From the Farmer

Week 11 – 7/22/2013

In this Issue

Summer Greens, in brief…
Interview with the Chicken…
Saturday at the Farm Stand…
All About Eggs.

Summer Greens, in brief: Amaranth, Malabar spinach, Egyptian spinach, and Sweet Potato Greens

I think I’ve explained before that some veggies like it cold and some veggies like it hot.  That goes for greens, especially.  It’s also a pest issue.  Kale and collards host summer pests that make them very difficult – and financially infeasible to grow.  I like to give them July off to try and break the lifecycle of those pests before we plant our fall broccolis, kales, and cabbages.  

Luckily, there are plants that do like it hot (though some are well liked by our summer insects, particularly the amaranth and the Egyptian spinach).  This year we’re growing Malabar spinach, amaranth (often called Callaloo), sweet potato greens, and Egyptian spinach or Molokhia.  They’re unique and fantastic plants, beautiful to grow and yummy to eat.  You can always treat them as you would any green – stir fry or steam, put in eggs or salad.  But these crops are common if not famous in cultures that live in their happy places and it’s worth learning and sharing more interesting recipes.  I’m going to leave recipes to you all – if you have some, send them in!

This week you’ll receive either amaranth greens or Malabar spinach; we’ll go by pickup and the next time around we’ll alternate.  Amaranth greens are green with a red blush in the center of the leaves.  Malabar spinach is green and will come attached to their vines.  They are also slightly mucilaginous, kind of like okra.  Some of us at the farm like them this way while others like to cook them first.  

*These are all also available any week for special orders if you’d like to add an extra bunch or bag to your share.  Try the online store or drop us a line.

Interview with The Chicken

This week, we highlight The Chicken.  Maligned, ridiculed, the butt of many jokes, The Chicken is a magnificent beast.  This is a jungle bird civilized, a thing of exquisite plumage and crow, a testament to the Cooperative Potential of Man and Nature, a Symbiosis So Great.  Not so dumb as one might think, they are adaptive creatures, generous in spirit and deed and demanding of little.  We have one hundred of these Bird-Deities.  And one of Them has deigned to leave its perch in The Egg Factory to speak with us Men-Mortals.  Herein whence now we give you our Conversation.  This is the moderately abridged Hulu version; the extended interview will be available on Newsletter Plus for $19.95/month.

Chicken: Cluck.

Farmer/Ed.: At this point we will bring in Jennifer, the Chicken Shouter (she likes to shout at them, it seems to calm them when they congregate densely around her as she feeds Them) to translate.  

Chicken: Hello.

Farmer: Hello.  Thank you for joining us.  I’ll get right to the most pressing question.  You are a lovely lady chicken.  What is the red thing on your head?

Chicken:  My comb.

Farmer: But you don’t have any hair.

Chicken:  You don’t have much either, but you use a comb.  [Ed. note: farmer is transitioning from visors to baseball hats]  It helps keep me cool.  Blood circulates up there, where it’s cooled.  The cooler blood then cools my core.  I’m descended from dinosaurs, we don’t have sweating in our genes.  Pretty hot, right?   Mine is a single comb – I’ve got cousins with all shapes and sizes: buttercup combs, cushion combs, pea combs, rose combs, v-shaped combs, strawberry combs, comb jambalaya, comb kabob…

Farmer: Ok.  So you’re a jungle bird.  Can you fly?

Chicken:  Yes.  Well, short distances.  Especially if I’m scared.  Or want to roost.  I like roosting in tree branches, it’s usually safer there.  The house you built for us, while modest, has very nice roosts.  I like the top roost and fly up to sleep.

Farmer: So you sleep?  Are you nocturnal or do you sleep during the day?

Chicken:  Nice try.  We chickens are not as dumb as you look, Farmer.  We sleep at night.  Dusk is a dangerous time so we pile into The Egg Factory and hope you close the door to keep predators out.  I hear you’re working on a door that will open and close automatically at dawn and dusk – just remember to open it at dawn and close it at dusk.

Farmer: What kind of predators do you have?

Chicken:  All sorts of things – hawks, eagles and owls; foxes, weasels and raccoons.  Snakes like our eggs, as do other birds.  Someone keeps stealing them, all of them.  They come with baskets – always more then one basket.  But that’s why we like to eat a lot at one time and then find a safe place to digest.  

Farmer: What do you like to eat?

Chicken:  We like all sorts of things, we are opportunistic omnivores.  Variety is the spice of life – I'm from the jungle. Insects, seeds, grains, tender greens, fruits and veggies, worms and slugs, frogs and lizards, rodents when we can get them… I like milk and yogurt, too.  Whatever I can get.  I especially like being in the clover field you gave us, there’s a lot of good stuff there.  Between that and the oyster shells for calcium and the fresh air, I feel great. And I like the non-GMO feed you give us.    

Farmer: Tell me, for all we feed you, you still look kind of skinny.  Can we eat you?

Chicken:  I mean, you could, I’d make great stock.  But I’m a baby-making machine, a layer.  You want me for my eggs.  If you want to eat chicken for dinner tonight, eat a broiler.  Like the ones from Whiffle Tree Farm in your freezer.

Farmer: What’s the difference between a “layer” and a “broiler”?  Do broilers have nuggets?

Chicken:  Well, us layers have lots of eggs in these here ovaries (actually all our eggs come from just one of our two ovaries).  We’re fit, trim, our bodies are built for the long haul.  Broilers put meat on those bones much more efficiently.  I have some cousins that are “duallies”, but like hybrid bikes, they’re not that great at either.  Great chickens otherwise, though.  Nice personalities.  None of us have nuggets.

Farmer: How does an egg form?

Chicken:  Well, there are bees and there are birds…

Farmer:  Chicken, this is for a general audience.

Chicken:  Ok, I’ll speak science.  Every 25 hours or so a yolk escapes into my oviduct.  As it travels through there, it gets encased in layers of egg white (takes about 3 hours), wrapped in protective membranes (about an hour), sealed within a shell (20 hours!), and finally enveloped in a fast-drying fluid coating called the bloom.

Farmer:  Um, where does it come out?

Chicken: Chickens come standard with a vent.  Not part of the A/C, think input/output system.  The egg cruises down the runway pointy-side first, then just as it’s on its way out it turns around so it’s wide-side first.  When this happens, things turn inside out to wrap around the egg, as if it gets a special biosecurity door.  The bloom protects the egg by sealing in moisture and sealing out bacteria, so the egg comes out clean and protected.

Farmer: What’s so good about eggs that you chickens rule the world?

Chicken:  Where do I start?  Protein, especially.  Eggs have all the amino acids most animals need.  Especially you people-types; you are the egg-stealers, right?  They have all sorts of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.  Take two antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin.  Good for your eyes.  Choline?  Stimulates brain development and function.  Good for the memory and alertness.  Cholesterol?  The old hack-saw about eggs increasing your risk of heart disease has been disproven.  And they taste great and are more filling – protein and good fat, they keep you feeling full and fuller of energy.  These things are incredible and edible.

Plus, they’re versatile, you can use them in so many ways.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner; second breakfast.  Snack.  Second snack…  And all that in a No Animals Harmed During the Making of this Egg package.  And I’m not just saying that just to keep the job.

Farmer: What’s so good about your eggs?

Chicken:  Pasture and fresh air.  

Farmer: What do you mean?

Chicken:  I have it pretty good, and that means you have it pretty good.  Studies show that eggs from pastured chickens have more Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Beta carotene and omega-3 fatty acids and less saturated fat than conventional eggs.  As we grow and our diet continues to shift from our feed to our pasture, our eggs will continue to grow and the color of our yolks may deepen (yolk color can vary widely depending on what we’re eating).  As it is they are firm and sit high in the pan when you crack them open.  And then there’s how much better we have it – life is good here at the farm.  

Farmer: We like having you here.  You’re good for managing fertility in our veggie fields, too.  So we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.  Just a few more questions.  

Chicken:  That’s a good point.  Think of all the things we provide: eggs, meat, stock; feathers; scratching and insect eating; poop; heat – we burn 35 BTUs an hour – and carbon dioxide; we dance and you can train us; poop; some people think we’re cute, which counts for something.  You people just have to figure out how to take advantage of all that.

Farmer: You are clearly Superior Beings.  Ok, just a couple more.  I want to know more about your eggs.  Some are big and some are small.  What passes with thee?

Chicken:  We’re still young birds.  As we mature our collective egg sizes will become more consistent.  A couple of us are “double yolkers” – keep an eye out for one of these in your cartons.  Yell Bingo if you get one!

Farmer:  My grandmother didn’t refrigerate the eggs her chickens laid, but I’ve been refrigerating eggs all my life.  What’s the deal?

[Chicken puts on glasses and approaches the chalkboard]  Well, that’s in some ways a complicated question.  Many old-timers kept their eggs out because they didn’t have refrigerators!  Clean eggs can be stored at 45°F and 70% humidity for at least three months, and 2 to 3 months at 55 degrees F with 75 percent humidity.  The humidity is important – the fridge tends to dry out, so think 5 weeks on the lowest, coldest shelf.  The refrigerator, of course, is a good tool for keeping your eggs fresh and safe, and we recommend it.

[Farmer note: our eggs are laid within a few a few days of CSA share pickups and Farm Stand hours].

If you want them to last longer in the fridge, you can wrap an egg carton in plastic bags to keep them moister.  If you really want to put them by for the winter, there are techniques for long-term storage: freezing, pickling, oiling, “thermostabilizing” at 130 degrees F, and submerging them in water glass (sodium silicate).

Although it is unlikely to get a bug from your eggs, a couple egg-safety reminders are always worth mentioning:

  • Keep a clean house.  Collect eggs often, and refrigerate them promptly. [Your Farmer does this.  A few of our layers like to lay eggs au natural outside, making nests in the tall clover.  This is okay (a little more work for us in the evening), but you may find some slight discoloration on some shells from laying against the plants, left even after washing.  This is only “shell deep”].
  • Use warm water when washing eggs [your Farmer does this].
  • Wash hands and utensils after handling raw eggs
  • Cook ‘em thoroughly – the white is cooked through and its yolk is at least beginning to thicken.  The yolk doesn’t necessarily need to be hard but it should not be runny.  Cook ‘em slowly so they heat all the way through.
  • Immediately cook or refrigerate foods made with raw or undercooked eggs, and cook them within 24 hours
  • Cook eggs and egg-rich foods to 160 degrees F and serve immediately, or cool quickly and refrigerate
  • Keep hot foods hot (140 degrees F and warmer) and cool foods cool (40 degrees F and cooler).  
  • Promptly refrigerate leftovers, and use them within 4 days.

Farmer: We’ve only covered the basics here today.  Will you be available to answer more questions for our customers?

Chicken:  Yes.  [Looking at the Newsletter] I’ll be at the farm stand this Saturday if you’d like to meet me and will answer any questions then.  You can also ask your Farmer and he will pass your questions on to me to include in future Newsletters.

Farmer: Ok, last thing.  Settle a bet: did you come first?

Chicken:  Cluck.

There you have it, yolks…

Our chickens are now filling all Egg shares and their eggs appearing at the Farm Stand.  Ours are the ones with the “Free Grange” labels.

Have a good week and be… greegt?

Mike

Meet Your Egg-Producer: The Chicken This Saturday at the Farm Stand

Several representatives from the Willowsford Farm Professional Laying Team will be at the Farm Stand from 10:00am-2:00pm talking to CSA members and customers about the happy pastures they reside on at the farm. The flock grazes on lush green meadows, enjoys fresh air and clean water, and they are free to express their inner chickens. They will be accompanied by a farmer and a handbook about chickens made by one of Willowsford’s young resident chicken enthusiasts.

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