Farming and Agriculture

Food Tank 2017 DC Summit is LIVE!

If you’re interested in hearing some of the nation’s top food activists, scientists, journalists, and policy creators speak about the state of food in the U.S., Food Tank is generously broadcasting the whole day’s program live.

Follow along here: https://foodtank.com/

The full day’s agenda is here: https://foodtank.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/FoodTank_DCSummit_Agenda.pdf

 

 

Things in bowls…

As I write this, I’m listen to the popping and crackling of a fire burning in a little black stove in the corner of the room. It’s different from a fireplace, which, in my mind at least, evokes nostalgia and maybe a touch of romance more than anything else. But, the fire that burns tonight is one of necessity. It requires attention– poking, prodding, stoking, and feeding. It’s the fire that warms us, that heats the water for tea, that warms through chunks of leftover cornbread, and keeps a large pot of split pea soup bubbling away. This home is not without some modern amenities, but when this little stove can do so much with so little, it’s easy to forget that they’re there.  Like a ballerina dancing a steady, controlled adagio so slowly that you are somehow a little surprised when she’s made it to the other side of the stage, I’ve barely noticed that time has seemed to march backwards a little. I don’t feel inconvenience, or “without.”  Just… I’m not sure what the right word would be. Content? Sure? Serene? I do know I’ll miss that little wood stove when it’s time to move on.

My time here in Taos, so far, is making me thinky. Very, very thinky.

I’m thinking a lot today about things that cook in pots, and meals eaten out of bowls. Those soups and stews and braises cook for hours. They’re the things we cook when there is still so much work to be done. While chores are finished, projects moved forward, emails checked and answered, phone calls made, homework done, blog posts edited, snow to be shoveled… whatever it is that needs to be accomplished, these pots of things simmer and bubble away, filling the house with promises of an end in sight. When we finally sit down, bone and/or brain weary, to a bowl of comforting… whatever it is that’s been cooking in that pot all day, it feels like the logical, natural conclusion to something.

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Our soup feels somehow even more fulfilling because the peas, and the carrots, for that matter, came from the ground right outside the front door. It’s a big pot, and we’ve revisited it multiple times over the past couple of days. I’m not bored with it yet, and am actually a little sad knowing we’ll hit the end of it soon.

I ventured into town today, and, fortified against the cold with an Americano spiked with cinnamon and chile powder (called The Coyote), wandered around Taos’ central plaza. After a little bit of shopping, lunch was yet another meal in a bowl– a fiery green chile, thick with tomatoes and potatoes and a delicious broth that delivered on both heat and flavor.

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My server warned me, “It’s really spicy,” and kept coming back to check on me to make sure I was ok. “Geez, you’re a trooper.” I ate the whole bowl, and every last shred of the homemade tortillas that came with it. I’ll admit, it took another hour for the last vestiges of heat to fade away, so maybe I’m not so much a trooper as I am a glutton for punishment.

I’ve had some interesting conversations about food with the locals here. There’s a strange dichotomy that comes from living in a place that supports both a thriving locavore community as well as native culture, but also the hesitant necessity of big chains. I’m still learning, so maybe I’ll hold back on pontificating any further until I’ve gotten to dig in a little more. I really don’t think a week and a half will be nearly enough time to learn it all, but isn’t that the way? For now, I’ll just enjoy the lessons as they come. Hopefully there’s more to learn from the things that come in bowls.

Off I Grow!

Well, 2016 is done. It definitely had its ups and downs, both personally for me, and for the world. I, for one, am happy to see it in my rear view mirror. It wasn’t all bad, of course. I developed amazing friendships and learned a LOT about myself, and those are never bad things.

It’s time to look ahead, though. This is just a quick update to let you all know I have, indeed, hit the road. I left Colorado January 2nd, and am currently posted up in Taos, New Mexico. I’ll be here for about a week and a half, helping a friend with some winter chores for her little farm, making a day trip or two down to Santa Fe, and just generally learning as much as I can about the food and culture of the area while I’m here.

On my way here, heading down Highway 160, I came across this sign. I noticed it, drove past it, then felt that little voice inside me say, “Jordan. Go back and look again.”

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So I flipped a U-ey and went back. I looked again. I stared at that sign for a good five minutes. I know quite a few people who choose a word for themselves at the beginning of each year… something to help give direction and focus to their endeavors for the next 365 days. I’ve never really done that, but I think, at least for 2017, it’s a fairly apparent imperative (say that five times fast) that “Grow” is my word.

Here’s to growing… and learning about growing… and watching things grow.

Demystifying Lamb: Advice Straight from the Rancher

This post is one of a series of posts I’m sharing about Sacramento IFBC 2016. In exchange for a discounted ticket, I agreed to share my own personal experience about IFBC on my blog.

“Agriculture was not always a source of pride for Sacramento.” Mary Kimball, Executive Director of Winter, California’s Center for Land-Based Learning shared that sentiment with an audience of food bloggers during an IFBC Panel on what it really means to be America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.

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That lack of pride changed when perspectives started to shift, thanks to a full on Farm-to-Fork campaign launched by the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau. As consumers, farmers, and retailers started to feel more connected, and the story of Sacramento’s agricultural bounty was told, it became a shared experience for everyone involved in the local food cycle, from start to finish. These days, it’s a story most Sacramento residents will gladly share.

Pride in his product came through loud and clear as lamb rancher Ryan Mahoney showed us around Brown Road Ranch in Rio Vista. While the bloggers on the tour peppered him with questions about everything from the stock, to feeding cycles, to how the lamb gets to market, it was easy to see his sincere interest in making sure we all “got it,” and came away with a real education. Of course, because we’re food bloggers, we quickly started digging around about flavor and recipes we could share to help home cooks get the very best from the lamb they buy, regardless of the cut. A quick peek at Ryan’s Instagram account (@californiasheeprancher) shows he eats plenty of his own product, and from chops to meatloaf, he knows what he’s doing.

The first thing we all wanted to know—what’s the difference between American lamb and the product from New Zealand and Australia? American lamb is bred for flavor, as opposed to the Merino stock the imported product comes from, which was primarily bred for wool.  That means American lambs go to market about 30 pounds bigger than the imports, on average, with more even fat distribution and better platability, which refers to the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of the cooked product.

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I’ve heard people say they’re a little intimidated by the idea of cooking lamb at home. But I say, don’t be scared! While the flavor is different, the same basic cooking rules as the ones we follow for beef still apply.   Among the more tender cuts, Ryan says the easiest cut to cook is the center loin chop, seasoned with garlic salt, pepper and rosemary then grilled just like a steak.

Harder working, tougher muscles get lower heat with longer cooking time– think braising or stewing. He shared his family recipe for a leg of lamb.. Marinate the leg overnight in a mixture of brown sugar, Dijon mustard, lemon pepper and soy sauce. Braise it in low, moist heat in the oven, then reduce the marinade down in a pot on the stove to use as a sauce. Lamb shanks are even easier, and slow cooker friendly. His advice? “Throw ‘em in a Crock Pot with a bunch of stuff and they come out real tender and good.”

Just before sitting down to write this post, I noticed a picture of a lamb meatloaf Ryan posted to his Instagram account. I immediately asked for the recipe. He wasn’t very specific about some of the seasoning amounts, so I had to play around a little to find the right ratios. But, I think I figured out a version that worked well. We ended up with moist, juicy meatloaf that was packed with deep, complex flavor, and will make some excellent meatloaf sandwiches later in the week.  Give it a shot, and tell me what you think.

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Equipment:
Knife and cutting board
Measuring cups and spoons
Mixing bowl
Rubber spatula, or maybe just a pair of disposable gloves if you’re mixing by hand
Loaf pan

Ingredients:
1 lb ground American lamb
1 lb ground beef chuck
1 C milk
1 egg
1 T Kosher salt
½ T lemon pepper
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 T garlic, finely chopped
½ medium white onion, small dice
1 T fresh ginger, or ¼ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground sage
¼ tsp mustard powder
1 T Worcestershire sauce
3-4 shakes of your favorite hot sauce (I used Cholula)
Pan spray

Preheat your oven to 350°. Spray the loaf pan generously with pan spray and set aside. Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl until just evenly combined. Don’t overmix.

Pour the mixture into the loaf pan, evening out the top with the spatula. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 160° on your meat thermometer. Allow to rest for 15 minutes, then slice and serve. Should make eight slices.

If you’re a beer fan, like me, pair it with a rich, malty Porter. Yum! Looking for other pairings? Check out this cool chart on the American Lamb Board website.

Wait, what? You don’t have a meat thermometer, you say? You don’t have a cutting board? You don’t really understand all those cuts I mentioned? Don’t fret, my pet! I just might be able to help. Thanks to the folks at the American Lamb Board, I’m going to hook up one of you with a fun little goody bag full of everything you need to get started exploring the wonderful world of American lamb.

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Inside the reuseable lunch bag, you’ll find a meat thermometer, a flexible cutting board, a cute little tin of a wonderful seasoning blend you can use on just about any cut of lamb, a great collection of lamb recipes as well as a little “Curriculamb” education on lamb cuts, and a few other goodies.

All you need to do to win is leave a comment below telling me your favorite way to eat lamb. If you’ve never tried it, let me know that, too. The winner will be drawn randomly at 7pm MST on Saturday, August 13th and announced on my Facebook page, so be sure to go over there and hit that “Like” button to be sure you stay in the loop.

“…anyway, that’s my goat story.”

This post is one of a series of posts I’m sharing about Sacramento IFBC 2016. In exchange for a discounted ticket, I agreed to share my own personal experience about IFBC on my blog. This post, and the next one to follow, are about an excursion trip to a sheep farm just outside of Sacramento prior to the conference opening.

As many of us do in life, Ryan Mahoney plays a lot of roles. He’s a loving and attentive father, as evidenced by the concern he shows every time his seven year old daughter starts wandering around our moving tour bus as it bumps along the rocky, rural, Solano County, California farm roads. He’s a 5th generation lamb rancher, which is why he’s the guy leading a bunch of food bloggers around his family’s Brown Road Ranch in Rio Vista. Because his animals are grass fed, he’s a grass farmer, too.  And, at least today, it would seem the roles he was born to play are those of advocate and story teller.

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Each year, along with three days of tech, writing, and discovery sessions, the International Food Bloggers Conference provides its attendees the opportunity to attend additional excursions prior to the conference open. These trips could be anything from a visit to a flagship cooking equipment store, as in years past, to, as it was this year, a tour of one of the Sacramento area’s many farms and ranches that help make it America’s Farm to Fork Capital. Our tour, offered by the American Lamb Board, would take us through Solano and Yolo counties. First stop, Ryan’s family ranch.

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Almost as soon as we get off the bus, after a few brief introductions, Mahoney dives right into some deep waters. Perhaps recognizing that right now he’s not just representing the California lamb industry but rather all California farmers and ranchers, he explains just one of the reasons why small farms across his state are operating at a perpetual disadvantage–Federal farming regulations aren’t scaled to the size of the farm. Big, industrial operations and smaller, family owned ones like the Mahoney’s are obligated to follow the same rules.

“Smaller farms get hurt the worst…because they’re not equipped to just go hire out some person to do all their compliance work and their paperwork, whereas, the bigger guys, they’re able to. And so, you actually have a weird scenario where the economic pressures and the social pressures are forcing the smaller farms to go out of business.”

It’s not just paperwork and regulations that make running sheep a tough business. Wildly fluctuating market prices, an ever-shrinking talent pool of help qualified to work with sheep, and the animals themselves make this the kind of work not everyone is cut out for, or even wants to do. Mahoney himself didn’t start out life planning to be a rancher.

“When I was 12 years old, my grandpa put me on a thousand acre ranch. He gave me a shovel and bottle of water and he told me to cut all the stickers. And, so, I started, and was excited when he showed up at noon. I was thinking I was gonna get a relief, and he gave me a hamburger from Food Farm and a soda pop and then he turned around and drove away. And so, it was me and a guy who didn’t speak any English named Pancho, and he taught me to ask ‘Que hora es,’ which is ‘What time is it?’ in Spanish. We cut almost all the stickers on the hill. After that, I decided I didn’t want to work in agriculture because why would you wanna work that hard?”

But, life has a funny way of pulling you right back to the place you started. After high school, he headed off to St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, where he pursued a degree in Religious Studies. Then, he was presented with a choice.

“Between my junior and senior year, my grandpa and my mom sat me down and basically gave me a job offer, and I looked at it, and I pretended like I had a big stack full of job offers, because, you know, Religious Studies majors, we get job offers all the time. And so, I said ‘I’ll take this back and think about it,’ and I went home and thought about it and realized, ‘Well, I’m gonna compare this to nothing, so I better try it.'”

Today, Ryan, along with other members of the Mahoney tribe, run about 1,500 head of cows, which are bred with Japanese Wagyu to create American Kobe stock that will be sold to Snake River Farms in Idaho, and of course, the sheep–5000 mother ewes, most of which will give birth to twins. The sheep are sold through a variety of market channels, but they all require the same amount of work, and for not a lot of return. And then… there’s the water issue.

According to the California Water Science Center, California is now in its fifth year of what they define as “severe drought.” The state is still under water savings measures, and with yearly snowpack run off estimates coming in below average, some have questioned the amount of water being used by the state’s agriculture industry. While he recognizes the pressure California farming puts on the water system, from the farmer’s perspective, some of the information being given to the general public is a bit misleading.

“The first one, the easiest one, is whenever you read a newspaper report that talks about water and measures it in gallons is a really disingenuous report because water, as a whole, is measured in acre feet. One acre feet is 350,000 gallons. It takes four acre feet to keep the grass green. It takes five acre feet to grow a field of alfalfa for a year. It takes two acre feet to grow a crop of tomatoes, per acre. When you’re talking about using water to grow food, it’s not water that gets wasted.”

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that by the year 2050, world food production will need to increase by 70% to meet global food demand. With so much of California’s agricultural product leaving the state, farmers like Ryan definitely feel the weight of, literally, feeding the world.

“It’s really important that we don’t forget that food feeds the world and really California agriculture…there’s a large percentage that’s exported out, so California really does a lot to feed the world. To ignore that when you’re looking at a water budget, it really hurts a lot of people without intentionally hurting them.”

Our visit wasn’t all serious faces, though.

I know, I know. You’re wondering, “But what about the FOOD, Jordan?” Yes, of course we got some cooking tips from Ryan. Who better to ask than the guy who grows the sheep? We also visited a local brewery to hear about beer styles that pair well with lamb. We’ll dig into the “meat” (I’m so sorry, I couldn’t help that) of that particular matter in the next post.

Also, I mentioned the Mahoney family’s involvement in sheep and cattle ranching, but there used to be another animal in the mix–goats. I say “used to be” because Ryan refuses to run them anymore. Why? They are apparently troublemakers, or, in his words, “…just little boogers!” He shared the story of his brief brush with goat farming, which they tried because of a feeling they needed to diversify as much as possible. One year, he decided that if they were going to run goats, he was going to do everything possible to raise really great ones. He had an irrigated clover pasture set aside just for the goats, along with brand new fences, new gates, and good water. But unlike the cows and sheep, which pretty much stay exactly where you want them to, goats tend to have minds of their own. And, well, I’ll let Ryan tell you the rest…