Tag Archives: Farming

Food Safety 101

Two headline stories from the USA on food safety caught my eye today: `Georgia Peanut Plant Knowingly Shipped Contaminated Peanuts’; `Study Links Corn Syrup to Toxic Mercury.’

1. The FDA has issued one of the largest food recalls in history after eight people died of salmonella poisoning. A Georgia peanut plant knowingly shipped products contaminated with salmonella on a dozen occasions over the past two years. There are 40,000  cases of salmonella reported by people in the USA every year, many more go unreported, and it kills 600!

2. And a pair of new studies has revealed traces of toxic mercury can be found in many popular food items containing high-fructose corn syrup. The sweetener has become a widely used substitute for sugar in processed foods, including many items marketed toward children. To listen to/watch/read the report, go to:
http://www.democracynow.org/2009/1/29/food_safety_georgia_plant_knowingly_shipped

Meanwhile, back at home in Canada, we’ve had our share of problems this year. In September 2008, Maple Leaf Foods, Canada’s largest meat processor, contributed a serious outbreak of Listeriosis in their deli-style products which killed, oh, about 20 people. This outbreak, in a country that has recently made substantial investments in food inspection, occurred at one of the Federally licensed and inspected facilities. Recently, we have been victim to E. coli-tainted spinach from the U.S.; cantaloupes from Costa Rica contaminated with salmonella; pet food and infant formula both containing a toxic chemical imported from China; and the latest, a recall on Black Diamond Cheese slices which are purported to contain small bits of plastic mesh. This week,  the  Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Hygaard Fine Foods EST 318 are warning the public not to consume certain Hygaard brand sandwich products described below because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. These products have been distributed in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, and Ontario. Anything containing peanut butter (Chocolate Dipped Honey Peanut IsaLean Bar, granola bars with peanut butter flavouring, and a host of others) has also been recalled because of the risk of salmonella from the tainted peanut butter. In addition, Les Cultures de Chez Nous Inc. brand sliced, washed leeks and S. Bourassa (St-Sauveur) sliced leeks may be contaminated with listeria monocytogenes. Those are just some of the public safety warnings that the CFIA issued THIS WEEK!

Food imports increased 21.5 per cent from 1996 to 2006. Federal health officials say they’re becoming more and more worried about the fact fresh fruits and vegetables shipped to Canada from other countries, including those with lower safety standards, are making up an increasingly large proportion of cases of food-borne illness. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspects less than 10 per cent of imported shipments of low-risk products, which includes a majority of fresh produce that comes into Canada. The CFIA doesn’t scrutinize products based on the country of origin, but instead looks more closely at high-risk food products, so a major portion of the food Canadians eat will never be inspected by the federal government before it goes on store shelves. One article I read said, “As the number of outbreaks and illnesses linked to foreign food continues to mount and an increasing proportion of the Canadian diet is made up of food imported from other countries, there are serious questions about whether food growers and sellers, as well as the government, are doing enough to keep what Canadians eat safe.” Is it really reasonable that we should rely not only on our government to regulate safety, but also that the foreign growers will ascribe to our (so called) standards?

All this raises serious questions about the security of Canada’s food supply. Why are we importing lousy food and exporting our high quality food? Why are we allowing low quality foreign food onto our store shelves, all the while developing more and more prohibitive legislation that paralyzes our local food producers under the guise of public health and safety?

Ironically, the very food that we could have some influence over, we are busy making it more and more difficult for farmers to produce and  our fellow citizens to access! One would think that such a rise in the number of cases involving food-borne illnesses would create a strong public desire to change the food production and distribution system. Unfortunately, a desire for change won’t come until the masses realize that the government cannot ensure food safety: local farmers, in concert with the watchful eye of their customers, can.

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Filed under Educational, Ethical farming, Food Sovereignty, Learning to Farm, Locavore, personal food sovereignty, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

A time to kill

I shot my first live animal yesterday, and I was not on a hunt. I caught a young red fox trying to dig his way in to my turkey pen. This was the same little fellow that had been prowling around my place every night for several weeks now, keeping me awake thanks to the vigilance of my dog. I’d seen him on several of his mid-night ramblings but not bothered to try to shoot him; I just let Tui (our dog) out to take care of him, and she was enough to chase him off.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. He showed up around 3:00 in the afternoon, give or take. I’d just sat down for coffee with my husband, when we noticed the turkeys’ sudden agitation at something. They were ringing their alarm bells, pressing themselves up against the near fence-line and generally making it well known they were not happy about being captive.

My husband ran towards the turkey pen and shouted that he’d spotted the fox. Upon hearing the word ‘fox’, I leaped into action and ran to the house to get my gun (a Ruger .22 semi-automatic). When I returned and closed in on the turkey pen, the little fox was still trying to dig his way in and wasn’t at all alarmed by my presence: not something you want in a wild animal. I took aim through the fence. Once he felt my presence, he stopped digging, sat down, and looked at me, unblinking.

Admittedly, he was a cute little thing, so I paused to consider what I was about to do.  Should I shoot him? Should I let him go on his way? He’s so cute, can I really do this? But I knew I had to shoot him now. He would be back, and if bad luck would have it, it would be when I’m not home to deal with him. It was a case of killing a fox to save my turkeys: my animals, my livelihood, my food security. Typically, you know when a fox has been in the chicken house because they kill everyone in there. It is not enough for a fox to kill just one chicken or turkey and leave, like an eagle or a hawk. It is the signature of a fox to kill everyone, and I could not risk losing my turkeys to him.

After considering all this, again I took aim. I was about to shoot when I realized the shot I had was not a good option. There were two layers of cross-wire fencing to shoot through, so it could end up in disaster. The bullet could hit a wire, ricochet and miss him all together, or worse–hit one of my turkeys. I decided I would risk letting him escape this time, and tried to get a better shot.

While I was repositioning myself, he went around the barn and behind the paddock fence-line. I ran around the other side of the paddock and into it, so I could take aim through the fence and not have it in my way. Meanwhile, he took off to the other side of the slough.

Once across to what he thought was safety, he sat at the base of a tree and, again, turned and looked back at me. Yes, he was cute. Yes he was a young one–probably only a year old. He had such a sweet face, I almost lost my nerve. Again I took pause for a brief moment, but ultimately mustered up the courage to shoot: he would just be back if I let him go. I hit him in the chest and he barreled over backwards, recovered his footing, and took off at a lope.

Now came the really difficult part: I had to try to find my way across the slough (not an easy task) and then track him through extremely dense bush. I got my dog and my husband rounded up to help with the job. We found the blood trail and followed it, but it was rough going. The undergrowth here is full of brambles and –worse–Devil’s Club, which can take out an eye if you are not careful.

I now know that following a blood trail sounds easier than it actually is. I had never done it until yesterday. It was not easy–even with the dog trying to lead the way. We got caught up for far too long trying to get across the slough and even longer trying to get through the dense brush. Finally, we got through the bush and came out on my neighbour’s driveway. We followed the blood trail along the driveway, through the back of my neighbour’s garden, and finally out in to the field that he’d crossed and into the deep forest at the edge of the field.

He’d obviously come to the farm along a similar path, and so, once in the field, the dog got confused and we lost more time–tracking him back and forth along the two paths, coming and going. Eventually, we passed a patch where he’d urinated on his way to my farm. I knew it had to be on his way to the farm and not his return route because the urine was still wet. Not only that: when we finally picked up the blood trail again, it was along a slightly different path. We backtracked along the blood trail and followed it to where he crossed another slough and continued deeper into the forest.

It was not long after this point that I decided to give up. The dog was beginning to look uneasy, the light was going, the rain was coming, and, having passed two fresh piles of fresh bear poop, I figured that being in this dense forest with nothing more than a .22 was not wise. If the dog was nervous walking in the footprints of a bear, so should I be.

I felt bad for not being able to make sure I’d finished him off. There is no doubt in my mind that he will bleed to death, but I would have liked to have finished the job myself. The downside of this is that he’s out there suffering; yet there was and is nothing more I could do. To have continued to track him that late in the day, and with such fresh bear sign around, would have been dangerous. Furthermore, it has rained hard overnight so the trail of blood and scent will be gone today.

The upside of this event, however, is twofold: he won’t be back, and last night I got my first whole undisturbed night’s sleep in weeks.

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Filed under Animal issues, Food Security, Politicking with predators, Turkeys

Dog trials

Tui the trustworthy farm dog.

Tui the new trustworthy farm dog.

My ‘little old gal’ finally died of old age last January (2007), and it was now time to find another, more ‘street wise’ dog. Because I live where I do–in a predator-infested playground–I decided that I had to find a good guard dog. I hadn’t had to find a dog with these requisites before. My ‘little old gal’ Tatra had been my traveling companion and friend for nearly 17 years, but that was all. Guard dog, she was not.

Tatra had fulfilled that role of companion nicely. In fact, once she came into my life, I stopped almost all travel that required getting on a plane–instead, I found places that we could drive to: Mexico, Belize, and various parts of North America. It was a promise that I made to her when I got her. An unintentional result of this was having friends who, self-admittedly, were envious of her life-style.

During the last year of Tatra’s life, we managed to acquire a couple of dogs, though not at the same time. Each of them, in turn, had promising prospects of being great guard dogs. The first was found by a co-worker. She was being thrown head-first against a brick wall by some kids, so he rescued her. He couldn’t keep her because he was living in an apartment and already owned a large German Shepherd. When nobody else wanted her and it looked like she would be put back out on the street, I stepped up. I didn’t really want another dog at this point  because ‘little old gal’ was starting to wane, and I worried that the energy of a pup might just do her in. I also knew that ‘puppy-sitting’ was not what she had envisioned for her retirement. However, letting this little pup go back and fend for herself wasn’t an option. I

I brought the pup home and introduced her to Tatra. She was not impressed, but what could I do? The pup would have to stay.  Besides, looking at her dainty feet made me think she wasn’t going to be that big of a dog.  However, despite her diminutive sized feet, the pup, once comfortably installed in her new home, promptly laid down on the floor and began concentrating on growth.  Rapid growth. You could practically watch it happening. Within a couple of months she transformed herself into a very big German Shepherd type dog.

Not only was she big and fairly intimidating to look at, but also she proved very difficult to train. She turned every training session into a game, so trying to outwit her nearly drove me to distraction. One of her redeeming features, however, was that she proved to be a great guard dog. When I took time to read in the pergola, she would watch over me vigilantly. Every now and then she would suddenly burst across the lawn, come to a screeching halt beside the pergola, and let out a full-throated ‘woof’.  Alarmed at first but hearing nothing, I eventually relaxed and wondered what she was doing.

After several weeks of this behaviour, and curious about what the dog was on about, I decided to investigate. Looking behind the pergola, I found a bear’s day-bed–within feet of where I had been reading. She had been telling a Grizzly bear, ‘Stop, you come no further!’ She was marking her territory and defining the boundary line of our property.  She obviously had great instincts for guarding, and acute senses–I’d heard nothing to indicate there had been a bear behind me, reading over my shoulder.

That poor, beautiful–albeit disobedient–dog met a horrific and untimely end. She was hit by the propane truck (the driver completely unaware he’d even hit anything) on the road in front of our then gate-less driveway at eight months old: her back end was smashed to bits. When you live nearly 500 kilometers from the nearest Vet, these sorts of tribulations become major events to deal with. I didn’t own a gun at the time, so couldn’t put her out of her misery. Thankfully, a doctor friend of ours came to our aid, gave her some morphine, helped us get her to the hospital and managed to put her down. I say ‘managed’ because not only do human hospitals not have the right equipment to shave a dog and find a vein, but also human doctors don’t necessarily have the knowledge of dog anatomy to know where the good veins are. Alas, he did get the job done. He had given me the option of shooting her and offered to do it for us, but I couldn’t envision having to bury her with her head shot off, so was much relieved when he was able to do it with drugs.

Not long after this, another dog came into our lives. She had adopted one of the teachers that my husband was working with, but the teacher didn’t really want her, so we took her in. She fit in just fine and was a lot easier on my ‘little old gal’ than the previous pooch had been. She also proved much easier to train, except in the area of chicken duties. She was a sweet-natured thing; nonetheless, I couldn’t trust her with the chickens and she managed to kill several.

Despite the fact that I had done a lot of training with her and she showed me she knew better, I was unable to train the mauling of chickens out of her. Unfortunately, she was smart enough not to go after any while in my sight, but every chance she got, she went after a chicken. I hated that I couldn’t trust her. I hated even more that I couldn’t train it out of her, and that my own dog that had become a predator on my flock. It is one thing if it is foxes or eagles predating on your stock, but when it’s your own dog, it is embarrassing and frustrating.

That dog, too, met an untimely death. At the store with my husband, she’d jumped out of the truck to go visit with other dogs, and he, worried when a car came by, called her back.  Being the obedient girl that she was, she ran back to him and was hit  crossing the road. He felt awful because it was her obedience to him that ultimately caused her doom. He brought her home and she was quiet for a couple of days, but not in obvious pain. I looked her over and got talked through an exam by the Vet on the phone. Watch her and keep her quiet, was the only recommendation. She actually survived for days, and we thought she was out of the woods. Four days later however, her bowel twisted suddenly, and she died an awful, painful death–six hours drive from the vet is simply too far for many injuries.

Tui in training. Here, she is learning to watch and not pounce as the baby birds are let out to mill about her.

Tui in training. Here, she is learning to watch and not pounce as the baby birds are let out to mill about her.

Now we have Tui. She too is a rescue pooch. She showed up at  a friend’s place, starving to death. She was just skin and bone and came to their place only to eat. Already having three dogs, they didn’t want another. She looked terrible: hips and ribs sticking out, no fur to speak of except some hair on her head and a few guard hairs on her back, and a tail that looked like a rat’s. So much so, we called her ‘Rat-tail-Tui’.

We took her on a trial basis, just to see. This time, I wanted to make sure that I got a  dog that would be trainable and chicken-proof. I want to be able to free-range my chickens, and therefore need to be able to trust any dog I have, to be left alone with them. It is crucial that they co-habit, otherwise the chickens will get eaten by hawks, eagles, owls and foxes. You need a dog here, to protect the flock.

The first few days, she proved herself intelligent and trainable, so we kept her. She was a natural with the goats, as if someone had told her that border collie was in her blood. She chased the ducks once, and still shows interest, but has not done it again. She did manage to kill a chicken once, but I couldn’t blame her really. For one thing, it was early days and she’d been starving to death. I had to face the reality that she  probably only managed to survive by killing whatever she could in the bush and–judging from her condition–it was precious little. I was, however, a bit worried that this might become a habit, but after a firm scolding she has never done it again.

Of course it wasn’t that simple. I put a lot of time in with her, bringing her around the chickens and telling her ‘no’ whenever she showed interest. I also tied her up and let the chickens free-range all around her–again, telling her ‘no’ if she showed any interest whatsoever. We’ve had her for three months now.  Just yesterday I felt confident enough in her to put her to the test: I went to town and left her and the chickens at the farm, free-ranging together. There was part of me that was worried I might come home to a massacre scene, but she did me proud.

When I returned to the farm, she was the vision of an angel: sitting quietly in the sun at the front of the house, chickens happily milling about her feet. It was a huge relief and I felt very proud of her accomplishments. After all, it can’t be easy going against all your natural instincts and learning to be a trustworthy farm dog. Oh, and that rat-tail? It’s now a shimmering black plume at least a foot high!

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Filed under Animal issues, Politicking with predators

Stepping out…

First out the door.

First out the door.

Today is probably going to be the last nice day for a week or so according to the forecast. The weather for the next week or so is going to suck, and the snow is beginning to encroach.  Not that we’ve had any yet, but I can smell it coming. If the turkeys are going to see the light of day before they are completely grown, then today is the last chance they will have for a while. Turkeys, unlike baby chickens, are not very hardy and cannot tolerate the cold or wet. You have to be much more careful with their temperature and be sure to keep them from getting wet, especially when young.

I go down to the barn and open their door, their passage to freedom. They step out into the world hesitantly, like the curious but cautious little creatures that they are. First a head, then a toe, then an overachiever from the back of the line pushes her way through the crowd and bursts onto the outdoor scene with a flourish. It is a sight to behold and I am glad to be witnessing it. I quietly thank the ‘other half’ (or as he likes to think of himself, the other ‘two-thirds’) for going off to work to make the living wage that supports me and these animals, and the scene that is presently unfolding before me.

He's got legs...knows how to use 'em.

He's got legs, knows how to use 'em.

It isn’t long before they were all outside, clicking and clucking their way around their little world. While I am taking some photos, Mike shows up and joins the stepping out party. The turkeys all run over to him and one by one introduce themselves. Obviously, he has a way with animals. As we stand talking the turkeys gather round and listen attentively. Then another friend shows up at the gate but doesn’t come in. When Mike and I go out to meet him the entourage follows, more like a bunch of eager puppies than turkeys.

Clarence (of the Ozette potato and learning to hunt fame) has arrived to let me know there was another cougar spotted in the area yesterday. Clarence makes it his business to keep on top of the big predator doings in the valley, and I count on him to advise me about their comings and goings. He has been our cougar hunter for more than 40 years so when he says ‘watch out’ I listen. Today he is less than happy with my free-range ways, worries it will invite trouble. He’s given me a bigger gun and taught me how to shoot it, just in case. “Why just yesterday, your neighbour was chased off her tractor by a grizzly,” he announces casually and, turning to leave, adds, “Be careful with those turkeys. Don’t let them get wet.”

Cute, or what...and he's pretty pleased with himself.

Cute, or what...and he's pretty pleased with himself.

He’s like still having my grandfather around. Well, a grandfather that knows about hunting, shooting, fishing–and I love him for it. Within minutes of Clarence’s departure, it begins raining. I rush to shuffle the turkeys back into their barn but it is a bit like herding cats. I eventually got them in to safety, in other words, the dry room in the new barn that we call the nursery. The day goes from wet to dry to wet and dry again, and the turkeys are shuffled in and out and in and out again. They have fun, I get exercise, the dog becomes confused, and finally it is time for bed.

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Filed under Animal issues, Politicking with predators, Sustainable Farming

Feeding Goldilocks

To date we have produced and processed from our own garden the following:

canned, dried and fermented.

Some of this years preserved food: canned, dried and fermented.

PICKLES: Sauerkraut, Dilly beans, Beets, Dill pickles
RELISHES: Zucchini, Coney Island, Spicy gooseberry chutney, Chili piccalilli
JAMS: Raspberry, Lavender, Strawberry, Tayberry, Blackberry, Apricot butter
JELLIES: Red currant, Blackcurrant, Lavender, Grape
CANNING: Pears, Apricots, Peaches, Rhubarb, Apple pie filling, Apple sauce, Salmon, Chicken, Beef, Basil pesto
FROZEN: Cherries, Strawberries, Blueberries, Red currants, Blackberries, Cherry pie filling, Basil, Dill, Cilantro, Peas, Snow peas
SCHNAPPS: Red currant, Blackcurrant, Rhubarb /lemon juice concentrate
WILD Crafted: Red/blue huckleberries, Salmonberries, Stinging nettle, Fiddle head ferns.
DRYING: Dill, Zucchini, Carrots, Apples, Pears, Cherries, Mint, Oregano
DAIRY: Yoghurt, Ice cream, Sour cream, Cheese (Leicester, cheddar, cumin-gouda, gouda, parmesan,  ricotta, haloumi, mozzarella, feta), Whey bread (bread made from the whey left-over from cheese-making).

Cheese:

I have been making cheeses, but a day’s kitchen labour produces maybe 2 lb of cheese. It then has to be brined, salted, cured, flipped, for months—it’s like raising Goldilocks.

Protein:

Looking at our chicken shed, I wonder: “How many chickens/eggs do we two need for a year?” This, like all the other predictions about food consumption, was difficult to answer, and still is. At present, we are relying on the remnants of last year’s harvest. I managed to can a bunch of our chickens, and we’ve traded for quite a bit of fish this year. We need to make it till about Thanksgiving before we can butcher our own chickens.

I estimated I’d need at least 52 roosters for culling, and more hens to step up the egg sales. I also want new blood. My hens set regularly, and it’s certainly the easiest way to increase a flock, but the results are also fluctuating. So I incubated 36 but hatched only 5. From the second batch I had two live hatchings but only one survived. Clearly, my one darling rooster was not doing his job democratically. Third time round, I ordered 50 chickens from Rochester Hatchery in Alberta. At present, we have more people wanting our eggs than we can supply, so I often don’t have any for my needs. We tend to rely on the infrequency of the duck eggs to meet our needs.

I was contemplating milking the goats, which would require investment in milking equipment, not to mention a potent buck (all my males are wethers), not to mention the will to kill and eat the kids. Being new to this life-style, I’m not sure I could do in the baby goats. I’m not able to stay home when the turkeys get done in as it is. Over and above this problem, what has rapidly dawned on me is my lack of time: between expanding and maintaining the garden and animals, there is simply no time for regular milking. So I get cow’s milk from a local person; on my first visit he observed that he had no time to raise chickens, so the solution is obvious to us: he is happy to trade his milk for my eggs and value added products such as jams and jellies. It’s a huge time relief.

This list may seem exhaustive as well as exhausting. It is. This is partly because we in the pampered West have grown accustomed to a global diet. I enjoy cooking Mexican, Greek, and both east and west Indian foods, and I want things to taste just right.

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You asked for it: more garden photos.

Early morning on the farm.
Early morning on the farm.

I’ve had some people email and ask for more garden photos, so here goes. As it happens, I did take some nice photos of the garden yesterday. To quote one person, ‘so us city-folk can live vicariously’. How about video? was the next question. For now, that will have to wait.

Mama’s little helpers:

It is now time for the final harvesting and turning the chickens in to help with the clean-up. The plants are established enough that the chickens can’t really hurt them. This is certainly not the case all season: you have to pick your time.

Chickens love to help at weeding time.
Chickens love to help at weeding time.
Not just a pretty face, he's hard at work.
Not just a pretty face, he’s hard at work.

Overachievers anonymous:

The over-achiever red mustard lettuce.
The over-achiever red mustard lettuce.

Feeble attempts of creativity:

Here is my artistic attempt at photo taking which I learned from my friend, Rebecca Wellman, who is a professional photographer.  Check out her site if you want to see real talent:

http://rwellmanphotography.wordpress.com.

As for my attempts, don’t blame her for my lack of talent–I’ve worked hard to call that my own.

Where's my shovel?
Where’s my shovel?

The pre-harvest cabbage.
The pre-harvest cabbage.
Soon to be a salad ingredient...
Soon to be a salad ingredient…
The volunteer.
The volunteer.

That’s all for now!

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Filed under Chickens, Sustainable Farming, Vegetable gardening

Why I became a farmer

My Big Red Barn.
My ‘Big Red Barn’.

My passion for farming began at the age of five, when my dad took me to a farm in Langley. It was owned by a friend of his at work and we went for a barbeque. I don’t recall the dinner at all, or anything about the people on the farm. What I do recall is the cows, the big red barn stacked with hay, seeing for the first time a cow-pie and not knowing what it was, climbing into the loft of the big red barn and looking out over the pasture. I loved it all: the space, the smells, the sounds. I recall hounding my dad every now and then, “Please can we live on a farm daddy? Pleeeeeease.” Alas, my pleas went unnoticed and I grew up in the city. I never really felt at peace in the city. Now as an adult, I am giving myself the rural life I wanted as a child, and when my dad comes to visit he admires my creations (oh–and he also likes to fish). He even helps build things, including my very own big red barn.

So now I’m a farmer. A farmer with a big red barn. Actually, it is not really that big by barn standards but that is not important. What is important is that I have one. A red barn of one’s own. I don’t know why it is, but in my mind you’re not a farmer unless you have a big red barn.

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Filed under Food Sovereignty, Politics of Food