Saturday, August 4, 2012

Alota-Mouth Cattle Co


Foster, RI-- When you arrive at the McCullough’s property, it appears to be more like a forest than a farm. It is cool and shady because of the many towering trees that offer some relief on this 90° day. As you drive up a bit further, there is a big red barn to the left, a replica of the original from 300 years ago, and large spanning pastures on both sides of the driveway. I know I am here to see Alota-Mouth Cattle Co. (AMCC) but the only four-legged animals I can see is a horse and an old German Shorthaired Pointer named Bucky. I am meeting with Ashley McCullough whose parents own the farm. I asked her where all of the cattle are. It turns out they are just casually grazing somewhere out of sight in the field; oh, I think I’m going to like this place.

The McCullough's have been breeding and raising show quality animals for over 40 years. Ashley's father Ron McCullough was involved with 4-H and FFA as a young adult. After a few years off from raising cattle the McCullough's decided it was time to get back in the game when Brent McCullough thought it would be fun to raise a steer. After this experience the family began raising animals again. While Brent is no longer involved, Ron, Helena, Ashley, and Julie McCullough keep the farm going.

The McCullough’s currently raise 12 cows. The cattle have huge pastures to graze on freely that are lined by a historic 17th century stonewall. When Ashley and I found the herd, they were all sitting under the trees keeping cool. They have plenty of room to roam around. In the summer, they spend all of their time outside eating grass and hay. In the winter months, the cattle are kept in paddocks with an unlimited supply of haylage and dry hay. The steers are kept year round in paddocks around the barn and are feed a grain and hay diet. Tending to the cattle is very low maintenance and the cows have always lived in good-health so they never need antibiotics. Ashley explains that as long as they have food and water, they are virtually effortless to take care of.

The McCullough’s cows are more like pets than livestock. Since all of their cows were born and raised on the farm, and shown by Ashley throughout New England, they are very comfortable around people. Some of them even let me pet them! When Ashley walks up to one, they share more of a dog-human relationship than a cattle-human relationship. Each cow has a name and is addressed by it. The cows are treated with respect, not just as a means to a product.

Ashley’s main role at AMCC is the breeding program. When picking sires for the following years calves there are many different traits that she looks for. Some of those traits are, muscling, conformation, style, and calving ease. Once those sires are picked, she matches them with the appropriate cow. All of the breeding done at AMCC is Artificial Insemination (AI). When Ashley first got involved with showing cattle she knew that she wanted her career to be in agriculture. After attending two universities and receiving her Bachelors in Agri-Business Management and Rural Development from West Virginia University she now works at the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association. She is also involved in other Ag organizations such as a variety of breed organizations,  working with 4-H students, judging throughout CT, and selling beef at local farmers markets.

It is only within the past two years that AMCC has started selling their beef locally at farmers markets throughout the state. With the help of her cousin Julie McCullough, AMCC is licensed to sell at markets as well as on the farm. Both Julie and Ashley sell beef every Saturday at the Burriville Farmers Market, and the Scituate Farmers Market. They both enjoy chatting with customers and educating consumers about where their food comes from. Both often invite costumers to come visit the farm to learn about the beef business.

Life is so good here that there are even cattle imposters

The McCullough's firmly believe in supporting local farms, especially in Rhode Island where agriculture is a dying practice. Ashley and Julie hope that AMCC will be able to expand so that they can continue to sell their products at farmers markets, and eventually begin marketing to local restaurants. There is a notably relaxed environment at AMCC Cattle Co. I think that their caring-oriented approach allows for the McCullough’s to raise their livestock in a natural, healthy environment that marches to the beat of nature and not production. As a result, Alota- Mouth Cattle Co is producing beef products that are delicious and “A Head and Rump Above the Rest!”

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Good Eggs Launched!

Hi Friends!
After many hours and never-ending smiles, Good Eggs has launched!!!
Check out and see what the team's been up to!

I am so proud to be part of this incredible team! I encourage you to shop around, send me your feedback, and enjoy the locavore land of plenty!

ps: y'all like Wheat and Tomato?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Went West


It's been awhile, and I sincerely apologize for my absence. However, unlike other times where I slack on posting and attribute it to "too much school work", this time it is very legitimate-at least I think so. I moved back to San Francisco....


I'm not really sure how I pulled this off, but I approached a tech start up called Good Eggs, and asked if I could work/intern for them. To my surprise, they responded. It went a little something like this:

Me in March: Good Eggs! I really like what you're doing can I work for you?

Me in late June: Good Eggs! I'm obsessed with you! Can I come hang out, please please please please?

GE on a Friday: Sure we'll interview you. [interview takes place here] Can you start work on Monday?

Me: No?

Me on the following Thursday: Ok I'll be there Wednesday! I'm on my way!

Obviously that's the over simplified version, but you get the gist. You can call me if you need the details. I had to leave my delightful internship with Red Tomato in pursuit of unprecedented opportunities. I packed my things and booked a one way ticket to San Francisco! I arrived at midnight the day I started work. Ever since it's been non-stop work, jam packed with fun and new learning experiences. I'm particularly psyched to be working for Good Eggs because they are working to cultivate local food systems in a sustainable manner, worldwide. One of their primary focuses is accessibility in all senses of the word. They make accessing local food super convenient. Through Good Eggs, you can have local food delivered to your house or you can pick up local food from several different vendors in one location in your neighborhood.

Here's some other ridiculously awesome things about GE:
I'm learning new skills and facts left and right.
They trust that I had a good brain and give me actual responsibilities and not just "can you make coffee?" (Of note, I've never worked that kind of job).
They personally interact with all of the food producers.
They work in the best interest of small food producers' and local farmers.
They also work in the best interest of the customers (i.e. so far Bay Area folk) and take all of their feedback into consideration.
We have lunch together, family style, every day.
The office consists only of ridiculously brilliant, kind, warm, and funny people.
We have pie every Friday.
We have a napping loft.
Everyone works hard.
I really believe in the company's mission statement, and it feels like an honor to be able to work for such a cool start up.
Almost everyone bikes to work-- I would if I had more confidence in my coordination.

If you want to learn more about where I am devoting all of my time and energy to, check out our website when in launches on July 26th, 2012 and come to our Pig Roast Launch Party on July 26th from 6pm-9pm at the Mission Street Market on Bartlett at 22nd Street.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Simmons Organic Farm

If I own a farm someday, I would want it to be like this...

Note the ocean in the background


Middletown, RI- There are few farms as transparent as Simmons Organic Farm. When I arrived, there had been a miscommunication and they were not expecting me, but Karla was still happy to talk with me while she packaged a new type of crumbly goat cheese she had just made. When we finished chatting, Karla let me walk around the 120-acre farm unaccompanied to take pictures. First I shot some photos of the dairy and fainting goats in the petting zoo by the parking lot. Then I made my way up the hill; my mental map looked a bit like this: Belted Galloway cows to the left, sheep at the crest of the hill, vegetables to the left just before the sheep, pigs a bit further down the hill after it crests, and chickens up the hill and to the right of the pigs. While marching up the hill, I see a mother duck and her three babies; they are not official members of the farm, but given the landscape, it is understandable why they would want to live here. The farm looks like a nature walk. On either side of the path are thick grasses and plants. There is a notable amount of butterflies fluttering around the farm, and there is a soothing chirping sound coming from the tall grasses. Once I surmounted the hill, my jaw-dropped because there was a stunning ocean view; Simmons Organic Farm is quite the spectacle. 

The history of the farm is equally as interesting as the landscape. In 1632, John Coggeshall of Essex, England arrived in Boston and shortly moved south to settle on Aquidneck Island, RI. He was allotted 400 acres and today Simmons Organic Farm is comprised of 120 of these acres. By the mid 1800s, David Coggeshall owned majority of this land and started one of the largest dairy farms in Rhode Island. His daughter Elizabeth married John L. Simmons. Their children and grandchildren maintained the farm through the early and mid twentieth century. In 1988, the grown up grandchildren Alexander Sr. and James decided to sell the farm’s development rights in order to preserve the farm for future generations. Brian and Karla, who currently run the farm, took over in 2000. They grew up together as high school sweet hearts and moved back onto the family farm while Brian’s grandparents were still working there. Over a three-year span Brian and Karla became more and more involved on the farm. One day, Brian’s grandparents gave Brian and Karla ownership of the farm, and they have been running it together ever since. 

Will faint for food
From the time that they started working on the farm, Brian and Karla knew that they wanted to make the farm certified organic. After three transition years, they became organic certified in 2004. They are very happy with this decision. Karla is aware of the growing consumer preference for local and organic produce and meat. She is glad that her farm is able to offer both of these things. Simmons Organic Farm continues to grow in success. This year they have over 300 members in their CSA; they usually have 40. Brian and Karla have also seen a recent increase in the number of visitors to their petting zoo.

There are many different operations occurring on the farm. Simmons Organic Farm raises Belted Galloway beef cows. They chose this heritage breed because the cows have a thicker mane, which allows them to stay outside year round, with the exception of blizzards. They are 100% grass fed and spend all of their time in spacious pastures. They also raise red Tamworth pigs, which are a heritage breed of pigs known for their hardiness. The pigs were in a large pen that had many trees and shady spots inside of it. The hogs and piglets were happily running around and rolling in the dirt when I saw them. Simmons Organic Farm also has pastured raised poultry and eggs. They also have a mobile poultry house. When I visited, one chicken had bravely escaped then pen, although she was hesitant to stray far from the others. For a brief minute I thought the Simmons had a small poultry flock, and then I realized that this was an optical illusion and that the chickens just had a ton of space. They also have 50 dairy goats and about 20 sheep. They donate the wool to the Rhody Warm Project and sell the meat.

This is also a biodynamic farm. The animals are used to reduce pests on the farm. Since pesticides cannot be used on organic farms, the Simmons get creative with how to keep unwanted visitors off of their plants. In the fall and early winter, the cows are moved to the vegetable plots to eat the extra produce. Chickens follow after the cows and eat the stems, stalks, and insect larvae left by the cows. This method reduces the amount of returning insects for the next year. Karla notes that they have not had many problems with pests as a result of this practice.

A new exciting product Simmons Organic Farm now offers is goat cheese! Karla has been experimenting with making goat cheese for several years. Only in 2011 did she begin selling it at markets and distributing it in the CSA. Once they determined that the goat cheese production was a feasible plan, they received a grant from the USDA Farm Service Agency to build their cheese operation. They built the structure on the farm near the famous petting zoo. They now have a large cheese making and processing vessel that enables her to make 600 containers of cheese per week. Karla has been experimenting with different types of goat cheese. Currently offered at farmers’ markets is a delicious chevre, which comes in many different flavors ranging from herbs de Provence to Chipotle. When I visited, Karla was packaging a new type cheese, a goat cheese crumble, flavored with herbs de Provence or garlic.  She also hopes to start making feta soon.  The goat cheese project has been very successful and I highly recommend buying some for yourself at the farmers’ market.

Speaking with Karla and Brian was an absolute pleasure. They seem in touch with the current markets and aware of how unique and progressive their farm is. Karla loves working here because it always feels like she is doing something new and different on the farm. She also likes the idea of providing food for her family as well as 300 other families in the area. Karla explains that at Simmons Organic Farm, they “try to do things the right way. We try to be good stewards to our land and to our animals because they provide us lots.” Brian appreciates the farm just as much. When I met him on the hilltop, he told me about how sometimes he forgets about how lucky he is to own such a wonderful farm. But then he’ll be working, look up and see the sunset over the pastures looking onto the ocean and feel like the luckiest guy in the world. All are welcome to visit Simmons Organic Farm and petting zoo, and if you cannot make the trip down, they sell at several farmers markets and to Market Mobile so that anyone can have the joy of eating the food they produce.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

This I Believe Essay

In my class Leadership Theory and Practice, one of our final assignments was to write and submit an essay to "This I Believe". I never heard back, but isn't that one of the reasons why I have a blog? To share my writing and thoughts?

I couldn't think of an appetizing compost picture,
 so here's a hen at Simmon's Organic Farm.

The Benefits of National Composting

Growing up in San Francisco, California, composting was always the norm. Just like all San Franciscans, my family put our green bins out on the curb for pick-up along side our blue and black bins. When I started college four years ago in Massachusetts, it was an adjustment to suddenly throw away food waste and paper towels that at home were composted by the city. When potentially compostable items are thrown out, they still decompose, but the nutrients from the waste are inaccessible if they are in a landfill.  It felt profligate to dispose of items that could have been composted and eventually used on farms as a natural fertilizer. It felt like an interruption to a self- sustaining cycle of growth, nourishment, and decay.

I decided to start my own compost program, modeled after San Francisco’s, which emphasizes ease for participants. Every Friday, I drive around campus and collect seventy- five individuals’ compostable items and empty the five-gallon trash bags into thirteen cubic feet composters. The paper towels and paper plates mixed with the food scraps create a balanced recipe for the compost. All of the unused nutrients left in the peels of oranges, the shells of eggs, and the weeds pulled from the garden break down into nutrient-rich soil. I stir the compost as if it was a slow cooked stew, but in this case I have to wait sixty days to enjoy the finished product instead of six hours.  At the end, there are several pounds of nutrient-rich compost that I can use to grow food or sell for a profit. The most astounding part of my job is that the entire collecting and stirring process takes one hour of my time a week.

I believe in composting on a national level. Farmers and farmland would benefit because they would have a natural source of topsoil. Our current farming practices deplete topsoil faster than it regenerates. If the United States composted on a national scale, we could possibly generate enough compost to replenish the necessary nutrient levels in the soil, avoid oligotrophic soil conditions, and the use of synthetic fertilizers. In addition, nation-wide composting would decrease our countries’ contributions to landfills and greenhouse gas emissions while creating more jobs. We have the resources and tools to compost on a national scale while increasing our nation’s food security, keeping food prices down, and decreasing our contribution to landfills and to climate change if we do so.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Field of Bacon

I made a Twitter
Follow me @fieldofbacon
I’ll post recipes, pics, books, funny retweets
If you bakin', they will come

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dzen Farms Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Photos by Benner Boswell

It is a strange day when you find yourself with too many strawberries. I don't mean a two-pint massive container from Costco. I don't mean when you buy bland California strawberries that don't taste good enough to eat, so you have too many and too many that are going bad.

I mean 8 quarts of freshly picked strawberries from Dzen Farm in South Windsor, CT. We are talking EIGHT QUARTS of unbelievably sweet and juicy strawberries. These are the best strawberries I have ever had. It's not just my bias towards local farms either. I took a quart to my best friend's graduation party and several of her relatives agreed that they were the best strawberries ever.

Back to the point: What do you do with that many strawberries?
Answer: Make Strawberry Rhubarb Pie!

Recipe to come but here are a few starting tips:

1) Julia Child's Paté Brisée dough recipe + 2 tablespoons of sugar (in the dough) (Flour, vegetable shortening, butter, sugar, salt, ice water)
2) One quart of native strawberries (Dzen Farms)
3) 3 pieces of rhubarb, chopped
4)White Sugar
5) Brown Sugar
6) Corn Starch
7) Salt
8) 1 egg white wash (on the crust)

Photo by Benner Boswell