Here at Nella Mae’s Farm, we offer grass-fed beef in the fall. Spring is the time to put down a deposit on your beef for fall.
How it works: Customers purchase by the quarter, half or whole animal. That means you get all the cuts from that quarter animal (steaks, burger, roast, soup bones, dog bones, and some organ meat if you want.) We arrange the on-farm slaughter and meat processing. After two weeks, we’ll let you know when your beef is ready to pick up in mid to late October.
Customers pay by the carcass weight. The finished product weight is 55-65 percent of the carcass weight. Customers also pay a slaughter fee and for the cut and wrap of the meat.
What you get: Actual quantities vary based on the size of the individual animal and cuts you request. Every butcher varies somewhat based on their style and processing facilities. You will make cut choices based on options provided by the local butcher. By rough example only, each quarter receives (on average):
Steaks cuts: 1-2 pkgs each New York, petite sirloin, rib steaks, flank steaks, eye of round, tri-tip, filet mignon, prime rib, chuck
Steak cuts: 2-3 pkg each T-Bone, top sirloin
Roast cuts: 1 pkg each tri-tip, sirloin tip, London broil
Pot roasts (arm, chuck, shoulder): 3-4
Rump roast: 1 pkg
Brisket: 1 pkg
Stew meat: 3-4 pkgs
Kabob meat: 3-4 pkgs
Short ribs: 2-4 pkgs
Ground beef: 20-25 lbs
Soup bones: 2-3 pkgs
Heart, liver, oxtail, tongue & dog bones upon request
A Quarter Beef ranges from 100-200 lbs hanging (carcass) weight, $4.75/lb, or about $475-$950 for the quarter. Included in the cost is the cut and wrap fee. You get 65-120 lbs of meat for your freezer.
A Half Beef ranges from 200-350 lbs hanging (carcass) weight, $4.70/lb, or $940-$1,650 for the half. Included in the cost is the cut and wrap fee. You get 130-230 lbs of meat for your freezer.
How much freezer space do I need? A quarter beef requires approximately 3.5 cubic feet of freezer space or the majority of the space in the freezer of a standard kitchen refrigerator/freezer. A half will require a small chest freezer and should easily fit in a 7 cubic foot model.
Deposit: A $150 non-refundable deposit is due in April for fall beef.
Contact Nella Mae for questions or to sign up. 541-910-4098 or email@example.com
I am concerned about the idea of “social distancing” during the current pandemic. Do we need distancing from germs? Absolutely! We must “flatten the curve” on COVID-19 and decrease the spread of disease, especially to vulnerable people. But if social distancing means completely withdrawing from your community, it will be detrimental to the health of our neighbors and small businesses.
If we want to halt the spread of the virus, we need to practice:
2. Consideration; and
3. Social care.
We need to wash our hands, be considerate of people with compromised immune systems, and check in on our friends, family & neighbors.
We need to wash our hands again, consider the impact on local economy and people, and support our local businesses.
How Social Connection Helps in an Epidemic
During a heat wave in Chicago in 1990’s, 739 people died. This was many more than expected by epidemiologists given the climate conditions. The sociologist Eric Klinenberg explained in this podcast that a lack of social connection is believed to be a major cause of high number of heat deaths.
“The sad thing about a heat death is it’s so easily preventable if you’re with someone else who recognizes it. One of the most — maybe the most important risk factor for dying in the heat wave was living alone.”
If we are worried about public health, we should be doubling our efforts to check in on neighbors, especially the elderly and those living alone. You don’t have to be in the same room to check in on them. Call, email, text, Facebook–heck, drop a note in their mailbox! Make sure you are doing your part to keep your germs to yourself, but not your concern for the people around you.
Ask your neighbors if they need groceries. It is better for healthier people to do the shopping than people who have underlying health conditions.
Chat on the phone with neighbors. If you’re not sick, why not knock on the door and keep a few feet back. Make sure the people around you are ok! Alleviate loneliness and isolation.
Ask for help! If you have a compromised immune system or are worried about going to public places, ask the people around you for help! We are in this together.
Share! You want the people around you to have what they need to stay healthy because that keeps you healthy too. If you already panicked and bought all the toilet paper, give some away to people who might need it.
Can you help with child care? K-12 school throughout Oregon was cancelled next week and many parents are scrambling. Maybe you can work at home, but not everyone can.
Can you help with chores? If your neighbor is sick, maybe they need someone to feed their animals or shovel their walk or pick up their mail at the post office.
Can you increase your donations? The folks most impacted by the disruption are people without a lot of resources or paid sick time. Consider giving to the Oregon Food Bank or the World Health Organization.
Pretending that you can get through a public health emergency by yourself is magical thinking. Focus not on walling yourself off, but thinking about ways to make things better for the community.
Social Distancing Hurts Small Businesses
You may not feel comfortable sitting in a restaurant or coffee shop, but you can still help keep small businesses afloat during this time of social distancing.
Buy gift certificates! You can give them away or just enjoy them later. Gift certificates can give small businesses cash to keep going during the outbreak. Think about your normal spending for the week or month, and buy a gift certificate that reflects it.
Order take out! Restaurants and food businesses are especially hard hit by these disruptions.
Do business over the phone. If you were planning to order something from a local business, it will be especially helpful to follow through with that this month and help with cash flow.
Support local organizations. Places like Art Center East have a razor thin margin of operation. It keeps afloat on income from classes, so if we aren’t going to those classes that income is lost. It is a perfectly reasonable decision to avoid a public class, but can you pitch in with a donation? Can you renew your membership? (I just did!)
Don’t forget other businesses like barber shops and salons, the movie theater and book stores. Again, order over the phone, buy gift certificates, or just drop off a tip to show appreciation for that barber or hairdresser that makes you look so good. 🙂
Thanks for taking care of your neighbors and community!
A month ago I was at a gathering of neighbors where we were talking about what the Grande Ronde Valley was like before the wetlands were drained and diked. My friend Bobby kept talking about “water attention.” I thought about “water attention” for weeks, and asked him to explain this new concept to me. He set me straight.
“I said water retention, referring to the natural function of a stream including braids, meanders, log jams, eddies and pools. To store the water in the land throughout the year. It is good to have “water attention” too though! That is beautiful. I have spent a lot of time just listening to the water and she has a lot to tell us.”
In this time of extreme flooding in northeast Oregon, she does have a lot to tell us–she is forcing us to have water attention.
What is water attention?
The idea of water attention has been bouncing around in my brain long enough to be defined. To me, water attention is understanding how water moves on the landscape and in our lives. And not just how, but where and when; its quality and quantity; and how it has changed over time.
Flooding in 2011; My view from Mt. Harris.
Water attention is helpful in everything we do. I also think of this silly thing my dad always says me to when we’re doing a carpentry project: “Imagine you’re a leeetle drop of water.” That is to say, when we’re placing tar paper on a roof or sealing in a window, imagine how water moves.
Evidence we lack water attention
If we had water attention, we wouldn’t be surprised when the river returns to its old braids and channels, through our basements and yards, hopping roads and leaving culverts.
If we had water attention, we wouldn’t waste it; we wouldn’t expect it endlessly; we wouldn’t defile it.
If we had water attention, we would show appreciation and deference to water not just in waterfall or ocean form, but at flood stage, when creeks get muddy, when the aquifer bubbles up in unexpected places and we must move to high ground.
In every river valley, we build our homes on banks, in the floodplain, and atop former marshes expecting the river to conform to our needs. But our understanding of “river” is as narrow as the incised channels we have put her into. Water moves vertically and horizontally. “The floodplain is the river,” as my husband likes to say. It is also the shallow aquifer, the marsh, and every ditch called “Dry Creek.”
As a farmer, I know the importance of water–in the right amount at the right time. Last year when the dike in lower Cove busted, many farmers were flooded for months and were never able to plant. Two years ago, we struggled to finish cattle when the lack of rain and snow dried up our pastures early. A few weeks ago homes and property and safety were threatened and inundated by the rise of the Umatilla River when the Blue Mountains picked up a remarkable 10 inches of water in a few days.
How should we respond? More dikes and flood insurance? Planned retreat from the floodplain, like they are starting in the Florida Keys? I don’t know, but we are living the consequences of the narrow view of the river and overconfidence in our ability to control water–a lack of water attention.
What if we practiced water attention?
Water attention for me starts with understanding how water moves around our homes and through the valley. Here are questions we should be able to answer about water on our landscape:
Where are the confluences of major creeks and rivers around me? Have I visited them?
What do creeks and rivers look like from high points? (This can help us understand where water is moving on the landscape.)
What is my water source? Shallow or deep aquifer? Where does city water come from?
How long ago was my drinking water rain or snow?
Where does my “waste” water go?
How does water change through the season around me? Where is is perennial or seasonal? When is it high or low?
How many bridges and culverts do I cross daily?
How does water affect plants I see here?
Water Use & Water Attention
In addition to the movement and source of water, I think we should bring attention to how we use it. So, as always, here are some tips we use at home and on the farm for conservation.
1. Use water as many times as you can.
When I was in college, I did a class project/experiment to live on 20 liters of water per day–the amount the UN budgets to each person in a refugee camp. What I learned from this experiment is that you have to use water more than once.
A small kitchen bucket can be the most useful way to conserve water. I rinse produce over a kitchen bucket so I can collect the water to wash dishes or fill the dog bowl. If you’re defrosting something in water, don’t pour the water out! Use it to water house plants or rinse off muddy boots.
2. Don’t lose excess water down the drain!
If you’re running the tap to get hot water, there should be a kitchen bucket under it to catch the excess water. Use that water to fill your tea kettle or fill your water bottle. You can even shower with a small bucket. Just collect the water before you start soaping up. Go water a tree or favorite plant with what you’ve collected.
3. Passively collect water
Besides kitchen and shower buckets, we can passively collect water with gutters, rain chains, and rain barrels. I designed our horse water tank to sit under a gutter with a rain chain. I don’t want the tank to overflow and create a muddy mess, so I have a drain at the top of the tank (like bath tubs have) that runs into PVC pipe and into our creek. It has worked for a decade and directs water away from our horse corral.
4. Use timers and timing to conserve.
I have never been able to remember to turn off a hose or sprinkler. I use timers on my phone and on the stove to remind me not to waste water. I also recommend inexpensive irrigation timers that work like Christmas light timers. Finally, in college, we had tiny hour glasses stuck to the wall of our dorm showers that helped us keep showers shorter.
5. Use low flow, targeted water systems
We use drip irrigation on our farm to conserve the water we use. Anyone watering a garden or flower bed can use drip irrigation. This year, I am offering a bunch of classes at the farm so folks can employ some of the techniques we use at home. We will have an irrigation design class in April. Check out the rest of the classes here.
This is part 2 in my writing about reducing plastic. Part 1 explains what we’re doing on the farm. This post talks about reducing plastics in our lives.
In the last few blog posts, I have talked about my family’s coastal road trip and visit to the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium. What really struck me was SEEING how microplastics move in ocean currents and the water column. It was at once beautiful, mesmerizing, and awful.
Plastics are everywhere.
Sea life is eating plastic at every level, often because algae, the basis of the ocean food web, grows on floating plastic.
There is so much plastic in the ocean, it has formed the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch“–a floating island of plastics larger than Mexico.
Plastics are found in 90 percent of sea salt we eat. This fact burned me.
Why am I focused on ocean plastics when I live 300 miles from the ocean? Well, plastics cause terrestrial problems, of course, but everything goes downstream. Our garbage and, unfortunately our recycling, ends up in the ocean. The products and clothes we use shed plastics that end up in our water ways and accumulate downstream. Since we hide away our landfills–they are remote, covered, bulldozed–the ocean is the easiest place to see the true impact of plastic, which is why I keep coming back to it.
What if plastic was more important to us?
I’ve been kicking this idea around in my head for a while–what if the answer is not to feel guilty about plastic but to value it more? Today plastic is cheap, safe, convenient, and shameful. I’ll use or buy “unnecessary plastic items” when I’m tired or when my willpower is maxed for the day; when my kid wants a drink on a road trip and I don’t feel like having a long conversation.
What if we considered plastic a vital strategic resource to be use for the most critical reasons? What if we limited plastic use to health care and safety? What if it was as important as our stockpile of vaccines or the strategic oil reserve?
This idea might be a helpful way to think about your own purchases and plastic use. Is this plastic critical for health and safety? Or is is just convenient? Does this plastic purchase really match the value and impact?
What to Avoid
First and foremost, we’ve got to stop using PET single use plastic. This plastic has no where to go but the ocean. Mostly, it can never be recycled. No PET means no more plastic water bottles, drink bottles, plastic bags, party cups, cup lids, and no more straws. Do you really need to stir milk into your coffee with a plastic stir stick that can kill ocean life and will outlast your time on earth? I argue you do not.
Of course there are folks with disabilities who need straws to drink. This is a strategic and critical use. Otherwise, find an alternative.
Skipping the straw will not solve the plastic problem, but it will start changing how we behave and what we use. That is what we need.
Two Reason (besides the environment) to Change Your Plastic Habits
1. You’re getting ripped off! Plastic containers are used to sell you things in volume. Shampoo and laundry detergent, for example, are mostly water! If you buy liquid forms of things you can buy as a concentrate or solid form, you are paying too much.
2. Recycling isn’t working. Even if you put plastic bottles in the recycling bin, the chance that they are actually recycled is low. The recycling system is breaking down. We have been sending our recycling waste to China for decades and now they don’t want it.
Tips for Reducing Plastic in Your Life
1. Be that weirdo!
Lots of things we can do to reduce plastic will make us look weird. OH WELL. What other people think of you is none of your business anyway.
If other folks start doing weird things I do, I won’t look so weird. So, join me! Bring a glass container to a restaurant for put left-overs. Ask for a real glass or fork when plastic is provided–most of the time people oblige me without hesitation. Offer to wash the dishes at community events so they can skip the plastic. Take bags with you to pick up trash on your walks or hikes. Keep pint mason jars and forks in your car to use at events or parties.
2. Make avoidance a new habit.
Create habits for yourself and your family that mean you can avoid the plastic question all together. Give your kids the job of returning the re-usable grocery bags to the car. Buy a family of “to-go” mugs AND a thermos and pack it with you. Shop at second hand stores for the plastic things you need or want.
3. Break with tradition
Do we need balloons at birthday parties or can we just do with paper lanterns and crepe paper? Does your sandwich have to go in a baggie? Or can you put it in a piece of butcher paper or parchment or a waxed wrap?
5. Embrace the re-gift.
Re-gift things like excess kitchen wares and toys like Legos, GI Joes, and Barbies. They are usually abandoned, not worn out. ASK for re-gifts.
6. Make goals you can brag about.
My dear “weirdo” friend Sarah told me in October, “I haven’t drank from a plastic bottle in 10 years.” What?! Let’s give this woman a metal medal! I want to be like Sarah, and while she wasn’t bragging, I would. 🙂 What I’m really saying is, party without plastic.
7. Walk away.
Look for plastic free options, ask for plastic free options, then walk away. I almost never regret the thing I didn’t buy. You can always go back.
8. Buy Better Products
Here are my tips for products I appreciate or am going to try.
I’m avoiding plastic fabrics, and sticking with leather, cotton, wool, hemp and other plant-based fibers. I bought my husband a pair of wool running shoes for Christmas from All Birds and loves them. I’ve also checked out Astral hemp shoes and Rothys which are made from water bottles.
I believe in the power of vinegar, Bon Ami, and Boraxo soaps, which are old brands and widely available. There are lots of other products out there, but look for powders that come in cardboard, not plastic jugs. I’m excited to try these new laundry detergent strips. Also check out this site for numerous plastic-free, ecofriendly cleaning products.
We use Etee bags and wraps instead of baggies and cellophane. They are waxed cotton. Etee also has cleaning products.
Buy wooden and metal utensils, bowls, etc. instead of plastic. Use rags instead of paper towels.
To avoid the plastic bottles, try shampoo & conditioner bars, and just stick to bars of soap from the farmers market–we have a lot of local soap makers. There are so many options out there, you will find something you like.
Local company Growing Wise and many other companies are marketing deodorant in cardboard tubes. Growing Wise will also personalize what you need based on skin and needs at their Union, Oregon shop.
Other northeast Oregon companies that don’t use plastic include Wild Carrot, which markets their products in glass, and Dr. Lorraine’s Adventure Salves, which uses metal tins.
Things to Read & Watch
A Plastic Voyage. Documentary about a group of women sail for a month researching ocean plastic.
January 1st 2020, the state of Oregon banned the ubiquitous single-use “t-shirt” bag at grocery and retail stores. I heard a limited amount of grumbling before the law went into effect, but mostly, I have been watching how this new law is quickly changing habits. Shoppers and store employees seem more adaptable and amenable than I expected.
A few years ago I would have to argue for the right to carry too much loose produce in my arms to my car. When I did remember my bags, I always got the side-eye. As the offending cloth grocery bag neared them on the conveyor belt, checkers always looked at me as if I had asked them to bag up avocados in my dirty underwear. (In fairness, maybe tote bags could have come in colors other than dirty white and I could have washed them a bit more.) But no more! The gold rush age of the reuseable bag is upon us. Now it is time for our farm to take more responsibility and more action to decrease plastic use.
Background: It’s not (all) your fault. It’s the system!
When you stop and think about it, why is it the individual’s responsibility to recycle bottles, packaging, bags, etc. that companies create? Why isn’t the responsibility of a company, a larger entity with more resources, expertise and employees than you, to manage waste they manufactured? Why do we think so much about littering and recycling? Because of a highly crafted marketing campaign to make you feel responsible for trash you didn’t create.
I learned about the history of “Don’t be a litter bug” campaign from the excellent podcast Throughline. It has made me question our own practices as a family and business.
In short, the podcast argues “trash,” in some ways, is a modern idea. People were so unaccustomed to throwing anything out, beverage companies had to actively teach customers that bottles were disposable. In 1953 the “Keep America Beautiful” PSA campaign funded by beverage companies teaching us not to litter–after earlier teaching us to do just that. This was all a way to avoid having to pay for the cost of dealing with trash they created, which is now the fault and responsibility of individual consumers. This is true until today–Keep America Beautiful is still at it, telling us trash is our fault, and you can even donate to help them spread the word!
How I’m Changing Things on the Farm
Just as beverage companies should deal with the zillions of single-use plastic bottles they sell, Nella Mae’s Farm should take responsibility for the plastic we use and sell to you. This is what we’re planning to do in 2020. I hope you’ll send me ideas and feedback about what else we can do.
1. We will provide paper bags for dry produce and limited compostable “plastic bags.” This means you’ll see lots more paper lunch bags out at our farmstand and our market booth for you to use. We have also been experimenting with BioBags produce bags this winter. BioBags seem to be the best solution on the market. They compost quickly (if properly composted) and are made of non-GMO corn.
2. We will take back your plastic and compostable produce bags. Unfortunately, the BioBag is permeable and was a big fail when it came to packaging. The greens get slimy and/or wilted within a day or two. We will still use plastic produce bags for salad mix, but we will take them back at market and the farmstand and get them properly recycled or composted. (Side note: I learned from a friend that works at a lumber company that Trex decking is really, truly made of recycled plastic bags!)
3. Provide plastic free options. We will test out a self-serve salad mix bar at the market where you can bring your own bag (plastic or re-usable) to fill with salad and buy by the pound. We will test out selling salad mix in re-usable produce bags that you can bring back. Let’s see how it goes!
4. Reduce & reuse plastic use in our farming practices. It is really hard to avoid plastic irrigation parts and greenhouse covering. Plastic mulch is very helpful for suppressing weeds, but we can get by with a little weeding help from our friends.
We will re-use greenhouse plastic by making low-hoop coverings for outside growing and offer plastic for you gardeners to use. (Check out our upcoming classes where you can get some!)
We already reuse and patch old irrigation t-tape as many years as we can and then use it to trellis our tomatoes. We will offer free used t-tape to any gardener who wants it. You can probably use it in your garden because you need shorter sections than us, or use it to trellis too.
We are also buying new tools and products that are made from plants or metal–sisal twine, wooden handled-tools, and metal buckets instead of plastic. Our favorite re-use by far, though, has been the dog neck cone that we use as a funnel for pouring concrete into post holes. (Patent pending!)
5. Push for changes at the farmers market. I recently participated in a webinar on plastic at farmers markets by the Clean Fairfax Council. I learned that a single random farmer at a farmers market in Fairfax County, VA gave out 76 plastic bags in an hour during a Clean Fairfax survey. That is 10,000 bags from one vendor in a season! While farmers markets are not subject to Oregon’s single-use plastic bag ban, markets should get on board. This is a much easier sell now that shoppers are becoming accustomed to paper bags and bringing their own. I have sent a proposal to the La Grande Farmers Market to ban single use “t-shirt bags” and things we can do as a market to make things easier for vendors and shoppers.
You know what I’m going to do. Here’s what you can do.
I am always relying on customers, neighbors, friends, and family for farm support–this effort is no different. I need you!
1. Show support for banning plastic bags at the farmers market. Email me a letter expressing you support! I will share with the market, and your support will help vendors see that customers aren’t going to freak out. You can also volunteer to help us get reusable bags to shoppers. Clean Fairfax Council suggests creating a “take a bag, leave a bag” station at the market. I have also been talking to friends about having reusable bag sewing days at the market. Can you help out? Let me know!
2. Help other shoppers with our experiments. It takes a lot of time to show each individual shopper how to utilize our farmstand and market booth. Help spread the word! Tell friends and fellow shoppers, “hey, Nella Mae takes back compostable and plastic bags. Here’s where you put them.” If you see someone who looks confused about our new self-serve salad mix, help them out! If people are confused, they won’t buy and this experiment won’t work. (Please note, we will still have pre-bagged options, not just self-serve.)
If you’re really into this idea and have an hour on a Saturday, volunteer to be a guide at our market booth and help folks get the hang of things. It sounds silly, but it is really important for our business and the success of our plastic reduction efforts.
3. Help me weed! If you want some farm time, come help me weed! When we eliminate plastic weed mulch, that means more weeds to pull. After plants get established and shade the ground, it isn’t such a big deal, but until then, I could use some extra weeders!
Today I am grateful for the contributions that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggle of freedom riders, freedom fighters, and freedom “foot soldiers” for a more just society for everybody in America.
Today I am thinking about the connections of food and agriculture with Dr. King’s work on civil rights and poverty.
Today I’m thinking about the intersections–those between housing, health, and food deserts; between discrimination and land ownership; between slavery and agriculture; between the takeover of indigenous lands and farming.
As I consider the history of US agriculture on this day about justice, it feels heavy. I think about the broken promise of “40 acres and a mule” to formerly enslaved people. I think about the theft of land from indigenous people from coast to coast. I think about the modern discrimination in government lending to black, Latino, women, and other farmers. I think about the abuse and poverty of migrant farm workers through history. I think about the Japanese farmers in Oregon who were interned during World War II and never got their farms back. I think about the immoral dichotomy between the amount of food we grow in the US and the number of people who struggle with hunger and food insecurity.
I also think about all the many people who are growing and harvesting food in new and old ways to create a more just society. I am heartened by the First Foods movement, the local food movement, food justice movement, and the Slow Food movement. I am heartened by the growing interest in who grows it, where it comes from, and how it was grown or harvested.
Per usual with these blog posts, I have a list of things I think we can DO. Here’s what I think matters when it comes to food and agriculture to make things more just, equitable, and fair.
1. Eat food that is Good, Clean and Fair
Slow Food International suggests focusing on eating food that is “Good, Clean & Fair.” I like the simplicity. You can look for certifications like Equitable Food Initiative, which certifies labor practices, food safety, and pest management. Equal Exchange and Rainforest Alliance are good certifications for tropical fruits and nuts, chocolate, tea, coffee, and even tourism. Shop local at from local growers and pay a price that supports a living wage for everyone on the farm.
There are also a few foods that our family has been avoiding because we have concerns about whether they are good, clean or fair. We generally avoid cashews,palm oil, imported soy, factory farmed meat and eggs, and now some seafood, as I wrote about in this blog post.
2. Food Deserts
A friend of mine knows a rancher who stops in just about every rural town to buy something at the grocery store. He says it is the best way to keep rural grocery stores open and food accessible. For folks in northeast Oregon, think about stopping at places like the Community Merchants in La Grande, Union Market, Elgin Foodtown, and Ruby Peak and Dollar Stretcher in Enterprise. Don’t forget the local farmstands like Val’s Veggies, Liza Jane’s, Platz Family Farm or our farmstand in Cove.
Let’s make our farmers markets more welcoming and accessible to all vendors and shoppers. Be friendly, helpful, and inclusive of all vendors and shoppers. Support nutrition programs and volunteer at your market.
Let’s support the treaty rights of indigenous people to harvest first foods.
3. Farm Workers, Farmers & Ranchers
Let’s support local, state, and federal policies and programs that address injustice in food and agriculture. I have benefited from Department of Agriculture programs that to support local production as well as loans for beginning, minority, and female farmers.
Let’s support farms and ranches that have the highest standards treatment of workers such as the Equitable Food Initiative. Let’s have the highest standard ourselves for how we treat the people who grow and harvest our food.
Every December my family and I “get outta Dodge” for a few weeks. It is the only month we all have time off at the same time–from the farm, work, and school. We are often drawn to the ocean because we live so far from it in northeast Oregon. In the last few years, we have traveled to Chile, Mexico, Portugal, and this year, down the Oregon and California coast. Each trip we consume as much seafood as possible and learn a lot about the unfamiliar and interesting life on and in the ocean. Last year in Portugal we learned about the Mediterranean sardine harvest and the national love for the tiny fishes. We saw old tide mills used to grind grain and Roman salt ponds along the coast.
This year our trip was down highway 101 and highway 1 from Reedsport, OR to Big Sur, CA. Our kid is a budding wildlife biologist and “animal rescuer,” so we made sure to stop at the Marine Life Center in Charleston, OR and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in CA. I learned three important lessons in Monterey: 1) I want to live in a Mediterranean climate eventually, 2) how to eat seafood more sustainably, and 3) the impact of plastics on our oceans (more in a future post.)
Our kid at the aquarium. Photo by Michael Hatch.
Purple jellies at the aquarium. Photo by Michael Hatch.
I am not a sea faring lass, and feel out of my depth when it comes to understanding how to eat different fish and seafood species. I know enough to look for the “dolphin safe” label on tins of albacore tuna, but not much else. Luckily, the Monterey Bay Aquarium assesses the sustainability of seafood and provides guides and best practices for eaters. Here are a few things I learned and resources you can use.
1. Leave the tuna/shrimp/salmon comfort zone
In the US, we primarily eat tuna, shrimp, and salmon. If we give other species a try, we give these ones a rest.
Taking this to heart, we bought fresh, local sabelfish at a family-run fish market in Monterey and loved it. I realized that I stay in my tuna and salmon comfort zone because I don’t know what else to try. The aquarium website also has lots of recipes for trying sustainably caught and raised seafood that you may not be familiar with.
2. Avoid species that result in bycatch and habitat damage
How fish are caught really matters. Some fishing methods result in a lot of bycatch–that is non-target species that are caught in nets. Dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, marine mammals, birds, and juvenile fish are common bycatch from methods like gill nets, purse seines, and trawls. Dredging and bottom trawls can also damage habitat like coral on the sea floor. Specific impacts can be reduced using better sein and trawl techniques, specifying where dredging can occur, and using other fishing methods. Long lines and jigs, for example, result in less bycatch because they are more targeted and allow the release of unwanted species.
You can learn about fishing methods here, but all you really need is the Seafood Watch consumer guides from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can download the Seafood Watch guides as an app or as state-by-state printable guides here. I put the guide in my wallet. They even have guides for eating sushi.
I have always avoided farmed seafood, but I can’t really say why. I had a vague concept of the pollution and disease that could be spread through aquaculture, but our road trip and the aquarium made me reconsider. I was impressed by the oyster farming we saw in Tomales Bay, and learned more once we got to the aquarium.
Just like agriculture, aquaculture can be practiced sustainably or poorly. Just like in confined livestock operations, waste water treatment at fish farms is very important. You can read about aquaculture here.
But how do you know if seafood is sustainably farmed?
This post is an addendum or bonus to the last post, It’s Winter: What’s in Season? In addition to the 10+ in-season crops I mentioned, my mom reminded me we are also on the tail end of the California pomegranate season. Both she and my cousin have turned me on to a great method of pomegranate aril (seed) extraction.
Cut the skin along the equator of the fruit but not too deep. You don’t want to damage those rubies!
Twist the fruit open into halves.
Loosen the chambers of white pith holding the arils.
Hold half the fruit over a bowl and whack (!) the back of it with a wooden spoon. The arils should fall out without much pith.
In December my family made a huge road trip from northeast Oregon, to the southern Oregon coast, down the California coast and back home. We saw a lot of new country and drove the entire range of the redwoods from southwestern Oregon to Big Sur, California. It was a great physical and mental break from the farm, and luckily we have family and friends who can take care of our animals and monitor our hoop houses while we’re gone.
With my husband driving and my daughter and the dog in the back, I held down my typical role reading the map aloud and Googling anything that interested us (or just me.) I daydreamed about living in a Mediterranean climate (it just looks so easy!) I did a lot of not thinking about farming until we drove through the Salinas River Valley. There was a lot of active agriculture a week before Christmas, and I thought, “what is truly in season in the US in the winter?”
I looked around for hints. Through Salinas Valley and later the San Joaquin Valley we saw miles of hoop houses and dormant strawberry patches. We drove through the “garlic capital of the world” (Gilroy, CA) and the “artichoke capital of the world” (Castroville, CA) and past fields of cabbages as far as the eye could see and the nose could smell.
Cabbage is grown and harvested year round in California thanks to its varied climates. Also harvested in winter in Texas. Here’s a cabbage salad recipe that also involves another in-season crop—grapefruit.
Warmer US climates like Texas are harvesting cauliflower in the winter. Cauliflower curry!
Warmer US climates like California & Texas are harvesting celery in the winter.
Grapefruit (Texas & Florida)
Peak harvest is December through February. California grapefruit is harvested in the fall. Fun fact: grapefruit have a very long gestation period. They will hang on the tree for 14 to 15 months before reaching maturity!
Oranges (Florida & California)
Navel oranges peak December through May. Tangelos and tangerines peak October through March.
Many crops are harvested in the fall and sold throughout the winter and spring. Varieties are chosen based on their ability to store. Some varieties of pears don’t even ripen properly without storage. Don’t forget to eat garlic, potatoes, winter squash, apples, and pears.
Due to our huge country’s varied climates, you can enjoy carrots, greens, and lemons year round from US producers.
You also have the beginning of California avocado season and Hawaiian papaya season starting in March.