Some words about Brie.

Let's have a conversation about Brie.

But before we talk about Brie in specific, we should take a moment to understand something about cheese in general: while there are a zillion types of cheese in the world, nearly all of them fall into basic categories, or "families." These families attempt to group cheeses together based on a common quality not shared with other cheeses. For example, blue cheeses must have their distinctive blue mold; cheddars have their essential "cheddering" process to help define them; there is the pasta filata family of fresh cheeses that are heated and stretched, like mozzarella. The list goes on...

Brie is perhaps the most abused cheese name in all of the cheese-making and cheese-eating world. It seems that "brie" in North America has become the de facto name for any cheese with a white-mold exterior. The reality is, that Brie is not a family of cheese, but rather it falls into a family called "bloomy rind" or "soft-ripened" cheese. Brie is a soft, creamy, cow's milk cheese made using specific techniques in a specific part of the world. Here at Many Fold Farm, three of our cheeses fall into this category. So when someone asks us at a cheese tasting or at a farmers' market if our Garretts Ferry is a Brie, and then asks if the Rivertown is a Brie, it creates some confusion. How can two distinctly different cheeses both be Brie? Well, that's because neither of them are.

Brie is a bloomy-rind cheese made in the Brie region of France. It is AOC protected, meaning that anyone who is not making Brie in accordance with the AOC standards (within the EU) cannot call their product "Brie." Of course, that doesn't stop anyone outside the EU from calling their cheese "brie." Most "brie" made in or for the United States is characteristically smooth and uniform in texture with a thick, white rind, and a very mild, creamy taste. One would not be wrong to call the paste "bland" due to its mandatory pasteurization and short aging period, or the rind "unpalatable" due to its cakey thickness (often, when brie is served at cocktail parties, you see a picked-over cheese plate with a disemboweled shell of rind with bits of gooey paste smeared all over where folks have unceremoniously scraped out the poor cheeses' innards!). Sometimes, though, American cheesemakers make a soft-ripened white mold cheese with a gooey, creamy, smooth paste that is in the style of Brie, but is, to my mind, worlds better tasting. Sweetgrass Dairy's famous Green Hill is an outstanding example, as is Jasper Hill's Moses Sleeper.

So when you're at the grocery store or farmer's market and you're looking for "brie" to serve at your next cocktail party, or you've got one of those recipes for baked Brie in pastry, don't go with the bland "wannabe brie." Get something original and American; something that respects the cheesemaking traditions of a place and that does not attempt to be a re-place-ment. And for heaven's sake! Don't call it Brie!




“Town takes a man out of the truth of himself.”

The next time anyone asks us why we farm, I'm not going to answer, I'm just going to give them this article.
The next time you think about the prospect of farming for yourself, or even just getting you garden going in the Spring, and you think to yourself, I don't have time, I'm not ready, in short, thinking of all the things about your live you may lose by changing it in the direction of Nature, read this article.

How to Eat Lamb

We've had quite a lot of questions at farmers' market the past few weeks about how to cook and eat lamb. So, I thought I'd shed a little light on this insanely delicious meat for folks. I am unsurprised by the questions we get about lamb preparation. Lamb is not commonly eaten in the US (less than 1% of the total meat consumed per person, per year) and is even less commonly eaten in the South (where pork and chicken rule the day). Folks are curious about it, and certainly enjoy it (who doesn't love a lamb lolipop?!), but it is not a traditional part of our Southern foodways. Most of us didn't grow up eating it, and even fewer grew up cooking it.

In other parts of the world, it is a very different story. The most notable lamb consumers are the New Zealanders, who consume some 57 pounds of lamb per person, per year. There is not a child in that country who does not know how to prepare a lamb chop! Countries with a large Muslim population also tend to eat proportionally more lamb per person, per year. Indeed, the British Isles, Australia and New Zealand, and Mediterranean/Middle Eastern countries have had lamb as a centerpiece of their diets for centuries. As such, most recipes for lamb fall into two categories: 1) European flavors, such as rosemary, mint, sage, and other herbs, and 2) Mediterranean flavors, such as cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and other spices.

Nutritionally, lamb is an outstanding source of nutrient-rich protein . It is also an excellent source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and is loaded with vitamins and trace minerals (especially when it is grass-fed). Lamb is also a very flavorful meat. It tastes completely different from beef. Beef tends to be a very pure, umami taste, without strong or distinct flavors. Beef also derives most of its flavor from its fat content. This is why a lean steak is often not very tasty. Lamb, however, does not tend to marble, making it very lean, but still extremely flavorful. The meat itself picks up the flavors of the place where it was raised and feedstuffs it ate. According to one article, "Because Australian and New Zealand lamb is grazed on grass, it has a more pronounced flavor than most commercial American lamb, which is usually weaned to grain, then hay, and finally fed a formulated feed of sorghum, wheat, and vitamins." This, in part, is why many Americans find the taste of lamb unappealing. Very little lamb in the US is domestically produced; the vast majority of it comes from Australia and New Zealand. Generally, our American palates tend to prefer mild flavors: mild cheeses, white bread, white meat poultry, corn-fed meats. It's what we were raised on and accustomed to. So, if you're at a restaurant and order the lamb, whether or not you are going to enjoy it often depends on where it came from and if you prefer stronger or milder flavors. It also depends a great deal on the preparation. A good chef will be able to work with the intrinsic flavors of the meat to generate a dish that appeals to his or her clientele.

Our lamb at Many Fold Farm is closer in flavor to the lamb grown in New Zealand. The animals get grass and hay and that's it. The meat picks up plenty of the local flavors grass-fed meats tend to have, but it is also retains a mildness that most of our customers find appealing. The reason for the mild flavor is that we slaughter our lambs very young, typically around 6 months of age, sometimes younger. The meat from young animals is extremely tender and much more mild than older animals. But because our lambs are grass-fed, they still retain a unique flavor profile that we love. At farmers' markets we also get a lot of questions about specific cuts and their preparation. A whole lamb can be cut an number of different ways. Most commonly, a lamb will yield four shanks, 8-10 chops, 2 racks, 2 shoulders, 2 legs, and a bit of ground and stew meat. There are many other cuts too: leg steaks, neck chops, tenderloin, ribs, belly, just to name a few. There is an excellent app for the iphone/ipad/etc. called Pat LaFrieda's Big App for Meat. It provides a really great introduction to the various cuts of pretty much any kind of meat out there, lamb included. A quick google search landed me at Meals For You Guide to Meat Cuts that has great, basic information. Here is a standard chart of lamb cuts and their primals:   There are two general guidelines for cooking lamb. The first is that less is more. Lamb is best served rare to medium-rare (unless you are talking about ground, shank, or stew meat). The second is that lamb greatly benefits from a marinade. Either overnight or for a few hours, allowing some olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs and spices to infuse the meat beforehand is always recommended. Lamb does a wonderful job taking up the flavors of a marinade and the acids tend to break it down and further tenderize it.

As I mentioned above, seasoning can go one of two ways: European-style with savory herbs, or Mediterranean/ Middle-eastern, heavily spiced. I love both ways, depending on my mood and the weather. In the wintertime, I like the rich, warming, savoriness of European flavors, while in the summertime, I prefer the hot-on-hot zip of the Middle East. As for cooking methods, this depends on the cut. As a rule, legs and shoulders are best served slow-roasted to medium-rare. I prefer these cuts bone-in because I love the flavor the bone imparts in a roast. However, you can get them bone-out and roll the meat up with herbs and spices to roast, which is delightful. The cuts that come from the tenderloin: chops, rack, etc. are best grilled, seared, or seared and then very lightly roasted (this is often how a lamb lolipop is made).  Shanks can be well-done, and are perfection in a braise, as are neck chops and the belly. Ground lamb is extremely versatile. You can make it into burgers, meatballs, kibbeh, Bolognese or ragout, moussaka, shepherd's pie... the list goes on and on. Stew is also highly versitile: kebabs, stews, braises...

Here are some excllent online resources for lamb recipies:

Savour Magazine's lamb recipes

Gourmet Magazine's lamb recipes

Bon Apetit's lamb recipes

And these are my favorite cookbooks with outstanding lamb recipes:

Moro, by Sam and Sam Clark

Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

All of Nigella Lawson's books

Frank Stitt's Southern Table, by Frank Stitt


A word about mutton: Mutton is the meat from a sheep that is more than 12 months old. It is typically much stronger than lamb, and not nearly as tender. It is best cooked long and slow and heavily spiced, and as such it is very common in Indian cooking. It is wonderful!

Good Grass.

Well, I've been sick for the past week. Flat-out-bed-rest-can't-move-drugged-up sick. It's the complete opposite of what my life has been like since we started making cheese. I've gone from day-in-day-out 10–12 hour days, juggling everywhich thing to a full, solid week of being unable to do anything at all. Full stop. The upshot is that I've been doing a lot of thinking in my convalescence. The seasons have started to shift, which is our usual cue to begin a more reflective, less active time of year. I've been cooking up projects and hammering out ideas for how things can move more smoothly next season.

I've been thinking a lot about the grass. I recently found myself saying to someone  that the grass is the indicator for all other aspects of the health of the farm. I believe this to be true. Our grass needs to be better. We have some spots where the sward is thin, where weeds are too many. Drought didn't help us. We ran out of grass just as the drought and high temperatures peaked in July, which was a bit of a shock after two years of not being able to keep up with the grass! Worms were terrible, a sign that the grass was poor this year—too short, not enough nutrition—we found ourselves grateful that we were able to supplement the ewes with hay and feed in the parlor. The ram lambs grew terribly and succumbed to worms constantly, despite our vigilant deworming program. It was as if the moment the dewormer left their system, the worms blossomed and the poor animals had nothing to fight back with. All these problems point back to the grass. Good grass means good nutrition, which means the animals can fight worm infections much, much better. Good grass means taller grass, since the worms can't climb the stem if it is longer than 8 inches. Good grass means high organic matter, which means better drought tolerance. But why did we not have these things? Listening to the Joel Salatins and Dennis Stoltzfooses of the world converted me to the gospel of grass: grass solves all feed problems on the farm. Rotational grazing is the paramount solution! And it is. But what I'm begining to see is that for the grass farming to do all its cracked-up to do, you have to get there first.

I had a bitter moment this summer when we ran out of grass and I had so many animals struggling. As I wrote the check for the hay I had to buy to keep my animals alive, I couldn't help but feel that I had been sold a bill of goods by the grassfarming movement. Why wasn't this working? We rotate daily using a moderate stocking density, we use chickens in our rotation... what was going on? Yes, we started grazing a bit early this Spring and should have waited until the sward had really taken hold. Maybe we could use a new fencing regimin to graze faster and at a higher destiny. But there was something else bothering me.

The answer came to me as I walked up and down the fields, looking down at the dry July grass, treading over the rise and fall of the terraces, formed to grow cotton, the last bush of which was still growing here less than 100 years ago. With a great wave of sadness, it occurred to me "that's where the fertility is." Gone to make cloth. Every last bit of it exported from the spot where I was standing lost in the great chain of commerce. I wanted to cry out at my forebears, "How dare you! How dare you leave me in this situation! Do you not know how hard it is to farm? How dare you make it even harder on those who are here now!" To understand my outrage, one first has to understand something about fertility.

Fertility is an abstract concept, but is firmly grounded in biological reality. In biology, the ability to reproduce is the pinnacle of life: if a life form has enough to not only continue on living itself, but to thrive, it can reproduce. This is, in a nutshell, fertility. Literally it means "to bear," as in to hold or carry. It is the ability of a living thing to carry on life: the carrying capacity for life. If there is not enough of the stuff a life form needs to go on living, then it dies or fails to reproduce. This is the absence of fertility. The fertility of a piece of land is related directly to the quantity of life it can bear. The quantity of life the land can sustain without input is directly related to the quantity of organic matter, that is poop (and other decaying things). Decay is the primary attractor for life. Microbes, bacteria, and fungi love organic matter and are essential to the propagation of plants growing in it. Microbes create and release nutrients in the soil so that plants can access them. Enough organic matter, especially if it is held together with lots of roots, and the soil acts as a sponge, holding in water. Not enough organic matter and you have hardpan: water trickles off the soil; roots can't take hold in it. Fertility can be directly measured by the quantity of organic matter in soil.

Getting fertility is a bit of a problem, because if you have more fertility, it's easier to get more. If you don't have much, it's hard to get. Think of it like an endowment at a school or big institution. The more money in the endowment, the more money the endowment can generate to create useful programs and provide scholarships. Then, more people are positively affected by the institution to give donations and grow the endowment. If a school has a small endowment, it is very hard to operate: hard to give scholarships, hard to attract the best teachers, and hard to ask people for more money. A school with a large endowment has a lot of fiscal fertility: it has more, so it can make and do more.

Here is the most important feature of an endowment: the school never spends the endowment itself, only the interest it throws off. Fertility in the land is no different. The land can be like a huge bank, holding fertility within it. If you have enough fertility, the land will throw off a kind of "interest" in the form of enough nutrition and water to support more life than what is needed in that specific place. This is the opportunity human beings seized upon with the advent of agriculture: the ability of a fertile piece of land to support more than could live on that one spot. We realized that we can work with nature to provide an endowment that better ensures our survival. But like its financial counterpart, fertility has to be properly managed if it is to remain effective. And so the words of Wendell Berry flooded my mind as I looked at the rolling terraces, seeing cotton where grass is now, harvested and exported, harvested and exported, fertility never to return:

Invest in the millennium.
Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion--put your ear close,
and hear the faint chattering of the songs that are to come.

These words suggest the antidote to the spendthrift farming we have practiced now for generations. Most farms operate on a minimum of fertility. Grass is very poor because the fertility has been extracted by generations previous, so fertilizers are brought in along with hay or other feedstuffs to keep the animals alive. Most farms don't rotate, so whatever organic matter the stock leaves behind does not have time to set in before the cow, sheep, or goat comes back to take out more. Then the animal is sold off, typically to a feedlot where it is fed more fertility from elsewhere, then sold off again as meat to faraway places. It's as if one deposited money in an investment, but then kept coming back to take more money out before the investment matures.

No one in their right mind would expect good growth with such behavior. It's divestment in place of investment. It's bad business. The notion that what you can take out is directly related to what you put in is rendered irrelevant. Basic economics be damned to the false values of endless consumption. Farms have become pass-throughs for fertility, like some security exchanged and traded on Wall Street (which, by the by, is not for nothing called the stock market!). Instead they ought to be a place where fertility can be deposited and held and allowed to accumulate. I understand now why I have had to buy hay, why the grass is poor in places, and why my animals suffer from disease. I understand that I have to mitigate and provide crutches when trying to use a system that relies on fertility I don't have as much as it replenishes it. Because of what my forbears took away, I have to add inputs in order to get it back. I have to put in some of what they took out if I am to expect any kind of return on my investment in this land and in these animals. It's not something I fully accounted for emotionally, financially, or otherwise. But that said, it is my goal and the goal of our farm to leave the land better than when we got it.

GROW! Released and Reviewed.

The film GROW! has been released to rave reviews. Contact the filmmakers if you want a copy or to schedule a screening in your commuinty. Oh, and check out this article in today's Civil Eats.

“I got into farming because I like the idea of feeding people, and I like the idea of feeding people stuff that’s good for them, that makes them feel good, that makes their days better, that’s pleasurable and nourishing.”

A Brief Meditation on Gratitude on Thanksgiving Morning

We here at Manyfold have so very, very much to be grateful for: we've lived through our first year of farming on our own, our ewes are happy and healthy, our chickens are productive and funny as can be, I could sit down with our three dogs and have a whole conversation with them about how grateful I am for their work; the egg business is booming, even as winter approaches; so many good people have helped make our farm sucessful this year, to name a few: our parents who came out almost every week to help with chores in the dead of summer heat; our friends who buy our eggs, come out to workdays, and get excited about what we're doing; our neighbors who come out and lend a hand, buy eggs, and tell us how much they can't wait for lamb and cheese; our community without which we could not have cut our hay, built our chicken houses, re-roofed the barn, or rescued two of our dogs (Carter W. and Chip N., I'm looking at you!); our customers who keep coming back for more, and especially to our co-producers who inspire us every day. Without these farming folks this whole endeavor to provide good, clean, and fair food to people would be an absurd task. I am so grateful to call you among my friends. As I write this, I see that building a farm creates a feast of gratitude, from the people around us to the food on our plates: it is all conncected. We could not make food without the people who help us, and we would not have people to help us if we did not have food. If Garrison Keillor is right when he tells us, "gratitude is the deepest way we are happy," and I believe he is, then we have had a year of unbelievable happiness.

So, as you sit down to your bountiful meal today, consider for a moment how this food came to be. Consider the people around you and how they came to be among you. Focus your minds eye on all the connections present at your table and take pleasure in it. It will make you happy. I promise.

I leave you with the words of Wendell Berry,

Eating with the fullest pleasure - pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance - is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.

I wish you all the deepest pleasure of gratitude this Thanksgiving. Be well and eat well.

A Guide to Electing Your New Agricultural Commissioner

(Editor's Note: while I'm not typically known for wearing my politics on my sleeve, I felt the need to offer some of my impressions of the GA Agricultural Commissioner candidates; it's an under-sung office up for grabs in the ever-under-sung mid-term election cycle that is pretty important for farmers of all shapes and sizes. It is my hope simply to bring attention to this election and to use my opinions to get folks thinking about this particular office. It is not my aim to sway anybody towards or away from a candidate. What follows are my own impressions, which I hope are useful to you. If not, pay them no mind. Either way, I urge you see the candidates for yourself.)

About three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a debate between the three candidates for Georgia's agricultural commissioner. This is kind of a big deal. The office of Agricultural Commissioner in Georgia has not changed hands in more than 40 years, but now, Tommy Irvin is stepping down from his perennial incumbency and three new gentleman are vying to take his place: J.B. Powell, Gary Black, and Kevin Cherry. These men played to a packed house. Apparently there were over 600 RSVP's to the event, making it the largest political event so far in this election season, further disarming the credibility of arguments that suggest organics and sustainable food is a "hippie/yuppie fad." If these politicians learned nothing else that night, I hope they learned from the attendance level alone that we are a very real group of the voting citizenry and must be taken seriously.

As for the candidates themselves, here are my impressions:

Gary Black: Mr. Black has both tremendous agricultural and political experience. He appeared to be a competent candidate, with a firm grasp on a number of issues and practical and pragmatic approaches to handling them. I feel fully confident that he understands how to move within the political arena to get things done. However, I question exactly what he would do. He offered to support the economic development of local agriculture by doing things such as devoting a section of the Georgia State Farmer's Market in Forest Park exclusively to local and organic producers. While this change would be nice, it is a mere token. Very few consumers of local foods even know the State Farmer's Market exists, much less shop there. The real business for local producers lies in supporting and creating new local farmer's markets, developing relationships with institutional providers such as hospitals and schools, and facilitating efficient means distribution throughout the State. Bolstering an already flimsy existing institution felt like being tossed a few crumbs.

Black also suggested that small-scale, on-farm poultry processing needed "more research" to deal with potential environmental and sanitation hazards. This was a red flag for me. While I do agree that small-scale processing is in desperate need of research (there's hardly any out there), assuming that the hazards of processing 1 million birds can be related to processing a mere 1000 is absurd. Anacdotally, on-farm processing at a small-scale level has virtually no environmental hazards and is generally much better in terms of food safety. I would have preferred to hear a plan for generating research in this area, perhaps lead or supported by the Commissioner's Office. For me, what was underwritten in Black's comment was concern for the protection of Georgia's largest agricultural commodity: chicken. If on-farm, small-scale processing is found to be as safe or safer, how would that make Georgia's big Tyson farms look? Frankly, anyone who thinks that it is not the job of the Agricultural Comissioner to protect those poultry houses is deluding themselves. It is and will be for some time. What is important is that whoever is elected is forward-thinking enough to support activities that may or may not change the status quo in the future; indeed, to give the underdog a chance to show its worth rather than silencing it. Black's comment that more research is needed with no caveat to support such research I read as a deflection more than a real answer.

During the course of evening, Black's history of support for big agriculture became clear along with a temperament I found reprehensible. Black has headed the Georgia Agribusiness Council for the past 20 years and through this organization has lobbied for the interests of big agriculture in Georgia. While there is nothing outwardly wrong with such activities, his involvement in this organization shows a certain proclivity towards the interests of big agriculture that leaves me wondering, along with his other lackluster offerings to the local organic agriculture community, if he is seriously interested in lending an ear to our cause.

What is outwardly wrong with Black's involvement with the GAC are the allegations of ethics violations, specifically tax fraud during his tenure, which Black has not been able to sufficiently put to rest. While these allegations are cause for concern, what alarmed me the most what when candidate Kevin Cherry brought up Black's involvement with GAC and questioned how someone who was a lobbyist for big agriculture could reasonably address the needs of small-scale local producers. Black responded by asking the audience if they knew Alice Rolls, the founder of Georgia Organics. He then asked the audience if we knew that Ms. Rolls was also a lobbyist. His self-alignment with Alice Rolls drew huge applause from the folks wearing Black buttons in the audience. It drew a loud hiss from me. This rhetorical slight of hand was a textbook example of a red herring with a particularly dexterous division fallacy embedded within it. The comment was a red herring because it simply failed to address Cherry's question and redirected it down a different path. Cherry asked how Black's affiliations with an organization that lobbied for agribusiness would affect his ability to vouch for small producers. It is not at all clear how the fact that Alice Rolls is also a lobbyist is relevant to Black's ability to vouch for small producers. Black's division fallacy within this red herring I found particularly offensive. Black's comment equates himself as a lobbyist with Alice Rolls, who is also a lobbyist. The comment does not account for the fact that not all lobbyists lobby for the same cause. To say that Alice Rolls, who lobbied for the benefit of small, organic farms is the same as Gary Black, who lobbied for large-scale agribusiness on the basis that they are both lobbyists is asinine and frankly, I found it insulting to the work Ms. Rolls has done on behalf of small, organic producers.

Kevin Cherry: Cherry was far and away the biggest crowd pleaser. From the moment he opened his mouth, I knew he would be making a lot of friends in the room that night. He was very clear about the need to change agriculture in Georgia; to move away from agribusiness and towards small-scale, local production. His very first sentence was, "The era of  corporate, cheap oil, chemical and fertilizer-based, steroid and anti-biotic based farming is over." Yep, he was singing our song. As the libertarian candidate, Cherry took the textbook libertarian stance, clearly against what he called "government subsidies and interference in the market." I listend to him with rapt attention. Was he serious? Was there really an agricultural commissioner candidate that was sympathetic to the cause of small-scale, sustainable production? I wanted to get up and cheer with the rest of the audience, yet something held me back. What was his plan for achieving these goals? How would he convince the Tyson farmers that smaller is better? How was he going to get Georgia cattlemen to stop sending their steers to feed lots in Nebraska? How was he going to help increase the market for Georgia-grown produce? I waited. I listened. No real answers came. It seemed, to my disappointment, that once I heard Cherry's initial, very exciting statements, I really didn't hear a lot more. Sure, he was able to address nearly every question that came his way intelligently; he offered great ideas, such as to privatize inspection of food processors (as an aspiring dairywoman, I would love to see inspectors come into my facility who have actual expertise in what a cheesemaking plant should look like and run like as opposed to someone who has simply read over the regulations and arbitrarily enforces them, but that's a whole other article for another time). He also offered some horrible ideas, like the privatization of water (which has been tried and is one of the fastest ways imaginable to put a farmer out of business).

Overall, I loved what Mr. Cherry had to say, but I couldn't agree more with Mr. Black when at the end, he asked Cherry directly, "You're elected tomorrow, what's the first thing you do?" Embedded in this question was the skepticism I too was feeling about the reasonability of Cherry's goals. While Cherry initially addressed the question strongly with talk of a need to analyze the rules and regulations within commissioner's office and to develop a plan for dealing with the complex issues around the budget crisis, he quickly entered murkier waters, saying he would then "get with the legislature" to develop a plan to change the priority of the Commissioner's Office from one supportive of agribusiness to one that is supportive of small, local producers. I just shook my head. Don't get me wrong, I loved what Cherry says here, but he's talking about a sea-change in Georgia's approach to agriculture. "Getting with the legislature" to affect this level of change is a tremendous undertaking, and one that Georgia's agribusinesses would fight tooth and nail by also "getting with the legislators." Frankly, I'm not convinced Mr. Cherry is fully capable of this formidable task. Why? Not only did he lack in providing sufficient evidence of a plan to achieve his goals during the debate, but I am unsure that his background would serve him well in a political office, particularly in agriculture. His biography on his website reads:

I am originally from Florida, born in Miami and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. I moved to Georgia in 1983 and settled in Douglas County in 1986. Agriculture has been apart of my life since I was a lad. My father worked in the citrus fruit industry for 25 years and my uncle was a commercial vegetable grower in Asheville, North Carolina. I am a former Army Signal Corpsman, Honorably Discharged in 1981. In 1987 I got involved in dealing with Food Safety and Public Health issues as a Certified Pest Control Operator, and I haven’t looked back since. Currently I hold certifications in Georgia and all surrounding states. In Georgia I hold the Public Health Pest Control Certification. Currently I am the Technical Director for Trutech Pest and Animal Removal Inc. of Marietta, Georgia. I am the Chairman of the Douglas County Libertarian Party affiliate, a former member of the State Executive Committee, and was the Libertarian candidate for Public Service Commission District 5 in 2006.

Cherry has minimal expirence in agriculture. He runs a pest-control business and ran a mere two years ago for the Public Service Commission, whose mission "is to exercise its authority and influence to ensure that consumers receive safe, reliable and reasonably priced telecommunications, transportation, electric and natural gas services from financially viable and technically competent companies." Which leads me to ask, what in the world does that have to do with agriculture? And, more importantly, if Mr. Cherry wanted to be on the Public Service Commission, why does he now want to be Agricultural Commissioner? Something seems odd here.

I can only surmise (and somewhat cynically, I know) that Cherry's primary interest is not in agriculture, but is in the Libertarian Party, which often employs a political strategy of "get elected into any office you can in order to give the party more legitimacy." My interpretation of Cherry's motivations here, leads me to believe that while at the debate, he was making a huge appeal to pathos, the rhetoric of emotions. Cherry knew his audience would be made of GA Organics members and those sympathetic to its politics. Nowhere else save for this debate, can I find Cherry making such sweeping comments about small-scale,  local agriculture. All this leads me to understand Mr. Cherry through the age-old warning: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

JB Powell: Powell is the Raw Milk Man. The one comment the whole night that got my enthusiastic applause was when I heard Mr. Powell say that he would work to legalize the sale of raw milk in Georgia. If I were a single-issue voter, Powell would have had my vote right there. Oddly,  apart from his comment about raw milk, I have a great deal of difficulty remembering anything else about him. In point of fact, what struck me the most was that, at the end of the debate when the candidates could ask questions of each other, no one asked Mr. Powell a single question. It seemed that both Powell and Cherry were aligned in attacking Mr. Black, and Mr. Black only fired questions to Mr. Cherry. Clearly, both Cherry and Black did not find Powell particularly threatening, or else they would have drawn attention to him. This troubled me. Why were his opponents so unthreatened?

Powell's biggest point, which he made multiple times over, and over, and over again was to use existing institutions, particularly in the University System to expand and legitimize the market for local products. Indeed, this seemed to be the blanket solution for the first few questions posed to Mr. Powell, including a question regarding the difficulty in legally processing pastured poultry, for which there is already an underserved market. How expanding the market for a product that farmer's can't easily process in Georgia will help farmers meet their demand is beyond me!

What I find most interesting about Mr. Powell is what he chose to omit during the debate. One of the cornerstones of Powell's campaign is his push to legalize horse racing in Georgia. It's the second major issue point on his website after food safety and he regularly mentions the notion in the press. However, horse racing is an issue that is not even under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture. Powell makes the claim that legalizing horse racing will provide a boost to Georgia's economy, but given recent declines in the financial feasibility of horse racing, even in Kentucky, I'm not so sure. Bizarre though I find Powell's stance here, I found it plenty more odd that nowhere in the debate did anyone, including Powell himself, mention this issue. Why not? If he really believes that it is a legitimate solution, or that this idea can at least help Georgia's overall agricultural economy, than why not say something about it? And, moreover, why didn't one of his opponents bring it up during the last round where they could question each other? It's just plain strange.

Be that as it may, I did find that Mr. Powell and Mr. Cherry were often aligned in their goals and philosophy but my eyebrows raised less often by Powell. He at least seemed more pragmatic in his comments and, being himself a life-long farmer and member of the State Senate, I find his motivations for seeking the post of Agricultural Commissioner more legitimate. But on the whole, I am afraid he is a fairly weak candidate. While he is certainly more amicable than Mr. Black and more pragmatic than Mr. Cherry, nothing about him strongly stood out.  No one wanted to argue with him, and apart from his statement about raw milk, little he said was memorable or engaging. While the other candidates ran hot and cold, Mr. Powell stayed quite tepid. And it's hard to rally around tepid.

So, who am I voting for? Honestly, I wish I could vote for a hybrid of all three. There are things I find unacceptable in all three candidates and there are things I really appriciate and admire about all three candidates. I want Black's pragmatisim and political connectedness, Cherry's idealism, and Powell's moderateness.

Who do I think will win? Gary Black. He's a strong candidate that folks can clearly rally behind, he's got loads of experience both politically and agriculturally (as well as in the meeting of the two), and while he would be fresh blood in the office, he's not hugely different from Tommy Irvin in terms of policy. He represents a slightly shifted status quo, is a Republican candidate in a Republican state, running for an office that not many folks apart from predominately conservative, rural farmers care much about. Steve Nygren, who is working hard on behalf of sustainable small-scale agriculture down here in Chattahoochee Hills asked me if I thought Black could be educated about our cause. Honestly, I don't know. I'm glad that whatever happens, there will be fresh blood in the Agricultural Comissioner's Office, which is always more pliant than a 40-year old, ensconced tradition of more of the same. I think it's worth trying, and it certainly is not going to stop me or anyone I know from farming the way we do.

zen and the art of keeping chickens

Over the past few weeks we have been raising up our first flock of chickens. The little balls of fluff that arrived in a cardboard box at the Palmetto Post Office on a cold Sunday afternoon (the postal worker told me I had to come get them before 4:30 because she had a cake in the oven and had to get home to take it out–- how much do I love living in a rural community?!) and just last weekend we moved them out of the brooder house (i.e. garage) and into their permanent portable chicken house out in the pasture. They have just exited their awkward semi-feathered stage and are entering full-blown pullet-hood.

These birds are so much fun. I've spent an unusually large amount of time just watching them. I can watch them for hours, given the chance. I find myself saving chicken-related farm chores for the very end of the day so I can take my time with them and just watch them. It's hard to describe the mesmerizing effect they have on me. It's not that they're doing anything particularly interesting, I mean, they're chickens, not The Bourne Identity, and yet somehow, I find them just as riveting. So when I came across this article by Peter Lennox titled Pecking Order at the Times Higher Education website, I began to understand their hypnotic power over me. Lennox writes,

Watching chickens is a very old human pastime, and the forerunner of psychology, sociology and management theory. Sometimes understanding yourself can be made easier by projection on to others. Watching chickens helps us understand human motivations and interactions, which is doubtless why so many words and phrases in common parlance are redolent of the hen yard: "pecking order", "cockiness", "ruffling somebody's feathers", "taking somebody under your wing", "fussing like a mother hen", "strutting", a "bantamweight fighter", "clipping someone's wings", "beady eyes", "chicks", "to crow", "to flock", "get in a flap", "coming home to roost", "don't count your chickens before they're hatched", "nest eggs" and "preening".

It's really, really true. There is something about watching these feathery creatures that clarifies the human condition. These birds elicit a zen-like inner calm. It's as if the chicken, a creature so utterly and helplessly in-the-moment, transfers a part of its most central nature to its watcher; this central nature, is bound up in the fact that,

Humans got the mental wherewithal to try to control everything; the chicken's future rested on being tasty. Chickens are thus relieved of an enormous responsibility, making their lives simpler. They don't have to organise the whole world, or attend meetings to discuss policies "going forward"; they don't have to invent the future continually - it just comes when it comes.

It is therefore a serious relief to watch chickens. They serve to remind me that the great responsibility of "inventing the future", which is precisely the thing I am finding myself constantly engaged in as I build this farm, is all a bit silly. The "I'm running a business here" mentality I have been know to affect melts away in the chicken house as does (quite blissfully) the time I could be spending doing other things. When I watch them, I am learning, among other things,

competition without co-operation is nonsense; you can't win by simply eradicating all the opposition - that's a pyrrhic victory. In life, winning really isn't everything - it isn't even anything. Taking part is all.

Reward and risk go hand in hand. The top cockerel has to take the biggest share of both. A flock can manage without a cockerel, but a cockerel without a flock is nothing.

A flock can keep you warm, inform you about dangers and advantages, and provide you with companionship; but you have to work at it.

Everyone should have a place in the pecking order. Strive for your place in life, not someone else's. Someone else's bread isn't necessarily tastier than your own. Envy will cost you dearly.

Don't let "flock-think" smother your own opinions; give yourself space to be an individual. Common sense is useful, but it's not always right. The society you're in may prompt you to behave badly, but only you can change that.

I can't wait to start entertaining requests for hosting corporate retreats at the farm with required chicken watching. . . Go read the article and start spending time with chickens. It's good for you and it's good for business. And of course, in the meantime,, you can enjoy watching them here:

pollan and politics

I talk about Michael Pollan a lot in this blog. I should mention that it is not that I mean to. I don't rally behind him, I don't think he has any kind of new, special understanding of or insight to our food systems and the ways we eat. Why I reference him so often is simple: he is our mouthpiece. He is the necessary, singular voice that carries the voice of thousands alongside it. He reports about the doings of this our movement and desire for better ways of eating and living. He's a journalist, and a damn good one, who has generously and happily devoted his journalistic eye to us and helped the general public to at last, take an interest in the wild and weird world of farmers and foodies. His most recent contributions have been largely of a political nature. A common theme among food activists since President Obama was elected is our need to show this president, who has a sympathetic ear to our cause, our movement: make him look and listen. That is the American way, after all, democracy in action. Pollan has turned this need into a rallying cry, one that has most recently gained traction in the form of a farm to school movement.

I've spent the last few weeks assisting our local Slow Food Convivium in putting together an eat-in for the national Time for Lunch Campaign. I cannot stress enough how important it is to provide children with healthy, nutritious foods, so I am going to let Mr. Pollan take a stab at it for me through his outstanding New York Times Op-Ed piece that came out this week:

Big Food vs. Big Insurance
Published: September 9, 2009

TO listen to President Obama’s speech on Wednesday night, or to just about anyone else in the health care debate, you would think that the biggest problem with health care in America is the system itself — perverse incentives, inefficiencies, unnecessary tests and procedures, lack of competition, and greed.

No one disputes that the $2.3 trillion we devote to the health care industry is often spent unwisely, but the fact that the United States spends twice as much per person as most European countries on health care can be substantially explained, as a study released last month says, by our being fatter. Even the most efficient health care system that the administration could hope to devise would still confront a rising tide of chronic disease linked to diet.

That’s why our success in bringing health care costs under control ultimately depends on whether Washington can summon the political will to take on and reform a second, even more powerful industry: the food industry. Read more. . .

what to do with a willing worker and English major: a responce to the New York Times article "Many Summer Internships Are Going Organic"

I've been meaning to write for some time about an article that appeared in the New York Times several weeks ago, in which I discovered that I now fit into a box. Apparently, there is an influx of liberal arts majors, English majors, in particular, who are choosing to abandon their books and potential Ph. D.'s (at least temporarily) and search for a "real experience" working on a farm.

Armed with copies of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," the article tells us, internship-seeking students offer farms little more than the educated and impassioned where what the farmers really need are "farm hands". I take farm-hands to mean folks who know how to work hard and fast with little complaint and whose intentions are to do a good job for a day's wage. Conversely, it seems, these liberal arts students are interested in pursuing a Pollanesque ideal. Clearly, the article sets up a certain tension that looks like there's a world of "real farmers" and a world of "wannabe farmers".

It's true: there are many saber-rattlers in the organic/local/ethical food movement who have raised the battle cry for good food and who have made eating into a political act (and rightly so). The present young and educated, like their 1960's counterparts, are perhaps the most prone to answer this call. But, the fact of the matter is that farming is more than politics and ideals. It's a lot of sweat and sleepless nights. People like Michael Pollan and Barbera Kingsolver are not farmers. They are writers. It is their job to use words to convey ideas and ideals that are meaningful and important that fall into our logical framework and that pull strongly at our own pathos. And yet we wonder why English majors are suddenly attracted to food and farms?

But I also wonder about the farmers themselves; those folks who break their necks making ends meet. . . the folks who get sweaty and dirty not for the experience, but because they have to; because it is their lives and livelihoods (to say nothing of the success or failure of this movement towards sustainable agriculture) on the line. But are these farmers not themselves idealistic? Something the Times article simply does not address is how is it that the farmers themselves came to farm. Sure, many farmers inherit their farm, they grew up doing the work, and maybe for some it was the only option. But not all. Some folks choose to farm. Indeed, every farmer out there made the choice to do the work he or she does on some level, and no choice is ever purely practical. There is inherent, incontrovertible romance in the desire to farm. If there weren't, why on earth would we keep doing it? We would all own vast acres of corn and soybeans in Nebraska if it was simply about putting calories on American tables. Put plainly, it would be a job. I don't believe that farming is just a job. No good farmer would ever tell you that. It's a vocation, it is something that must be done for our survival and so a desire, a calling to do it must occur.

It seems from the increase in interest among the young and educated that Pollan has propagated, that there are some who are being reacquainted with this fundamental call. And yes, “these are kids who are not used to living in a small trailer or doing any kind of work. . . most of them are privileged and think they want to try something new. They need structure." Indeed, they need to be taught. They need to learn what it is to work hard and get dirty and, moreover, they need not "trade poetry books for sheep." Liberal arts students, perhaps, are better prepared to be farmers than the agro-economy student. These English majors have minds that are prepared to make the link between poetry and that which creates poetry: experience. These students need to learn how to use their understanding of poetry to better understand sheep and worms and poop, sweat and sore bodies. They need to be taught the hardest lesson; that poetry comes from suffering, it guides us and shows us how to do things better and helps us to understand why we do them at all. Once a student can marry the suffering of life with thinking about the suffering of life, the world will get a worker and a farmer more willing and more capable than any merely working for a wage.

It seems that some farmers who hire interns expect free labour. But you get what you pay for. Students are passionate, but unskilled. If a farm needs farmhands, hire farmhands. Pay them a good wage and expect them to work hard and achieve results with little input. But an intern is a different thing all together. It seems that some farmers think that the work itself will provide the experience. It will, but not without creating tension on the farm. It is the job of the farmer who puts interns on his or her farm to turn the students' desire for experience (perhaps born as much from the poetry they read as from the saber-rattlers) into a desire for education, and then to fulfill it.

I worry that this lack of distinction between "farm-hand" and "intern" is driving a wedge in this new agricultural movement. There is a tendency to shun the young and enthusiastic intern who would, "report her organic farmer for using antibiotics on sick sheep" rather than to teach her and to use her passion for the benefit, rather than the detriment of sustainable farming. Indeed, if education is how we best preserve our culture, and we, as farmers and as eaters want a world with good farms and a culture that values our work, we must use the flames that Pollan has ignited and direct that passion (and sometimes cool it down a bit). We do this through teaching.

I know this all sounds like one more thing farmers have to do; teach a bunch of spoiled, inflamed kids about farming; but honestly, the work of the farmer is just this. Farming is about more than the cultivation of crops; seed to table, though an ambitious and difficult goal in and of itself, is not enough. It is about the cultivation of people. Farming is not only science, it is not just botany, biology, chemistry, and economics; it is an art. It is the interplay of all disciplines of knowledge and is a singular tool for teaching and learning. And these interested young, willing workers with their liberal arts degrees are a valuable crop too few farmers are cultivating.

Article: The Smartest Farm

The other day my mother-in-law dropped off a copy of this month's Garden and Gun. Now normally I find this publication a little, how shall I say, self-absorbed in the pleasures of Southern culture, but I was overall really impressed with this batch of recent articles, especially with this one. Sure, it's a little romantic, with its references to Jeffersonian ideals, off-grid energy sources, and good, old-fashioned American self-reliance. But like any good relationship, romance is only the beginning of what can become a person's best work. Clearly, these folks are doing it right.