Tag Archives: local farming

The Winter Gods

Winter seems to have returned to central Utah. During several weeks of unseasonable warmth, grasses started to green and tulips threatened to unfurl from the dry soil. Tiny buds sprouted on the Chinese elms outside the house. We wore short sleeves and flip-flops, dabbing sweat from our brows. One exasperated friend took down all of her winter decorations, grumbling, “We haven’t even had the chance to make snow angels this year!”

I read updates from Boston, New York, and Chicago, and I cringed, not daring to draw attention to our weather situation while friends back East cursed the onslaught of yet another snowstorm. Locally, we scratched our heads and said things like, “Well, we can’t complain about this! and “This is incredible! It’s not January, it’s April!” But also: “What the hell is going on?” and “This summer will be awful!” Snow enthusiasts, lovers of nature, gardeners, and farmers alike implored the meteorological gods to return the snow to us. And, finally, last week, they did.

For me, the “heat wave” highlighted our dependence on the weather, the intricate web of causality that affects us where we live. Little or no snow in the high desert transforms the mountains into giant tinderboxes, acres and acres of trees ready to catch fire. Lack of snowmelt threatens the water supply, which impacts those who depend on water to grow their crops as well as those of us who don’t. No water means fewer foods to eat. The town grocery store posted a sign warning customers that, due to weather circumstances throughout the country, certain produce items may be intermittently available, if at all, which is of grave concern since my diet consists mainly of things that grow in the earth. We may have enjoyed a reprieve from the cold, but at what cost?

I worry when my region experiences summer in January and icy hailstorms in July. It distresses me when weather abandons seasonality and instead becomes a series of events and vortices. Shouldn’t changes in the atmosphere – isolated incidents, established patterns, and troublesome anomalies – warrant more consideration than just “small talk”? Every day I watch the sky in humble estimation of the greater forces in control.

On Monday, the winter gods rewarded our pleas with a dusting of light snow: just enough to sprinkle our shoulders as it melted from the trees; just enough to mute the ubiquitous brown sagebrush. We awoke the following day to a world in white. I think – I hope – that higher slopes are receiving even more snow. For this bounty, we bow our heads in gratitude and beg, “Please send more!”

© Julia Moris-Hartley, 2015

 

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The Year of the Thousand Splendid Grass-Fed Steaks

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Where’s the beef? It’s right here. In my freezer.

“You have some boxes of eyeballs on your back porch,” said Casey, stepping into the kitchen for dinner. I’d picked up the “eyeballs” earlier that afternoon and left them outside while I plugged in our upright freezer for the first time since we purchased it six years ago. (We’d been using it as a liquor cabinet.) The temperature outside trumped the average freezer, so the porch seemed like a logical stopping point for the beef as I worked my mind around the reality of purchasing a quarter of a cow.

When friends and I first entertained the possibility of buying grass-fed beef from a local farmer, one quarter seemed reasonable. I’m familiar with cows. I often run past their pastures; I talk to them and admire their liquid eyes and long eyelashes, their shaggy, luscious winter coats. I know how big they are. The abundance of meat I received was, nevertheless, jarring. Discussion, I realized, is nebulous; three large cardboard boxes, overfilled with beef parcels wrapped in white butcher paper, are concrete. It’s humbling to consider the bounty of a single cow.

While I tamped down the stress of my beefy new world, shoving liquor bottles into temporary housing, Casey chuckled at the dining table, shoulders quaking. “Hey,” she said, calling to me. “You want some rump with that?” Two seconds later: “How many burgers would you like with your cow?” She kept laughing. “Jules,” she said. “You know I’m gonna have mad jokes about this, right?”

I don’t think I’ve eaten this much beef in my life. My family has yet to discover an affinity for burgers or meaty sauces. My food truck/catering dream has not suddenly materialized. I sifted through the parcels, making a list of what the cow provided. As I stared down at the boxes, I questioned my sanity.

Casey looked at me – my pale, sweaty face; knit brows; frown broader than a cow’s hind end – and stopped laughing. She stood up and hugged me. “Remember why you did this, Jules,” she said, holding my frantic gaze. “Tell me again why you wanted to do this.” I did this because I could. What could be more sustainable, ethical, and beneficial to a local, independent economy than this awe-inspiring, prolific cow?

Vocalizing my intent undid the panic loop. I asked myself:

Who raised the cow? Joe Ray, a family friend and local farmer.
Where did the cow grow up? About five miles from my house, on grassy pastures in the outskirts of Moroni, Utah.
Was the cow treated humanely? Yes.
Did the cow die humanely? Yes, insofar as any animal reared for consumption can die.
Who processed the meat? Circle V Meats in Spanish Fork, Utah.
Who inspected the meat? Utah 5.
Can the grocery store answer any of these questions? No.

The cost-benefit analysis:
The beef cost $2.67 per pound prior to processing, which raised its cost to $3.38 per pound. Our locally sourced, grass-fed cow yielded approximately 467 pounds of meat in total, which means that one quarter contained about 115 pounds of:

1 package top round steak
2 packages sirloin tip roast
3 packages T-bone steak
5 packages cubed steak*
2 packages sirloin steak
3 packages rib steak
2 packages stew meat
3 packages chuck roast
2 packages rump roast
1 package tenderloin
49 pouches ground beef**

* My daughter, Rory, loves country-fried steak, so I requested a larger proportion of cubed steak than my friends did. Rory and I will learn how to cook the dish together.

** Casey and I estimated each pouch to contain ½ pound of ground beef, though others say each pouch weighs a pound. It’s difficult to tell for sure, because the pouches are frozen solid and could be use as weapons in case of a zombie apocalypse. So, the quantity I received could be anywhere between 25 and 50 pounds of beef, which is, by any estimate, a holy crap ton.

Let the year of the thousand splendid grass-fed steaks begin.

Joe Ray's pastures.

Joe Ray’s pastures.

© Julia Moris-Hartley 2014

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A Day at the Pea Plantation

Live... and thrive!

Live… and thrive!

I stand in the snow, panting, on a sunny winter day.  Sweat rolls down my forehead; rivulets drip down my back.  Though temperatures have peaked in the mid-thirties, I’ve discarded my jacket, scarf, and gloves. My shirtsleeves are pushed as high as they can go. I lean against a sagging chain link fence, brushing my hair, which clings to my face, away from my eyes. I’m sucking air like I’ve just run a marathon. I need a moment’s rest, so I focus on the rugged, white mountains that rise in the east and the piercing blue sky. A woodpecker alights on a nearby telephone pole, embarking on its evolutionary carpentry: tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.  I have just spent an hour shoveling a narrow footpath in knee-deep snow along one side of the fence, preparing the dark, wet soil to receive thousands of little pea pods for the spring harvest.  I am in the Pea Plantation of greater Salt Lake.

My friend, Casey, the enabler of virtually all of my culinary adventures, kneels about twenty feet away, hunched over in the snow-crusted soil, pulling up the woody remains of last year’s pea plants.  Later, she tells me how much the intractable woody stems frustrated her, but each time I look over at her, I see only her bright smile, directed at me or at one of the several others with whom she labors.  Later, I tell her how hard it was to shovel all that snow, especially towards the ground line, where it hardened into ice, but in the moment I work slowly and patiently, gleaning snippets of information from the volunteers who shovel with me.  Cameron, a reedy young chef in a white t-shirt and skinny jeans, is a fellow kombucha connoisseur; he has repurposed an old bottle for carrying water.  Jorges and Mirielle, an attractive Latin couple, are transplants from Texas.  They have a young baby at home – a fact belied by lithe Mirielle’s flat abs and perfect butt – and practice veganism out of their respect for the sustainability of the planet.  They tell Julia, a brunette graduate student from North Carolina, about different types of food documentaries, one of which (whose name I miss) makes Food, Inc. and Fast Food Nation look like cartoons.  I smile to myself.  Though shoveling snow is hard work, I am among my people: foodies at their finest.

Ironically, we are all migrants of a kind: transplanted souls called to Utah for various reasons. Unlike the migrants who typically do the backbreaking work of today’s industrial farming, however, we have gathered voluntarily at a local, family-run farm, united by our beliefs and by an honest desire to effect a change. Casey found this community through a website called meetup.com.  Our fellow farmers cited other social websites and word of mouth.  There were fewer than ten of us in all, but many hands can clear away a lot of snow in an hour.

The Pea Plantation is one of fourteen community gardens scattered across three acres throughout Salt Lake City and operated by Sheryl McGlochlin.  Sheryl’s website is liveandthrive.com, for those interested in exploring her work further, but, basically, her farms have flourished, producing table-ready produce until late November each year, because of local volunteers who help her work the soil… and reap its bounty.  She charges a $100 annual membership fee.  Members receive a bounty of produce in exchange for the fee and a little sweat equity.  For people who want to try it out before committing, like Casey and me, there are Saturday gatherings, where one can put in an hour’s work and receive a freshly cooked meal from Sheryl, along with a bag full of the extras, like bagels or cookies, that she gets from bartering/trading with other local businesses.

As the sun begins to set, our bodies cool and we stand huddled, hugging ourselves. Sheryl feeds us a delicious 16-bean soup, salty with bacon (which Jorges politely reserves and shares with Julia) and pleasingly warm.  After dinner, we thank Sheryl for her hospitality and disband for the day.

Later that night, Casey and I settle into our hostel beds, nursing zinfandel from mismatched coffee mugs.  “Just think how much work it must take to manage 14 acres of farms,” I say.  “I’m gonna be so sore tomorrow.” My respect for Sheryl and our fellow farmers is sky high.  Though I only contributed an hour’s time, I feel really proud of what we accomplished.  I want to keep coming to help.

“I think I’m already sore,” says Casey, laughing as she stretches her long legs.  Then she winks at me and says, “That was fun!”

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