Friday, April 30, 2010

Actually, It Was Grandma Who Knew Best

(ATTN: Calling all proofreaders!  This is a rough draft of the argument paper I’m turning in for my English class. I need some help proof reading it, if you notice any errors or have any suggestions on how to improve it please contact me before Monday. I’m open to any suggestions. Thank you!)


On a hot summer day, what could be better than a backyard barbeque? The kids run around the yard playing in the sprinkler, Mom carefully sets the table and prepares the food, and of course, Dad mans the grill while talking sports with his buddies. A scene right out of the movies right? One from a romantic comedy, or maybe a drama. But for one family it was more like a horror movie. It was, in fact, the beginning of their worst nightmare. You see, those burgers Mom carefully made by hand and Dad grilled were laced with E-coli. Their son, a two-and-a-half year old happy, healthy, little boy died twelve days after eating one.

Factory farming, the mass production of livestock and crops to produce high-volume, low-cost food to consumers, has taken over the American food system. Current government regulations of the US factory-farmed food supply are not sufficient to protect consumers from disease and other health risks; parents need to protect themselves by opting out of the factory farm system, learning to cook again and starting to produce their own food.

While producers and leaders of agribusiness feel industrial farming is a necessary evil to provide enough food to meet global demand, it leaves the consumer in a compromised position. The industry is very secretive about how the food is produced. They don’t want you to know the truth about the food you are eating, because if you did, you might not want to eat it. Food today comes from assembly lines where both the workers and the animals are being abused and the food has become much more dangerous in ways that are being deliberately hidden from us.

Regardless of how the livestock is treated or what safety inspections have been conducted we are led to believe that someone out there is checking it and it is safe to give to our children. That’s what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is for right? In 1972, the FDA conducted approximately 50,000 food safety inspections yet in 2006 they conducted only 9,164. (Kenner, 2008). The question isn’t “Where’s the Beef” anymore, it’s “Where’s the FDA?”

In the seventies there were thousands of slaughterhouses across the country, but now there are only thirteen. Thirteen slaughterhouses that process most of the beef in this country. Think about that for a minute. Think about how many hamburgers are served every day at your local McDonalds. Now think about how many McDonalds there must be in America. If there are pathogens in one hamburger, it’s a safe bet it’s in all the hamburgers from that meat processing plant that day. On average, consumers eat 14 billion hamburgers per year in the United States alone (Beef it’s What’s for Dinner, 2009). Outbreaks can now spread like wildfire.

In 2001, Barbara Kowalcyk’s two-and-a-half year old son, Kevin, died from E-coli found in tainted hamburger (Kenner, 2008). The meat tested positive at the plant for E-coli on August 1, but there was no recall of meat products until August 27, sixteen days after Kevin died (Kenner, 2008). While explaining Kevin’s story for the documentary, Food Inc., Mrs. Kowalcyk said, “We put faith in our government to protect us and yet we’re not being protected at a most basic level” (Kenner, 2008).

In 1998, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) implemented microbial testing for salmonella and E-coli (Kenner, 2008). The idea was that if a processing plant repeatedly failed the tests the USDA would shut down the plant until the problem was resolved (Kenner, 2008). The poultry and meat industry lobbyists fought the USDA in court, winning the case, claiming the USDA didn’t have the authority to shut them down (Kenner, 2008). Now, even if a plant tests positive, the USDA can’t do anything about it. And it’s not just meat, it’s all food. Remember the E-coli outbreak in the spinach a few years ago?

Mrs. Kowalcyk advocated for years after her son’s death to pass legislation, known as Kevin’s law, to give back the power to the USDA to shut down plants that repeatedly produce contaminated meat (Kenner, 2008). After heavy lobbying by the food industry, the bill never even passed committee. Mrs. Kowalcyk commented that all she ever wanted was for the company that produced the tainted beef to say, “We’re sorry we produced this defective product that killed your child, and this is what we’re going to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again” (Kenner, 2008). “It’s all we wanted and they couldn’t give us that,” she said (Kenner, 2008).

The regulatory agencies are being controlled by the very companies they are supposed to be scrutinizing. We need to stop behaving like sheep being led to slaughter and stand up for our right to consume fresh, safe, nutritious food. So as parents, what should we do to protect our children? There are three simple, yet important, things every parent can do starting right now to ensure we are providing the healthiest, most sustainable and safest food to our kids.

The first thing we can do is just stop buying the factory farmed food. Opt out of the factory farming system. No really, don’t laugh, it can be done. Realistically, it wasn’t all that long ago that the system didn’t even exist. It turns out it wasn’t Mother who knew best, but Grandma. We need to go back a couple of generations, before factory farming started. Back when common sense prevailed, when food didn’t travel half way across the world and when dairy cows still had names like Bessie.

It was Grandma who knew how to cook from scratch. She didn’t use processed food, it didn’t exist. She got her meat from the local butcher and her staples from the local market. She cooked what was in season and preserved some for later; she didn’t buy imported vegetables from Chile. Sure, she may have purchased a little imported coffee or sugar, things that couldn’t be grown locally. But she sure as heck didn’t grow an acre of corn, ship it to China, then turn around and buy peas in exchange. She grew her own peas.

Today, you’re not going to find grass-fed beef at Wal-Mart, but you can easily find your local farmer’s market, family farms and other sources for local, sustainable food by visiting In order to really know where your food is coming from you may want to consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Co-op. Where, in a nutshell, a farmer offers a limited number of “shares” of their farm to the public. In return, the shareholder receives a box of produce every week during the growing season. Some even offer grass-fed meats and dairy products.

Some CSAs offer educational opportunities to learn about sustainable farming or volunteer opportunities to work for free veggies (This Old Farm, 2010). Generally, there is at least one opportunity a year to visit the farm, see how the food is being produced and meet other shareholders. CSAs are even available to those who live in the city. Drop-off points are designated at convenient locations so you never have to visit the farm if you don’t want to. Just pick up your box on your way home from work.

Some grocery store chains are also starting to realize the value of locally grown produce. Check for locally grown or organic options at your favorite store. If they don’t carry local food, ask them to start.

Every time you buy local or organic products, you send a clear vote on opting out of the factory farm system. Organic products do cost more, because they are more labor intensive to produce, but you don’t have to blow your grocery budget in order to eat well. Try cutting coupons for other items on your shopping list such as cleaning products or personal care items. There are even websites out there that make a game of saving money with coupons such as You will save more than enough to make up for the added amount you pay for organics.

You might also want to pick and choose which products you feel are most important to you. For instance, if you started with dairy and meat products you would at least know you were eating something that was humanely treated and produced without growth hormones or unnecessary antibiotics. Most Americans should reduce the amount of meat and dairy they consume anyway; now is a good time to start.

If we stop buying and eating the processed food, we force the system to change. Those companies exist to make money. It’s all about supply and demand. If, as parents, we demand good, wholesome food, the farmers will supply it. If we stop eating at the fast food restaurants, they will change their menus. If we demand the schools remove junk food from the cafeteria, they will comply.

Unfortunately, the skills Grandma had in the kitchen have not been handed down over the years. Instead we are a fast food nation, reliant upon the quick and easy. The ability to cook from scratch is, by and large, a lost art. Once we start buying the local unprocessed food, the next thing we all need to do is learn how to cook it.

Never has a society spent so much on remodeling a kitchen, yet have no idea what to do while we’re in there. We must rediscover our kitchens. With both parents working in most households today, people often think they simply don’t have the time to cook from scratch. However, with just a little planning a healthy meal can come together more quickly than the time it takes to wait in line at the drive-through.

If you’re lucky, you can just ask Grandma to show you how it’s done. But, if you’re on your own, there are still plenty of resources out there. There are lots and lots of quick and easy recipe books on the market. I happen to like The Complete Idiot’s Guide to 20-Minute Meals. It is filled with doable, real-life recipes that do not require a culinary arts degree. Pick up a book like this and give it a try. You’ll be amazed at what you can make in under 20-minutes.

Planning a week of meals in advance will help you save time, money and possibly your sanity. When life starts getting a little crazy, you won’t have to worry about what’s for dinner. You’ll already have a plan. Just take a few minutes to think about the foods your family likes to eat. Then create a simple spreadsheet. Once you have your meals chosen, list the ingredients you would need to purchase for each meal. VoilĂ , there’s your shopping list for the week.

Week 1





Cereal & Fruit

Tuna Salad Wrap with Sprouts

Ham & Sweet Potatoes

Creamed Corn

Green Beans


Eggs, Toast & Fruit

Soup & Salad

Red Beans & Rice

Apple Crisp


Oatmeal & Fruit

Leftovers with Salad




Mushroom Omelets & Toast

Peanut butter & jelly


Vegetable chili


Pineapple Rings


Cereal & Fruit

Minestrone Soup

Chicken Enchiladas



Blueberry Pancakes

Chicken Salad Sandwich

Homemade Veggie Pizza



Eggs, Toast & Fruit

Turkey Wrap with Sprouts

Chicken & Dumplings

Green Beans

Fruit Cocktail

Table 1. Menu Plan

Of course the very best way to know exactly where your food is coming from is to grow it and harvest it yourself. The third thing we can do as parents is grow our own food again. Nothing tastes better than a home grown tomato. As many as 15 pounds of tomatoes can be grown from just one self-watering container on the back patio (Madigan, 2009).

You would be surprised at how even a small plot can produce a large amount of food. Carleen Madigan, editor of The Backyard Homestead says, “A quarter-acre lot, planned out well and cultivated intensively, can produce most of the food for a small family” (Madigan, 2009, p. 12). Her quarter acre plan includes vegetables, fruits and nuts, herbs, a single grain like wheat or oats, twelve chickens, two pigs, two rabbits and two bee hives (Madigan, 2009). If you were to add just another quarter acre of pasture, a family could add a couple of dairy goats or raise pigs or lambs for meat (Madigan, 2009). On only a tenth of an acre you could grow all but the grains, pigs and half the chickens (Madigan, 2009).

Nothing teaches a child responsibility and the circle of life better than raising animals. And, let’s face it; children are often more inclined to eat vegetables they’ve grown themselves. Getting the kids involved and teaching them how to live sustainably can be a fun family project. Let them have their own little plot of carrots and see how proud they are of their bounty once harvest season comes around.

There is a large back-to-the-land movement occurring in America today. Similar to the one started in the seventies after the oil crisis. Members of the movement like to refer to themselves as homesteaders. Their lifestyles vary widely, but most strive for a simpler, sustainable lifestyle as free from the factory farming system as possible. Online communities have popped up all over the web, including, where people can share advice on everything from how to milk a goat to how to keep slugs from eating your lettuce.

What if you don’t live in the country or even the suburbs? Most cities and suburbs now allow raising a certain number of hens in your backyard. Roosters, on the other hand, don’t make particularly good neighbors and so are typically not allowed. There are entire websites and online communities dedicated to raising backyard chickens such as

Live in an apartment? Most people don’t think twice about dedicating space inside their apartment for a pair of exotic birds such as parrots. Why not chickens instead? The bantam breeds of chickens would make great house pets. Their eggs are small, but you can easily substitute two for one regular size egg in any recipe.

Some communities are starting community gardens. While they vary in organization and what they grow, community gardens are simply plots of land gardened by groups of people. Some are set up where you can rent a plot and solely grow your own food. Others share the responsibilities and the harvest. You can find a community garden near you by visiting

No matter where you begin, the important thing is to start somewhere. Make Grandma proud. Maybe you just switch to organic milk. Maybe you go as far as to plant a garden. Or maybe you go all out and live off-grid with solar-powered greenhouses and a dairy cow you name Beulah Petunia. Regardless, just make sure your vote is counted, for your children’s sake and mine.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

She Was Just a Little Excited…

Ever since her mauling incident with Blanche and a few chicken chasing mishaps, Willa has been confined to her own area during the day. It just works out better that way for everyone. I’m sure she only wants to play with them; she doesn’t understand, because of her immense size, they’re terrified of her. Her idea of “play” is their idea of “torture”.  If we had bigger sheep and goats, I don’t think it would be as much of an issue.

She’s been confined in what was supposed to be my small, rabbit-free garden area that sits adjacent to Old Jack’s outdoor run during the day and then allowed to roam the pastures at night, after all the animals have been tucked into bed. Not an ideal situation; so today was moving day for Willa. She now has a large pasture and most of the barn all to herself where she’ll be in the middle of it all, yet not in the garden and still have access to the pastures at night.


You could say she was just a little excited about her new digs…

“Woo Hoo!”


“Yee Haw!”


“Is it really all mine?”


“I’ll guard this area with my life, just watch.”

DSC_4296   “Grrrr…DSC_4297



“Aaahhhhhaahhh…”DSC_4300  “Aaahahahaah…”DSC_4301

“Sniff, sniff, sniff…”DSC_4302

“Shake, shake, shake…”DSC_4303


“Okay, it’s safe now.”DSC_4305

“Wake me when it’s time for the night watch.”DSC_4306 

Daisy later said, “You realize that was just a paper bag and she’s afraid of frogs right?”

“I know, Daisy, I know. Hey, at least her bark sounds scary.” DSC_4311

“Just keep her away from me. I think she’s got that Mad Cow thing.”DSC_4307 christinesig

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Suspicious Packages Were Left Unattended

We had to bring in the bomb-sniffing sheep to give us the all-clear before the goats could resume occupancy of the Grotto. DSC_4285 christinesig

Willa B

Protector of livestock. Chaser of chickens. Fearer of frogs. DSC_4214Really can’t wait for the frog mating season to be over so Willa will stop barking at them. All. Night. Long. I can’t blame her though, she’s just doing her job.

“Good girl, Willa. Good girl keeping those frogs away.”

I’m sure  if you only knew how big those frogs were you’d feel really silly.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Greener Pastures

Phase two of the Great Fencing Project of 2010 is complete. The barn lot pasture is fenced, sporting new gates and ready for grazing.


We sectioned off an area around the East side of the barn to leave room for the barn renovation work to continue. Yes, I said “we”. I handed him the doohickey a few times and took pictures. That qualifies me to say “we”.


The previous owners had left a pile of crud, most of which the guys already removed, but some concrete blocks remain. Eventually they will come out and become a play structure for the goats. Then, after the barn renovation is done, part of this area will be a small isolation pasture connected to the pen inside the barn. You never know when you might need to separate somebody. DSC_4230

Shortly before bedtime Saturday night we had an open house in the new pasture. Like most parties it started out just fine. Everyone was getting along.DSC_4237

But as the night wore on, things started getting a little out of hand, words were said,  punches were thrown. The next thing you know the Golden Girls were asked to leave and not come back.   DSC_4226 

It IS supposed to be the goat pasture after all. Daisy, Bo & Luke are here to clear all this out and turn it into a nice pasture to add to the rotation.DSC_4231

I hope they’re hungry.DSC_4246


Saturday, April 24, 2010

They Mock Me

Oh, how they mock me.
Where is Donald Trump when you need him?

A Memo

To:  All Egg-Laying Employees

From:  Farm Management

Date:  April 24, 2010

Re:  Unauthorized Access to Restricted Areas

It has come to our attention that the hay feeder in the new Goat Grotto is being accessed and used as an auxiliary nesting area.


While we understand and appreciate the fact that it may seem like a private birthing suite, that is not its intended purpose. Please refrain from any further such activity. New signage has been acquired and will be posted as a reminder.


Thank you.christinesig

Friday, April 23, 2010

Celebrating Earth Day

What better way to celebrate Earth Day could there be other than taking a dirt bath?


It’s the little scenes like Old One-Eyed Calico Jack, Precious and their three little ones taking a family bath that keep me sane. Make me believe there are things that are right in the world. Make me appreciate living on a farm where I can connect with nature on a level most people can’t. Every day is Earth Day around here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Lion in the Pasture

Working from the tail forward is MUCH easier when hand shearing sheep. Even so, I'm still slow enough that we have to take a break. Sophia is now running around the pasture looking a lot like a lion. A skinny lion. It's amazing how much smaller they look without their wool. She'll be getting some extra corn for awhile to help her fill out a bit.

I'm not sure if he was planning a visit, or if it was the lion in the pasture that drew the attention of one of our neighbors, Lawrence. He stopped by yesterday to chat. He has lots of animals himself. In fact, before we were properly introduced we used to refer to him as Noah. His pastures seem to have two of everything including a llama named Walter, my favorite.

I, of course, needed to explain why Sophia was running around looking like a lion. And you know, when I told him I sheared them all with hand shears he looked right at me, laughed and said, "Are you serious? You mean like scissors?"

"Yeah, the old-fashioned sheep shears", I said.

"You've GOT to be kidding? I've never heard of ANYONE doing that!"

I feel I should point out here that Larry is a Grandpa. He's been around a farm a time or two. He's no greenhorn.

"Yeah, I couldn't find anyone to come and shear just four sheep and I wanted to learn how to do it", I said.

I could tell by the look on his face he though I was stark raving mad.

"You know I've got some electric clippers", he said. "I could come back tomorrow and show you how to use them."

Sophia's ears instantly perked up and she said, "Take me with you! Don't leave me here! She's crazy. We need a real shepherd", then she batted her eyes at him.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

G is for Goofball

Dorothy was feeling especially frisky early this morning.  During her little escapade of being the class clown she somehow broke off one of her scurs. Of course it wasn't the one I was worried I'll need to cut soon.

And that is a crying shame since I have no idea how to cut a scur. Little Bo has some that will need cut, too. I guess I'd better figure it out. Maybe if I just don't tell them I looked it up on YouTube...


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

“Where’s the Clicker?”

“I want to watch Wheel of Fortune.”


Go ahead. Try telling  me she doesn’t think she’s human.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Surrogate

It seems Sweet Pea would have been more appropriately named Sour Puss. Sweet she is not. She wants nothing at all to do with her babies. Once they hatch she looks at me as if she’s thinking, “Can you believe the nerve of these babies? Can’t they see I’m busy sitting on eggs.”

Clueless. Completely clueless.

I’m afraid the first little chick to hatch didn’t make it. But it’s really for the best as its eye was injured. Life is not easy for a one-eyed chicken. Old Jack can attest to that. But there are still seven other little peepers that are healthy and happy in the brooder.

All in all, this will be a good thing. The last small batch of chicks with Precious are as wild as a night on Daytona Beach. I couldn’t even get a picture of them, let alone touch them. I’ll never be able to catch them. But this batch-this batch I’ll have eating out of my hand…

It tickles.christinesig

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Way Nature Intended

I just finished a paper. It was an informational piece about factory farming and the varying viewpoints about the controversial topic. Now I’m starting to write my next paper. I planned on writing about sustainable agriculture and how we really should all be living as nature intended.

Then I woke up this morning.

I had big plans to head down to Sheep Street to help in the sheep shearing. Thought maybe I would learn a thing or two from the pros and maybe Blanche wouldn’t freak out the next time I try to shear her. But my plans changed in a hurry.

You see, Sweet Pea, one of Old One-Eyed Calico Jack’s lady friends, has been sitting on a clutch of eggs. The first to hatch did so last night as I was heading out to class. At some point the tiny hatchling somehow fell out of the nest box and was just lying there getting cold. The engineer rightfully assumed it couldn’t get back in the box and helped it, sticking it back under Sweet Pea.

This morning I found the little thing still inside the box, but not under its mother. Then as I looked closer I realized it was bleeding. She had pecked its head so hard it was pretty seriously injured.

I snatched it up, easily. Sweet Pea’s sister, Precious, would have grabbed my arm and twirled me around a few times before sending me sailing across the room had I tried that with her babies, but Sweet Pea actually seemed like she wanted me to get rid of it.

By the time I rounded up all the necessary gear to keep it warm and safe I realized I wasn’t going anywhere today. I wasn’t sure if it was just an accident or if maybe there was something wrong with the baby and that’s why she was trying to kill it, but clearly I needed to stick around for awhile to figure out if it would live.


Not long after that I found another baby outside of the box lying on the floor. Once again, Sweet Pea acted like she didn’t want anything to do with it. If they are not kept warm, they’ll die. So in the make-shift brooder it went. At this point I started to realize Sweet Pea was more concerned with her eggs and sitting on them than the babies. Apparently she has the instinct to go broody, but didn’t really understand why the heck she was doing it.


It wasn’t long before hatchling number three joined its clutch mates. Clearly she was tossing them out to “protect her eggs”.

She’s freaking nuts.

So, I had planned to go to quilt guild tonight, I was really looking forward to it. But instead I’m on homicidal chicken momma watch. There’s another baby under her now, I can hear it. And about twelve more eggs.

I’m just sure this is not what Mother Nature intended.

The slant of my next paper may have to change.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Keeping Mother Nature In

Or is it out?

DSC_4051 Sophia doesn’t like Bo. She’s not all that crazy about Luke either. Given that she is the grand matriarch of the ruminants, what she says goes. Sophia wants Daisy, Bo and Luke to go live in another pasture and stop eating her grass.

DSC_4054 The humans are doing their best to grant her wishes.

DSC_4072 This isn’t the kind of fencing the young man would like to spend his weekends doing.

DSC_4070 I tried to explain, it could be worse. Right now we’re just fencing the barn lot pasture.

DSC_4059 There’s a lot more left where that came from...

By the look on his face, I’d say we’d better hurry and get it done before he moves out. ;^)