Jan 25, 2018

Is Expensive Chicken Worth It? Comparison of Industrial & Pastured Chicken

In early January, I taught a 5 day high school class for 3 hours a day with my good friend and fellow foodie, Diane Loftness. The course title was "Science and Health of World Cuisines." Our class was based primarily on the findings of dentist Weston A. Price. He traveled the world in the 1930's asking the question, "What does diet and overall health have in common?" As a dentist, he took pictures of people's teeth and facial structures. He found remote peoples in the four corners of the earth with beautiful straight teeth, free from decay. His work is absolutely fascinating. You can find his book, complete with interesting pictures, as a free pdf here. Dr. Price found that as modern foods were introduced to traditional societies, health began to decline. If nothing else, go scroll through some of the pictures.


The class we taught was simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. Every day Diane and I would empty our kitchens, fill our cars, carry everything to the classroom then teach in a science lab. The kids were eager to learn. We made 4 varieties of sauerkraut, butter, ice cream, whipped cream, smoothies with homemade kefir, ate bone marrow and chia pudding, compared multiple brands of eggs and varieties of yogurt, talked about labels and packaging, and compared nutrient density of organic and conventional produce with a Brix meter.

My favorite activity? Cooking and comparing two whole chickens.

Reason for the Experiment
For at least ten years, I’ve been on an intentional journey to learn more about what goes into my body. It has been eye opening on so many levels.

Early into the journey, I remember cooking two whole chickens simultaneously in separate crock pots. One was for us, the other for a friend. I love sharing good food with others and often take meals to families with a new baby or in distress (or both!) However, because local pastured meat is so much more expensive I decided to save money and buy a grocery store chicken for my friends. It's still a home cooked meal and more nutritious than what they would otherwise eat.

The first chicken to be deboned was the smaller, leaner, pastured chicken from a local farm. BUT then, when taking the meat (and globs of fat!) off the bird from the grocery store... I was totally grossed out.

That day an idea spawned for this experiment. I wondered, “Is it really cheaper to buy the grocery store bird when so much fat is being thrown away?” About the Experiment In class, we compared two chickens: a chicken from Kroger and a local bird. They were cooked separately low and slow, crock pot style for about 10 hours, each in 1500mL of water.

Each bird was weighed in the packaging and again after it was opened and extra liquid drained off. (The Kroger bird lost 8% of its weight before we even started cooking!)

My undergraduate degree is in engineering - I took a fair share of science labs. I’m under no illusion that this experiment is flawless. Rather, please read these results with a grain of salt, knowing more than a few mistakes and discrepancies were made. I have a more extensive spreadsheet if anyone is curious for more details, just contact me.




industrial from Kroger
     pastured, local
cost:
$7.20
$17.24
price per pound
$1.49
$4.34
volume of liquid lost (% purchase weight)
8%
4%
volume of broth (%weight before cooking):
31%
18.3%
% usable meat
43.2%
60.5%

Big Picture Takeaways

Industrial chicken - 8% (or $0.58) was poured down the drain as soon as the package was opened. More broth (which is mostly water) was produced from this chicken than the others. Broth accounted for 31% of its pre-cooked weight - almost double that of the pastured bird. We cut off almost a quarter pound of pure fat before cooking.

Pastured - most expensive and also greatest percentage of usable meat; the bones and fat were separated from meat. The color of the meat was vibrant and the fat was not excessive. This bird was not given antibiotics or fed genetically modified grain (GMOs).

Further Explanation The first chicken we shall discuss in depth is the one industrially raised. Purchased from Kroger under the label of Sanderson Farms, it was $1.49/lb. The package said, “Contains up to 3% retained water.” This bird from Sanderson Farm was decidedly a better option than the cheaper one for $0.99/lb, because that one contained up to 15% chicken broth, carrageenan (which is a name for MSG) and salt. Be sure to read the labels. I was utterly SHOCKED that this bird produced 31% its weight in broth. Some broth is to be expected. But woah Nellie. That’s a lot of water retention.

A local farmer explained to me that industrial chickens are expected to freeze and thaw at least 7 times before they get to your home. As such, the factory packaging process allows the chickens to sit in a “solution” while waiting to be packaged. This marinating time allows absorption of the solution, which helps the texture of meat that has been frozen and thawed multiple times. This also explains the large discrepancy between the volume of broth in the chickens.

Please know that the Kroger bird is still good. I eat chicken from Kroger. It is still food. It is better than fast food. It is better than no food.

The point I’m trying to make is that when you buy an industrial chicken, you are paying for a lot of water...and definitely chemicals.

Did you know that industrially raised animals (beef, pork, chicken) are all given routine antibiotics whether they are needed or not? They are given antibiotics to help them gain weight. (I’m not making this up -- Google and read for yourself.)

Did you know when you eat meat that has been given antibiotics that it not only causes you to more readily gain weight but also you are more resistant to antibiotics when they are needed? Read this interesting article from The Atlantic.

Learning this information about antibiotics is one reason that helped me to rationalize paying more for healthier meat. But I digress...

The second chicken I failed to photograph. Indeed, I failed to take very many pictures during class. I felt like the chicken with its head cut off trying to direct 11 high schoolers in a science lab pretending to be chefs.

The second chicken we cooked in class was purchased locally from GrassRoots Co-op. Pastured chickens are raised outside (fresh air and sunshine) and are moved to new grass (and bugs) twice a day. GrassRoots air-chills their meat -- as compared to a water bath of chemicals where the Kroger bird soaked up so much solution.  GrassRoots freezes their meat immediately after processing, which significantly reduces the risk of food born illness and bacteria.

As for treatment of their animals while alive, GrassRoots has a non-GMO and no antibiotics policy. In fact, they have crazy high standards for their animals. If there’s one thing that is a priority when choosing food for my family, it is avoiding GMOs at all costs (most prevalent GMOs are corn, soy & sugar beets aka white sugar). Here’s a short article on why it is concerning to eat GMOs.

This might sound like a commercial for GrassRoots Farmers’ Coop, who ships directly to your door - to all 48 continental states.  They didn't pay me to write about their meat.  In fact, I paid for the chicken because my usual meat farmer was out of chicken.  If you’re in central Arkansas, Katie of FarmGirl Meats has a delicious meat share program and delivers to Little Rock twice a month. Katie does things right and I whole-heartedly, unashamedly want to promote her too.

Twenty years ago, in college, I worked in an industrial chicken house. The professor I worked with was trying to figure out how to reduce the ammonia in chicken waste by changing the feeding composition and rations.

He also worked with fans in the chicken house, trying to increase fresh air for the birds. When there’s too much ammonia, it causes blindness. Blind birds don’t eat. Dead birds don’t make money.

Here’s a secret: if animals are outside and there’s plenty of grass, giant fans aren’t needed to keep the air clean. When comparing the two chickens before cooking in class, there were obvious visible differences (kicking myself again for not taking pictures).

Imagine this: one bird has a rich reddish brown color and tight skin. The other bird is undeniably white with thick pockets of extra fat, especially near the cavity opening.

The color difference was quite pronounced after cooking, too. The top plate of chicken is the pastured bird, who had variation in its diet. The bottom plate is from a bird that never saw the light of day or even a single bug in its lifetime. Its diet consisted of a lot of government subsidized GMO corn and soy (helping to keep prices low). If color is an indicator of nutrient density (think: white bread vs wheat bread), which plate of chicken do you think is the healthiest?

The price of the pastured chicken was more than twice that of the one from the grocery store.  When I buy a whole chicken, whether it was an expensive one or not, I save the bones to make nourishing broth.  Similar quality broth can be purchased for about $8/quart.  So, if you factor the meat and the broth, the pastured bird isn't that expensive.

Broth can be made from any kind of bones; making broth from an expensive chicken helps justify the cost.

But wait! There’s more! Can you hang with me a bit longer?

I wanted to extend this experiment beyond the classroom. A few weeks after this experiment, I bought a third chicken from Natural Grocers - a natural grocery store near me that prides itself on high quality standards. It is similar to Whole Foods in that the meat sold cannot be given antibiotics.

The third whole chicken I bought was labeled organic (never given antibiotics or genetically modified grains) and air-chilled. It was industrially raised like the one from Kroger (never seeing daylight or having fresh air) also never frozen, thus the label air-chilled. Liquid lost from packaging is the least of the three birds - only 2% or $0.29. It had the lowest volume of broth, probably because it had never been frozen.

You will note in the comparison chart below that the percentage of usable meat is the lowest of the three birds because it was boiled instead of cooking it low and slow like the other two. Removing all the meat from the bones proved difficult. In class we slow cooked two chickens (the good and the best). The third chicken (the better one) was quickly boiled in my kitchen for dinner one night.

Side note: One of the things we talked about in class is the time/money continuum. On the day I boiled the bird for dinner, I didn’t have much time, so I wasted money. There are plenty of ways to save money in the kitchen eating real food if you have the time (like using a whole chicken with bones for $4/lb instead of boneless-skinless at $6-9/lb).

Time was of the essence to get dinner on the table so I boiled the bird in about 30 minutes. The reason this is important to note is because when cooking low and slow, the meat simply falls off the bones. Nothing is wasted. As you can see in the % usable meat, the “better” bird had less usable meat. Much of it clung to the bones because I cooked it too fast.
GOOD
BETTER
BEST
industrial from Kroger
air-chilled Nat. Grocers
pastured, local
cost:
$7.20
$14.70
$17.24
price per pound
$1.49
$3.55
$4.34
volume of liquid lost (% purchase weight)
8%
2%
4%
volume of broth (%weight before cooking):
31%
16.9%
18.3%
% usable meat
43.2%
*38.7%
60.5%
*better chicken was boiled instead of cooked low and slow, like the other two chickens. The quick cook time caused the meat to adhere more to the bones making it more difficult to remove.

So which chicken do I recommend you buy? I can’t answer that for you. You have to wade through your priorities.
  • is nutrient density a priority for your family?
  • are you gaining weight from antibiotics in your meat? concerned about antibiotic resistance?
  • what have you read about the health dangers of GMOs?
  • does it matter to you to know your farmer? source of food?
  • are you concerned about the environment? (Industrial farms are terrible for the environment.)
Many people balk at the idea of paying $17 for a whole chicken. I get it. However, one thing I’ve been convinced of in my 10 year food journey: good food isn’t cheap.

How we spend money speaks to priorities. Some people tell me they “can’t afford to eat healthy/organic/etc.” These same people spend a lot on entertainment: Netflix, cable, cell phones, cinema, concerts. Truth be known, our grandparents spent more of their salary on food than we do.

My husband and I have chosen inexpensive cell phone plans, we don’t have TV/cable, or Netflix, and we don’t spend anything on pharmaceuticals. It is our belief that nourishing our bodies now with clean living, eating healthy, whole foods will result in fewer pharmaceuticals and trip$ to the doctor later. Please don’t hear this as judgement if you choose otherwise. One of the beautiful things about being an American is the freedom to choose how to live. Honestly, I do not think less of a person if they eat junk.  It's your body. (I eat my fair share of junk, too!)

If reading this article is the first you’ve thought about food sourcing, and you like to watch documentaries, may I recommend two?

The first I tell people to watch is called Food, Inc. It exposes many of the problems in our industrial food system. There is a solution to this problem that can be solved by you and me. Food activist Michael Pollan says, “We vote three times a day with our fork.” Fresh the Movie gives practical ideas of how we can change our food system. Both movies were required viewing for the students in the class.

Above all, I hope this chicken experiment has caused you to stop and think about food. Think about where it comes from and what happens to it before it lands on your table. The longer I’m on a food journey, the more I read and learn, the more I am convinced that I am not wasting money on good food. After all, you are what you eat.

Julie
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If you're reading this blog post in an email, I probably won't blog here much more.  My husband and I started a blog together.  When I can find the time to write, it will be on that blog. We won't write more than twice a week.  Interested?  Click here, scroll to the bottom and sign up for emails there.

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Aug 17, 2017

Caramelized Cabbage on the Stovetop

Caramelized Cabbage is making a weekly appearance on our table.  It's super delicious and easy to make.
Start by thinly slicing a cabbage.  Usually I use half and put the remainder back in the produce bag for an even quicker meal prep the next time.

Heat a cast iron skillet to almost high -- like 8 on a scale of 10.  You want the skillet to be smokin' hot.  Then add a fat that can withstand heat.  I'm loving using avocado oil these days.  Ghee, lard or tallow would all be good choices, too.  Olive oil will smoke so I don't suggest that.  Don't be skimpy on the oil.  If you're stingy with the oil your food will stick.  Usually I'm stingy and eventually add more oil while it cooks.
When you add the cabbage, it should make a nice loud searing sound.  Maybe some popping and cracking.  Don't be afraid.  You want that sound.  It tells you the pan is hot.  Now let it sit.  Resist the urge to stir.  Sprinkle a hefty amount of sea salt on there.
Once it begins to smell quite fragrant then it's time to flip. I use tongs. Hopefully when you flip, you'll see some charred bits emerge.  That's where the yum is.  It's caramelizing!
If you find it sticking, add more oil.  Let it all sit again and caramelize on the bottom.
I repeat: resist the urge to stand and stir.  Let it sit and roast on the bottom then flip one spatula-full at a time.
When plating, serve an extra pat of butter on top.  Don't be afraid of fat.  Without fat, your body cannot absorb the minerals and nutrients you're eating.

On this night, we ate caramelized cabbage with Change Your Life Chicken.  Yes, it will change your life.  Add that recipe to your weekly line up.  (Phone camera:: chicken thighs are not as pink as they appear in this picture.)

If you're on Instagram, these pictures were originally in my Story.  Follow along for impromptu cooking lessons: @mommamajors

-Julie

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Apr 29, 2017

WaterVeg


Have y'all heard about a local service called WaterVeg?  They deliver LIVING lettuce to your door in Central Arkansas.  Check their delivery area here. You customize how frequent you want the delivery (once, twice or four times a month). No subscription or delivery fee and you can stop at anytime.  For those who are hesitant to jump in a FarmShare, this could be an option for you.

The lettuce really is exceptional. (I'm eating a salad right now.) 

A subscription would be a great Mother's Day gift -- or a fun a gift for that hard to buy for person. Details on their website. The lettuce farm is just off Colonel Glen here in Little Rock. 

Check them out! Spread the word. I'd love to see this entrepreneur get his feet off the ground!

Julie

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Mar 6, 2017

Classes, Recipe & Kickstarter

This is a longer post which includes:
1.  info on 3 classes
2.  a great recipe
3.  kickstarter

1.  Class ONE

Heard of muscle testing?  Some chiropractors use it to pre-determine how things (herbs, foods, etc.) react to your body.  Connie Newcome, Weston A. Price chapter leader from Kansas, will be teaching a class on this and other principles of health in Little Rock on April 8.

I have been to several seminars taught by Connie.  My first seminar by her was over 9 years ago, in Phoenix.  It was in that class that I was introduced to Nourishing Traditions.  My health journey jumped into overdrive from there.

The class includes teaching on the principles of getting and staying healthy naturally.  She will talk about why we get sick and how we get and stay well.  Connie will teach you how to muscle test, which is a simple, free method to determine health concerns, the whys and how to's to assist our bodies in getting well.  Spoiler alert: fever is a child's best friend; don't be afraid of fever, put down your Tylenol.

This class is for the person who wants to learn and be empowered to take care of their own health and that of their family's.  This can be an eye opening and valuable class.  It is not for the person who wants medical attention only.  You need not have a lot of home-remedies memorized but rather, open to the thought that your body can be healed by simple, non-prescriptive measures.

Connie, now a grandmother, has many years of helping people heal themselves naturally (me included).  Her husband was very sick in their early years of marriage.  Doctors couldn't give them answers so they were forced to pursue another route, which included herbs and natural modalities.  Connie's daughter is a very good friend of mine and has said,  "Growing up, if we wanted something white to eat we had to chew on a sheet!"  Meaning, no white sugar or white flour were found in their house.  Connie has been eating unprocessed foods all her life.

The cost of the class is $75 on Saturday, April 8.  Exact time and location are yet to be determined, as 10 people need to sign up to make it viable for her to make the trip to Little Rock.  So far 7 people have signed up. Contact Sarah Baker Wellons today to reserve your spot: sarahbakerwellons AT gmail.com

Class TWO
Get Pickled With Cat!
Making Your Own Probiotic Pickled Veggies Using Fermentation
Date: Saturday, March 18th, 1-3pm
Location: Natural Grocers at 9210 N Rodney Parham, Little Rock
Cost:  FREE FREE FREE!
questions: cat@greatferments.com
Details:   Learn how to make delicious, nutritious & naturally probiotic pickled (by fermentation) veggies.
TASTE TEST TOO! Find your favorite flavor profiles by sampling a range of fermented veggies ..for  free.  Be Good To Your Gut!!

"Eat Dills, Not (probiotic) Pills!"

{Unrelated: Have you tried Natural Grocer's store-ground almond butter? It is so yummy; I love the texture.  It is also currently on sale.  I love that store.}

If you can't make it to Cat's fermentation class on 3/18, perhaps you'd like to join an event at Moss Mountain Farm instead.  Here's a clip from her last appearance on his show, demonstrating how to make your own fermented dill pickles.

Class THREE
Birthday Celebration, Lunch & Tour with P. Allen Smith and Fermentation Demonstration by Cat Swenson
Thursday, March 9th, 10am-2pm at Moss Mountain in Roland, AR
Cost:  $96.75  includes tour of home & gardens, lunch & fermentation demo
RSVP here.
If you ever wanted to tour the amazing Moss Mountain Farm (as seen on TV on P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home show)…this is your chance!  And you get a veggie fermentation demo to boot.

2. A great recipe:

Change Your Life Chicken - make it, it will change your life.   Super fast to put together and super yum.  If you're on Instagram, this blogger is hilarious - especially in the InstaStories @thelazygenius. Occasionally I show what's shakin', bakin' and fermenting in my kitchen @mommamajors

3.  Kickstarter:

Tammy Sue's Critters needs help expanding. I've used her products for years.  Love the shampoo bar especially.   In fact, I went to a "Favorite Things Christmas Party" and her shampoo bar was one of my favorite things.  Tammy Sue has started a kickstarter campaign and I encourage you to check it out.  Go support her work and her cause.  You can support her cause at any level.  She has several packages to choose from -- If every reader just gave $2 we could knock this thing out.  It's a good cause, y'all.  Skip the Starbucks this week and empower a local producer.

What's new with you?  I'd love to try recipes you're loving.
Julie

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Nov 21, 2016

If you're buying sugar, here's a health tip

What's more fitting to follow up the post on nutrient dense breakfast ideas than to give you a tip on sugar? LOL.

It's holiday season and many memories revolve around sugar.  So if you're going to buy sugar here's a tip: look for the words "cane sugar" on the package.

One of my friends who loves baking cakes actually clued me into the fact that not all white sugar is created equal.  If you talk to anyone who is serious about baking, they will probably tell you the same.

What's the difference?
White sugar can be made from sugar cane or sugar beets (not the same as the red beets some people pickle).  Interesting to note, the popularity of sugar beets increased after the civil war because slave labor was used in the production of cane sugar.  Abolitionists helped fund the research to increase the efficiency of sugar beets for white sugar (Wikipedia).

Bakers choose cane sugar because of the chemical properties and its performance.  I choose cane sugar because it is not a genetically modified organism, or GMO.

In 2011, 95% of all beet sugar produced in the US was from GMO sugar beets.  So, if you're buying sugar and you don't see the words cane sugar, you are adding GMOs to your body.

Genetically modified organisms are sprayed with a chemical called glyphosate (or commonly known as Monsanto's Round-up) to control weeds. This glyphosate is toxic and wreaks havoc on the gut and is terrible for your health.

So if you're not in the habit of purchasing organic sugar (which by definition will not be made from GMOs), please look for the words cane sugar.  Your body will thank you.

Cheering you towards baby steps of better health,
Julie

If you're wondering what other GMOs you could be consuming, here's a list of the top 10.

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Nov 16, 2016

Nutrient Dense Breakfast Ideas

No doubt, you've heard that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day."  Breaking the fast in the morning helps to jump start our metabolism.  We can agree that we need to eat something.  But what?
Photo take at the recent Wise Traditions conference by the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Eggs are nutrient dense and an inexpensive source of protein and good fat.  We can enjoy them in many forms and usually without much prep time.  How does your family prefer them? Boiled, scrambled, over-easy, fried, in a quiche (or quiche bites).  Eggs alone are not usually a fav in my house so I try to add diversity the plate: bacon or sausage is always a winner and my people love oven fried potatoes.  They don't take much prep time but you do have to allow for time in the oven.

Here are some ideas that have already been posted on the blog:


Breakfast Cookies (Brookies)
Breakfast Cookies (gluten, dairy, & egg free, no added sugar)
(Christmas) Brunch Casserole
Granola
Granola Bar Cookies
Oatmeal Bake
Whole Wheat Muffins (soaked)

It seems that we make smoothies more in the summer than winter.  I suppose we want to eat something warm in winter.  People often ask what ingredients I use for smoothies.  It depends on what's in my fridge or pantry.  Usually we start with a base of dairy kefir (or yogurt), add frozen fruit (almost always bananas because they're sweet and cheap).  From here, it just depends on the person: nut butter, raw pastured egg yolk, coconut oil or cream, good quality whey protein or sprouted pea protein.  The most important thing with a smoothie is do not skimp on the fat.  Fat will help stabilize your blood sugar and help you feel full longer.

We eat more cheese grits in winter.  Granted the grits are not traditionally prepared, the corn hasn't been soaked or sprouted.  But man, I'm a southerner and love me some cheese grits.  You can even make a casserole so it includes eggs.

Truthfully, breakfast is not my favorite meal.  I'm not usually hungry until about 10am. My preference is to make something in advance so we can eat something nutritious without much fuss.

New ideas that I've been using lately:

Coconut Flour Blueberry Banana Breakfast Bar (GAPS and Paleo) -  It uses 7 eggs! I'd all but given up on liking coconut flour.  This is the first recipe I have tried and liked.  After making it the first time, I am now using chocolate chips (for the kids).   As with any gluten-free recipe, follow the directions exactly for best results. If your bananas are very ripe you do not need any honey.  This recipe is yummy warm or cold.  **I enjoy this blogger - mom of young children, eats GAPS, has classes/videos.  I used her e-book to help with our intro to the GAPS diet.**

Emily's Warm Chia Pudding (can use alternative milks) - I like this recipe for its convenience and speed; easy to eat in a mason jar during your commute.  If you're used to sweet things for breakfast, you'll want to add some sugar.  Bananas and/or dried fruit is enough for me.  Chia seeds are amazing and nutritious seeds.  Wellness Mama has a blended variation and detailed info on chia.  You can even sneak in a raw pastured egg yolk for more nutrition. Sometimes I send blended chia chocolate pudding in lunches.

Dutch Baby - It's basically a giant magical pancake in a cast iron skillet.  You can google for a recipe.  My people like this one with apples on the bottom.  I love that it calls for so many eggs.

I'm always game for new ideas.  What have you been making lately?  What can you add to this list?  Please share!

Julie

PS - Recently I posted a list inside my cabinet door of everything we like to eat:  breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, veggies, etc.  This helps immeasurably with menu planning!



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Sep 11, 2016

Grass Roots Co-Op (Healthy Meat Shipped to Your Door)

Full disclosure -- Grass Roots Farmers' Cooperative gave me samples of some of their products and asked that I write about them if I liked them.  Truth be told, I would have written this same post without the yummy meat.  I've participated in FarmShares for several years and wholeheartedly recommend them.  I love the quality of food and supporting the small farmer.

Grass Roots Co-op has a special-deal-membership drive going on now until the end of September.  In addition, members get an additional 20% off a la carte items.

Grass Roots ships everywhere in Arkansas and other states as well.  Tell your good food lovin' people in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

Let me tell you about the meat they gave me then I'll tell you more about the Co-op.

Ground Beef - Sometimes grass-finished beef can taste "gamey" or like wild game because it doesn't have enough fat to bring the flava. The ground beef was VERY good. I took this to a dinner party in the form of HBs cheese dip and everyone raved.

Deli Ham - Wow.  It is good.  And no nasty preservatives.

Brats - Amazing, especially the lime-mesquite flavored ones.

Ground Turkey - is on the menu this week in the form of lettuce wraps.

From this sampling, I wholeheartedly give my approval of Grass Roots Co-op.

What are the benefits of a co-op?

Farming is hard work.  Non-stop, jack-of-all-trades kind of work.  When farmers band together to form a co-op, they can focus more on growing healthy meat while someone else tends to administrative and marketing details.

For the consumer, when buying from a co-op, we get a stable meat source.  Usually all cuts are available year 'round since there are multiple farmers to fill in the gaps in the event of a problem that would inhibit the farmer from delivering, like predators or herd illness.  And the marketing and accounting are very pretty.  (I've worked with a few farmers over the years who very much stink in the area of accounting and sadly, some are no longer farming.)

In the previous post, I recommended that if you were buying direct from a farmer you should ask questions about their practices.  When I tell some people this advice they totally freeze.  The thought of talking to a stranger at the farmers' market about a subject that is less than familiar totally wigs them out.  When you buy from Grass Roots, they have done your homework!  They have vetted the farmers for you.  Before the formation of Grass Roots, I purchased from at least two of the farmers.  Read here about the husbandry standards of the farmers in the co-op.  Most notably, I'm quite impressed that Grass Roots prohibits GMOs.

The downside of working with a co-op is that you don't always know which farm(er) your meat is coming from.  However, as stated above, the co-op makes sure the farmers are practicing with high standards so the consumer can can feel good about every piece of meat.

One thing I love about Grass Roots is how easy it is to get meat from them.  They ship their products directly to your door.  Shipping is free when you become a member or when you purchase at least $75.  It arrives frozen in a cooler on dry ice, delivered by FedEx, and you don't have to stop what you're doing - or remember - to drive across town to meet someone for your meat.  Because it is frozen you don't have to eat it right away.

What does membership include?

The Whole Farm Membership Monthly Box includes: a whole pasture-raised chicken, 2lbs grass-fed ground beef, a package of brats, & 2 lbs of forest-raised mild ground sausage.

The Chicken and Pork Box includes: a whole pasture-raised chicken, 2 lbs of forest-raised ground sausage & 2 linked sausages.

The Chicken and Beef Box includes: a whole pasture-raised chicken, 4lbs grass-fed ground beef

The Chicken Box includes: a whole pasture-raised chicken, a package of breasts (2pieces), a package of 4-6 drumsticks, a package of 5-6 wings and a package of 4-5 thighs.

If the box isn't enough for your family for the month, or if you have a special event, you can always add pieces a la cart with 20% off the retail prices.

Mouth watering yet?

Go here and sign up.

Julie

Related: The Healthiest Meat
Why is the Farmers' Market More Expensive?
Why Pay More for Grass-Fed Meat?

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Sep 9, 2016

The Healthiest Meat

When it comes to buying meat for your family, there are several options.  Not all meat is created equal.  Once I saw The Dollar Tree boast of a $1 steak.  Ewwww.

People sometimes ask me, "Where should I start on my real food journey?"  Buying healthier meat can be an easy transition to a healthier lifestyle.  Most of your family members won't even know (unless they're used to eating lots of processed meat like hotdogs and bologna).  However, locally grown meat comes at a price just a bit more than $1 steak.  Yesterday Tara explained that you can't really compare the nutrition of grocery store food and that from small farms who are intentional.  Katie has shared before some tips for eating less meat which helps us stay within the budget.

So what's the healthiest meat?

The absolute healthiest meat would be that you have raised yourself on plenty of pasture and know everything about the animal.  Granted 99.9% of us aren't farmers so we look for other sources.

Next healthiest option is to buy directly from a farmer.  Get to know your farmers and ask them questions about their treatment of animals.  Not all farmers are as intentional as our dreams so be sure to ask questions like: What do the animals eat?  (The answer should be mostly grass.)  How much time do they spend on grass?  How large is the farm? How much grain are they given? GMOs?  What about the water source?  Are animals rotated to new pastures?  How many animals does the farmer process annually?
photos used by permission from Bryan Clifton & Grass Roots Co-Op
You can do your own research on why grass-based meat is healthier.  Please don't blindly take my word for it.  If we were to talk across the dinner table, these are some of my reasons for spending more to make grass-based meat a priority in our grocery budget:

Animals raised primarily on grass are healthier to eat because when given too many grains, it changes the omega 3 and omega 6 ratios in the fat.  Translated to humans, too much omega 6 causes inflammation -- which is the root of all disease.

Grass finished animals have more conjugated linoleic  acid (CLA) which is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that some believe fights cancer.  You'll also find high amounts of CLA in grass based milk products as evidenced by very yellow butter.

photos used by permission from Bryan Clifton & Grass Roots Co-Op
Cows that are finished in a feed lot (most grocery store beef) would die within 6 months because they are given exclusively grain.   My dad raised cattle; on pasture cows can live for YEARS if given proper living conditions.  Feed lot animals are finished in deplorable and cramped living conditions.    If you've ever driven past one of these sad feed lots (eastern Colorado, as well as in Texas and Kansas), you will want to plug your nose...for miles. Cows are meant to have plenty of room to roam, eat grass, and not exclusively grain fed.
photos used by permission from Bryan Clifton & Grass Roots Co-Op
Chickens that have access to grass will also be healthier.  The ones that lay eggs will have deeply golden yolks - orange if they're on fast growing green grass.  Chickens are actually omnivores and enjoy eating a variety of high protein bugs and other critters.  Most chicken you buy in the grocery store has never seen the natural light of day and has been given routine antibiotics, whether they need it or not. This translates to antibiotics in your body and can create an antibiotic immunity in humans.  Conventionally raised birds are fed exclusively a "vegetarian diet" aka grain.
photos used by permission from Bryan Clifton & Grass Roots Co-Op
Pigs - oh my pigs.  Admittedly, I'm a food snob.  If you invite me to your house and serve pork from Wal-Mart I will be polite and eat it.  As for feeding my family, I try very hard to only serve them pork from farmers I know and trust.  Pigs that have had exposure to sunlight will have high amounts of vitamin D which helps my body in so many ways.   I know too much about the nastiness of pigs, the conventional growing methods (LOTS of antibiotics) to consistently feed grocery store pork to my family.  If I can't afford pork from a local farmer, we just don't eat it.

Local meat farmers that I've trusted to feed my family include:

 - FarmGirl (whose meat share opens September 15),
 - Way to Grow (budding new family farm, processing chickens this weekend and next)
 - as well as other small farmers that have recently joined a co-op.

My third choice when choosing meat would be from a co-op like Grass Roots Farmers CoOperative.  Monday, I will write more about Grass Roots but I want to encourage you to check out their site now.  They have a special deal until the end of September and they deliver straight to your door, no shipping costs.

Forth choice would be to find a hunter or angler to share their wild bounty with you! Maybe I should move this choice closer to the top of the list.  My parents, whose garden is regularly destroyed by deer, would probably put venison at the top of this list.

Fifth choice would be grocery store meat.  Some grocery stores will carry meat that has been marked "no-antibiotics." Natural Grocers and Whole Foods are safer places to buy meat.  You cannot buy meat from either store that has been fed antibiotics.  Kroger's Simple Truth brand doesn't always have antibiotics (but please always look closely at the packaging...not all Simple Truth is antibiotic-free.)  The down-side of grocery store meat is that you know nothing about the farmer's standards or the animals living conditions.

As far as I know, it is a federal law that animals raised for meat cannot be given growth hormones.  Some dairy cows are given growth hormones to promote lactation.  Unless your dairy is organic or labeled rBST-free, there is a good chance that it is tainted with growth hormones.

When it comes to food, we have many choices.  Educate yourself.  We vote 3 times a day with our fork.

Yours for nutritionally dense food on the table,
Julie

Related: Why pay more for grass based meat?


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Sep 8, 2016

Why Is The Farmers' Market More Expensive?

Tara Stainton of Rattle's Garden copied me when she responded to someone asking about the market value of her FarmShare.  I thought it was worded so well that more people could benefit from reading it.  I've bolded the parts that I wanna AMEN.

I'm going to write you a short answer and then a long answer in case you are still reading.  ;)  Admittedly, I don't buy many vegetables from the grocery store and don't pay much attention to grocery store prices, and I've never shopped at Natural Grocers.  But I would assume that if price is a big concern that you would be happier buying food from the grocery store. That is not meant to be snarky just a really honest answer.  I've found over the years that people who are comparing this program with what they spend in a grocery store don't end up coming back a second season.  I have a hard time comparing the two because you just aren't comparing apples to apples.

That is my short answer.

Now, my long answer, in the event that you don't have a two year old tugging at your pant leg while reading this.  :)

When I say it's not comparing apples to apples, I mean several different things.  Most importantly though, when you go to the grocery store you buy exactly what you want. In the quantity that you want.  In our program you won't know what you are getting until I send out the newsletter at the beginning of the week and you won't know quantities until you get your box because I don't always know the quantity until we harvest the food that morning.  There will be staples you probably will still need to get from the grocery store.  I still buy sweet potatoes.  We eat very seasonally but if you are used to a grocery store you may want tomatoes every week, we won't have them in the fall farmshare.  Right now I would say green beans are going to be a bumper crop this year.  You may get three pounds of green beans one week, like it or not.  You may get five pounds of squash.  (likely)  So, whether this program is of value to you depends on how well your family does at utilizing excess and if you normally would purchase the vegetables listed on the fall plan.

The second thing I mean has to do with organic.  If you are already buying from Natural Grocers I'm going to assume that buying organic is important to you.  Organic is super important to me.  Our farm is certified organic.  With that said, I have learned over the years that our standards are higher than organic.  Many people, mistakenly, assume that organic means pesticide free.  It does not.  Biological pest controls are allowed in organic production as long as they  are derived from a natural source (plants) rather than synthetic.  I feel without a doubt that these pest controls are safer than conventional pesticides but they are still a form of pesticide.  I was really proud this summer of the fact that we did not spray a single pest control on the edible portion of a single vegetable that left the farm.  My children work with me in our fields, we do everything we can to avoid spraying anything.  Organic grocery store vegetables are coming from large organic farms.  Without a doubt, these farms are using every available option in their arsenol to get that crop from their field to the grocery store.  They have to, they are contracted to get that food there.  They cannot afford to lose it.  Our farmshare allows us to connect with customers who appreciate that they can trust how we grow our food.  We are very transparent about our processes.  All of this to me means that our food cannot be easily compared to grocery store food.  They aren't the same product.  

Finally, our Farmshare is a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in the truest meaning of the word.  We share the bounty and the loss.  We've been extremely fortunate over four years to have had only minor loss, meaning that while we may lose a few crops every season, we are always able to make it up with crops that flourish.  Of course, this is only of value to you if you have the means to do something with the excess.  The number one reason I hear for people not returning to the Farmshare is that they don't know what to do with all of the food.  Because of this we try to be careful not to overwhelm. I walk a fine line.  This summer we made a change in the pickup in that rather than pre-pack the bags of food, we set everything out in crates with quantities written on the crate and let people pick their food.  Things like cucumbers and squash had "As much as you want" written on them most of the summer.  That way if you had the means to use it you could take it but if you didn't, I wasn't overwhelming you.  Due to the way the pickup works this fall where we have to send bags pre-filled to Julie's house, you will have to take what we send.  I try to find a happy medium for everyone.  When we have excess we'll try to send it.  I can see already that due to the cabbage worms that took our first round of seedlings, the cabbage and broccoli will be late again this year.  Like last year, we'll send it when it's ready.

Ok, so there I go talking someone's ear off again.  I hope this helps.  We'd love to have you if you want to try it out.  I've attached the membership agreement.   Otherwise, maybe we'll see you next spring at the Hillcrest farmers market where we set up every Saturday from March until at least September.  Have a great day. -- Tara

Related: Why pay more for eggs? 

Tara's FarmShare delivery starts Monday in Little Rock, and there are a couple more openings.  Contact Tara ASAP if you want in on her fresh, yummy, nutrient dense veggies.

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Aug 28, 2016

A Tip for Eating More Veggies


Ever wanted your family to eat more vegetables?  Sign up for a fall FarmShare.  Without a doubt, my family eats more veggies when I'm getting weekly veggies from a local farmer.  Rattle's Garden will be starting their FarmShare in a couple weeks.  You can pick up in Vilonia ($150) or Little Rock ($165).

I can't remember when I started getting a FarmShare with Tara, but I've been nothing but pleased for years.  There is a difference between grocery store veggies and fresh from the field veggies.  Most notably you will notice the vibrant colors in local, organic veggies but also they stay fresh longer.

The following is from Rattle's Garden website.
 

What is Farmshare?
Our Farmshare is the foundation of how we sell vegetables from our farm. It is a subscription agreement in which a family buys a share of what our farm produces during the heart of our growing season. Twice a year we open this up to families wishing to join our farm community and enjoy really delicious organic food.

Why a Farmshare?
For us, it truly is about community. While we are grateful to be part of a large local food movement through the Little Rock markets we also want to share our vegetables and flowers with our rural neighbors. The commitment our Farmshare customers make by forming this membership allows us to do this.


For you, we hope it is because you too want to be part of our community. We hope that it is because you want to know where your food is coming from, who is growing it and how it is being grown. We know that it is because you want the freshest, healthiest, tastiest vegetables available to you.

What is our Agreement?
By becoming a member you agree to take the time to stop by our farm or the Little Rock pick-up point at the designated times for six weeks to receive a basket of organic vegetables we have grown and harvested at the peak of maturity to be enjoyed by your family. In return, we agree to work our tails off growing you a variety of organic, fresh vegetables that have been selected based simply on how fantastic they taste.

What scrumptious vegetables are being grown at Rattle’s Garden?
This is the second year we will be offering a fall Farmshare. While we have been selling vegetables at market since 2008, this is our fourth year growing a fall garden. We’ve learned a lot about growing in the fall over the last three seasons and I’m finally confident enough to offer this program but I do want everyone to go into this with their eyes open and know that we are going to do our best to put together great baskets this fall but we are always at the mercy of Mother Nature. Our crop plan for the fall includes four different varieties of summer squash, green beans, purple hull peas, cabbage, broccoli, kale, spinach, lettuce, swiss chard, radishes, red and yellow beets and carrots as well as the remaining sweet peppers from the summer.

When will this subscription begin?
As with all farming, we are dependent on Mother Nature. We hope to start the Farmshare the third week in September and run for 6 consecutive weeks. If our fall temps are moderate it’s possible we will start a week earlier, it’s more likely though that we would start a week late due to extremely warm temps during August.

What are the pick-up days/times?
The Little Rock pick-up will happen at the home of Julie Majors on Monday afternoons from 4-6 pm. The address is 1600 Tarrytown, Little Rock, 72227.

The farm pick-up will happen on Wednesday afternoons from 3:30-6pm and will be held market style as it was most of this summer (you pick your produce from crates). We will offer a Thursday morning pick-up from 9-11 am on the farm for anyone who cannot make Wednesday afternoons but this pick-up will have the produce bagged ahead of time since the logistics of school are a little more difficult for us this year. I would encourage you to pick up on Wednesday afternoons if at all possible.

What if your family needs to miss a pick-up?
During the summer we offer a make-up week at the end of the season for anyone to use in case they need to miss a week. With the fall season lasting only six weeks and because it will be pushing right up into cold weather, we will not have a make-up week for this season. If you have to miss a week, we ask you to make other arrangements to have your food picked up for you. If this isn’t possible, we ask that you give us a head’s up and we can make sure your basket goes to a needy family in the area through the Spirit of Vilonia Ministries.

Do you get to pick what you want in your basket?
Not exactly…we’ll divide each week’s produce up evenly between the baskets to make sure everyone gets variety and the full value of their basket. As members you will also be given the first opportunity to purchase large amounts of successful crops outside of the Farmshare season at wholesale prices for you to freeze or preserve by canning. If freezing or canning is new to you, we can help!

What about all of those chickens in our front yard??
In the summer we have an Eggshare option to the Farmshare program. In the fall however, chickens molt and when chickens molt they stop laying eggs making the number of eggs we have available less consistent. We won’t have an Eggshare option this fall but we should still have plenty of eggs available on request. Our eggs sell for $5 a dozen and they are beautiful and taste fantastic. If you are interested in eggs simply ask when you pick up your food or send me a text to have them included in your basket. If you pick up in LR and know that you want eggs every week, send me an email and we will work something out in advance of the start of the program.

Communication…
One key to the success of our program is always communication! Occasionally I have tech problems with the farm’s Facebook page but I try to keep it up to date! I will send out a short weekly newsletter to your email address letting you know what you can expect in your basket each week. This newsletter will start coming out the first week in September to let you know how the growing season is going and when we plan to start the pick-ups. We also want to hear from you…keep us posted on which veggies you love and let us know if something isn’t working for you. We can be reached by text at 501-941-0331 or by email at rattlesgarden@yahoo.com.

How do I become a Member?
So, you are ready for the yumminess. Good.

Simply email rattlesgarden@yahoo.com for the membership agreement and mail it to us with your full payment of $150 (farm pick-up) or $165 (Little Rock pick-up).

If after August 30, please call (501-941-0331) or email (rattlesgarden@yahoo.com) to check on availability before mailing payment. 

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