Welcome to Painted Hand Farm

Painted Hand Farm is a 20 acre Civil War era farm located in Cumberland county, Pennsylvania. We raise meat goats, veal calves, turkeys and organic vegetables using humane and sustainable agricultural practices.

Search This Blog

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Fall Fare

I love fall. Maybe I should clarify that statement. I love eating in the fall. The early frosts bring out the sweetness in the chards, kales and brussel sprouts. The vines on the all the potatoes die back signalling their readiness to be dug from the earth softened by autumn rains.

Digging veggies liberates that earthy aroma--the familiar fragrance mixed of mineral, decaying organic material and the vegetables themselves. I love the way the dirt clings to my fingers as I snap the sun chokes off the root ball that once supported sunflower-like stems towering over six feet. "Choke" is an appropriate name for them since they literally choke out everything in the surrounding area. Right now the horseradish is fighting for its patch in the perenial garden and the noduled tubers are encroaching into the herbal district.

Another aspect of fall is with the cooler weather comes butcher time. A few weeks ago, we had to slaughter a goat for roasting at a picnic so at the same time, we did a lamb for the freezer. Ralph was going out of town, Jessica was going to a friend's for the weekend so I vacuume-packed all of it until tonight.

It feels really good knowing that only an hour earlier the roasted sweet potatoes and russets, sun chokes, onions and carrots on our dinner plates were still snug in the garden and the lamb chops led a bucolic life in pasture prior to a quick and humane dispatch. I rest easier knowing that lamb was slaughtered and packaged in a clean environment...my backyard and my kitchen. My vegetables have been fertilized with rich compost made from the manure of grass-fed animals...no O157 E. coli on my salad greens.

Raising healthful, natural and safe food for ourself and others is a lot of hard work, but when I am able to sit down to a meal, such as tonight's, it puts a season of our labors into perspective.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Farming with Free Stuff Revisited

It's one thing to salvage things like sheds, vehicles, tools, etc., but the opportunity recently presented itself for a roadside salvage operation for some premium hay.
"Sandy, someone dropped a large bale of nice hay down the road from your place," said the voice of my ususal hay man on my answering machine, "It's laying right along side the road." With over a hundred mouths to feed on the farm, this warranted a closer look so I grabbed a pitchfork and corralled my daughter into going along.
Sure enough, there was a very large bale of number one hay pushed off the road on a curve. It was hay auction day, so my guess is one of the local farmers took the curve a bit too fast and the bale fell off breaking open. I positioned the truck on the downhill as close to the hay as I could get and began loading it on the truck.
"Mom, this is so embarassing. What if someone from school sees us?" my daughter wailed.
"Tell them that because I got $50 of free hay, I can spend that on clothes for you," I shot back and then went on to ask her how much the dress was I had purchased for her a few weeks before.
"There's no way you're going to fit all of this on the truck," she countered.
"Watch me." For the next fifteen minutes we proceeded to stack all of the 750 pound bale on the truck. She needled me again.
"We'll never get it all home." In response, the truck never reached 10mph on the trip up the street. Not only did I get the entire bale on the truck, I made it home without losing any.
The next day I got a call from one of the other local farmers from whom I often purchase hay.
"You must be really in need of hay if you have to pick up what I've dropped along side the road," he joked. Actually, he admitted to yes, as I suspected, taking the curve too fast on his way to the hay auction and losing, not one, but six large bales off his truck. Fortunate for him, only one broke open.
Since he was scheduling a delivery I offered to pay him for the bale. "Nah, that was close to an 800-pound bale. If you picked it up, you earned it," he said.
So for 15 minutes of exercise, I made off with $50 of premium hay. Not too shabby.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Gobble Gobble

I raise a flock of Heritage turkeys on pasture each year because I like the taste of grass-fed poultry and I want to make sure the bird that graces my holiday table hasn't been stuffed in some fetid commercial poultry house breathing fecal fumes and been subjected to the mutilation of having its beak and toes chopped off to prevent the cannibalism that is commonplace in overpopulated poultry operations. The first year we moved to the farm in Pennsylvania, we bought poults from a local Mennonite family with a large turkey operation. They only had half a top beak and the scarred toes left alien prints in the dirt as their toes looked more like geko feet than that of a turkey.

So what's the big difference between a Heritage and a Commercial turkey is the most common question I'm asked and I always answer breasts & sex. Modern birds are the Dolly Partons of the turkey world. They've been selectively bred to grow gargantuan pectorals to please consumers. Unfortunately, at the same time, they've bred the ability for these top-heavy gobblers to reproduce naturally. We allowed four of our Mennonite-mutilated birds to reach adulthood--three hens and a tom. When spring came, the hens lined up ready to be services but the poor ol' tom could only give them some "wing". With his enormous chest, his tiny pecker (and I'm not talking about the half a pecker on his face) couldn't come close to hitting the mark. So we ate the turkey eggs along with the turkeys eventually.

Which leads me to the next most common question--how can you eat your turkeys? That's easy. Anyone who has ever raised turkeys will tell you that by the first of November they start chanting, "Three more weeks! Three more weeks!" I move two dozen birds in a portable house two to three times a day and by now the amount of crap they leave behind will gag even the strong of stomach. I can only imagine what thousands of these critters confined by the thousands in an enclosed building must be like.

I've also read enough USDA butchering regulations to know that the reason the health department suggests you incinerate a turkey to 180 degrees internal temperature is because of all the unsanitary conditions when the birds are processed. When anyone eats one of my birds, I've personally cleaned it and know that the intestinal tract hasn't been broken open by automated cleaning equipment thus contaminating the carcass with fecal matter--the source for pathogens that make people sick.

But there is one thing about my Heritage turkeys that I do love (beside the taste). There's something ethereal about stepping outside on a crisp autumn morning and hearing turkeys. They chirp and tribble some while young, but the familar gobbling doesn't begin until mid-October when the first frost appears against the backdrop of flame-colored leaves signalling fall.