Our Local Feast

Seasonal food and a silly goose.

Since we have been farming, our family's diet has become at least 80% local and seasonal. As we sit around the table giving thanks, I regularly reflect on how grateful we are for the food produced on our farm and those from our local friends. You never take things for granted when it’s the fruit of your own labor. Our girls enjoy the new crops as they arrive on our plates, and look forward to veggies that most kids would avoid. It’s different when they have taken part in the work, and still a little strange to hear them asking for more greens or radishes. They are learning from the very beginning how to appreciate good food, and hopefully they will have that their whole lives.

Now that we are in the holidays, a local food feast comes naturally. Traditional Thanksgiving and holiday meals celebrate the seasonal harvest, and as we seek the ingredients to prepare our feast, we look locally, and in our own backyard. Recently as we prepared for Thanksgiving we began to make our list of what was available from our farm:

Sweet potatoes, cabbage, fresh shell beans, Salad, radishes, arugula, winter squash, baby beet greens, eggs for baking, flour (we bought organic wheat berries, but milled it at home), pumpkin pie, pear pie (our guest was going to bring one over made from fruit on her tree), and the turkey (oops! we forgot the turkey!).

We have at least three farm friends that raise Thanksgiving turkeys, but we waited too long, and they were all sold out, unless we were willing to travel 5 hours round trip, and that seemed ridiculous (despite how much we wanted a local feast). The choices were few and far between, and we certainly were not going to compromise and buy one of those cheap drug infested carcasses from our local grocery store (although I was tempted by convenience). What were we going to do? And then it hit me! We own 18 beautiful geese that we have been growing out for holiday sales, and there they were, grazing beautifully in our farmyard. Although it was no turkey, it was the answer to our problem, and that's when the trouble started.

The next morning we decided to tell the girls that we would be harvesting a goose for Thanksgiving, and then tears began to roll. "NOT Mr. Pink, and NOT Princess, or Midnight, or Lilly, Blueberry, or Diver (were did they come up with that name?)!!!" They seemed to all have names, and so I began to explain to them that this was not a zoo, but a farm, and we produced food, not pets. "But we can't eat Victory (they saved him last spring, thus the name), or Little Midnight, Daisy or Little Mr. Pink!" It seems that even they had a hard time of finding any real names, but they were getting desperate and adding a few adjectives to protect their friends. What’s most interesting is that the girls do not like the geese, and usually carry a stick to protect them when they do their morning chores which includes giving the flock fresh bath water everyday. What was a farmer to do? Being the only male in the family it was not going to be easy.

As we further discussed the dilemma, it turned out that there was only one goose out there that the girls did not name. So, as we all marched out into the farmyard to claim our poor loser we were surrounded by honking geese at unbearable octaves and the girls arguing in tears about who the one unnamed goose was. "Is it that the one?" "NO, that's Mother Goose!" "What about that one?" "NO, that's Snowbill!" It was hard for them to decide, and when it came down to it, it was the very gander I was planning to choose, the poor creature happened to be the youngest fattest goose of the lot. Now, by this time the birds where suspecting something as we had all been dramatically observing their figures. So I made my move, leading them to a corner in the fence so I could grab our pick. Then I remembered: we got this crazy rooster right now that has tried to attack me most mornings as I gather eggs, and as I looked over my shoulder to see where he was, the geese took flight. As I looked back over, they were just a few feet off the ground, but I had lost my site of the only goose I could grab (or face penalties from the farm girls) and I went diving to catch my prize as they moved past me. Needless to say I missed him and fell across the ground with geese flying over and around me (lucky no one saw my graceful efforts!). By then, I decided to catch the bird later after all the drama subsided, and I didn't have the girls around to help.

Later I found our oldest and most sensitive daughter sitting outside, still pondering the sad fate (and probably trying to come up with some name to protect him). I sat down beside her, and tried to console her that we could not afford to just feed all our animals as pets, and how we would always have animals around, but we could only keep the best breeding pairs. She was not satisfied until she remembered the joy of hatching new goslings in early spring, and how she could look forward to raising more baby animals every year. I didn’t want the event to spoil our local feast, and recalled that we still had a couple geese in the freezer. So I announced his life was pardoned for another week, and that we did not need to let the circumstance ruin our joy for Thanksgiving.

I’m going to plan the next holiday meal a little more in advance, and encourage everyone to do so. The traditional food that we celebrate centered around these times is easily procured locally, and one farm cannot provide all of our needs, however it could be gathered from producers all within 60 miles. Visit your local farmers market, visit The Texas Local Food Locator, or localharvest.org. Below is a list of a few farms in our Houston area that could provide the best food you are in search of. I hope your next local feast is a time of joy, peace and fulfillment.

Yours in the harvest!

Farmer Brad

Jolie Vue Farms (grass fed beef, poultry, pork, sausage and smoked hams)

Star Haven Farms (grass fed beef, roasts & brisket)

Oaks of Mamre Farms (poultry & turkeys)

Sand Creek Farms (milk, cream, eggs)

HOME sweet FARM (vegetables)


November Farm Report

The heat, bugs and sweet potatoes.

This warm dry weather is unbelievable! As I sit in the warm sun, watching the greens in the bright light, I have a hard time believing this is November. It has put a real damper on the coolest veggies like baby lettuce, spinach and a few other tender greens. Germination can be random, and has left me wondering when we will see a break in the weather.

To beat the heat we use a few creative tools, like floating row cover. Usually this material is for frost protection, however in this case it is valued for the little shade it delivers. This still has no benefit for the spinach beds which prefer soil temps below 85 degrees. We got a few to sprout, but now they just sit there... waiting, and waiting.

The other challenge the farm faces currently is the flight of moths. These little guys lay their eggs delivering a host of green loopers that feed on our tender leaves of kale and cabbage. Although we rarely need to break out the sprayers, it can no longer be ignored. Armed with natural remedies like Bt or neem oil, I walk up and down the rows applying a fine mist of death to the unwanted visitors. The evidence of their lives still remains with holes chewed through the delicate leaves. It makes you wonder how often conventional crops are sprayed during the season to provide picture perfect vegetables to our grocery stores. Insects are a reality, but it is more convenient for us to not give the residue on our food a thought. It’s a lot easier that way.

Well, the garden still shares its bounty, despite the heat. Our farm members have enjoyed a mix of vegetables including arugula, mizuna, radishes, lettucy cabbage (better than romaine), napa cabbage, broccoli raab, baby beet and turnip greens, tot soi, eggplant, and those wonderfully fresh dug sweet potatoes. We had a bumper crop this year, and I recently tempted a buyer for Whole Foods who has had no luck finding sweet potatoes in Texas. That really puzzled me, as East Texas has always been the sweet potato capitol. Apparently, no one is growing sweet potatoes anymore in Texas. That makes me wonder, is it because of low prices or is there no interest in the next generation of farmers to continue the work? One thing for sure, with a bumper crop like ours this year, it may be something we want to expand next year.

Yours in the harvest!