Category: Food

Bought Half a Tamworth Hog

tamworthgrazingThe deep freezer was getting low and it was time to replenish it with meat.  A friend had told us about a local farm called New Heritage Farms that raised Tamworth hogs he was getting meat from.  We decided to get half a Tamworth hog.

The 135 pound side of pork we got was raised on prairie that follows along the Cowlitz river here in Washington state.  The Tamworths were allowed to pasture and roam the woods looking for graze and rooting around in the dirt.  The farm doesn’t use herbicides or fertilizers, and isn’t considered organic but it is responsibly grown.

Allowed to graze and roam they absorb more nutrients, especially micronutrients.  Along with those nutrients come flavor.  And plenty of it.  Vickie allows her hogs the opportunity to forage on fallen hazelnuts and acorns in the fall.  They are also finished on apples and rolled oats and barley.

I drove to meet Vickie from New Heritage Farms to pick up our portion of processed pork.  Coolers of frozen pork with names on them were in the back of her farm truck.  Neatly wrapped in paper and labeled like you would get them from any other butchers, filling the truck.  Other fanciers were there to pick their hogs in various portions, half, quarter, etc.

They were also sad to hear that she wouldn’t likely be offering the Tamworth hogs after this season.  It was time to retire and start on something else that involves some relaxing and less of a workload.  This was the first time we had bought from her but after cooking up some chops we were definitely impressed and wished that we would be able to get more when the time came.

halfrackWe had talked with Vickie and agreed on what size portion we wanted.  The hogs are sent to the butcher, another local small business, for processing and wrapping.  After we squared up with Vickie the next call was to the butchers.

The butcher asked seemingly a million questions about pork and cuts and smoking or curing.  It went much like an interaction at the butchers counter though.  Most of it came down to personal preference.

“How do you want your pork chops cut?  Thick or thin?”  The butcher asked  “Do you want the leaf lard?  Bacon cured? How big of a pack would you like the ground pork in?”

I chose to get the leaf lard, the crème de la crème of fats, which is most often used for pastry.  Its a healthier alternative to trans fats and other unnatural fats.  Of course we got the ham hocks and half on a ham smoked as well as half the bacon.  Opting for some sidepork, an uncured bacon, we will use some for making pork belly dishes.

When unpacking the meat to go into the freezer it almost was overwhelming at the options that we saw for meals.  Ground pork for making a plethora of sausage options, Chinese dumplings, and meatballs for albondiga with chipotle sauce.  So many options and flavors from the pork wrapped up neatly in paper packs.

The Tamworth is a bacon pig, meaning that it has less fat than the lard pig breeds.  The long and lean Tamworth has better marbling in the meat than other breeds.  They make good pasture and forest growth and withstand the natural environments better than the production breeds.

partofthehogThe Tamworth doesn’t do as well in factory type production as other breeds do, which in part is what has led to its decline.  Less people are keeping them on small farms and they are considered “threatened’ in the United States by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.  If we ever are in the position to raise hogs we would seriously consider them.

The breed is also hardy and able to take care of itself out on pasture and in the woodlands.  Grazing and rooting to supplement their intake is something they like to do.    The sows produce good litters and take care of their offspring quite well.  Born wary of people, they will quickly become accustomed if presented the opportunity depending on your preferences.

We eat pork about once a week on average and the grocery store offerings are seriously lacking in the flavor and texture compared to the Tamworth.  Overall texture, flavor, and marbling are by far better and it is worth the extra cost.  We would recommend finding a local producer and stock your freezer.  For those that are squeamish, don’t worry.  It comes from the butchers.  Cut, wrapped, smoked and cured ready for the kitchen.


The Food, the Fat, and the Starchy!

fatupThe Smithsonian Magazine recently shared an article about how “on a calorie-to-calorie basis, potatoes, wheat and rice require two to six time less resources to produce than pork, chicken, eggs or dairy”.  The claim that beef takes ten times more resources is shocking but the unseen is what is most concerning.

There doesn’t seem to be any thought given to these ‘farm’ animals diets.  Factory farming feed is often the waste left over from other processing acts like soybean meal as its left over byproduct from pressing the oil out.  The grains that are fed to animals are don’t simply line up with what we would find in a can of corn or on a cob at the grocers.  Have you sever seen the giant ear of corn on some dent varieties?

All that aside there are other hidden factors that are being swept under the rug.  The side of potatoes, rice, and wheat that we don’t see.  We have all heard that potatoes and wheat are sprayed with poisons to shed the leaves or the arsenic used in rice production, but that’s not even it.

Potatoes, wheat and rice have likely produced more pounds of ungainly cellulite than the consumption of beef has. A ribeye steak on average has 857 calories. That’s a lot. A 255 gram bag of a popular name brand potato chips has 1428 calories per bag. Who can ingest only one?

Does anyone sit on the couch and eat a whole bag of ribeyes?

Every year in America 235 thousand people die from diabetes related deaths. Guns get blamed for being so dangerous to our society but the real killer is starch. The rate of obesity has grown alongside cheap farm subsidized starchy foods and is the silent killer waiting inthe corner of your kitchen waiting to strike.

Starchy carbohydrates lead to diabetes. They are everywhere that processed foods are, all along the inside aisles of the grocers shelves. The Smithsonian’s initial implication suggests that producing beef is resource extensive but how extensive is burying 235 thousand diabetic overweight and unhealthy people? That’s just those that die from diabetes, and not just all unhealthy consumption of potatoes, rice, and wheat.

How much of a carbon footprint does it take to ready that many people for a funeral? To prepare them for burial? To treat them while they have diabetes to try and stave off their imminent demise.

Lets also not forget about the throngs of folks waiting inline at the doctors office wearing stretchy pants. While meat is calorically intense and resource dependent originally it is less likely to give you diabetes and be one of the 30 million Americans that have the diabetes.

To Kill a Honey Bee

beehivesI was alarmed when I first heard about bee colonies collapsing in 2007; entire colonies of bees either dead or simply vanished. Fingers point to GMO crops, pesticides, parasitic mites, disease, etc. It’s such a dire situation apparently, Monsanto went on the offensive and publicly refuted any blame on pesticides and even bought out a bee research firm[1].

The small, common honey bee we’re familiar with is not the only pollinator, in fact its not even native to North America. The honey bee was originally imported from Europe back in the Colonial era. There are a host of other native insects that also fill the pollinator role. The problem lies with unrestricted pesticide use that may harm pollinator populations across the board. Such as the dramatic decline of the monarch butterfly currently blamed on heavy pesticide use (along with loss of habitat to corn, and loss of their preferred diet the milkweed).

Speculators are saying our food supply is in danger because we’re losing our pollinators. To get an idea of what this means, look to an apple growing region in China where they live a bee-less reality. The farmers there hand pollinate apple blossoms after killing off all their bees[2]. This is not a sustainable practice for industrial farmers in the States. Perhaps before jumping on the “save the bees!” bandwagon, take a critical look at the state of beekeeping.

beelargeIndustrial beekeepers ship their bees from one end of the country to the other to meet the demands of monoculture crops (such as corn and almonds). They subject their bees to stress of travel, non-stop pollinating, and feed them processed carbohydrates (HFCS). GMO crops are implicated for creating holes in the human gut barrier creating immune problems like allergies. The same is happening in bees and weakening the bee’s immune system.

Queen bees in the wild mate with many (ludicrously many) male drones to diversify their genes (make them resilient and strong) whereas commercial bees are products of heavy inbreeding (sound familiar with chicken folks and disease resistance?). They are artificially inseminated with select sperms or given very limited breeding partners. Inbreeding leads to weak bees; shorter life span and prone to disease.  As a result of this type of breeding regimen commercial bees are weak, they are subject to chemicals to control bee diseases and parasites which end up in their honey which is in turn sold to humans for consumption.

Bee’s also bring back pesticides sprayed on crops to share with the colony and contaminate honey.

The state with the most to lose is California with their many monoculture crops. The media is very vocal about any distress to the farms in California such as the current drought gripping the state. Strangely enough, they sensationalize CA droughts and don’t mention farms on the east coast are fine and people need not fear a lettuce shortage.

Though it is unclear if there is a single and sole reason for bee colony collapse, the beekeeping system was a disaster waiting to happen due to the stress of industrialized farming: the cycle of stressful transportation, pesticides, inbreeding, poor nutrition, etc. Honey is so easily accessible at the grocers, no thought is given to the condition of its producer, the honey bee.

Consumers need to raise their awareness about food and realize the ugly side of industrialization is not just isolated to beef and poultry. Instead of being scared of food shortages because of disappearing bees, remember this: California is not the only state with farms. Simply look to your own backyard to help save bees. Turn barren suburban landscapes into hospitable oasis for bees. Add some flowering plants and use natural pesticides. Paul Gautschi (“Back to Eden“) swears by garlic and jalapeño pepper spray.




  1. Huffington Post
  2. University of Minnesota Extension

Recommended supplemental media:

More Than Honey – documentary uses state of the art technology to eloquently show the state of honey bees.

Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us – documentary goes beyond the theorized causes and looks deeper at the industrialized bee keeping system.

Silence of the Bees – PBS Nature documentary describes various theories on why bee colonies are collapsing.

Making Seed Starter Plant Mix

1 part wet wood stove pellet (make sure its pure wood)
1 part fine pine bark
1 part peat moss (optional) can substitute coconut coir instead of peat
1 part coarse sand

For a starter soil you want something fine and light.  You also want to have something that  doesn’t dry out too quickly.  It must have enough strength to hold the plants roots together as well.  Starter soil is available at most greenhouse supply and home and garden centers but its easy to make.  If you grow lots of plants its better in our experience to have a supply of different types of media on hand to mix tailor made potting soils.  Its cheaper and its easy.

The main ingredients to most any potting soil is something to hold moisture in and commercially to be light so that handling and trucking weights are kept down.  Mixing sand in isnt normally done for most greenhouse grown plants.  At home it doesnt matter so much because you arent moving them around nationally by truck.  Since theres no compost, theres less chance of fungus, disease, or weeds.

The sawdust holds water and although it takes more carbon than other ingredients its cheap and light.  You will be starting the seeds and fertilizing them in a mixture of other ingredients as well.  The fine pine bark helps water retention and aerates the soil.  Peat moss has anti fungal properties,  and sand creates strong roots and aerates the mix.  Since it is a soilless media there is a greatly reduced risk of introducing pests and disease from dirt taken from elsewhere.  Its a win win for you and your plants.

The pine bark holds tiny little air pockets in the soil so that your plants roots get plenty of oxygen.  Pine generally doesnt break down very fast.  You dont want something that will pack down and turn to mush.  Like the sawdust, pine bark also holds water but drains well.

Peat is sometimes a touchy subject for some as it isnt always collected with the best ecological interest.   If you choose to use it in your mix it will produce a lighweight soil.  It will hold water well and will drain well.

As the last cheap ingredient we have sand.  Coarse sand is best.  You want the sand to make tiny little air pockets so your roots can enjoy some oxygen.  It prevents it from packing down and also holding too much water.

You keep hearing the word drainage.  Drainage is very important.  It is as important as the water holding capabilities of the pine bark, sawdust, and peat moss.  You want it to retain water for a long time but you dont want it to be soggy.  Drainage is very impiortant because holding water will kill your young plants and create breeding grounds for fungus and disease.

Vermiculite, perlite, and other similar ingredients are good but they are costly.  They are also sometimes hard to find and just not necessary for the home gardener.  We quit using it altogether.  There is supposedly no longer asbestos in the new mining areas and they test it.  In the past some have strayed away from those types of media from fear of asbestos.

Fertilize with a basic fertilizer after they start growing their leaves as there is no nutrients in the soil mix.  There’s really no need to have nutrient to start with as the seed is an embryo.  Mix an all purpose fertilizer of your liking and feed them with that a few times a week once they get growing.  There are certain types of fertilizers that will help compact growth so they dont get leggy and spindly.

Professional nurseries use a growth chemical mixture to purposely produce those compact little plant starts.  In Washington state you need an applicators license to buy it.  We use fertilizers to get the same result.  We will elaborate on that in a later article but its something to consider when wanting thos compact and lush plant starts come springtime.

The Great Potato

Potatoes get a bad rap about being starchy and high in carbohydrates.  Typically potatoes are fried and eaten as potato chips or french fries.  Even the gregarious loaded baked potato sitting next to your filet isn’t healthy.

Take away all the grease, butter, and sour cream and you have an acceptable food that leaves you feeling full longer.  Potatoes stick to your ribs and they have nutrients that you need and can use.

The venerable potato is rich in vitamin C and a medium potato with the skin on provides 27mg.  That’s almost half of the recommended daily intake.  There is research that suggests the potato can lower blood pressure as it contains kukoamines also contained in traditional Chinese teas that reduce blood pressure.

While the potato isnt the cure all it shouldn’t be overlooked in your diet if you are health conscious.  A baked potato can provide around 12 percent of the daily recommended fiber.  Similar levels can be found in whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals but they are more processed.  High levels of dietary fiber support healthy digestion and can help protect against colon cancer.

Potato skin contain flavinoids and other nutrients, so leaving them on when making mashed potatoes might be a good idea.  To get the most vitamin C from your tubers bake them instead of boiling them to retain more good stuff.

Shy away from the condiments like butter, sour cream, and bacon and enjoy the benefits of potatoes.  They keep you full longer, are beneficial health wise, and are cheap and easy to prepare.