Backyard Farming Series

We will be writing a series of articles on Backyard Farming.  People often comment on how much work farming must be.  But they also want to start their own gardens and have started asking questions.  We have been getting so many queries about how to grow food for small spaces, that we thought we should just share the joys of farming.  The articles will focus on the basics of backyard farming, how to plan your garden, building simple structures, sowing and transplanting, organic pest and disease management, and even harvesting and preserving your produce.

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The Joys of Growing your Own Food

Drop by every week for a new article!  This week, we will begin with: Planning your Garden using Biodynamic and Permaculture Principles. We will cover the basics of where to plant, what vegetables to plant and grow, nourishing your soil and building simple structures for a tropical climate.

Decked Out

Christmas began in September. Just because the month ended in “ber.” Now that it’s December, I’m seeing red and blinding lights. And every year, it’s the same hoopla. Call me a Scrooge but doesn’t it seem foolish how we’re celebrating Christmas so early? As though we’re honoring the return of the light, when it is still so dark. And there’s all this revelry and merrymaking, way before the Child is born. Like the Celts prancing around the fire a month before the solstice. Or would-be parents toasting the birth of their child, when the bun is still in the oven. And when the 25th comes, we’re spent, and all we have left are an excess of ribbons, gifts for the White Elephant party, a hangover and leftovers. And you wonder, what was it again, about joy, peace and goodwill to all men? Where was the Gloria in exelcis? As one friend said, it’s finally Christmas and you’re left with empty yearning.

adventcandle

I never really gave Christmas much thought. But today a few friends gathered to reflect about Christmas past, nature’s yearly cycle of dark and light, and the nativity. We’ve marked the festival for centuries, as the victory of light over darkness. The Egyptians, the Celts, ancient civilizations and their fire festivals, sun gods and sun heroes. The light festivals were always celebrated at the solstice, when the days grew longer and the sun was returning. Winter drew to a close and there was the hope of spring. It was a dance after the gloom, warmth after the cold, a banquet as spring promised a harvest, and a spark of hope as the light drew near.

But what is it to us, when we never really experience dark or cold anymore? What’s there to be merry about when the sun is always shining? We don’t feel the seasons, as plants bloom and bear fruit all year, and it can always be warm at home. What then when there’s no longer any gloom or the dying of days? How does one grasp the essence of Christ-mas without sinking through darkness? How do you experience real joy of something coming, of birthing, without going through the anticipation, the labor and toil, and without carrying hope for months and days?

Maybe we do feel the gnawing cold or sense the pitch black. And maybe we’re so fearful of the dark that we cloak it with the jolly, with all the twinkling lights, Santa and his sack of toys, even Rudolf’s glowing nose. Perhaps that’s why we go about this business of keeping busy, of gathering our friends, and of drinking and eating with abandon, because we feel winter inside.

And I’m left with questions I have to grapple with this season. How do we hear a choir of angels heralding the birth of a king amidst the deafening noise? How can one follow a star when everything is obscured by glittering lights?

There are still 18 days till Christmas. I’m looking forward to the birth of the Divine light. But already, there’s too much revelry and it’s always so bright. And it’s been that way since September.

Food for Thought

“If more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.” J.R.R. Tolkien

African Food Garden

And so began merry.  My otherwise unquenchable appetite finally had its fill.  My senses were filled to the brim with tastes and aroma, and an abundance of color and sound in several languages.   It was so overwhelming I panicked.  I was being handed the entire world in a plate and my plate was too full. But there on my plate was culture and gastronomy in its vivid and authentic state.  “Devour and digest everything slowly”: I told myself. I would be there for days and there was no sense hurrying a “SLOW Food” market. There should be enough time to behold, sniff and savor. And so, my palate savored one country after another, sampling food in its extraordinary diversity, ingesting the pleasures of the planet.  There were figs from Afghanistan, baobabs from Sri Lanka, spiced coffee from Egypt, black salt from Russia, couscous from Palestine, and flower concoctions from Mali.  I had to try the citrus wine from Croatia. And I couldn’t count the number of times I dropped by the Provencal 45 nougat flavors booth. They had stacks of nougat with Inca berries and dark chocolate you can buy by the kilo.  I had never tasted nougat so soft; you could actually sense the kneading that came it.

45 flavors of Nougat

The entire world’s cuisine was there for me to devour. Belarus had wild fruit.  There were dates from Al Jufrah in Libya.  Slovenia had herbs I didn’t know existed. Portugal had some dried flowers and figs while Uruguay asked me to sample their chilies. Then there was Motal, cheese in terracotta, ash and beeswax from Armenia.  By the time I inched my way to Ecuador for coffee, my stomach was about ready to give up.   But I had to try Huehuetenango coffee from Guatemala; it was in the “top 10 things to try” list. That one burned my tongue.  Too bitter and I couldn’t find the promised hint of chocolate. I had to sample two more Joes, one from Costa Rica, another from Nicaragua.  The coffee was too sharp or maybe I wasn’t quite the coffee connoisseur I thought I was. Then there were the salts from Iceland, so queerly and delightfully flat.  I had to sample every bit. Smoked salt would be delightful on the next steak I would grill.  I bought those, and added the white onion salt, that would be delish on my fish.

Flavored salts

We dined on forgotten food and tastes: raw milk cheeses from small dairies.  The stench was awful, the taste divine. There was meat from native animal breeds and the Euskal Txerria pig and my husband doted on the Basque jamon. We even sniffed and sipped wines from grapes long forgotten and rediscovered.  Now my taste buds have been elevated to be partial to the Sangiovese grapes. There were still 1000 wines to experience at the Enoteca and I had a workshop to sip 5 different Lambrusco wines fermented inside the bottle.  If I had to write about all the ales, the birras and the hops I got to try, I won’t be able to end this article.  And let me not start telling you about the chocolates or the cheese. These artisanal products, I had an abundance of.

Artisan cheese from raw milk

So on to the sausages.  There was a pretty girl in a costume from the Slovak Republic and men were lining up to sample, the sausage or the beauty, I don’t know.  I finally got a shot of Cachaca from Peru, the drink my brother-in-law once raved about on a tour to South America. The Peruvian man who insisted I chugged his 40% organic corn liquor and I couldn’t quite understand each other. But the hand signals and the alcohol were easily understood. And I kept drifting back to the Domaine a Lafitte booth. They had Armagnac brandy aged in oak barrels this was one drink I definitely wanted to understand.

Our (Philippine) booth had a culinary offering (courtesy of Margarita, Tricia, and Monica) as well. We had overbooked tables as diners feasted on Adobo, Sinigang, traditional mountain rice, lechon and suman. These and they we’re serenaded hours on end by the ethnic beats and Igorot moves of  Django and Manny.

I am now home with a bounty of dulce de leche liquor and Polish honey wine, the rose, cypress and poppy chocolates, lavender jams, Armagnac brandy, truffle crèmes, salted butter and pistachio pates, spicy pork and flavored salts.  And, I, finally understand humanity’s perennial obsession with food.

Food is immensely rich as it is full of wisdom and pleasure.  Every bite is a history and a story. And each person’s, each country’s, and each region’s identity lies in their food.   Sample a simple dish from Norway and you are somehow linked to the Fjords and its past of salting herring.  Imagine how every wine you sup is a memory of a place, of the seasons and the heat and the cold it had to go through, of an entire landscape, or the exquisite taste of a single vine. And isn’t it fascinating how one can go places, relocate and live in another place, but will always hunger for the tastes of home?

7 continents, 1 table.

Rushing through all the trappings of modern life, we forget how rich and vivid food tastes like.  Everything is fast, often cheap, even easy. But food is so much more than just the food we gobble up.  It can be an entire culture and whatever we chose to consume, spells the life or death of animal breeds, seed varieties, or even a small farm or community.   And now I know why eating should be slow: unhurried in the way one delights in it, and especially in the way it gets to the plate.  It is only when we see the wisdom and rewards of eating will we realize how much is at stake at the plate.  And I say anew, “if more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.” J.R.R. Tolkien

And so, have a merry feast!

Heirlooms and lots of colors!

We’re fascinated with heirlooms and some indigenous vegetables and flowers that have been grown for centuries, and yet we are still yet to really take notice of. Some of these, we have started growing in the farm. Here’s a peak:

Watermelon Radish

Heirloom varieties of Daikon radishes from China!  These radishes are green on the outside and pink on the inside.  Cut it up and adds wonderful colors to your salad.  Milder and sweeter than regular radishes, they can be braised, roasted or mashed.  Sorry but they lose their colors when cooked.  It would be much better to serve them raw in your salad or pickled!

Candy Cane Beet (Chioggia Beet): 

An heirloom vegetable from the Italian coastal town of Chioggia.  This radically colored vegetable has been around since the early 19th-century. The beets taste just like regular beets, with a little sweeter note.  They look perfect in your plate sliced open as the flesh has beautiful pink and white stripes. Prepare it like any other beet: steamed, sauteed, roasted, and pickled.  You can also sauté the greens. Cut up for salads or add to soup.  Beets have lots of  fiber, potassium, iron, and folic acid.  It is also a a powerful antioxidant (Betacyanin is the pigment that gives beets their color.)

 

Purple  Carrots  

Did you know that carrots were originally purple?  The original color of carrots cultivated in Afghanistan 5,000 years ago were actually purple.   They are sweet whether raw or cooked (but lose the beautiful color when boiled.)  Slice them and mix with other colorful vegetables, serve with dip, or use for coleslaw.  Saute lightly with olive oil or just coat the with a little oil, sprinkled with herbs. Their unique color tells you that it’s packed with phytochemicals!  Purple Haze is packed with vitamin A and beta-carotene and is anthocyanins (the antioxidant that gives blueberries its superfood health benefits.)

Heirloom Tomatoes

We have Black Crimson, Tiger Stripeand cherry heirloom tomatoes. Black Crim is one of the most popular heirlooms and comes from the Isle of Krim, located on the Black Sea.  It has a wonderfully rich flavor, a bit salty and with a hint of wine. The Tiger Stripe is also a beauty.  Red with darker red stripes, it adds character to any dish.  It is also firm and has a good flavor. Then we have good old cherry tomatoes, tiny but quite packed with full flavor, sweet and juicy.

Sustainable Farming for a Small Farm or a Backyard Workshop Series

A Workshop Series for those who want start growing their own food, take charge of their health, and have fun too!

Why you can still eat meat and save the world

“[I]t is doubtful that you can build a more sustainable agriculture without animals to cycle nutrients and support local food production. If our concern is for the health of nature … then eating animals may sometimes be the most ethical thing to do.”

— Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma

 Well, some people have opted to go vegan. They say the way animals are raised (cows, pigs, chickens, a.k.a. factory farming) is fraught with evil. The animals suffer in cramped spaces, force-fed, dehorned, castrated, and injected with antibiotics, hormones, living in cruelty and deprivation.

But as it often happens, the ones who truly care find a way.  They don’t shake their heads in disgust and look the other way. Instead, they go into the system and change it.

That’s what sustainable meat is. It is supporting a system that raises animals in an ethical and sustainable way. A simple definition: it’s a way of raising animals on open pasture, grazing as nature intended them to be, and without hormones or antibiotics.

For us, there are several reasons why sustainable meat is the answer to the problems posed by eating meat: animal welfare, economics, the environment and your health.

Animal Welfare

Everyone knows how factory farming treats animals: cages, hormones, antibiotics and cheap feed, sometimes even animal by-products and oftentimes GMO.

On the other hand, sustainable meat come from animals raised on pasture.  The animals eat grass and live as they would in the wild.  The Philippines can boast of an even more humane treatment of animals.  For example, DowntoEarth sources its pasture-raised meat from small family sized farms with as few as 1or at the most 4 cows.  Local, small-scale animal farming works on many levels. With a small-scale system, the animals are never confined in small spaces. Why? It is simply not practical for small-scale farmers. They cannot afford it.  Instead, they let the animals stay outside, grazing in the open field. More importantly, animals are treated in a much better way than animals on factory farms. In fact, the animals are treated almost like pets. Animals are not stressed. There’s no need to castrate or dehorn the bulls, for example, because they’re tame. What you get in the end are meat products from animals that have been raised humanely.

Environment

We all know how much havoc factory-farming has caused the environment: greenhouse gases, harmful air and water pollution and destruction of ecosystems.  Aside from the that, factory farming transports its meat over large distances, using valuable fossil fuel and causing further air pollution.

On the other hand, sustainable meat, will do little harm to the environment.

“When raised on properly managed pastures, ruminants [cows] don’t compete with humans for grain-producing acreage; in turn, they supply us with bountiful nutrients and leave the earth better for having walked upon it. On intensively-managed pasture, they have been shown to restore vegetative cover, increase biodiversity, and improve soil fertility, thereby making our fields more resistant to both drought and flood.”  (http://eartheasy.com/blog/2010/07/the-case-for-sustainable-meat/)

Farmers who raise their animals sustainably will often see the entire system as interconnected. They will see the need to make sure that the soils are healthy and that the grasses grow abundantly.  Also, animals are slaughtered in ways that cause minimal environmental harm.  You also don’t have to worry about waste.  The manure acts to fertilize the portion of pasture they leave behind (and again don’t need to use synthetic fertilizers to keep their pastures lush.)  Small-scale farmers also do not have the money for large-scale trucking or transport.  Thus, meat is sold locally.

Support for the small farmer

Sustainable meat will often be from small family-owned farms.  By supporting and buying meat from these small farmers, we help them find marketing and distribution channels for their meat.  Local, grass-fed beef used to be the meat no one wanted to sell or buy. Farmers had to sell it at a very low price.  However, with the increasing consciousness on the benefits of grass-fed beef, it has since climbed up the ranks and has now won a niche market.

Health

If you are still not convinced, think about what you are eating.  You are what you eat.  “Grain-fed, factory-farmed, industrial meat is pumped full of hormones to increase the amount of meat that can be produced from a single animal and antibiotics to counter the unsanitary conditions on factory farms. The animals are fed cheap grain and waste in order to decrease the cost of raising the animal and increase corporate profit margins.”  (http://www.saisriskandarajah.com/happymeat/why.php)  Also, imported meat, even if partly grass-fed will most likely be still grain-fed, simply because grass isn’t as readily available in colder climates. In cold climates, grain feeding becomes economical and practical because in winter there is no grass and hay is more expensive than subsidized grain.  Some countries also get several months of drought because they have dry weather.

 

Again, this is where small-scale local farms in the Philippines have an edge. In the Philippines, not only do we have an abundance of grass, we also have good rainfall patterns all year round.  This makes local grass-fed beef production sustainable and economically viable. Small-scale farms will let their animals roam free, and let their cattle eat grass.  And because the cows were fed grass as nature intended them to and have lived stress-free, happier lives, there is no need for antibiotics. What you have then is food that is low in fat, and a great source of Omega 3 and the cancer fighting CLA.

Some Sources:

www.examiner.com/article/sustainable-food-101-what-is-sustainable-meat
www.eatwellguide.com
www.sustainabletable.com
www.eatwild.com
http://grist.org/sustainable-farming/farmer-responds-to-the-new-york-times-re-sustainable-meat/

Pig Heaven: What Makes Free Range Pigs Different

More and more people are loving our free range pork.  The favorites? Pastured Smoked Bacon and Canadian Bacon, even our Smoked Farmer’s Ham.  What makes our pastured pork products different?

Pigs living on pasture

FEED: GREENS, COCONUT MEAT, WHEY

Our pigs live out their entire lives on pasture!  Look at their 5-star pig pens! Our pigs are never crowded in small dark pens.  They have access all day to vegetation and a lot of fresh air and sunshine.  They even have their own mud pools!  The pigs live happy healthy lives. Aside from what they eat out in the pasture, we give them cassava, copra cake, chopped greens and coconut meat.  We do not feed them corn or soybean.  We make the feed ourselves so we know exactly what the pigs eat! The pigs have NOT been fed animal by-products, given growth hormones or therapeutic antibiotic treatment. They have not been fed genetically modified corn or soybean.

PROBIOTICS

Our pigs get a daily dose of raw whey.  This gives them a daily dose of probiotics, making them healthier and less prone to disease.

DURATION

Commercial pigs are raised to a size that’s good for the market, in barely 4 months.  This is because of the heavy feeding of commercial feed, and because the pigs are kept in small pens, unable to move.  Naturally-bred pigs or natural pork are from swine that are raised also in just 5 months. While they have more space to move and fed chopped greens, they are still fed corn and soybean.  This makes it possible for natural growers to raise their pigs to a marketable size in barely 5 months.

DowntoEarth pigs take at least 10 months to grow!  This is because of the feed we give them and because they are always outdoors.  The duration is similar to the Iberian pigs in Europe, which are fed a lot of acorn (in our case, we feed them coconut meat).  We follow slow food principles, and thus our pigs take so much longer to raise to a good size.

THE END RESULT

Rolling in the muddy outdoors

Raising pigs on pasture adds real nutrients and flavor to the meat. A pig is by nature, born to root, dig, and run in pasture.  And because they are able to live as nature intended them to, their quality of life is tops, and the quality of the meat is improved.

Our pork is darker in color with good marbling. A darker color in pork means the meat has a higher pH score.  A higher pH score relates to low cooking loss, better water holding capacity, loin firmness, less drip loss, improved processing quality and a richer flavor.

Our version of Pig Heaven is definitely heavenly! DowntoEarth just does not raise pigs, we raise happy and healthy pigs.

Check out our Pasture-raised pork products.