Sunday, January 9, 2011

Lamb, Eggplant, and Becoming a Real Farmer

A lot of farmers, the kind with 100's of acres of a single crop each year or thousands of beef cattle, don't consider us CSA farmers to be "real farmers". While I don't agree with them, I can totally understand where they are coming from.

CSA farmers are different from other types of farmers. We fill a different role for our customers, we have a totally different business model, and even the daily work we do can be dissimilar from that of other farmers. I usually describe CSA farming as tending a giant garden. 600 acres of soybeans can hardly be described as a garden. Many of us are new to farming, and we often start out with unrealistic ideas of what we can accomplish. Also, unfortunately, many CSA farmers seem to place a higher value on the the CSA model of farming and forget how much we can learn from other farmers.

All that being said however, we are real farmers. We grow nourishing food for our communities, tend our land lovingly, and plan our lives around the needs of our animals and crops.

But even real farmers face challenges. Though those with thousands of beef cattle probably faced and overcame the particular challenge I am going to mention here long before I had to.

I find it difficult to raise animals for food. It isn't a huge surprise. I grew up in a suburb of Detroit. I was very removed from the sources of my food. As a teenager I was a vegetarian and even went vegan for a year or so because it was the thing to do among the crowd I hung out with. I had some issues eating meat.

When I was twenty I went to culinary school and the first class I took was butchery. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to handle it but instead found that it helped connect me to the idea that it is natural for humans to rely on animals for food.

But raising them myself does add a whole new dimension to things. Sheep, and even roosters, have personalities. They don't want to die any more than anything else does. And, for most of their lives, I don't want them to die either. What is especially embarrassing about it is that it's harder for me to eat cute animals.
I was sad back in September on sheep slaughtering day. Really sad. I was thinking that maybe deep down I am not a real farmer.

Then I ate some. And it was seriously good. We raised two sheep last summer and, not only did they help us clear out some unwanted plants and fertilize our fields while they were alive, they helped us fill our freezer with flavourful, tender, healthy meat.

So, while I'm torn by some aspects of it, I love being a real farmer. But I will still be sad on sheep slaughtering day 2011 - though maybe not really sad.

And of course, the meat our sheep provided us is the perfect thing to cook during the dark days challenge. So, here it is, a dark days dinner featuring lamb we raised, eggplant we grew and pickled, and kale given to us by a neighbor that we dried for the winter.

From sheep, to lamb, to cast iron pan.

Eggplant, pickled according to the method in
The Joy of Pickling.

Kale, dried in our electric dehydrator.

There is no recipe to share because unless you have pickled eggplant on hand you really can't duplicate the dish. I sauteed about a pound of cubed lamb in some of the oil from the pickled eggplant, then allowed it to simmer until it was tender, adding a bit of eggplant and a cup of crumbled kale to the meat towards the end of the cooking time. We ate it with some entirely non-local rice because my lack of planning left me without a local starch option and this dinner needed a starch.

1 comment:

  1. What a feeling of accomplishment to fix a meal made almost entirely of local food. I can relate to the mixed feelings of raising animals for meat. We also raise sheep and butchering day is a dark one for me. I feel satisfied knowing they lived good lives and died as humanely as possible.
    We are in northern lower Michigan over by Lake Michigan. The Michigan Land Use Institute issued a challenge to allocate money each week toward buying local food. We accepted that challenge and buy milk from a local dairy. It is wonderful, non-homogenized and comes in glass bottles. Just like when I was a kid.
    I'm looking forward to reading through your recipes.