Archive for the ‘The Farm’ Category

Pasture-raised v. Free-range Chickens

We have been receiving a lot of inquiries about “the difference between native, pasture-raised chickens and free-range chickens.”  Are “pasture-raised” the same as “free-range?”

NO they are not.  Here’s why.

Free range– The USDA free-range label (which we assume most Philippine brands also follow) requires that poultry be “allowed access to the outside.”

However, the USDA does not require the hens to be actually going outside (only access is required), nor does it define what outside is.  They also do not have any requirement on the size or type of the outdoor space.  “Free range” can actually include a chicken coop with a small door that leads to just a small outdoor pen, or a patch of dirt or concrete (even without grass.) In fact, Michael Pollan, in Omnivore’s Dilemma, describes a free-range CAFO as thousands of birds packed into windowless, military barrack like buildings with one or two small doors to a 10×10 outdoor pen. He also doubted any of the chickens actually ventured out for fear of the unknown.   The hens may spend their lives inside the pens, not have enough sunlight or breath natural air.

Additionally, free-range poultry are usually fed grains, which are not the natural food of hens/chickens. Hens/chickens are omnivores, and naturally eat seeds, insects, and grubs. They can also consume small lizards, mice, and frogs.

Healthy eggs and meat come from poultry that were able to eat green plants, seeds and bugs, and exposed to sunlight.

Thus, if you buy “free-range” make sure your farmer or supplier does it the true “pastured” free range way.  That is, the hens/chickens have actual time outside eating grass and grubs, and exposed to sunlight and fresh air. The best ones we have found are those hens that are housed in mobile structures so you can move the houses around and give the hens constant and easy access to vegetable and bugs. 

Pasture-raised-

Pasture raised poultry mean the hens/chickens actually stay outside.  They are able to eat bugs and vegetation.  These hens/chickens eat seeds, green plants, insects, and worms.  The chickens and eggs laid tend to be more nutritious because these chickens have exposure to sunlight, which their bodies convert to Vitamin D, and pass it on to their eggs. Eggs from pastured-hens have three to six times more vitamin D than eggs from hens raised in confinement.

Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-10-01/Tests-Reveal-Healthier-Eggs.aspx

Native and Pasture-raised

DowntoEarth poultry and eggs are native and pasture-raised.  The reason why we choose native chicken and eggs is because the native breed cannot be confined.  By nature, they cannot be placed inside cages as they are wild animals.  They also cannot be kept together in enclosed quarters, as they fight other chickens/hens and have a tendency to fly.  These chickens/hens have to be placed outdoors, given full access to vegetable and grubs, and be under sunshine.  We have made several comparisons of native v. free-range v. commercial eggs and have seen a big difference in taste, color and consistency.

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Photo from: http://forums.mukamo.com/health-fitness/18523-eggs-cage-free-free-range-pastured.html

Understanding Meat Labels: Grass-fed, Pastured, Organic and Natural

Confused about all the novel terms for meat? There’s “organic” and “grass-fed,” or “pasture raised.” What does it all mean?

Grass-fed Beef

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This really means your cow are raised on pasture and fed grass. The cattle’s diet consists of grass, the natural diet of cows. You are what you eat. Cattle that spend their lives grazing on pasture, compared to those that are fed grain (which is really NOT their natural diet), are always healthier. The meat is richer in Omega 3 (because Omega 3 lives in the green leaves). Meat is rich in Vitamin E and beta carotene, and is a good source of conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, a powerful cancer fighter. Usually, farmers who raise their cows on pasture strive to keep it organic or follow sustainable farming practices. This means no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or antibiotics. This is also because cows are typically healthier and thus do not need hormones or antibiotics.

However, there is (yet) NO standard for Grass-fed. The only requirement is access to grass during its life. There is also no restriction on the use of antibiotics or hormones. In fact, cattle could be kept in feedlots and fed grass, and the beef they produced could still be sold as grass-fed. The cattle can also be raised for part of their lives on grass (pasture) before they are sent to feedlots and can still be described as “grass-fed”. This is sad because the healthy qualities of grass-fed beef come from the constant movement of the animals in the pasture as they graze, not just on their grass-based diet.

Another issue to watch out for is grass fed dairy cows.  According to Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, “modern day cows are a freak of nature. Holstein cows [cow breeds you usually find in the supermarket, including those from Australia and New Zealand] have been produced by selective breeding to produce cows with abnormally active pituitary glands and by high-protein feeding.  The pituitary gland not only produces hormones that stimulate milk production, it also produces growth hormones.  A superfluous amount of growth hormones can result in grown abnormalities.  Excessive pituitary hormones are also associated with tumor formation and some studies link milk with cancer.  The freak-pituitary cow is prone to many disease and almost always secretes pus in her milk and thus needs frequent doses of antibiotics.” Note that about twenty (20%) percent of the beef in Australia comes from dairy cows and about 40%, in New Zealand.

“Cattle are healthiest when they are eating the food they evolved to eat (grass) under the conditions they evolved to eat it (grazing).” True grass-fed, even pastured, should be fed grass from start to finish, and without antibiotics or hormones. When looking for healthy, quality beef, look for beef that is 100% grass fed and raised only on pasture. These animals are not given any animal bi-products, antibiotics or hormones.

Pasture-raised

This only means that the animals were raised outdoors on the pasture. Again, the term is not regulated. As of now, there is no requirement on how much percentage of pasture is needed to properly label a product pasture-raised. According to Dr. Aaron Grass of Farm Forward, “All cattle are ‘pasture-raised’ for the first few months of their lives before they are sent to feedlots, so even the most confined beef can be described as ‘pasture-raised.’” Thus, most animals will be raised with some pasture but may still be with a lot of access to grain. They can also be raised on pasture but finished on grain. The animals can also be fed antibiotics or injected growth hormones. True pasture-raised should be cows on pasture from birth throughout their entire lives, with no feedlots. 100% Pasture-Raised” (like 100% grass-fed) indicates that the animals were never confined in feedlots, spent their whole lives outside on pasture living cow lives.

Organic Beef

Organic has actually very little to do with the animal’s quality of life and is mostly just about their feed. USDA Organic meat is derived from animals that are fed organic vegetarian feed (no animal by-products) and had “access” to pasture or the outdoors. No hormones, antibiotics or cloned animals can be used. However, USDA Organic animals, for the most part, DO NOT require a grass-only diet. The animal can still be fed an unnatural and unhealthy grain (even GMO corn and soy) and raised in feedlots. So, unless it is labeled grass-fed, organic cattle is fed organic grains. This is again the problem. Cattle raised on grain, even if it is organic, is not as healthy as cattle raised on grass. Therefore, it produces meat that is lower in omega 3s, vitamin E, and CLA than its grass-fed counterpart does. Without Antibiotics & No Antibiotics Added Only means that the animals were raised without any antibiotics or hormones (for growth.) Again, this has little to do with the animals’ living conditions or their diet.

Natural

According to the USDA, a product containing no preservatives, artificial ingredients, colors, and minimal processing can be labeled “natural.” Natural doesn’t tell the consumer anything about an animal’s living conditions, whether antibiotics or hormones were used, or what it ate. The animal can still be fed an unnatural diet of grain.

100% Grass Fed. 100% Pasture-raised. 100% Native breeds.

DowntoEarth cattle are raised the traditional way: grass and grazing. They are raised by small family farms with one or two cows. The cattle have never been on a feedlot nor are they fed antibiotics, grain (GMO corn or soy,) or hormones. They always eat grass and graze all-year round in the green, abundant pastures of Mindanao. More importantly, they are treated humanely and are not castrated or dehorned. DowntoEarth Grass-Fed Beef comes from the the native  Bali or Banteng and Chinese Yellow  Cattle  cross-bred with Nellore or Ongole and American  Brahman  cattle. The cattle is native, hardy and have been bred and raised for use as draft animals in small farms. Because of this, they are entirely raised on pasture, fed grass and without the use of any antibiotics or growth hormones.  DowntoEarth desires to promote local, native and indigenous cattle breeds. By doing so, we are able to ensure not only optimum health benefits in the food we eat. 

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Graphs from http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm

Rooms for Rent: Wildlife Welcome

I spent an entire morning chasing after birds, hoping I could take their picture perched on bamboo.  They were so beautiful flying from bamboo to bamboo and yet they were too fast to be captured on my lens. Instead, I was able to take photographs of our farm’s other tenants: the chickens, some cows, a ladybug and earthworms.

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An essential principle of Biodynamic agriculture is biodiversity.  As you treat the entire farm as a living system, you then protect and benefit from every creature in the farm, from the tiniest microbe to even the laziest cow. Every one lives in harmony with the other, and in fact, everyone pays the rent.  Here are some of the creatures we house.

Birds

The flowers and shrubs become willing nests for our birds and insects. While the birds and insects pay their dues by terminating all the pests that would otherwise wreak havoc on our plants.  Our farm enjoys playing host to bluebirds and kingfishers.  These birds happily feast on the grubs and insects in our farm.

Chickens

Then there’s the dependable chicken. They give back by eating pests too, and when they are done, fertilize our farm with chicken poop.  We can even have some free range eggs for breakfast!

Frogs

I have almost stepped on a little brown frog once.  We have some resident frogs in our farm as well.  They are hearty mosquito eaters.  They live close to our paddies.

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Ladybugs, Beetles and Butterflies

Now among our prettiest lady dweller is the ladybug. Dressed with her red polka dot dress, she’s the best at what she does- feeds abundantly in aphids!  Some other tiny creatures we love are the lacewings and beetles.  Read more about Integrated Pest Management and Beneficial Insects.

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Spiders and Worms

On to the icky ones: spiders and worms.  We can’t say no to our spider dwellers.  The webs they meticulously create become traps for pests.  And earthworms!  No one can deny these are the magical workers of the soil.

Cows

Cows are among our most important tenants. We depend heavily on our cows for our compost and for the biodynamic preparations we use. They are among our highest paying tenants: cow dung is like gold to the farmer!  Not only is it essential for a healthy soil, we use it to make preparation 500, which promotes the plants’ root activity and stimulates most microbe life in our soils.  Not to mention milk and cheese!

Our farm is an eclectic mix of creatures.  We have a thriving population of earthworms, birds, insects, chickens and cows. By ensuring healthy soils, cover cropping, and the proper planning of our plant beds, hedges and water reservoirs, we provide a habitat for wildlife and somehow increase biodiversity.  Not only that, we are rewarded with birdsong, with butterflies, with handy workers that cultivate and fertilize our soil, with soldiers, and even with fresh milk and eggs.

Be our (Green) Valentine

Want her to bury her nose in chemical-laden blooms?  Bathe in a tub of pesticide residue roses? Give a bunch that somewhere, somehow is slowly mowing down farm workers?

Nah.

This year, be our (Green) Valentine.

Not all flowers are created equal

Our flowers are not only safe to smell, bathe in, or even eat, these were grown with a strong commitment to preserve ecological balance. Our flowers are grown using sustainable agricultural practices including organic, biodynamic and natural farming methods. We don’t use highly toxic herbicides or pesticides to keep pests off our flowers.  What do we use?  Fish emulsion and milk! Even beneficial insects like ladybugs and wasps. Our flowers don’t feed on carcinogenic chemicals to live. They feast on organic matter made from cow manure, legumes, wild sunflower and farm weeds.  That means no health hazards for our farm workers or our florists.  That also means no toxic runoff in our groundwater or soil. No contaminated waterways. We also grow them here, in the Philippines. That means you can be assured of less carbon footprint to send your hearts’ greetings. Want another reason?  They are actually more vibrant and colorful, and they last longer than their conventional counterparts.

We draw on years of experience, trying to grow our flowers biodynamically, without chemical inputs.  What we give you are vibrant, beautiful and living blooms, you will be most happy and proud to give. And if you were our Valentine, you help keep harmful toxins from our soil, our environment, your family, our farm workers, and you even help us change the floral industry too. Read more about our Farm Practices.

Make this day of Love count. Send your well-meaning intentions without the toxic back-story*.

*Toxic Back-story

As with most monoculture agriculture, conventional flower farming makes use of a large number of dangerous chemicals including methyl bromide and methyl paratheon (chemicals deemed too toxic for use in the US or EU.) Flowers grown conventionally use a lot of herbicides, fungicides and chemical fertilizer. The only reason why you do not know these is because flowers are not edible (well, some are) and are not under strict Food and Drug standards.  In fact, a study found pesticide residue in imported rose petals to be 50 times more than in food imports. Aside from the health hazards, conventional floriculture is damaging to the environment. Imagine the amount of carbon that is released from cultivation, fertilizer production, transport, or think about environmental contamination from fertilizer run-off, pesticides and fungicides. But the most toxic back-story of all is the health of farm workers.  Workers in conventional flower farms are exposed to herbicides and fungicides on a daily basis and in closed spaces. Flower farm workers in Ecuador and Costa Rica suffer from respiratory problems, eye problems and skin rashes. They also show symptoms of pesticide poisoning: headache, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, fainting and skin eruptions.

Now why would you want that in your bundle of love?

Weathering the Storm

The recent typhoon that hit Mindanao was unusual. Our farm was built with the assurance that tropical storms do not reach Mindanao. They just never did. Not until December 2011 when the weather went around the bend and caught everyone in Mindanao unaware. And while our farm was spared the brunt of the storm, still, we woke up with the stark reality of extreme weather, and the realization that unpredictable was now normal.

Our Bamboo Greenhouses

The damage to our crops was minimal.  Our bamboo greenhouses rolled with the strong winds. Our robust plants were able to withstand more than usual water in the beds. Although lost a few crops that drowned with too much water (carrots mostly), these were quite negligible. We met with our farmworkers and realized there were quite a few practices we did in the farm that had helped us weather the unusual storm. These were some of the practices that helped us in the farm. We have decided to develop these practices further, as we prepare for more rainfall, stronger winds, and prolonged droughts.

Bamboo Greenhouses

Our greenhouses are made entirely of bamboo, without nails or screws.  Instead we use pegs. These greenhouses were built and positioned to use natural ventilation, with sloping roofs that cascade water down to the canals near our plant beds.  As bamboos are naturally flexible, and because we only had wooden pegs as attachments, our greenhouses did not break with the powerful winds.  The bamboos merely swayed with the wind, protecting our plants inside.  Rainwater also merely flowed on a slope, straight down to canals and ditches.

We are planning to further improve these greenhouses to accommodate stronger winds by redesigning the structure so it could allow more wind to pass through instead of directly impacting the structure.

Mulching and Cover Cropping

Our tiny cannals

Mulchingprotected our beds from too much water.  When rainwater falls on the beds, the mulch acts as a cushion and absorbs the water so that the excess water seeps slowly into the plants without drowning them.  Cover cropping does a similar thing. The cover acts as a barrier, protecting our soil from wind, water and nutrient loss.  Not only that, mulching and cover crops are also fertilizer, and thus improved our soil by helping break down nitrogen and releasing more nutrients.

Canals and DitchesRainwater falls from the rooftops of our greenhouses straight to micro basins or canals, which catch them. These canals are also lined with thick mulch (4 inches at least. Since our greenhouses are constructed on a slope, the rainwater would gently seep towards the plant beds and the beds will only slowly absorbed wat

er.

We are planning to have more canals around the beds to accommodate the impending heavy rain.

Terraces, Contours and Micro Basins

Our farm takes advantage of natural sloping topography to direct precipitation run-off to our plant beds. To prevent soil run-off however, we have planted legumes to act as breaks.

Natural Windbreaks

We have planted leguminous plants in between our greenhouses and trees at the boundary of our farm to act as windbreaks.  These acted as a sort of barrier from what would have otherwise been very powerful winds that might have toppled our structures.  As we are preparing for more unpredictable weather, we are planning to plant more trees along the farm’s periphery.

Sloping roofs

Organic Matter in Soil

Good soil makes bigger and stronger plants. Most of the plant’s nourishment comes from the soil. (Read about Composting.) When they have ample and the right amount of minerals and nutrients from the soil, plants are more robust and resilient.  They also perform better in wet and dry weather.  Most of all, healthy soils with abundant organic content can hold more carbon and more water.  Read more about Good Soil, Healthy Plants, More Water.

As you can see, some of the practices we did for the last few years helped our farm.  I see sustainable agriculture as a mitigation and adaptation approach to unpredictable weather. In our case, biodynamic farming ensures a thriving and unbroken ecosystem.  Treating your farm as an ecosystem will ensure that each and every part works for itself and for the whole.  And following the wisdom of nature, everything works together seamlessly.    We need to find ways of adapting to the changing weather that is already here.  Unpredictable is now the new normal.  But we can ride out the storm if we have prepared for it.

Mulching

Mulch is nothing else but a layer of dried weeds, grass, or leaves placed over plant beds.  We use mulching to retain moisture, prevent weed growth, create an environment for beneficials, and as protection from erosion.  Mulching has been most helpful the past few months with the onslaught of rain. Our beds have been protected from erosion that comes from the splashing of raindrops, which would otherwise remove our topsoil.

Mulching is one the easiest and most practical thing you can do for your vegetable or plant bed, or garden.

Gather the weeds, leaves, twigs you have.  You can

also use rice straw, dried napier grass, wood chips or sunflower leaves.  Dry them under the sun.  Place the “mulch” on top of the soil and around the base of your plants.  And that’s all.

Plant bed with mulch

What mulching does:

Conserves the soil’s moisture:  Water is lost through evaporation because of winds.  A good mulch cover prevents a lot of evaporation.

Prevents weed growth: Mulch placed at a depth of at least 2-3 inches prevents weed growth by smothering the weed seeds so that they don’t germinate.

Improves the soil’s aeration:  Mulching prevents crusting from hard rain.  Thus, your plant roots can have continued access to air.  Earthworms also love mulch.  As they feed on the mulch, they create air tunnels.

Provides a home for beneficial insects: Some beneficial insects are able to live under the shade of mulch. Mulch provides a nice home for insects that can help you with pest management.

Prevents soil erosion: Mulch protects your bed by preventing rain from removing topsoil.

Insulates the soil.

Adds organic matter to your soil: As the mulch decomposes, it adds organic matter to the soil.

Now you have something to do with weeds, leaves, twigs and the bark chips in your garden. Nothing should be put to waste. Everything goes back to the soil.

Peppering as a Method of Pest Control

Another method unique to Biodynamic farming is Peppering.  No, it’s not the use of pepper, but the use of ashes (produced after a method) that is sprinkled over affected areas in the farm like pepper.  Peppering reduces weeds, insects and rodents. Because peppering is quite powerful, we only use it as a last resort.  This is because it completely eradicated something from a treated area, and cannot establish or maintain a healthy balance, especially when what we aim for is a healthy, ecological and interdependent ecosystem.

What is peppering?

Peppering excludes a specific pest from the area you treat by getting the pest, burning it and putting it back to the soil.

How do you make the “pepper?”

Capture the pest and burn it to ash. The ash is then sprinkled like pepper around the perimeter of the affected area. The timing is specific to the type of pest and what planetary influences rule their reproduction:

Ÿ Animals – when the planet Venus is in the constellation of Scorpio.

Ÿ Winged insects – when the Sun is in Gemini, and the Moon is in a water sign.

Ÿ Hard shelled insects – when the Sun is in Taurus and the Moon is in Taurus.

Ÿ Snails and slugs – when the Sun is in Cancer and the Moon is in a water sign.

Ÿ Weed seeds – at full Moon or moon is in Leo.

Some tips:

  1. Collect the pest first.  If you are getting rid of small insects, you might need a lot of small insects.  If you are dealing with weeds, you need the ripe and viable seeds.
  2. Store it in cold temperature (freezer) until the proper burning time.
  3. Put in a tin and burn completely to a grey ash on a very hot fire. Sprinkle the ashes like pepper around the affected area. You can mix the ash with fine sand, wood ash or make into a homeopathic preparation which can be sprayed out.

Some additional tips from other farmers:

  1. Put out on three consecutive days.
  2. Apply at full Moon (associated with fertility).
  3. Avoid times when Mercury is retrograde.
  4. Use all stages of the life cycle of an insect (egg, pupae and adult).
  5. Repeat the application every six months or yearly.

Taken in part from http://backyardbiodynamics.com/

Seed Saving

One critical aspect of biodynamic farming is the practice of saving seeds.  Saving seeds is important for food security.  You save seeds to preserve the varieties that you see cope well with your local climate, are resistant to the pests or diseases in your area, or thrive well in zero-chemical conditions.   You also save seeds because there is a plant you simply love and must have again.

We saved seeds from some of our healthiest plants.  Some of these are: Cilantro, French beans, Arugula, and Basil.  This gives us produce that is grown from very healthy plants that have already adapted to our local climate and environment.  The plants are also less “addicted” to chemicals as they have been grown biodynamically or organically.

Some tips:

  1. The best time to produce seeds is towards December to January when we no longer experience heavy rains.
  2. Avoid hybrids as you cannot produce good seeds from hybrids.  The seeds will be sterile or produce inferior plants.
  3. Choose the best plants, flowers, or vegetables to save seeds from.  Some things you might consider are the variety’s pest resistance, the flavor, the beauty, etc. Some seeds that can be easily produced are lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, pepper and beans. Once you have selected a variety, allow those plants to produce seeds.
  4. Our process includes waiting for the plant to bolt. This means we wait until plant begins to flower. And then we wait for the plants to form seed pods.  Once the seed pods are dried, we get the pods and dry the seeds.  The seeds are then stored in cold storage.
  5. Store seeds that are completely dry.  You can store it in Manila paper or a paper envelope. Label it and then place in an air tight container.  Store it in a cool, dark and dry place.
  6. Stored sees are usually used the following year.

Seed saving, especially from plants that have been grown on healthy soil and without chemicals, is a key towards sustainable agriculture.  It’s also a wonderful way of propagating native, heirloom and indigenous plants.