In the kitchen.

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With the chaos of holidays & moving, I haven't been in the kitchen nearly as much as I would've liked over the past few months. There is something so satisfying about spending a day in the kitchen and all of the comforting smells and delicious tastes that go with it. My goal over the next couple weeks is to spend a few afternoons in the kitchen a week to get ahead on some staples before our busy season starts. Specifically, my hope is to:

- Stock up on stock. I tend to make a couple batches of chicken stock at a time and freeze/can in jars (depending on how much of a rush I'm in). I save the carcasses from chickens we breakdown for dinner in freezer bags so they are ready when it's time to make a big batch. My stash has run dry so it's time to stock up again. I haven't ever made beef stock, but we have quite a few packs of soup bones, so I'm planning on making a batch or two of that as well.

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- Render some lard. I made a big batch of lard nearly two years ago and we've finally worked our way through it (lard has a surprising long shelf life in the fridge). We have some beautiful leaf fat from our last batch of pigs that I plan on rendering down for use in biscuits, pie crusts, tortillas, and our favorite fried chicken recipe.

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- Ground turkey. This is something I've been wanting to do for a while now, ever since I got a meat grinder attachment for my kitchen aid for Christmas. We had a few extra birds from the holidays and I have been looking forward to breaking one down and grinding the breast and thigh meat. Legs will saved to be smoked, wings and carcass saved for some delicious turkey stock. I'll pack my ground meat into ~ 1 lb baggies, perfect for making burgers, spaghetti and meatballs, tacos, etc.

- Make ahead some convenience foods. If you have switched over to a whole food approach, you know one of the challenges is the time to prep and make everything from scratch. I want to experiment making some from scratch convenience meals ahead of time that can be easily baked off after a long day. I'm thinking frozen pizza, chicken pot pie, lasagna, breakfast sandwiches, etc.

- Make beef jerky. My brother made some beef jerky from our round steak recently and we got to taste it. It was so delicious and I can't wait to recreate it so we can have some healthy, protein-packed snacks for the busy spring days that lie ahead. Check out this link for instructions if you want to give it a go.

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So that is the goal - I'll report back on how things go! Any kitchen projects on your mind lately?

Spring Projects!

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With the daunting task of moving (mostly) out of the way, our attention has turned to spring projects! The countdown to the new season has started and thus comes the urgency of setting up shelters and water lines.

We have a batch of Berkshire pigs arriving next week, so our first priority is to set up their spot in the barn. These little 8 week old pigs will start out in a comfy, strawed area in the barn where they can learn how to use their feeders and waterers as well as get 'hot-wire trained'. Since we use hot-wire to section off paddocks in the woods and pasture, they have to learn by experience that touching the wire is not something they enjoy. Don't worry, the shock is not painful (we know from experience), it's just uncomfortable enough to encourage the pigs to stay in their paddock and not break out to go exploring.

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Our fall pigs respecting the wire even though they'd love to rub up against their dear friends on the other side of said wire.

After a few weeks learning the ropes, we'll move the pigs out to the wooded areas of the farm where they can root to their hearts desire, helping us clear the underbrush in the process.

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Pigs - you've got a job ahead of you now!

Another important project that lies ahead will be constructing our brooder. We get our chicks when they are a day old and far too delicate to be outside in the elements. They spend their first two weeks in the brooder equipped with heat lamps to keep them warm and toasty until they grow all their feathers and are ready for the pasture. We are still figuring out our brooder plans, but considering our first batch of chicks will arrive in April, this is high on the to-do list!

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Another spring project will be running our water line through the pasture and woods. Since our animals are constantly on the move, we have to be able to get water to every corner of the field & woods. We do this by running a very long mainline which is equipped with valve stations that we can attach water hoses to, allowing us to reach every section of the pasture.

Meanwhile we've started clearing many a blackberry around the orchard and barns. For some reason I have a weird love of hacking blackberries. There is something so fulfilling about the immediate gratification of seeing those suckers gone. I love berries as much as the next gal, but not when they are literally engulfing the property. Here is a before (from back in Feb) + after from yesterday's efforts.

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So that's how we've been spending these lovely spring days! 

Looking Forward, Part II

2013 Animals

2014 started off with a bang when we purchased our new farm home and it continued to be a whirlwind of activity as we prepped to move, contended with the big freeze and juggled the normal off-farm job responsibilities. But after much ado, we are (mostly) moved over to the new property and could not be more excited as the 2014 season approaches. I happen to love planning and making to-do lists so I could not be happier in this time of projects, projects and more projects. With the growing season just around the corner, I thought I’d do a quick post to keep anyone who might be wondering what some of our plans are for the year.

2013 Animals

Our primary objective will continue to be raising healthy, happy animals in a responsible way that improves that land whilst doing so. We will continue to offer our products in three ways:

-          Through our CSA program

-          By the quarter, half or whole

-          At the Fairmount Farmers Market (chicken, lamb and pork only)

As you may have read in our most recent newsletter, the current demand for grass-fed and pasture-raised meat and poultry is growing by leaps and bounds. Unfortunately in the short term, we have been struggling to keep up with the demand. We are currently planning on doubling our CSA shares for the upcoming session (July – Dec 2014) so we can add as many people who are patiently waiting on our wait list as possible. We will be sending out an email in April to our current members as well as our wait-listers asking to confirm if you plan on participating in the summer/fall session. If you are hoping to join in the next session, we recommend you go ahead and sign up for the wait list.

Along with the CSA, we will continue offer pork, beef and lamb by the side. There will be limited availability this year, so sign up as soon as you know you are interested.

Lastly, we are planning on having a selection of pork and lamb cuts in addition to our normal chickens at the Fairmount Farmers Market this year. We thank our Fairmount Market customers for their patience and understanding last summer having only chicken and look forward to providing a larger range of products for you this season!

New in 2014

We have a few new ideas brewing for 2014 as well. A few of those are:

-  We are looking forward to expanding our Portland CSA drop site this year. Although we will miss our monthly brewery/brewpub meet-ups with our very exclusive (read: tiny) PDX CSA group, we look forward to expanding the group and building more community up North.

-  Customer Appreciation & Field Day – this summer we hope to have a farm party celebrating our customers as well as the land and animals that help sustain us. As soon as we have a date for this celebration, we will share it and hope that you’ll be able to come out to see where and how your food is raised.

-  Work Parties – A few brave souls have asked about possible work parties and / or volunteer opportunities on the farm. We hope to have a few work days over the course of the year, so if you are looking to get out of town and spend some time outside, keep an eye on our Facebook page for work days.

-  Pasture-raised eggs – We hope to add a few laying hens to our farm in the coming months in order to add pasture-raised eggs to our lineup of healthy and nutritious offerings.

So that's a little look ahead at what 2014 has in store. I am still trying to convince Scott we need goats, but he's not buying it (yet...) ;) Thank you for continuing to opt out of the factory farming system, instead choosing local, pasture-raised meat and poultry!

Looking Forward

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The care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope. - Wendell Berry

As most of you know, we have been leasing pasture land where we raise our animals. It's about three miles down the road from our home and is nothing more than a fenced field. No barns, no corral, not even a storage shed available to store our four wheeler. If you read my last post, you know that we spent nearly all of 2013 working toward purchasing a permanent home for Fair Valley Farm.

Just when we thought that it wasn't going to work out and that we'd need to wait on this dream, everything fell into place, due to the amazing generosity and support of a couple of individuals who whole-heartedly believe in the local, pasture-based farming movement. Needless to say, we are feeling extremely grateful and blessed, and are eagerly awaiting the day when we can pay this kindness forward to another young/beginning farmer.

We could not be more excited and thankful to have purchased this property and think it will be a wonderful home for our farm. For about four years now we've worked and improved the land of others. Don't get us wrong, we were ecstatic to do so - first at Jolie Vue in Texas, then Afton Field in Corvallis and then at our farm on leased land in Eugene. But gradually the urge to steward our own land grew. And meanwhile, our farm grew - to the point that we didn't think our leased acreage would be sufficient next season. We also started feeling hindered by the lack of outbuildings and living off-site. As we made these reflections, we came to realize that there is no "perfect place", but there is a "right time" and we feel that time is now.

So about the farm - it is a 70 acre farm just west of Eugene that used to be... wait for it... a chicken farm. That would be a confinement chicken farm, and as such it has two very long chicken houses on it that we'll eventually take down. DSC_0115 In addition to the chicken houses, there is a hay barn and a large livestock barn, which we can use (one day) for wintering our herd. There is a very functional corral and holding pens that will make our lives about 10x easier when it comes to tasks like hot-wire training and slaughtering.

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There is a good-sized pond in the center of the pasture and about 10 acres of woods where we can raise our pigs. DSC_0148 There is a pretty nice shop, which we plan to convert into our farmstore. DSC_0035 And lastly, there is a modest, but livable house where we can live, merely steps away from our animals!!

In general, it needs quite a bit of TLC. Some buildings need tear down, others repair. The pasture has been overgrazed, but nothing that a little rest and rotational grazing can't fix.

DSC_0174Tansy pulling party coming this summer!

We'll have our fair share of blackberry hacking and weed-pulling (but thankfully not a single scotch broom in sight!) DSC_0166 It just needs someone to steward it and breathe some life back into it - and we are thrilled to be those people. It won't happen overnight, but most good things take time.

DSC_0235 Bonus: it came with a farm cat! Welcome to the family, Porter!

We absolutely could not have made it through this process without the support and encouragement from many dear friends and family members, and for that we feel grateful, humbled and very blessed. Not to be overly dramatic, but at times the weight of it all felt like an overwhelming load to bear, but others helped lighten that load through their positive words and listening ears. And every single customer has played a part, as there would be no reason to buy such a farm if there wasn't such a demand for wholesome, clean food from happy animals that improves the land, rather than depleting it.

We can't wait to have a big farm party, but given the time of year we'll probably resist the urge until springtime. That said, the door is always open to come look around / pick up your CSA share or some chicken! One of the biggest motivations for moving closer to town and on-farm is so it's that much easier for our customers to see where and how their food is raised!

Needless to say, we have lots of big dreams and plans for this place. But right now we're going to turn it back down to reality and continue to focus on raising the very best pastured pork, poultry, grass-fed beef and lamb we can :)

ps- thanks goes to my bro Rob for taking these photos!

2013: Looking Back

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As could be expected, 2013 has had its ups and downs, but overall it was a great season! For my own sake I thought I'd write down some memories from the year before I completely forget :) Our 2013 season started ramping up in March, with the addition of a few St. Croix lambs and Berk/Duroc cross pigs. We waited until March this year, for the ground to dry up and the grass to take off before stocking any animals.

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As April arrived, we started gearing up for our broiler chicks to arrive. This year, we grew nearly double the amount of broilers, and as such our spring was busy with building new pens and planning all the logistics that came with more birds.

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More birds meant we'd be covering more ground, since we move the broiler pens daily, so our attention turned to dealing with the scotch broom that had overgrown parts of the pasture. After two very long, hot days, along with the help of some friends and family, we transformed the field and unlocked many new acres.

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Meanwhile, we welcomed our angus stockers and some hampshire/cross lambs to the farm as well. The animals continued their rotation around the pasture, enjoying the lush grass and adding natural fertilization via their manure.

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The low point of our season was in June, when we realized our feed supplier changed his ration without telling us (causing the chickens to not gain weight properly). The bright side of this realization was that it caused us to finally pull the trigger on something we'd been wanting to do for a while: switch to a corn-and-soy free feed ration. The previous feed was corn-free but still included some soy for protein, and while the supplier tried to source non-gmo soy, the only sure-fire way to avoid gmo's is to avoid the use of ingredients like corn and soy which are overwhelmingly grown using gm seeds. Our switch to Union Point has certainly been a high point of our season.

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With the summer came the start of the Fairmount Neighborhood Farmers' Market. We enjoy the market so much, and the community it brings with the neighborhood, local businesses, and the other vendors, Sweetwater Farm and Tiger Lily Art Company. In July, we kicked off our CSA program, which has been a great success!

This summer was very hot and very dry! Thankfully, we had plenty of shade for the animals and the only downside of this heat was less grass growth through the summer. But as a tradeoff, unlike last year, we got earlier fall rains, resulting in a nice second growth of grass in Sept/Oct.

With the coming of fall, our attention turned to our Thanksgiving turkeys. Between the higher quality feed and the way the calendar fell vs. the hatchery's schedule, 2013 turned into a year of plenty as far as the turkeys were concerned. They were certainly healthy little buggers and as such ended up a bit bigger than we anticipated. Thankfully, all of our customers were understanding that we are a farm, not a factory, and looked to the bright side of getting a few more leftovers.

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December brought lots of snow and many of you have asked how that affected us. As we are seasonal right now (we stock young animals in the spring from other local farmers and raise them to finishing weight throughout the year), we were thanking our lucky stars that we didn't have to worry about any of our animals out in the snow. Even though we look forward to adding a breeding program in the future (and thus keeping animals year round), there are definitely times we are thankful for this seasonal approach.

One of the things we'll personally remember the most about 2013, however, will be our attempt at purchasing a permanent home for our farm. We haven't mentioned it at all because of how uncertain it has been, and in fact it looks like it won't work out after all. However we've learned a lot in the process, not only all about farm financing but also life lessons in patience and resilience. But most of all, we're reminded that the heart of our farm is actually our customers, not a plot of land or brick and mortar building, and for that we are very thankful.

We are already itching to plan for next year and look forward to continuing to provide the best pastured pork, poultry, beef and lamb we can through our CSA, the farmers market and by the side. All in all, it's been a really great year and we look forward to seeing what 2014 has in store.

Thank you so much for supporting this vision - whether by being a customer, friend or encouraging from afar - we truly believe we can change the system together. Wishing you a joyous holiday season and happy new year!

<3 Scott and Jenni

A Turkey Story

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Your turkey was hatched on August 6th in Tangent, OR by Jenks Hatchery, a family hatchery located just a few miles north of us. We picked up the poults (turkey chicks) that morning and brought them back to our farm where they joined some broiler chicks in the brooder. They stayed in the warm brooder for a few weeks until they were feathered out and hardy enough to move out to pasture.

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For the first few weeks on pasture, they stayed with the broilers in bottomless, moveable pens. This protected them from any predators while still allowing them to forage for grass and bugs in the pasture. Every morning they moved to fresh pasture to maximize their foraging and optimize their impact on the pasture. As a result we have a beautiful green path going around the pasture due to the natural fertilization their manure provided. In addition to what they forage, they were fed a corn-and-soy free feed ration, milled locally in Brownsville by Union Point Feeds.

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Once the turkeys were about 7 weeks old, they had grown big enough that they were ready to move out of their moveable pens. At this point they were large enough that aerial predators wouldn’t bother them. They moved to a feather-net set-up, which consisted of electrified poultry netting (to protect from larger ground predators) and a cozy shelter (made from repurposed materials) to sleep in and hang out in if it was raining. This set up was also all portable so that the turkeys could be moved every few days to ensure that they always had fresh forage and didn’t over disturb any section of the pasture.

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At 16 weeks of age, the turkeys were all grown up and ready to fulfill their turkey destiny. The turkeys were processed Monday morning at an ODA-licensed facility. We are so thankful for the sacrifice the turkeys have made for all of our Thanksgiving dinners.

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We take great pride in knowing that our turkeys had a wonderful life that allowed them to fully express all their natural instincts. We thank you for choosing to support pasture-based farming – we really do believe it is better for the mind, body and soil!

Thanks again,

Scott and Jenni Fair Valley Farm