Do NOT make this recipe at home!

So many recipes suffer from unnecessary precision, pressuring home cooks to buy ingredients they don’t need. On the other hand, a lot of great food can’t easily be prepared with a recipe because there isn’t any one way to make it. Here’s a tasty leftovers concoction we made recently that, if written up as a recipe, perfectly captures the absurdity of precision in a creative kitchen. Continue reading

The value of venison

What’s some of the most expensive meat in America? At an average of $10-21/lb, would you believe wild-hunted venison, that staple of rural American life? Quietly, behind deeply divided debates over whether food is too cheap or too expensive, over whether farmers markets or factory farms are the best way to feed the country, good old-fashioned hunted venison has become an elite and expensive pursuit behind the veneer of tradition and simpler ways. The average spending per deer for hunters in our home state of Missouri, at ~$1000, works out to a per-pound price that would make pastured ranchers salivate and affordable-food advocates blush, with far-reaching implications for food production, the rural landscape, and the environment.

To produce the flow chart below, I drew on data from a 2001 report on the “Economic Importance of Hunting in America”, various reports from the Missouri Department of Conservation (such as this), and other pro-hunting websites (such as this). While such calculations are only as accurate as the data they’re drawn from, the numbers come from pro-hunting sources and would have to be off by a very large margin to change the basic conclusion. Hunted venison in Missouri is, on average, 2-4 times more expensive than even local specialty grass-finished meats, as judged by prices from two farms near us in central Missouri, Altai Meadows and Green Pastures Farm. This reality has some interesting implications for how our culture values and produces food. Continue reading

Bayless-inspired Mexican cooking using our farm ingredients

This time of year, traditional Mexican cooking works well with our stocks of dried peppers, canned tomatoes, fresh & frozen meats, dried corn, dried beans, and more. Our diet is largely dependent on what we grow & preserve rather than what little we buy, so we tend to heavily adapt recipes or just make things from scratch using what we have on hand, fresh and/or preserved. It’s rare for us to cook straight from recipes, but we’ve found that certain cuisines fit our unusual approach to sourcing & preparing food especially well.

For Joanna’s recent birthday dinner, I prepared several interesting recipes from Fiesta at Rick’s, a cookbook which was her birthday present to me. Several Rick Bayless cookbooks like Mexican Kitchen have been instrumental in teaching us many new and worthwhile ways to use the meso-American ingredients we already produce; a library copy of Fiesta inspired us to try the whole-goat pit roast we did a few years ago. In this case I tackled several recipes I hadn’t made before, pleasantly surprised that despite the diverse ingredient list, from pig’s feet to peas, we had virtually every ingredient on-hand and sourced from our own farm. This made the cooking a breeze, and it took only a few hours’ work to prepare a multi-course meal with several days of leftovers, manageable for anyone with part of a weekend afternoon to spare. Joanna contributed to several components to the meal that are her normal specialty anyway. Continue reading

Organic cost-share, the Farm Bill, and us

Among the hoopla and uproar over the still-delayed Farm Bill is one situation that has important implications for our farm. As a general rule we’re not directly sensitive to Farm Bill contents, as we don’t take government handouts, grants, subsidies or other funding as a matter of personal principle (though the Farm Bill has all sorts of implications for our competition, both locally and nationally). Our stubborn independence comes with one exception, though: the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program (NOCCSP). Here’s why we reluctantly take this money, how it reflects the deeper problems in agricultural policy, and what will happen if the current Farm Bill doesn’t pass soon or loses this provision. Continue reading

How marijuana legalization could influence local foods

The recent successful ballot initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana use in Washington and Colorado have interesting, but overlooked, implications for small-scale agriculture and local foods. This attempt by states to circumvent a Federal law seen as unnecessarily restrictive on personal freedom of choice parallels other attempts to increase freedoms for small farmers to process and sell farm products independent of government interference. In both cases, over-regulation suppresses an in-demand consumer product and thus creates a real and potential black market for those products while blocking law-abiding entrepreneurs. It will be very interesting to see whether the attempt to allow more freedom to purchase recreational drugs will influence consumers’ legal ability to purchase fresh food from farmers of their choosing. What will it take to change the FDA’s position that Americans “do not have a fundamental right to obtain any food they wish.”? Continue reading

The opening of Trey Bistro

This past week, we were honored by an invitation to the soft opening of downtown Columbia’s newest restaurant, Trey Bistro. We’ve been looking forward to this opening for a while now, and were excited to sample the possibilities of this latest venture. Though we’re hardly impartial reviewers, as friends and admirers of Trey’s cooking & support for local foods, we were still thoroughly impressed with the experience and suspect that even those who don’t care about local foods will appreciate the restaurant for the simple reason that the food is so good. Trey seeks out the best, most flavorful ingredients possible and prepares them in creative ways, the result being really delicious food. You can read a nice roundup of the restaurant’s background and opening menu here in the Tribune; we’ll share our own experiences below the break. Continue reading

August day off: birding & Bamboo Terrace

We took our August day off this Tuesday, heading down to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area for a morning of birding, followed by lunch at the new Chinese restaurant in town, Bamboo Terrace. A post-lunch hour at the library followed by an afternoon on the couch at home felt very nice. The restaurant was a pleasant experience, and we’ll give a brief review below. Continue reading

Kirkwood by rail

Last Tuesday we took our first day off since late May. We were too tired to even take one of our normal road trips, and just wanted a good context to do & see something different while mostly relaxing and escaping the heat. So after getting up early to do milking & animal chores, we drove down to Jefferson City, and caught the morning train to Kirkwood (a suburb of St Louis), so we could indulge in our love of train travel while enjoying unique views of the Missouri River. Researching online, Kirkwood seemed like it had a nice downtown, worth spending a few hours in before heading back, so we went for it. This turned out to be a great, unusual, memorable day exploring interesting parts of Missouri, the type of day trip we love. Continue reading

The problems with drought relief programs for farms

Most of the attention in this ongoing drought is focused on how to help corn/soy commodity farmers survive their crop losses. I’m sympathetic to individual farmers watching their crops wilt in this brutal summer, but less so to the grossly tilted farm program landscape that focuses solely on commodity farms and ignores most of the other kinds. Here’s why we feel the emergency farm programs being thrown out there to help mean little or nothing to a farm like ours, and are problematic even for those they intend to help. Continue reading

JJR Farm quitting organic meat & egg sales

John & Julie Rice of JJR Farm face an uphill battle trying to produce certified organic meat & eggs in central Missouri. There are no reliable local sources for organic grains; John’s often had to drive to Kansas or Iowa to get his bulk feed (our bagged feed is shipped in from Wisconsin). The only organic-certified slaughterhouse is in Illinois, a 600-mile round-trip every time they have to process an animal for legal sale as organic (the only way to justify the price of organic feed). 1200 miles, actually, one trip to drop the animal(s) off and one to pick up the meat once it’s ready. Unfortunately, the prices they can get for local organic meat & eggs don’t really relate to the cost of production and certification. Now, after seven years of organic production for local sales, they’re calling it quits. Continue reading