable meat of any broiler breeder available on the market today” you should choose the Hubbard Yield, or perhaps the JV suits your fancy as it “produces a broiler which is ideal for the markets looking for the lowest carcass cost.” 

The genetics of commercial birds, throughout the US, are all owned by Hubbard.  Because the birds have been genetically manipulated, through selective breeding, to become such a high-order hybrid, they can not be replicated by a farmer nor can the birds be bred to produce commercially viable offspring, if they can physically mate at all.

Some would say that “sustainable” requires that the agricultural system, in this case, a chicken, must be able to complete an entire life-cycle.  Meaning, the animal must be able to forage for feed, grow healthy and strong, become of some commercial value (as a meat bird in this case), have sex, pro-create, and nurture off-spring to begin the cycle again.  That is what we expect of our pastures, of our cattle, of our sheep – why doesn’t America expect that from their poultry.  Is it because we have hidden the “agriculture” of poultry in large houses behind security gates in the name of “bio-security”?

If you as a chef, or a farmer, went online to start your very own meat chicken operation, you would likely buy chicks from a hatchery like Stromberg or McMurry.  The commercial birds, all come from Hubbard genetics – much like Monsanto corn.  The chicks would be hatched and boxed up at a day of age without food or water and shipped to you via the US Mail.  Yes, live animals would be shipped to you via the US Mail.  The hatcheries, depending on the number you order would add a few extra to accommodate any “losses in shipment”.  This is just one place that the Alliance for Sustainability’s definition that includes “socially just and humane” comes to play.

The Animal Welfare Approved label (www.animalwelfareapproved.org) is the only major farm animal welfare certification body that prohibits mailing live animals in the US Mail.  Why?  Is this not just common sense and humanity?

Animal Welfare Approved is also the only major farm animal welfare organization that has specifications and requirements for slow growth rates to counter the genetic manipulation of commercial poultry that has created the gross “Franken-birds” as depicted in the movie “Food, Inc”.  Only one major animal welfare organization has specifications to ensure that birds genetically designed to grow so fast that their legs can not support themselves or that their internal organs will fail prior to reaching 12 weeks of age.

Because of a growing number of chefs, farmers, labels, and consumers demanding more humane birds that grow slower, Hubbard has developed a product for that as well.  You can purchase the “JA 57 or P6N Parent Stock Female” depending on your color preference.  However, these females are intended for slow growth standards of 81 days to slaughter.  But Hubbard has a product for any standard.

“Since the creation of several quality programmes, such as the European Marketing Terms or the strategy of poultry companies to invest in strong brand names produced under strict stipulations, Hubbard has developed products for this type of market which can be defined as "differentiated growth". 

Hubbard offers a genetic response to these markets requiring broilers with a liveweight of 1560 to 2300 g at a minimum age of 48 to 56 days respecting the defined quality stipulations.

You set a standard and Hubbard will engineer the bird for you.  You will not be able to breed it to get commercial grade off-spring, and you will have to go back to Hubbard for next year’s inventory, but they will have a “model” for you.

Some poultry producers and large truck grocers, have created new marketing labels to shield you, the Chef, and the public from the reality of poultry production in the US.  One example is US Food Service and Ashley Farms in North Carolina.  “The Farmer and The Chef” recently wrote about Ashley Farms (www.ashleyfarms.com) claim that their chicken is “Better than Free Range” (www.thefarmerandthechef.blogspot.com).  And why? Because “they are completely protected, safe from the dangers of the outdoors”.  That’s right.  Ashley Farms and US Food Services believes that “all-natural” poultry is best brought to your table that has never stepped foot outside its “climate-controlled building” so that your chicken is “safe from the dangers of the outdoors”.  Now what is “natural” about that, and what is sustainable, or shall we say “ecologically sound” about that.

So the question for the Chef who is careful to select “sustainable salmon” or “sustainable seafood”, what about the chicken you use appears “sustainable” to you?  You would likely not work with beef that genetically could not reproduce, or lamb that gets so fat so fast that their legs break, or the “JA 57” model of hog. 

There is an alternative; sustainable, delicious, Heritage Poultry.  We will introduce you to America’s poultry in an upcoming installment.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"The People Who Feed Us"

One of the most fun things about The Farmer and The Chef’s new venture, is exploring the richness of the community committed to bringing good food to good people.  One of those examples is the team of Staci Strauss and Craig McCord who have been chronicling the leaders, motivators, farmers and chefs who are using their skills and talent to bring the very best nature and nurture to your dinner plate.  They do so with insightful, witty, and inspired short documentaries of people with passion

From Patrick Martins, a founder of Slow Foods USA and now CEO of Heritage Foods USA, to the colorful Joel Salatin, to the “farm-centric” Chef Joseph Wrede. “The People Who Feed Us” shows a cross-section of the personality, approach, and skills of innovators and leaders of the local food revolution.

Staci Strauss and Craig McCord have been a team for over ten years. Both having come from advertising and television commercial production, they traveled to many locations for work. This presented the opportunity to sample great restaurants and discover many farmers markets.

While working on a documentary about an jazz musician from New Orleans (who now lives in the Vaucluse region of France) they experienced the sights, sounds, and excitement of market day. As they traveled to various villages in Provence to shoot the band’s performances, they met many artisanal food producers working in the “small batch, handmade” style.

As luck would have it, the idea of doing stories about the people who feed us happened over lunch. After visiting the Wednesday market in St. Remy de Provence, they hit upon the idea to use their film making skills to create small videos to communicate the benefits of the market-driven, Slow Food approach to eating, in a meaningful, accessible way. And The People Who Feed Us was born.

As a result of her experiences in the Provençal markets, Staci has become an avid shopper of the farmers markets in the Hudson Valley and New York City. Ms. Strauss says:

“I would say that we know the producers of about 80% of what we eat at home, the wonderful people who bring their goods to the markets each week. For me, it is very satisfying to personally know the people who feed us. It is my goal to be a mouthpiece for local foods.”

Craig was raised on the produce from his family’s garden had this to say about eating locally:

“The purpose of this site is to bring awareness to the choices we make about what we eat. There are folks out there producing really good stuff to eat. We all need to support small farming.”

So for a relaxing and uplifting experience, visit www.thepeoplewhofeedus.com and take a tour of the diversity of a passionate community.  Thank you, Staci and Craig for being the archivist of small farms and those who enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mail-Order Chickens - A National Geographic News Article


Mail-Order Chickens: USPS Ships Live Birds by the Thousands

John Roach
for National Geographic News
May 25, 2006

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Great Associations for Farmers and Chefs

Here is the start of a list of wonderful associations for both Farmers and Chefs to become involved in who are interested in sustainable, high animal welfare, and good food. Please help us by adding more to our list.

Animal Welfare Approved

American Livestock Breed Conservancy

Appalachian Sustainable Development

Certified Naturally Grown
www.naturallygrown.org

Chefs Collaborative

Slow Foods USA

Georgia Organics

Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture

Southern Seed Legacy

Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group

The People Who Feed Us


Monday, February 1, 2010

Mr. Farmer, meet Mr. Chef


Before 'Farm to Table', 'Farm to Fork' or whatever buzz word is being thrown around at the moment can become a reality there is a relationship between the farmer and the chef that must develop. We find it humorous that 'farm to table' has become so cliché that we are looking for new words to name this simple concept: A Chef sourcing local food. Well, sourcing GOOD local food.

The food The Chef serves has many stories. The story of the farmer. The story of the animal. The story of it's life on a pasture. The story of its arrival to my kitchen. Stop! How did it get to my kitchen in the first place?

One Friday evening at 6pm, about 8 months ago, right after I had to fire my sous chef, two men walked through the back door to my kitchen. They just stood there for a few minutes, not saying anything. I didn't recognize them and for sure I had never met them in my life. I was wiping down the pass after putting out some courses for a 6 top. Fridays are not normally a one man show in any kitchen. If they are, someone is not happy...and that day, that someone was me.

I ignored them as they stood there silent. What were they waiting for?, I wondered. The micros printed out a new order.
"I have some wild blueberries for you," the man shouted over the sound of the printer,"50 pounds of them!"
I said nothing.
"We're a friend of so and so...".
"Are they free?" (I was joking, kind of...)

I fired the appetizers on B1 and another ticket rolled in. I'm thinking to myself that I'm a nice guy but these two are really beginning to make me angry.

"Nope. And I've got some fresh local fish for you. The best. But you'll need to order at least 30# of fillets a week."

I couldn't make this up if I wanted to. I'll save you from the rest of the dialogue that included a few more things I needed to do in this man's opinion. I told them as politely as I could that they'd need to come back or at least call me later on down the road. When? How about between 2 and 4? Seriously. Or on my 'day off'. They started to leave and when I said I'd buy the blueberries (why not?) they blew me off and walked out, without selling me the blueberries.

Now, why would someone walk into a kitchen during a Friday PM service with 50# of blueberries on the back steps when what they really wanted to talk to me about was fish? We talked a few months later over the phone (me sitting on the tailgate of my truck on a beautiful Virginia spring day between services) and we laughed about that night he came in. He learned a lot from that encounter, a little of what not to do and more importantly, a lot of what NOT to do.

So why did he walk into the kitchen without so much as even introducing himself? Because he thought he had the best and only product like this to be found. But guess what? Not true. Chefs can always find it 'better' and cheaper if they want to. It's too easy.

Either way, I now serve this man's fish and he is a great friend of mine. We didn't see eye to eye that day and even if circumstances had been different I highly doubt his fish would have made it into my refrigerator. And I don't recommend his approach!

When is the right time to approach a chef? Well, that may depend on the chef. I can tell you that some chefs are not at all interested in you or your story. Some chefs could care less about local food no matter what the cost or quality is. You will never be able to deliver 35 whole beef tenderloins the way a big company can. You will never be able to supply 40 perfect shanks for that private event on Thursday. Or will you? The Farmer has a great vantage point and his guidelines are dead on.

I would like to add a few things:
  • Do you (the farmer) know what kind of food I serve?
  • Have you even looked at my menu? You would be served well to look at the prices?
  • Do you know that I might do things to your product that you might not understand, like vacuum seal it in a plastic bag and immerse it in a water bath? That maybe I might glue it to Joe's beef? Or cure it and stuff it into a sheep casing?
  • My time is limited. Sometimes I work 6 days a week and take calls on my 'day off' so I can get ahead when I get 'back' to work.
  • Chefs have families too and most of us make a lot less than you might assume.
  • Chefs think about food cost in their sleep. You should know how much your product is worth and be willing to back it up with consistency and availability.
  • Do you know the market? Why does your product stand out among the rest?
  • If and when I try your pork or beef or lamb, I am secretly hoping it will be the best I have ever tasted, but that doesn't mean it will be. Can you take criticism? Believe me, all Chef's know it's hard!
  • Invite me to the farm. The first time I saw a pasture full of pigs I was jealous and thought I picked the wrong career! But it was just pure excitement because I'd never seen so many happy animals in one place. I love doing what I do and seeing something like that is an integral part of living and involving my life in it. My wife and daughter went with me...
Personally, I have a soft spot for farmers (thank you Grandpa) but that doesn't mean I can afford to carry your product solely because it's local or grass fed or 'organic'. I can't imagine I'll be finding any local olive oil as good as I have now (which is not remotely local)...nor do I think 'farm to table' is or should be anything out of 'Brave New World' territory either. Really, if you think about it, it's the relationship between Farmers and Chefs that are new. Passionate farmers and passionate chefs will always have something to talk about...even if it's not about business.

Working from 2:00-4:00 PM

A couple of weeks ago I had a local farmer spend a couple of hours in my living room explaining to me all of his frustrations about trying to sell his commercial Angus beef direct to restaurants. Unfortunately, his experiences are a case study in all the bad advice a farmer can get about the “local food revolution that will make every family farmer wealthy” and will “bring new young people into the ranks of farming”. Oh, brother!

Over the course of the next several months we will be following my farmer friend, we will call him Joe, chronicling his successes and failures, and sharing some of the stories of his introduction to the world of direct marketing his beef. But we are going to start with his first frustration, just getting a chef to return a phone call.

Farmer Joe has been to several workshops on the “direct marketing of local agricultural products” and “grass-fed beef”. He claims that they have been organized and taught by the State Department of Agriculure and the local land-grant university. Perhaps that is true. What I do know is true is that he had never heard from a farmer who had ever made a dollar selling protein off the farm or from a chef who ever bought protein direct from a farmer. But he was told he had to speak to the chef.

Joe had contacted a restaurant that was currently buying my lamb, and indeed they had been hoping to find a local farmer who could provide them with the beef they desired for a price they could rationalize. A good first, and lucky, start.

His first interaction was from a cold-call. He did not speak to the chef but one of the owners, the female half of the couple who also acts as general manager of one of their two restaurants. As a result of this first phone call he sent a sample package of ground beef and some steaks. Another good step.

However, this is where the story goes awry. From the farmers perspective he had shipped $100 worth of free sample to a restaurant and he expected an outpouring of gratitude and platitudes. Instead, he got silence.

A couple of days went by and he heard nothing. No “Thank You” or other gracious greetings. Just silence.

Joe tried calling the restaurant, asking for the General Manager he had spoken to earlier, and then for the chef, always to be told “they had just stepped out” or “they are busy and will call you back” or “they are in a meeting”. Hardly the “Thank You” he thought he was entitled to after providing them with this valuable “gift”.

Finally Joe decided he knew how to reach the Chef if not the General Manager. He would call at 12:00 Noon. When the hostess told the farmer that “the General Manager was not available”, Joe told her, “I know she must be there, its lunch time!”

Indeed, Joe thought he had answer – do business with a restaurant during lunch service.

There is not much in common in the life and schedule of a Farmer and a Chef. The Farmer has done 3-6 hours of chores and feeding the animals, had a pot a coffee and made breakfast, before The Chef even wakes up. At about the time dinner service is hitting full stride for The Chef, the Farmer is winding down and likely in bed before The Chef sends out his late plate.

A farmer finds it as unreasonable to be bothered by phone calls and emails before the animals have been feed, or the stalls cleaned, or the lamb-bar filled up with fresh milk for the day, or the hay is put out, as a chef does when in they are in the middle of their “performance” or service.

Thus, there are essentially two hours a day that essentially all business must occur – especially new business, trying to secure a new customer; from 2:00 to 4:00 PM.

This is not to say that a chef will return a phone call between 2 and 4:00. Indeed, if we want to create a few “golden rules” one would be “Chefs do not return phone calls”. When one does, you drop to your knees and thank the heavens for finding a gem.

It is the responsibility of the one who is trying to sell to take the initiative and the responsibility. But it must be done responsibly, meaning, between services.

First of all, personal visits are always preferable to cold calls, but sometimes that is not possible. And even then, the visits must be outside of service; before 11:00AM or between 2-4:00 Pm

A farmer should not interrupt a chef during service – it is their performance and their revenue generation time. It’s game time for a ball-player. It’s show time for the actor. Is service time for the chef.

Thus, the farmer may feel like they are making a pest of themselves by calling everyday to attempt to reach the chef, between 2:00 and 4:00, and indeed they may be. But if the farmer calls between 2:00 and 4:00 it shows respect for the chefs time and the restaurants business, and at the worst shows tremendous passion on the farmer’s part.

No farmer is going to make every sale. No farmer will make a sale without a chef on his side. So, the farmer must make contact with the chef, being as creative as you can, and attempt to have as much personal face time as possible.

If the phone is the only way to get a relationship started realize:

1) the farmer is starting in a hole to begin. It is harder to start a sale with a phone call than a personal visit

2) Never count on a chef to return a phone call

3) Free samples is the culture of the restaurant business. Do not expect a “Thank You” for samples – it will only lead to hurt feelings. The farmer will always have more passion and value for the products they have toiled over than the chef will.

4) If you can’t afford free samples to bring a new customer on board, you can’t afford the business.

5) Never call a potential client during lunch and dinner service

6) Don’t ever expect that the Chef’s ideals of business are the same as the Farmer’s or vise-versa. Chefs and Farmers come from vastly different cultures. Business manners will likewise be different. The seller must take responsibility for creating an environment that is conducive to do business within the customer’s constraints. The farmer/seller can always decide to quietly and nicely decide not to sell to a particular customer but it is not the responsibility of the customer to adapt to the seller.

We will be following Farmer Joe’s journey to making his first restaurant sale, or not, in the coming weeks.

"Better than Free Range" Can you believe they actually say that?! Really??

In the world of high ethical and humane treatment of farm animals the plight of commercial poultry is the most difficult to resolve. Farmers want the biggest bird, the cheapest to feed, and the fastest to market weight they can – all a part of good business. However, the way America has satisfied those desires has been well documented in movies like “Food, Inc.” and “Fresh”. It is not a pretty sight.

The local food movement and disdain for genetically engineered produce and animals has led to renewed interest in Heritage breed chickens, ducks, and turkeys. However, alternative hybrid breeds of poultry, slower growing than the commercial white Cornish cross chicken, namely Freedom Rangers and Label Rouge, have gained much interest of late.

Some of the animal welfare labels that audit farms to ensure good care of farm animals from birth to the table have standards that dictate growth rates to ensure that the animal anatomy is not compromised by excessive growth rates. The harsh reality of the spectacular growth rates of commercial chickens has been grossly depicted in recent documentaries and movies, thus, the renewed emphasis on slower growth rate birds.
Whenever a standard is created, business motivations will ensure that the industry will just meet that standard. Economics will rule and poultry farm care has come to resemble a manufacturing operation more than farm raising and nurturing of animals.

The creation of the Label Rouge hybrid was one of the first commercial ventures in Europe to create an alternative to the commercial Cornish cross chicken. However, it still is not a sustainable bird – the genetics are owned by corporations much like Monsanto owns the genetics of modern corn.
The following is from a document of the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service:

“In Europe the slow-growing genetics are mainly supplied by the poultry breeding companies SASSO (3), and Hubbard-ISA. (4) They do not sell the actual broiler chicks, but rather the parents; however, many pastured poultry producers have hatching capability. SASSO's typical Label Rouge cross is T44N male x SA51 female (using a different male—the T44NI—results in white underfeathers in the offspring). A typical Hubbard-ISA cross is S77N male x JA57 female. Broilers from both of these crosses will have red feathers, yellow shanks, thin skin, and a naked neck. Other parents are available for broilers with white feathers and skin, black feathers, barred, non-naked neck, etc. or for faster growth.

At the time of this writing, SASSO and Hubbard-ISA genetics of this type are not available in the U.S. However, a U.S. company called Rainbow Breeding Company (5) is developing similar genetics and offers Free Range (FR) Broiler parents. FR Broiler chicks (day-olds) are also available. Male chicks are regularly available; female chicks are available only sometimes since they are used more in breeding; females grow at 85% the rate of the males.”

We have been surprised and amazed that in a day and time where the public rails against GMO and Monsanto’s dominance of seed production and genetics that the public has not been equally disturbed and vocal about corporate ownership of commercial poultry genetics. That there is not more concern about the birds they eat are unable to naturally mate, or in the case of Label Rouge and Freedom Rangers that a farmer must purchase parents as they can not be breed and raised on the farm. That chicks and “parents” are placed in the US Mail to farms instead of being born on the farm like all our other meat animals.

Sysco and US Food Services provide the vast majority of protein to restaurants in the US. As the local food movement as gained steam, so has their marketing of “new lines” of “natural” meat.
US Food Services advertises that they distribute the natural poultry of Ashley Farms in North Carolina. Let’s look at what Ashley Farms says about their poultry on their own website: www.ashleyfarms.com
We could not make this stuff up!

First, they claim their poultry is better than free-range. Why, because “they are completely protected, safe from the dangers of the outdoors”. Read it for yourself:

“Better than Free-Range

Some consumers like the idea of "Free-Range" Chickens, assuming they are naturally healthier and better-tasting than chickens that have spent their lives indoors.
The problem is, by allowing a flock outdoors, the grower loses control of what the birds eat and drink, making them vulnerable to any and every disease carried by wild birds overhead and wild animals passing through.

Also, ironically enough, to have a flock classified and sold as "Free-Range chicken" in the United States, a grower need only provide the chicken access to the outdoors. Since most of the white-feathered commercial breeds commonly grown in America actually prefer the indoors, many so-called "Free-Range chickens" spend their entire lives indoors by choice, often in over-crowded conditions. Also, these birds are not bred to withstand many of the perils of growing outside, and actually are healthier and grow better in a protected environment.

At Ashley Farms, our chickens experience the very best of both worlds. They enjoy all the benefits of the great outdoors - fresh air, fresh water and plenty of room to roam free inside their clean, climate-controlled houses. But they are completely protected, safe from the dangers of the outdoors. There is never any risk of exposure to disease, never any stress caused by exposure to the elements, and never any chance the chickens will eat or drink something they should not.

That makes Ashley Farms Chicken far superior to free-range chicken, a difference informed consumers really appreciate.”

In case you still are not convinced, they also state:

“Ashley Farms producer grows its own pullets in its own houses, complete with concrete floors (rather than dirt) under the litter for the cleanest possible conditions.”

After all, who would want their chicken to forage on actual dirt? Yuck! How dirty?!

Danny Williamson, General Manager of Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch says "commercial chickens are too fat and lazy, to go outdoors but true Heritage Chickens thrill in chasing bugs and eating grass and digging in the dirt, this is natural for chickens. After all, the Red Junglefowl, is of historical importance as the likely ancestor of the domesticated chicken, and it still roams free in the jungles of Southeast Asia, where they live outdoors. Yes, after all these generations and centuries, the Red Junglefowl has found a way to survive the “dangers of the outdoors”.

Obviously, the reason their birds are safer in a climate controlled building with a concrete floor is because commercial birds of today have lost their immune system through the genetic manipulation and development. They are a fragile bird devoid of their natural heritage and ability to forage.
Ashley Farms claims their poultry are Heritage Breeds when in fact their poultry are the same hybrid birds with genetic crosses symbolized like serial numbers on an automobile. Heritage Breeds are defined by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy (www.albc-usa.org). No serial numbers or hybrid genetic designations required.

If you want great natural sustainable poultry just follow these simple steps:

1. Ask the farmer where they get their chicks and poults from. Animal Welfare Approved does not allow chicks and poults to be sent in the US Mail – who thinks they should? Chicks, just like lambs, calves, and piglets should be born on the farm.
2. Ask the farmer where the parents are? Sustainable poultry require that you can breed future parents as well as create the livestock that becomes our food source. If you can not see the parents than it is not sustainable.
3. Visit the farm and see the birds forage on pasture and real dirt. Poultry can not forage on concrete and what would be natural about that?

If ever in doubt, search out the Godfather of American Heritage Poultry – Mr. Frank Reese, Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch in Kansas. He will help any farmer get started in heritage poultry and has been the voice of sustainable slow-growing poultry. Or contact us, the FarmerandChef, will help any farmer or chef embrace truly natural, sustainable, and wholesome poultry.

"Just a Hillbilly Operation”

The Farmer and The Chef made their first road trip to one of the most special venues in the pork world, Morrisville, Tennessee. South of Knoxville and North of Chattanooga in the middle of Appalachian off the beaten path is simple operation the envy of every foodie, and fine restaurants from Chicago, New York, Atlanta and the gems throughout all of America, Benton’s Smoked Country Hams.

Early one morning the Farmer and the Chef started their journey down I-81 to Knoxville and then south along I-75. Assuming that the Tennessee Department of Transportation would know the significance of Morrisville, TN to all who enjoy bacon and would have an exit sign if not a historical marker indicating how to find Benton’s, we casually drove an hour south of our exit before calling Mr. Benton to ask for directions.

As the morning started early, we asked if there was a place he would recommend for lunch that may serve some of his products. He assured us there was not and that “we are more famous in New York City and Chicago than we are around here”.

We drove up to Benton’s Smoked Country Hams, a dozen miles or so off the highway and not a downtown nearby. The simple building was bellowing the soft aroma of hickory smoke on a cool winter day.

When we entered the building, we were greeted by a man, wearing his overall’s and sitting on a bench placed there for all of the locals to congregate, drink coffee, share gossip, and critique the work of all those bustling about actually working. Maybe the soda machine with the price of years gone bye had something to do with the local congregation - 35 cent Pepsi's!

Mr. Allan Benton, proprietor, generally answers the phone, gives tours, greets each customer with the respect and excitement you would think would be reserved for the President or the Pope. And he gave us the same treatment. Although we know famous chefs from across the country have visited his shop, he was gracious and incredulous that “a chef would travel all the way from Roanoke, VA to visit him”.

He also appreciated the reality of farming when he assessed that The Farmer “must be the most successful farmer he has ever met if he had made enough gas money to travel all that way to see him”.

As Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s Restaurant in Charleston, SC, a fan of Mr. Benton and a good customer of all of Benton’s products, told us prior to our visit that we would never meet a nicer gentleman. He was right.

Allan Benton started his career as a high school guidance counselor after getting his Master’s Degree. Having grown up in Hillsville, VA and being raised by parents who lived off the land and worked the land with horses rather than tractors, he always had an appreciation for the country arts of survival.

Some 35 years ago, the smoke house that would cure and smoke all the locals’ pork, decided to close. The smoke house was in the back yard of the owner and the school quidance counselor started working with him and eventually bought the operation. Working at school during the day and the smoke house at night, Allan Benton kept an important local resource open and providing a service so many had come to rely upon.

Although after a few years, Mr. Benton, built a new smoke house and moved out of the back yard of his friend and former owner. But he proclaims over and over again, ‘it’s just a hillbilly operation”.

As the years went by, Mr. Benton grew the business by focusing on what every chef cherishes, good products from the best farmers he could find. Allan created business relationships with farmers of Heritage Breeds of hogs and now works with farmers such as Fudge Farms. Fudge Farms, in Georgia, not only raises heritage breeds of hogs but is also Animal Welfare Approved. “Good food requires good ingredients” says Benton.

As we take our tour, we see racks and racks, made of 2 x 4’s, to hold hams and pork bellies, during the various stages of production. There is no automation, no fork lifts, just people who personally handle each ham and put personal pride into each one.

On each rack is a simple card that states when the ham was first salted, had the second salt applied, when it was smoked, and how long it had been cured. Hams older than a year hang on racks in every nook and cranny. But Mr. Benton took us to the hams that have been curing over 2 years. Try to find a Smithfield Ham that has been cured for over two years!

We had the pleasure of seeing a new batch of hams start the process of being salted, see Mr. Benton’s smoke house and fire box, and talk to him about the reverence so many fine chefs have for his product.

When I asked about buying some of his famous sack sausage, a product he will not ship so one must pick it up in person, he became cautious and concerned. He told us how he “had some for breakfast this morning and it just was not right. I used a new batch of sage and it may not be right”. The Farmer and the Chef each brought some home and thought it was exceptional.

We can assure everyone, that there is no better smoked bacon. It redefines what bacon should be.

The 25 month old cured ham, sliced for prosciutto, creates a heavenly culinary experience. The full hickory smoke flavor is soft and delightful. The “European Style” prosciutto will inspire a chef who has never had the chance to use artisan pork.

The FarmerandChef left with arms full of bacon, prosciutto, and cured hams. The Farmer will never buy bacon in a grocery store again and is already looking for a slicer so that he is never without Benton’s prosciutto.

Check out Benton’s Smoke Country Hams on their website: www.bentonshams.com or better yet, personally visit Mr. Allan Benton and pick up an extra sack sausage for us!

Welcome to The Farmer and The Chef

The Farmer, Dr. Craig Rogers of Border Springs Farm LLC in Patrick Springs, VA, and The Chef, Joshua Smith of Local Roots in Roanoke, VA are teaming together to share experiences and advice on Farmer and Chef collaborations.

Local Roots is a leader in the local food scene in Southwest Virginia under the guidance of executive chef Joshua. Over the years, the Chef has had many wonderful experiences working with inspired farmers who are raising exceptional products. As in any business not all experiences are positive and the Chef also has had lots of experience with bad local food and farmers who just don’t understand the restaurant culture. The Chef will try to pull back the curtains on the mystery of the chef’s world and how to increase a farmer’s chance of making a good first impression.

Border Springs Farm raises sheep and heritage turkeys in the foothills of the Blue Ridge in southern Virginia. The Farmer is presently providing his gourmet quality lamb to some of the finest chefs in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast from Bryan Voltaggio of Volt in Frederick, Maryland, to Jose Andres and Mike Isabella at Zaytinya in Washington, DC, to Sean Brock of McCrady’s in Charleston, SC and Richard Blais of Flip Burger Boutique in Altanta and Birmingham. The life and schedule of a farmer has very little in common with the life and schedule of a chef. The Farmer will share his experiences on how to structure a fine-food business from inside the fences of a working farm.

The FarmerandChef will post regular blog entries but they encourage readers to submit their questions and experiences as well. Every farm is different and every restaurant has its own unique personality, thus, the more experiences we share the more complete the picture will be for those getting started or trying to expand their interactions with restaurants or farmers.

From time to time, the FarmerandChef will visit farms, CSA’s, Farmers’ Markets, restaurants, and other food related businesses. Our first trip together was to Benton’s Smoked Country Hams in Madisonville, NC where we met Mr. Allan Benton and had a tour of his self-proclaimed “hillbilly operation”. What a treat it was and we look forward to sharing with you our impressions.

So, please submit your questions, share your experiences or suggest a farm, restaurant, distillery or other institution devoted to local food that you would like to see the FarmerandChef visit.

We look forward to getting to know you.

Farmer Craig and Chef Joshua