Thursday, November 16, 2017

Food News: Farm Bill Reboot; Edible Portland Expires

Today Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer is hosting a broad range of experts and stakeholders for a forum titled “A Call for Reform: Fix the Farm Bill,” that focuses on the need to create a more visionary, equitable and cost-effective farm bill. The forum features Michael Pollan (top photo, center), author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, who is delivering the keynote, followed by a panel discussion with a group of policy experts to discuss their ideas for the reform that he's calling The Food and Farm Act.

In an interview about his re-envisioned farm bill on the website Civil Eats, the congressman said that "we continue to pay too much to the wrong people to grow the wrong food in the wrong places" and that he's working to reform subsidies to support innovation and small-to-midsize farmers rather than large corporate agribusinesses.

As he told Good Stuff NW in an interview earlier this year, he's building a coalition of consumers, farmers and non-profits to provide "support for protecting the environment, water quality, habitat [and] things that help the farmer and have broader social and economic benefit. The big issue is that all the attention and subsidy is skewed toward things that don’t need it, and shortchanges things that do, upon which we’re heavily reliant."

One unique element of his efforts is a comic book, "The Fight for Food: Why You Deserve a Better Farm Bill," that explains why the Farm Bill matters to people who care about their food and talks about how they can get involved.

Read my interview with Rep. Blumenauer, part of "The Future of Our Food" series. Photo courtesy Rep. Earl Blumenauer's office.

* * *

Sad news came today that Alex Corcoran, owner and publisher of Edible Portland magazine, has announced that the magazine will cease publication after the current November/December issue.

Corcoran bought the magazine last year after Ecotrust, which had owned the publication since its inception in 2006, decided to cease publication after the Spring 2015 issue and put it up for sale. At the time that Corcoran bought it, Eric Thorkilsen, then-CEO of Edible Media, said, "Alex has a great track record of success managing Edible publications, starting with Edible Rhody [Edible Rhode Island] and continuing with Edible Seattle. His capacity to immerse himself in the local food community—forming solid relationships with small businesses and attracting a devoted readership—suggests a great future for Edible Portland."

The first edition under Corcoran's leadership was the September, 2016, issue. An ad for the sale of the magazine has appeared recently, listing a price of $95,000.

Read my first (and apparently last) article for Edible Portland, "Big Milk: Big Issues for Local Communities."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Green Bean Casserole, Redux

I just realized that Thanksgiving is next week, not two or three weeks in the future as I had somehow convinced myself. Luckily I contacted my turkey connection this last week, congratulating myself for being so ahead of the game. (Oops!) So now the long list of possible sides is being compiled, to be added to the "must haves" of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and pie, and the voting and deal-making is getting fierce. Real Good Food contributor Jim Dixon's recipe for reconstructed green bean casserole, using still-in-season foraged chanterelles, is high on the list.

Green Bean "Casserole"

I can't eat the old school version anymore, but I came up with this homage that provides the same flavors but tastes much better. If you can get chanterelles, use them, but any mushrooms will work.

Slice a pound of mushrooms and put them in a skillet with some salt but no added fat [or oil] over medium high heat. The mushrooms will start giving up water right away, and you want to cook them in their own juices until it's almost gone before adding a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. (If we're having the usual November weather, chanterelles can be very wet, and this technique concentrates the flavor and improves the texture. It also works with most mushrooms.)

After you add the oil, add a finely chopped shallot and a good shot of dry sherry (a good fino is perfect). Let that bubble away for a few minutes, then add a pound of green beans that you've cooked in boiling, salted water for 3 minutes and drained. Pour in about a half cup of heavy cream, bring to a boil, and cook for a maybe 5 minutes or until the cream has thickened and the beans are tender. Adjust the salt, add some black pepper if you feel like it, and serve topped with crispy fried onions from a can (Lars is a Danish brans sold at New Seasons that's better then the ubiquitous French's). You could make your own or substitute bread crumbs or nuts, but I think some kind of crunchy topping is required. Have a great Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Farm Bulletin: The Roots of Ayers Creek Farm

The following post was written by contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm for Big Picture Agriculture, an excellent blog about trends and developments in agriculture, food and farming.

"Anthony Boutard, born in Massachusetts, grew an early appreciation for plants from his father who was a renowned botanist. Educated as a biologist with a graduate degree in Forestry, Anthony and his wife Carol moved out to Oregon in the early 1990s for Anthony to work with a company called 1000 Friends of Oregon, which focuses on land use and landscape preservation. After a few years in Portland, Anthony and Carol decided to take up farming and purchased a 144-acre working farm out in Gaston, about 30 miles from the city. Their philosophy is simple: to grow what tastes good and does well on their land."

The photos below are "lantern slides" taken c.1900 in a beautifully rugged region of Switzerland. Anthony assumes that the photos were taken by his Danish great-grandfather, Ernest Boutard, an engineer who had a patent partnership in Copenhagen, but whose heart was at home in the mountains. He studied at the Polytechnic in Zürich. His grandmother's family was from Graubünden, Switzerland.

[Anthony provided the captions to go with the photos. Click on a photo to see a full size version.]

The reckoning after the cheese has aged in a family cheese-making operation. The Appenzell produces a very fine aged cow’s milk cheese available in most cheese shops today. [Anthony notes: "The cheeses of Switzerland remain exceptional because they still adhere to the practice of moving the herds to the high pastures where the lactating cows graze on the alpine flora, the same intensely flavored vegetation used to produce the amaros (kräuterlikörs), bitter liqueurs that I savor as much as the cheeses."]

Celebrating the ascent of the village’s livestock to the high, summer pastures. Following tradition still extant today, that procession is led by children and Appenzeller goats, a hornless breed of the region. The three lead cows bear large, harmonized ceremonial bells, sounding three different notes, for the occasion. These are not practical for grazing. The regular bells worn by the grazing cows are much smaller and lighter, made of plain steel. The leather collar is heavier than the bell. The man leading the cows carries a milking bucket on his shoulder per tradition. (Note that the man in the center is not in the celebratory finery, and other cows are wandering about, not part of the procession.) [Anthony notes: "It was striking to see the modern Appenzeller parade where the choreography is unchanged over the course of a century."]

Harvesting wine grapes, most likely in the canton Ticino. Note the tile roof on the buildings. Ticino, bordering Italy, is the mildest region of Switzerland.

A building for storing grains. The flat rocks between the granary and its supports keep rodents from entering the stores. Yes, that is the Matterhorn in the background.

Flowering chestnuts growing in the canton Valais. The chestnuts were called the "bread of the poor," providing sustenance in challenging times and circumstances. Roasted or boiled when fresh, they were also dried and ground to make a flour for polenta and baking.

Milking goats in a high summer pasture, as well as goats being goats as is their wont. This was taken either in the canton Appenzell or Graubünden (Grisons). These are the progenitors of what is known today as the Grisons Striped goat, a tough mountain breed at home in sparse rocky pastures.

Pausing at a shrine on the way to bringing milk from the high, summer pasture. Likely canton Valais in the southern part of the country. Raclette is its signature cheese, though many types are produced in the region. (The mountains in the background remind me of the Dents du Midi.)

Service in a mountain community, probably in the Appenzell. The 19th century saw the depopulation of rural Swiss communities. Some to other European cities, like my great great-grandfather who left his small village in Graubünden and learned to make pianos in Cologne, Germany, ultimately settling in Zürich. Others immigrated to the Americas. There are people of Swiss descent from Argentina to Canada. At the height of the exodus, during the 1880s some 82,000 migrated to the U.S. Towns named Bern, Helvetia, and Glarus, names which betray their Swiss roots.

Thanks to Big Picture Agriculture and Anthony Boutard for allowing me to share this essay.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Big Milk: Big Issues for Local Communities

Giant factory farms are moving to Oregon, bringing with them concerns about our rural communities, the environment, and how we want to grow our economy, as well as challenging long-held traditions of our state’s agriculture as one based on small, family-scale farms. This is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Edible Portland magazine (full article here).

It’s important to respect “the cow-ness of the cow,” says Oregon dairyman Jon Bansen, a member of the farmer-owned cooperative Organic Valley. He's quoting sustainable farm guru Joel Salatin in explaining what differentiates his pasture-raised cows from those living their lives in closed buildings on a factory farm.

Monmouth dairy farmers Jon and Juli Bansen.

“It turns out that some things get more efficient with size, but biology doesn’t,” he says of the large mega-dairies that have taken up residence near the small Columbia River town of Boardman at the east end of the Columbia River Gorge. “To be standing on concrete, fed high levels of grain, treated like a widget instead of a biological being—it shortens their lifespan.”

Animal welfare isn’t the only reason to worry about mega-dairies. Another cost of these giant factory farms is to Oregon’s small dairies. In 2001, mega-dairy Threemile Canyon Farms, a 70,000-cow facility near Boardman, began supplying milk to the Tillamook County Creamery Association’s manufacturing plant nearby. One of the results of this move was that an average of nine family-owned Oregon dairy farms went out of business each month between 2002 and 2007.

Why did this happen?

“Mega-dairies flood the market with milk, driving down milk prices and making it increasingly difficult for family farmers to stay afloat,” Bansen wrote in an editorial in the Salem Statesman Journal.

Mega-dairies also degrade the lives of local communities. Bansen wrote that “the ways in which family dairy farmers and mega-dairies contribute to a community are drastically different. When something breaks, family farmers typically buy parts from the local store. When their animals need veterinary attention, they call the local vet. They support their feed stores, tractor-supply stores, and more. After a hard day on the farm, family farmers often engage in their community, schools, civic groups, and churches.”

Bansen emphasized that employees at mega-dairies have neither the time nor the money to spend in their communities because of low wages and the long hours demanded of them. And any equipment needed at the dairy is bought from the cheapest (mostly non-local) sources, and profits are sent off to corporate, often out-of-state, offices.

Waste and Groundwater

To give an idea of how large these mega-dairies are, all you have to do is refer to their corporate websites. Threemile Canyon’s cows—consisting of 25,000 milk cows, 30,000 replacement heifers, 7,000 steers, and an 8,000-calf nursery—produce 165,000 gallons of milk per day. If you look at a satellite view of the property, you see that the buildings the cows live in are so vast that employees have to drive to get from one end to the other.

Waste runoff at Threemile Canyon.

The amount of waste that these 70,000 cows produce is also mind-boggling—estimates are around 436 million gallons of liquid manure every year. One of the several open-air, double-lined waste pits, called lagoons, covers more than 20 acres. While these large facilities have permits for discharging waste under the Clean Water Act, a state statute (ORS 468B-025) prohibits any of it from entering “waters of the state.”

“It says in very broad terms that no person in Oregon shall place or cause to be placed waste where it may enter waters of the state by any means,” says Wym Matthews, fertilizer program manager of the Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) for the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA). “There’s the broad thought in Oregon that folks should be responsible and not allow material they are managing—waste or not—to get into the waters and cause a problem.”

In other states, leaks from lagoons have endangered the drinking water of cities that rely on rivers as a water source, and manure from the spills has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of fish in waterways. Recently, a major liquid manure spill from a dairy operation in the Tillamook area caused the closure of Tillamook Bay due to contamination from fecal coliform, which had a significant economic impact on commercial oyster growers in the area.

The thing that worries Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers (FoFF), an organization that supports socially and environmentally responsible family-scale agriculture in Oregon, is that much of the reporting and monitoring is left up to the operations themselves.

Cow standing in waste at Threemile Canyon.

“The reality is that it’s not possible for there to be no discharge at all, so it’s a bit of an aspirational permit, if you will,” Maluski says. “They often rely on the CAFOs themselves to report a problem because [ODA inspectors] visit them typically once a year. Or, if someone says, ‘Hey they’re spreading manure out there, and it looks like it’s going in the creek’ on a Saturday, if ODA can’t get out there until Monday, they might not see anything.”

And now that another mega-dairy—30,000-cow Lost Valley Farm, just 30 miles from the Threemile Canyon operation—has received a permit from the ODA, farm organizations like FoFF and the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project (SRAP), as well as consumer protection groups like the Center for Food Safety (CFS), are on high alert.

The land occupied by these two factory farms is one of three sites in Oregon designated as a Groundwater Management Area (GWMA), so named because nitrate concentrations in many area groundwater samples exceed the federal safe drinking water standard. “What’s so concerning about putting another mega-dairy in an existing groundwater management area is that the Lower Umatilla Basin was designated in the ’90s as a place where there were already too many nitrates in the water—water people use for drinking,” says Amy van Saun, an attorney for CFS. “This is only going to make it worse.”

Wym Matthews doesn’t disagree. “I would describe the groundwater-monitoring well data from the Lower Umatilla GWMA as mixed,” he says. “There are some wells that are staying stagnant and not getting better or worse, some that are getting better, and some that are getting worse.”

Open-air waste lagoon at Threemile Canyon.

Asked how the ODA could issue a permit in such a sensitive area, Matthews says that the only way a permit could be issued is if the agencies believe that the permit is restrictive enough so that if there was discharge, it would violate the discharge standard. For Lost Valley, the department has set the discharge standard at zero.

“How can the state say yes to [Lost Valley Farm], which is clearly going to add a risk of nitrates leaching into the groundwater, when you’ve already got an area that’s impaired and not getting any better?” Maluski asks. “When they were digging their manure lagoons for that facility, they actually hit groundwater at 10 feet, so they had to get a special water right to pump groundwater away from their lagoons. It’s just absurd. Obviously, they’re going to have a couple of liners, but if those liners fail, you’ve got a very serious direct contamination of the groundwater.”

Emissions and Air Pollution

As many restrictions as there are related to the potential release of waste from these industrial farms into groundwater and nearby waters, there are no such restrictions on the very real emissions that are released into the air. Nearly a decade ago, the Oregon legislature passed a bill to address air emissions from these mega-dairies. Called the Oregon Dairy Air Quality Task Force, it was comprised of stakeholders from across the political spectrum, including representatives from government, academic institutions, the dairy industry, and public interest groups.

Warning sign at a confined facility.

The task force studied the current scientific literature relating to air pollutants, such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter emitted by these operations.

“Ten years ago, that task force came up with some really strong recommendations for how the state could move forward with some rules around air quality in order to get ahead of the problem of these operations coming in and having a lack of regulations to mitigate emissions,” says Kendra Kimbirauskas, a member of the task force and the current CEO of SRAP. “And 10 years later, none of those recommendations went anywhere despite the fact that it was a consensus list of recommendations.”

Kimbirauskas says that at SRAP, which works across the country with communities that are directly impacted by factory farms, she’s seen what these operations do to rural communities. “It’s just like every other extractive industry,” she says, comparing factory farms to extraction industries like mining and industrial timber that threaten forests and wild lands.

“This is the same model with a different face,” Kimbirauskas continues. “It’s the idea that these out-of-state companies or corporations can come in, and they can call themselves family farms. But you can put lipstick on a cow, and it’s still a factory farm cow. They come in, and they’re extracting local resources. They’re extracting the water, they’re extracting the local wealth, and they’re sending it off to faraway places. They’re externalizing all of their costs of production, first and foremost, on the local community, on the local environment, and on the state.

“If we’re not careful, and we’re not paying attention to these issues now,” she warns, “by the time it does become in our face, it’s going to be too late, and what we love about Oregon agriculture and the local farm economy will be threatened.”

Read the rest of the article raising questions about the "closed loop" systems at these mega-dairies and the fears of local governments that their hands are tied when it comes to the siting of these large industrial facilities in their communities.

Top photo from the East Oregonian. Photo of Bansens from Organic Valley Co-operative. Photos of Threemile Canyon Farms from Friends of Family Farmers.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Guest Essay: Haunted in Port Townsend

It's the eve of All Hallows Eve—Halloween to you trick-or-treaters out there—and I thought it might be  an appropriate moment to share this story by my friend, freelance writer and travel blogger Laurie Harquail, who wrote about a very unusual experience she had on a visit to one of my favorite destinations, Port Townsend, Washington.

Chapter One: Arrival

It was not a dark and stormy night.

In fact, it was the longest day of the year, and I had taken a Summer Solstice jaunt to the historic seaside town of Port Townsend, staying in what appeared to be a charming Victorian hotel on the main drag.

The lovely setting of this tale.

After a four-and-a-half hour drive, I walked into the main lobby of The Palace Hotel—sun blazing a trail in the late summer afternoon sky—and immediately asked the front desk clerk, Bob, “Are you going to tell me this hotel is haunted?”

And why did I blurt out this odd question? Because the main lobby had a strange kind of filmy feeling—as if a layer of gauze or a veil was laid over it.

Before I continue, I must digress. I have stayed in numerous “historic” B&Bs by myself, both here and abroad. I had also been in countless older homes for my previous job at Rejuvenation—and I have never encountered a place quite like this.

OK, now back to the story.

In regard to my question, Bob gives a nervous chuckle and tells me the hotel “does have an interesting past” as a seaport brothel. In a half-hearted attempt at transparency, he offers me the hotel’s “binder” which contains guest reviews.

For reasons I can’t fully explain (the reoccurring theme of the weekend) I tell Bob I’m not up for the binder, and that I’d prefer to remain objective. Bob then asks if I’d mind paying up front. And again, for reasons I can’t fully explain, I tentatively hand over my credit card and commit to my stay.

Chapter Two: Settling In

I follow Bob as he scurries up the main staircase which is presided over by a large portrait, "The Lady in Blue," and he plants my small suitcase in Room 4, Miss Claire’s room.

Miss Claire's room.

Despite its tawdry past, Miss Claire’s room is airy and bright. I enter, but immediately freeze in my tracks. The vibe overwhelms me. It feels like something is in the room—but I can’t see it. More specifically, it feels like a patch of sad energy gently hovering overhead—kind of like an invisible, clinically depressed blimp.

My first instinct is to bolt, but after a few minutes of self-talk ("There is NOTHING WRONG with this room, Laurie.") I decide to stay. To get the weekend off to the right start, I send “the presence” a telepathic greeting (no joke). Something to the effect of “Hey Miss Claire, you seem kind of down, and I’m sorry about that, and I know this is your room, and I’ll be a really good roommate."

I hit the telepathic “send” button and start to unpack.

Usually, for work purposes, I would take pictures in a historic hotel, but I decide not to use my camera (or for that matter, turn on the TV), fearing the camera flash or electronic devices might trigger a paranormal event. (Again, no joke).

And now, I am truly beginning to grasp the Victorian concept of "going mad."

“Shake it off,” I tell myself. I pull myself back from the brink, buck up and head out to dinner. After a lovely meal and a healthy dose of wine at The Silverwater Café, I head back to Room 4. With the table lamp on, I go to sleep. Thankfully, the night is uneventful.

Chapter Three: Things Get a Little Lively

Saturday morning arrives, and summer light floods the room early. “How ironic," I think. “My own little version of 'The Shining.'" I get up and do a gut check on the room. I feel Miss Claire is not present. Perhaps she’s out running errands. (Do ghosts run errands?)

The Lady in Blue.

I head out for a normal day of sightseeing, and make sure to leave the room extra tidy, thinking that if Miss Claire moves anything while I’m out, I’ll be able to tell. I return later that afternoon after an invigorating bike ride to Fort Worden. The room feels normal. I breathe a sigh of relief and relax, then start to get ready to go out for an early dinner. Although, at this point, I'm trying my best to apply makeup while NOT looking in the mirror since I know from childhood slumber parties that mirrors and apparitions go hand-in-hand. (Mary Worth, are you listening?)

And wouldn’t you know! While primping, the closed door to my room pops open—in that scary movie kind of way—creaky sound effect and all. “Hmmmm…” I think to myself. “Pretty sure that was closed." I shrug it off and attribute it to an old building with old locks. I continue to blindly apply mascara, when suddenly I feel something behind me.

So now, I break out in goose bumps, quickly brush my hair and leave. “She’s back." I think, “So I’ll just let her have the room to herself for a few hours.”

I fear I am starting to lose it.

Dinner is another lovely meal at the the Silverwater, washed down with two very large glasses of wine. After taking in some live music and knocking back another stiff drink, I feel fortified and ready to return to Miss Claire’s room. “One more night,” I say to myself.

It’s still twilight when I return, but I decide to turn in early. I switch on the table lamp, get into bed, pull the covers over my head and hope for the best. I drift off.

Fast forward a few hours. I’m sound asleep—that is, until the locked door once again mysteriously pops open. I sit bolt upright in bed, and say loudly, “Hello? Hello?” No answer. I walk to the open door and look out into the still-lit hall. I see nothing.

And then I have a funny thought—an epiphany of sorts. I realize that I don’t really WANT to see anything. I’m tired of this ghost stuff, and I am now more annoyed with, than scared of, Miss Claire. She reminds me of so many of roommates from days past, stumbling in late on a Saturday night, probably drunk, but meaning no harm.

At least she didn’t bring home a guy.


Sunday morning arrives, bright and sunny! My first thought of the day is, “I’m getting the hell out of here." I skip the shower (no more creepy bathroom for me), quickly pack up and say goodbye to Miss Claire. This time I speak out loud, for I am no longer in denial about her existence.

But before I go, I do review “the binder” which is chock full of experiences similar to mine—and then some. I also learn that legend has it Miss Claire was engaged to be married, but was jilted by a sailor who left her at the dock. Her never-used wedding gown was stashed in a trunk found in Room 4.

I hit the road. By the time I’m in Tacoma, I realize I've spent the weekend with a broken-hearted ghost, and have a full-blown case of the heebie-jeebies. For closure, I call Front Desk Bob when I get home and tell him my tale. Bob confirms that my story is “consistent with other events” at the hotel. I guess that’s paranormal-speak for this stuff goes on all the time.

As for me, I still sleep with a light on.

Read more stories from Laurie's travels around the Northwest at her blog, Venture Out. Read my story about a delicious and delightful weekend I spent in Port Townsend—sans ghosts, broken-hearted or otherwise. Photos from Palace Hotel and KOMO News.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

A Way (or Two) with Brussels Sprouts

Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food loves to burn his food. Not to a crisp, but to crispy, taking advantage of the Maillard reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor. In the recipe below he applies to one of my favorite fall vegetables, brussels sprouts.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts Two Ways

I think the key to keeping these little cabbages delicious is cooking them over high heat. They brown nicely and get tender without becoming mushy. Use a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, and plenty of extra virgin olive oil. Here are two different recipes, both starting with the same stove-top approach.

Cut a pound sprouts into quarters lengthwise. Some of the outer leaves may come off, but keep them with the quartered sprouts. Let the oil heat over medium-high for about a minute, then add the sprouts. Stir frequently and cook until the sprouts have browned nicely on all sides. I like mine fairly dark, right at the edge of being burnt, so I cook them for about 15 minutes.

1) With Stoneground Mustard

I learned this from Jason French (chef-owner at Ned Ludd) and David Padbergwhen they cooked at clarklewis here in Portland. I've adapted it a little, but the flavor is still the same.

After the sprouts are browned, add a chopped onion, a healthy pinch of salt, and cook for another 10 minutes. Stir in about a quarter cup (more is better than less) of stoneground mustard. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, taste for salt, and serve.

2) With Honey & Sage

When the sprouts are caramelized, add a chopped red onion, a healthy pinch of salt, and about 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh sage (maybe 8-10 leaves, depending on the size). Cook for about 10 minutes, then add about one tablespoon each of honey and Katz Trio red wine vinegar. Cook another minute, adjust the salt, and serve.

And check out this recipe for a Brussels Sprouts Salad.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Cooking with Kids: Bake Cookies!

My nephew had a day off from school and his parents had asked, somewhat apologetically, if I might be able to babysit him for the day. This is a kid I've been in love with since the day he was born; whether its some "grandma gene" that switched on the minute I saw him or his own little magnetic personality, I can't get enough of him. Smart, funny, insightful, delightful…here, let me show you his picture…

Yes, it's that bad.

So a whole cloudy-rainy-Northwest-fall day to hang out seemed the perfect opportunity to bake together. I had been thinking of making cookies with him, and one of my favorite cookies at his age—any age, to be truthful—were snickerdoodles, with their sugar cookie-coated-in cinnamon taste, soft-rather-than-hard texture and heavenly smell. Plus at seven (he'd correct me, saying, "Seven-and-a-half, Auntie!") he now has the manual dexterity to be able to gently roll the little balls of dough without squishing them into globby lumps.

It also gave us the opportunity to talk about a little family history, since we were using my mother's recipe, written in her own hand, and to talk about what it was like growing up making cookies with her. I had to explain what "tsp." and "Tbsp." meant, and talk about how many "1/4 tsp." would fit into "1 tsp." (math!), and there were the inevitable requests to taste the dough between additions of sugar, butter, flour and eggs.

The recipe makes almost five dozen small cookies and the whole process took a little more than two hours, just about a perfect amount of time for his age, and the reward of those soft, cinnamon-scented cookies may just bring him back to make more.


1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. margarine, softened (or shortening)
1 1/2 c. sugar plus 2 Tbsp.
2 eggs
2 3/4 c. flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400°.

In a stand mixer, cream the butter and shortening together, about 2 minutes on medium-high. Add 1 1/2 c. sugar and eggs and beat into butter mixture for another 2 minutes.

In small mixing bowl combine flour, cream of tartar, soda and salt. Add flour mixture to shortening mixture 1/2 cup at a time, beating slowly at first until combined before adding the next half-cup. Chill the dough for one hour.

While dough chills, mix together 2 Tbsp. sugar and 2 tsp. cinnamon in a flat bowl. When dough is chilled, roll into balls the size of walnuts, then roll each ball to coat in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place 2" apart on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned but still soft, 8-10 minutes.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Farm Bulletin: A Proper Scolding

A previous post extolling the value of greens on root vegetables prompted contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm to pen this (gentle) scolding. Message received, sir.

As a traditionally schooled market farmer—my father grew and delivered vegetables to the great Covent Garden Market all through the Battle of Britain and regaled his children with lore of the old market and its vendors—I was amused to see you perpetuating the “leave the tops on root vegetables” myth. This practice leads to a decline in the root’s quality, flavor and texture, even in short-term storage.

The reason is biological. When plants are out of the sunlight, they must still keep the leaf blade tissues alive, which requires energy and moisture. Maintaining the tops in the absence of sunlight means that sugars and nutrients are moved from the root to support the leaves, and water as well, as part of the respiration process. In fact, the leaves will pump out more moisture through respiration than a severed stem, that’s their job. That is why celery is stored with its leaves trimmed, leaving just the stalks, assuring a longer storage life. The roots with their herbage attached may “look fresher” but the leaves are actually consuming the root before you do.

Flavor and texture of the roots are determined by tasting a sample, not beholding the pretty greens. Bear in mind variety and culture are the most important determinants of quality, and many roots actually develop their flavors in storage, belying the notion that a “fresh" root is the better vegetable. Roots harvested after the frost will taste sweeter. Varieties with rattiest looking greens in the field can have spectacular flavor; there is no correlation between "fresh looking" leaves of the plant and the quality of its root. Verdant greens on a carrot may be an indicator of over-use of nitrogen rather than a healthy plant per se.

Traditional gardeners and farmers knew this fact going back at least to Pliny, based on simple observation even in the absence of a firm grasp of the biological processes involved. The discerning vendors at Covent Garden would have summarily rejected Cecil’s roots if they were delivered with a messy bunch of useless herbage attached. For historical perspective, the Baroque still life painter Juan Sanchez Cotán, and the market scenes of Pieter Aertsen (top illustration) and Joachim Beuckelaer from the 16th century, show the root vegetables properly trimmed to a short stalk. They were painting from life and felt no compunction to pretty up the roots with lush greens.

At market, we always sold our roots with tops trimmed to 1/2”, or about 14mm, of stalk. No one ever complained about freshness and in cool weather the roots stored nicely on the back stoop for weeks. The notorious “woody core” only results when the top of the root is removed. This leads to desiccation of the root’s core. A hard trim is often used for parsnips because the sap in the tops causes a nasty rash when the skin is exposed to sunlight (phytophotodermititus). To avoid any risk, some farmers trim them back too hard. For the customer the sap isn’t a problem because it dries and seals the stalk. The other vegetable commonly cut back to the root is the rutabaga because the tops rot and have an awful stench. To keep rutabagas from drying out, they are often coated in wax.

Regarding the value of the greens attached to the root, this is another glorious bit of 21st century goofiness. The greens associated with roots are just not in the same league, from a culinary or nutritional perspective, as those of the same vegetables bred for their greens. The development of a bifurcated vegetable selection, for example, knob celery and pascal celery, beet and chard, turnip and rapa/raab, rutabaga and cabbage, root chicory and heading chicory, root parsley and leaf parsley, Florence fennel and non-bulbing fennel, are a testament to this understanding extending back millennia. I always think its funny when people think they have discovered something that was missed in 3,000 years of food development and breeding that have formed the vegetable selection we enjoy today.

And regarding all the scolding about food waste that has proliferated of late in the food press, the best practice is to field trim the roots and leave the tops for nature. They belong in the farmer’s field where they continue to provide food and shelter. The superfluous greens and stems are only wasted if they are removed from the farm. Our daughter wryly notes that serving up the greens from root vegetables is the culinary equivalent of wearing a hair shirt to display virtue. She cringes when friends proclaim they are serving greens that would otherwise have gone into the compost. Many years ago I noted the importance of leaving excess crops in the field where they are valuable as a supplement to a cover crop. [See Ayersini's translation of Carolystra and Antonocoles, from the respected Gastonian Folio. - KAB] There are real issues of food waste, but serving greens best left in the field is a hollow virtue. A good green grocer should be trusted enough that the flashy and ill-advised show of “toppery" is unnecessary. It is, in fact, even a bit déclassé, dare I say.

Incidentally, the restaurants always thank us for the careful job we do trimming our roots and fennel. Chefs are happy to glean value from a delivery, but they hate paying for and disposing of compostable herbage that should have been left at the farm. The custom of displaying roots and bulbs with their tops has become entrenched in the last 20 years or so as an aesthetic gesture, probably an artifact of the proliferation of famers’ markets, but it runs counter to science with respect to food quality. Someday, perhaps, the scientifically validated wisdom of my father and the vendors he sold to at Covent Garden, and Aertsen's women of the Flemish vegetable markets carefully tending their goods, will return.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Fighting Invasive Species One Bite at a Time

I know, I know…just the word "invasive species" makes you shudder, right? Visions of monstrous, deformed aberrations don't generally sound like something you want to find on your plate, much less put in your mouth or serve to guests.

The Purple Varnish or Savoury clam.

But rest assured, gentle reader, that, in this case, the invasive species in question is simply just the wrong creature in the wrong place. Known as nuttalia obscurata, the Purple Varnish clam or just Varnish clam—sometimes marketed as the more delicious-sounding Savoury clam—was most likely sucked up as planktonic larvae into the ballast tanks of a large ship that was traveling from Asia to the Puget Sound. When the ship arrived and the ballast tanks were discharged, the surviving larvae found footing in the hospitable waters of British Columbia and the Sound.

Steamed and ready to eat!

In the waters of the Sound and the Hood Canal the Varnish clams have been displacing Manila clams, also natives of Asia that arrived here mixed in with Pacific oyster seed in the 1940s which soon began invading the territory of native Littleneck clams. The Varnish clams' success may be laid to their flexible nature, able to tolerate varied types of environments. Physiologically they may have an advantage because of their two feeding siphons and the ability to both filter feed and deposit feed (here's a fascinating deeper look at this clam). Both British Columbia and Oregon have established recreational fisheries for the clam, and a commercial market is developing.

For my part, I needed to take an appetizer to a birthday party and thought steamed mussels or clams might be something different to offer, so I drove over to Flying Fish in the Providore market, where I found the regular Manila clams and this other type called Savoury that I'd never heard of. In response to my question, the helpful clerk said that the Savoury was an invasive species in Washington that was both delicious and a little less expensive per pound than the Manilas.


Four pounds of clams more than fed a crew of ten adults as an appetizer when combined with fennel, garlic, chorizo and a cup of white wine, then steamed for ten minutes or so, and garnered raves for their size and flavor. So help out our Littleneck and other native species and eat more invasive-yet-tasty clams; they'll thank you for it.

Steamed Clams with Fennel and Chorizo

4 lbs. clams
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 fennel bulb, quartered, cored and sliced crosswise
3 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 oz. Spanish-style chorizo, sliced crosswise into 1/8" thick rounds
1 tomato, sliced thin
1 c. white wine

Pour olive oil into a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add fennel, garlic, chorizo and tomato slices and heat briefly. Add white wine and bring to a boil. Place clams on top and allow to steam for ten minutes until clams open. Serve with thin-slices of baguette for sopping up the delicious broth.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

In Season: Falling in Love with Autumn

It's time for the fall edition of In Season, where I sit down to talk with Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce (above) about what we'll find cascading from local farms and spilling onto tables here in the Northwest.

"We're in that lovely time of year where it's apple season!" enthused Josh Alsberg, giving even more credence to his Fruit Monkey moniker on Twitter. "Honeycrisp starts it off," he continued, referring to the apple the New York Times dubbed The iPod of Apples on its release in 2006, though he cautions that prices may be higher this year because it's a "short year." That means there's a lower crop of apples than usual due to the icy, cold winter and late spring rains which made for a late bloom, then the intense summer heat that stressed the trees and emerging fruit.

Apples, apples, apples!

It's also partly cyclical, he said, since last year's apple crop was extremely robust and that usually means the following year's crop will be leaner. It also calls for store shoppers to be more alert, since produce buyers may be tempted to substitute foreign-grown fruit—say, New Zealand-grown Honeycrisps instead of locally grown—because of higher wholesale prices on local fruit.

Alsberg's favorite apples, which you'll find at farmers' markets and grocery stores that carry local fruit, include:
  • Rubinette, which he describes as "very juicy, robust, a nice balance of sweet and tart" and good for eating out of hand, sauce and baking.
  • Mountain Rose, also known as Hidden Rose or Airlie Red Flesh, has pink flesh and was discovered growing on a farm in Airlie, just north of Corvallis.
  • Crimson Crisp
  • Pinova, also called Piñata
  • Ashmead's Kernel
  • Elstar, which Alsberg swears tastes like marshmallow when it's baked.
  • Newtown Pippin
Most of the apples listed above will be available at least through the winter and into early spring from local orchards.

Seckel pears.

Pears are also beginning to trickle in from Northwest fruit growers, and Alsberg encourages people to look beyond the ubiquitous Bartlett for the following:
  • Taylor's Gold, for it's firm texture and sweet, juicy and fragrant qualities.
  • Bosc, which he says are fantastic for poaching in wine or other aromatics.
  • Comice for their creamy, sweet and fragrant nature.
  • Seckel and Forelle are small in size but big in flavor, and the Forelle has a "cinnamon-y essence" that is beguiling.
These pears should be around through the holidays.

Black Futsu squash.

Alsberg frowns when I mention winter squash, since he says there are so many locally grown varieties that are enjoyable right now, and highly recommends exploring outside the well-known butternut and acorn corral to find a new favorite for your family to enjoy:
  • Black Futsu is a small, bumpy, heavily ribbed Japanese squash with a nutty, fresh flavor and is one of his faves.
  • Red Kuri is in the Hubbard squash family, as is another variety called Blue Ballet.
  • Kabocha, like the Futsu, is a popular Japanese variety that has taken well to our Northwest climate.
  • Lower Salmon River is a large heritage variety from the Pacific Northwest.
  • Long Pie Pumpkin is rumored to be derived from a Native American variety from New England that was revived in the 1980s by legendary cucurbit aficionado John Navazio. As its name suggests, it is perfect for making pies.
  • Delicata is widely available and can be delicious, but Alsberg said that a few years ago the seed from one grower in Colorado crossed with something that caused the flavor to be bitter. Fortunately John Eveland of Gathering Together Farm in Philomath had saved his own seed and was able to grow it out and avoid the bitter curse. Alsberg said that most seed now is free of the bitterness, but buying from a local farmer is the best way to guarantee good flavor.
Other vegetables that will start making an appearance at Northwest farmers' markets are potatoes, which will be moving away from small fingerlings to the cured potatoes best for stewing and roasting. Also appearing will be the brassicas like kale, broccoli, spigarello and cauliflower, all of which will get sweeter as temperatures drop and the plants pump out sugars that act as antifreeze during cold weather.

A rainbow of carrots.

Carrots also become sugar-producing factories once the first frost hits, and Alsberg agrees with me that the best bet is to buy carrots with the greens still attached so you know they're fresh. (I've been disappointed with woody, cardboard-y, bitter "bulk carrots" one too many times.) You'll be seeing root vegetables taking pride of place on farmers' tables, too, so look for celeriac, radishes, turnips with their greens attached, not just for freshness but for the high nutrition value when the stems and greens are snipped off when you get them home and saved for tossing into sautés, soups and stews. Coming soon are fennel, leeks, cabbage—think slaw, sauerkraut and simmering—with brussels sprouts not far behind.

In a month or so Alsberg and I will be getting together again to put together suggestions in time for your holiday entertaining. I can't wait!

Thursday, October 05, 2017

The "L" Word: Curried Coconut Chicken Soup

It may still be sunny, but there's a chill in the air. I hear leaves crunching underfoot as children walk by the house on their way to school. Agriculturist and author J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur first coined the term "Indian Summer" in 1778 in his Letters from an American Farmer, describing it as a season when "the rain is followed by an interval of calm and warmth…its characteristics are a tranquil atmosphere and general smokiness."

Tatsoi, an Asian brassica.

It's the season to turn on the stove again after a long, dry summer and think about soups and braises, stews and one-pot suppers. I'm back to my weekly habit of roasting a chicken, making sure to buy the largest available so there are leftovers for salads, tacos and soups, not to mention slowly simmering the picked-over carcass in water to make stock—yes, that's what "bone broth" is—that'll go into risottos, soups and myriad other dishes.

As I was casting about for something to make for dinner the other night (a situation that occurs all too often around here) I came across some of that leftover chicken in the fridge then found a couple of cans of coconut milk in the pantry. A glance in the vegetable bin revealed a bunch of spinach-like tatsoi (photo, above left) and a finger of ginger, and I was off to the races.

Thai-Style Curried Coconut Chicken Soup

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1-2 Tbsp. curry powder, to taste
2 c. chicken stock (or corn stock or water)
2 13.5-oz. cans coconut milk
2 c. cooked chicken
2 kaffir lime leaves
2” finger of ginger, peeled and halved
4 c. tatsoi, chopped (or bok choi, spinach or other greens)
1 Tbsp. harissa (or 1/4 tsp. cayenne or to taste)
Juice of 1 lime
Salt, to taste
Cilantro leaves, chopped roughly (optional)

Heat oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add onion and sauté until tender and translucent. Add garlic and curry powder and stir to combine. Add remaining ingredients except for lime juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook 30 minutes to an hour*, stirring occasionally. Just before serving stir in lime juice and adjust salt to taste. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

* If you like, while the soup simmers, put on a pot of rice and serve a scoop of it in your soup.

Read more The "L" Word posts about creative (and delicious) uses of leftovers.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Guest Essay: USDA Refuses to Enact New Standards, Threatens Organic Integrity

With organic food becoming a bigger and bigger part of people's food budgets, factory farms are moving into organic in a big way. The problem is, they also want to bring their industrial practices—use of chemicals, monocropping and gigantic scale of production ("free range" chickens, above). The current administration's takeover of agricultural regulatory structures has meant that these industrial giants are now in control and looking to stop any changes that may cut into their profits. Matthew Dillon, director of agricultural policy and programs at Clif Bar, offers his take on why the organic industry is suing USDA for delaying the organic animal welfare rule.

Sam Walton once said, "If you don’t listen to your customers, someone else will." It’s an often-repeated axiom in the business world and points to how easy it is to lose consumers if you go deaf to their point of view. Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is losing touch with its customers—the American public.

Matt Dillon of Clif Bar.

In the organic trade, the consumer has spoken often and spoken loudly. When the initial proposed organic rules were introduced nearly two decades ago, more than a quarter million consumers commented on the rules—an epic number in the days before one-click activism, and the most the Department of Agriculture had ever received to date. The USDA listened and amended the proposed rules based on this public input.

With their wallets and voices, the public continues to advocate for a strong and robust organic seal. Unfortunately, the USDA isn’t following the tradition of listening to its customers. In a 60-day period in spring 2017, the USDA received more than 45,000 positive public comments from farmers, consumers and food producers, agreeing with proposed rules to improve animal welfare, particularly increased pasture access for poultry. Its customers—the public—have spoken, but unfortunately, it seems, they have not been heard.

Pasture-raised chickens are part of a rotational grazing system in Scio, Oregon.

These animal welfare rules, known as the Organic Livestock and Poultry Production rule, have been carefully crafted over a 14-year process of listening to farmers, food companies, retailers, scientists, animal welfare advocates and consumers. They were reviewed, revised and reviewed some more before being finalized in 2016. These final rules were scheduled to go into effect in January 2017. However, the USDA has not followed the Administrative Procedure Act and has repeatedly and seemingly indefinitely delayed implementation, without appropriate public input.

Instead, USDA is listening to a few massive egg producers that want to increase sales into organic markets but not incur the costs of higher animal welfare standards. For this reason, the Organic Trade Association is suing the USDA for repeated delays of Organic Livestock and Poultry Production rule.

Organic, pasture-raised dairy cows at Jos L. Poland Dairy in Madras.

The company I work for, Clif Bar, doesn’t raise chickens or use eggs in our product. Our business is not directly impacted by organic poultry rules. So why are we joining the Organic Trade Association and the public chorus who have voiced their concern with the rules? It’s simple: The lack of rule-following by USDA threatens the very integrity and trust that differentiates the organic seal from every other food label. Organic customers want organic farming to continue having the highest standards—and they believe that the historical process of organic rule-making, which includes listening to the customer, needs to be maintained if the organic label is going to continue being a trusted standard.

The success of thousands of family organic farms and decades of hard work by consumers, farmers and food companies is at stake. While the organic community doesn’t always align on everything, we all agree that the future of feeding Americans with healthy, sustainable food requires a robust and trustworthy organic seal. The American public has spoken. USDA must heed Mr. Walton’s advice; if the USDA doesn’t listen to its customers, someone else will.

This essay is reposted from the New Hope Network.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Shrub Is Not Just a Bush

In yet another example of the old saw "it isn't what you know, but who you know that counts" my neighbor Bill, he of the pickled onions, bourbon cocktails and massive garden, has been evangelizing on the topic of shrubs ever since I'd met him. No, not "shrub" as in a bushy landscaping plant, but a fermented vinegar syrup made by combining fruit and flavoring ingredients like spices or herbs with vinegar.

See? Not hard at all!

I was finally inspired to dive in when I visited him in his kitchen and he showed me a bowl of cubed cantaloupe he'd mixed with sugar that was sitting on the counter, and a separate bowl of mint that had been bruised and combined with some white wine vinegar.

"Okay, now, that doesn't seem to scary, " I said to myself. And when he mentioned that all that remained to do was to leave it out overnight, then strain the solids off, combine them in a jar, and let it sit for a couple of weeks in the fridge, I got that heady feeling I remember from my childhood when I rode a two-wheeler for the first time.

So stay tuned for more shrubs made with different fruit—I'm jonesing to try it with the Ayers Creek Farm's Chester blackberries I have stashed in the freezer—and ideas for using it in "acidulated beverages."

Bill's Cantaloupe and Mint Shrub

1 1/2 lbs. cantaloupe
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. white wine vinegar
1/2 c. mint leaves

In a medium-sized non-reactive mixing bowl, combine the cantaloupe with the sugar. Cover and allow to macerate on the counter overnight.

Put the mint in a small non-reactive mixing bowl, add vinegar and muddle lightly to release oils. Leave on counter overnight.

Strain off liquids from both bowls and pour into lidded quart jar. (Lid should be slightly loose to release gasses.) Place in refrigerator for two weeks. Shake periodically, tightening lid before shaking. Loosen lid again when replacing in refrigerator.

* * *

"Bring Me a Shrubbery"
From Bill Rash

2 oz. bourbon
1 oz. shrub (above)
1/2 oz. lime
Mint sprig (optional)

Fill a cocktail shaker 3/4 full of ice. Add ingredients. Shake and strain into coupe glass. Garnish with sprig of mint.

* * *

And for a non-alcoholic drinking vinegar-based beverage, try this:

Refreshing Shrub Soda

2 oz. shrub
Club soda
Lemon wedge

Fill beverage glass with ice. Pour in shrub, then fill with club soda and stir to combine. Squeeze lemon wedge into the glass and drop it in.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Setting a Big Table: Oregon Wine Comes of Age

In a recent edition of the New York Times, wine editor Eric Asimov waxes poetic about Oregon wine, saying that "Oregon is right now the single most exciting winemaking area in the United States," that "nowhere else does the level of quality seem so high, the perspectives so diverse or the experimentation so fierce as it is in Oregon right now." He goes on to extoll several of our best winemakers, especially Brian Marcy and Clare Carver of Big Table Farm. Here's an article I wrote about them seven years ago. Nice that Mr. Asimov has caught up!

* * *

Clementine, the Catahoula leopard hound, has been anxious since dawn, not wanting to be too far from her owner, Clare Carver of Big Table Farm. Clare has been moody for the last couple of days. Even Clare’s husband, Brian, has been giving his wife a wide berth. When Clare goes up to the hill pasture to sit with her pigs, Picnic and Pancake, Clementine stations herself with a good view of the road. She knows something is coming, something that is making Clare sad, and she wants to be ready.

Clare Carver sits in the pen with her pigs, scratching their backs when they lean their 300-pound bodies against her, snorting and squinting in the bright sunlight. Like a couple of big dogs, they dash off to play with each other or to chase something in the bushes or to root through the grass in the pasture, but eventually they come back to get more attention from Clare. She's raised them from tiny weaner pigs, and today is their last day.

An inspired painter whose subjects are the cows, horses, chickens, goats, pigs, old trucks and tractors that populate the farm she owns with her husband, Brian Marcy, in Williams Canyon outside Gaston, Oregon,she also has a large vegetable garden that supplies most of the couple’s food and the large farm dinners they host for people who buy the wines Brian makes under the Big Table Farm label.

Growing up in a large Catholic family (she has eight brothers and sisters), Clare heard stories about the farm in upstate New York that her parents had bought in the late 50s. They sold the farm when Clare was seven and moved their large family to the suburbs of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

She carried those tales of the farm with her into her career as an advertising art director for an East Coast ad agency, and one day a consultant for the agency told her, “You need to go out and see the world. You shouldn’t be doing this because your life is going to look exactly the same in ten years as it does now.”

“It was a complete wake-up call,” Clare said. She sold all her belongings and moved to San Francisco to start her own business. Shortly after the move she began dating Brian, who was transitioning to making wine after working for several years as a beer brewer.

“With beer, the whole goal is to take varying inputs and make the same product year in and year out without considering season or ingredients,” she said. “In wine it’s just the opposite, where people expect the product to be affected by season and ingredients. It felt more creative to him.”

Their move to Oregon was prompted, oddly enough, by a season spent harvesting grapes in Australia.

“It was a really romantic time for us and we started looking around at the land,” she said. “Honestly, that was the first time it started to creep into our consciousness that we could have a farm as well as have a winery.”

Their requirements for their farm were fairly simple: It had to be within an hour of a big city so Clare could continue her graphic design business, it needed to be located in a wine-producing area so Brian could be a consulting winemaker while developing their vineyard and, of course, it had to be within their budget.

The farm they found in 2006 fit their list to a T: Close to Portland, it was in the middle of a burgeoning wine region. It had perfect southeast facing hills and a charming Victorian farmhouse. Their bid was accepted.

“We didn’t really know anything about farming, and we read ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ by Michael Pollan when we were closing on the property,” Clare said. “It totally changed the way we thought we were going to set up our farm.”

While the book is mostly about what Pollan believes is the broken food system in the United States, where people are disconnected from the sources of their food, he also writes about a visit to Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley and farmer Joel Salatin. Salatin calls himself a “grass farmer” and believes in rotating the animals on the land to keep the soil and the plants, and thus the people who eat the animals and plants, healthy.

With Salatin’s principles in mind, they’re transforming the nearly ruined hillsides and pastures of their Big Table Farm to an organic, balanced system. Brian made a trailer, called the “chicken bus,” to transport their laying chickens from one area to the next. Goats clear blackberries and scrub, watched over by a “guard llama” who challenges any predators who get too close. The cows, pigs and Clare’s beloved draft horses are confined by electrified tape that can be easily moved when the pasture needs a break from grazing.

When Salatain made a trip to Oregon, she asked him about organic feed, an important part of the system at their farm.

Salatin’s answer? “People can handle nudists and they can handle Buddhists, but they can’t handle nudist Buddhists.

“What he was saying is that people can handle the concept of pasture, they can get their head around that. But when you start talking about pasture and then you start talking about organic feed, they hold their heads and scream.”

She told Salatin that while that might be the case in his home state of Virginia, she felt that Northwesterners were able to handle that kind of information. Like the fact that she flat out refuses to send any of her animals to processing facilities to be slaughtered.

“The primary reason is because of the stress on the animal,” she said. “The stress and the adrenaline that goes through the animal changes the meat, and there’s hard science behind that.”

Take pigs, she said. They’re very smart and sensitive, so when they’re put into a truck for the first time in their life, it’s terribly stressful. And a pig’s sense of smell is even keener than a dog’s.

“Can you imagine what a processing center smells like to a pig?” she asked. “It makes my hair stand up just to think about it. Those poor animals.”

Because strict federal regulations require any meat that is sold to the public has to be processed in a USDA-approved facility, the meat from her pasture-slaughtered pigs can’t be sold in supermarkets or at farmers' markets. This is despite the growing demand for just the kind of pasture-raised meat she and other small-scale farmers in the region are producing.

With small processing plants closing down because of the recession, it’s hard for small producers to get their animals into larger slaughter facilities. With just a handful of USDA-approved mobile slaughter trucks in the entire Northwest, there isn’t one available for Clare’s farm.

Which brings us back to Clementine standing watch and Clare waiting with her pigs in their hillside pasture. When the truck from Frontier Custom Cutting finally pulls into the driveway in the late morning, Clemmie starts barking. She won’t stop until it leaves.

Richard, a burly man wearing orange rubber overalls and carrying a black rifle, walks up the hill. While Clare distracts Picnic with some fresh eggs, Richard puts the rifle behind Pancake’s ear and pulls the trigger. Then he walks over to Picnic munching on her egg and does the same.

Clare feels it’s the most respectful way to kill them.

“The bullet goes right to the spinal cord, but their heart is still pumping, so they’re essentially brain dead,” she said. “It’s a little violent but it doesn’t last very long. That part is the part I hate to watch, but dying is dying and it’s not pretty. It is what it is.

“I really hope when it’s my time I get afforded a respectful, quick death,” she added. “That’s what I would want. So I do the best I can for my animals in that sense.”

And each time she allows herself to feel the loss.

“It’s the way you feel when a human dies. They’re gone…really gone,” she said. ”I go out to their pasture the next day and I’m like, oh, they’re gone. It’s a reminder of how much power we have and how careful we have to be of that power, that we just created and took this life.

An observer could note that, in the way they run their farm and raise their animals, she and Brian haven’t chosen an easy route. And, like the move to Oregon and buying the land, it’s all been done without a business plan.

“If we had a business plan some things might be smoother for us,” Clare said. “But, like anything in life, it’s like, ‘Well, I’m going up that hill and maybe I’m not going to take the straightest path. But maybe I’m going to see some things I didn’t expect if I don’t have an exact map of how I’m going to get there.

“Sure, if we had a business plan we might get to the top of the hill faster,” she continued, “but we’re still going up there because we have the same goals and that hasn’t changed. Or if it does, we talk about it and we change it together.”

Asked about the best part of their lives on Big Table Farm, she thought for a moment, then answered.

“Almost every morning when I do chores I look around and this incredibly deep sense of satisfaction strikes me,” she said. “Being deeply happy with this path we’re on now.”

Top photo by Amanda Lucier for the New York Times.