Kitsap Farm to Fork A couple of farm girls, Diane Fish and Shannon Harkness, share their experiences with farming, cooking, local food, and building the Kitsap Foodshed.
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There is this wonderful scene from Pooh’s Grand Adventure (persevere through the
advertisement!) that perfectly captures my feelings about this time
“Hot chocolate-y mornings and
toasty marshmallow evenings indeed!”
Summer is hot and bright and the day is filled to the brim with
endless tasks on the farm. After the sogginess of spring it
is a warm and welcome relief to be planting, weeding, and eating
the early harvest of new greens and sweet berries. Seems that
there just isn’t enough daylight for the tasks before you.
Autumn brings the fruits of your labor. Like the ant,
endlessly preparing for the winter to come I am grinding through
canning and preserving. Right now the harvest is in full
swing, canning and pickling and freezing and butchering and
storing. About the middle of October someone will mention
putting something up in jars and I think to myself that I just
can’t do one more batch. Just can’t. Lost my will to can.
Do not have to fill EVERY jar.
Then it is done. The frost hits the pumpkins, rain starts
and harvest is finished. The endless trips down the stairs to
the basement canning pantry with full jars and the commensurate
number of trips upstairs with boxes of empty jars – wide mouth
quarts for pickles, peaches and tomatoes, narrow mouth for grape
juice and apple cider – it just stops. And then, a reversal
happens and suddenly the full jars are coming back upstairs – two,
three, four at a time – to make stew, soup, chili and other warm,
comforting meals for cold, dark, winter nights.
Q: What happens when a farmer with a bad
knee chases pigs through the garden?
A: A farmer with a torn ACL!
Now, if this were a real joke the punchline would be funny
rather than painful!! Why was I chasing the pigs through the
garden? Because they were out of the pen and having a joyful,
if short-lived piggy frolic through the fall plantings!!
Last Wednesday reminded me of several things…the importance of
latching the gates, how much damage livestock can do in a
relatively short period of time, how quickly hogs can move when
motivated, that pride cometh before the fall, and the fine and
perilous line between health and injury.
On Tuesday I took some pictures of the garden to share with
friends because while it was a bit weedy it was producing like
gang-busters. Tomatoes, potatoes, beets, onions, corn, basil,
cucumbers, peppers…the list goes on and on! I was putting up
pickles like crazy, making pesto with the basil, freezing gallons
of green beans – and in one quick trip through the garden the cows
and the hogs took care of all that.
What? Cows too??
Yes. When I got up early Wednesday morning the cows were
standing in the front of the house having spent an hour or so
trampling things down and mowing through most of the beets, green
beans and corn. With a little cajoling and bribing with grain
the girls went back in their pasture, I got the chores done and
went on with my day. THEN, right before dinner and in the
aftermath of the bovine invasion, hubby looked out and said, “Are
the hogs supposed to be in the chicken pen??” The answer of
course is “NO!” We dashed out and herded the hogs back to their
pen. A couple thoughts about big hogs: capable of short
bursts of high speed, they are short on stamina and quickly get hot
and tired. Pretty soon they just want to go back to their
wallow and cool off! Before they get there they can make you
dodge and run a bit – which is when the torn ACL happened.
The hogs zigged, I zagged, and my knee didn’t so I ended up
hobbling back to the house for an ice pack.
Convalescing helps with the pain but my mobility is still pretty
compromised and I will find out on Monday if surgery is in my
future. In the mean time teenager #3 is doing most of the
chores, including milking and feeding the chickens, in addition to
her own chores. Regretfully, this solution isn’t sustainable as she
starts OC next week and won’t have time to milk in the morning
before school. To deal with my limitations we are working on
getting rid of the hogs a couple weeks early (okay – tomorrow!) the
flea-infested, egg-sucking farm dog is going to the groomer
tomorrow so I don’t have to wrestle her into the tub and I am
working on finding a temporary home for one of the cows. I
can milk but it takes forever because I move very slowly!
As I make calls and get offers of help with milking and chores
from other farmer friends I am very touched by the out-pouring of
compassion and concern. I have also spent lots of time thinking
about what would happen if I was farming full-time. I have
several other off-farm jobs, including my gig at WSU Extension,
most of which can be done sitting down. And, more
importantly, we have one full-time off-farm income with good
benefits and health insurance. As a full-time farmer I would
be hard pressed to take time to recover properly. Cows need
to be milked and hay needs to be cut. By way of illustration,
one of our hay growers took a fall off a horse last summer and
broke his pelvis and one leg. His neighbors cut and stacked
his second cutting hay and his father-in-law did all his irrigation
for the remainder of the season. We saw him in October and he
was still limping badly but he could get up on a tractor and do his
own farming again. It was a significant challenge for his
family and they are still digging out from the medical bills – and
his wife works for the local school district s they actually had
A frequent comment about farming in Kitsap is that it is
“Part-time” and while that is a valid observation – this isn’t
solely a Kitsap phenomenon. Nationally, 85-95% of farms have off-farm income. Kitsap
merely mirrors the trend nationally. Reasons for off-farm
income are varied – but many farmers I know rely upon off-farm jobs
for health insurance. Given that farming is one of the
most dangerous industries, the importance of medical
coverage can’t be understated. As more and more young people
enter agriculture (which is great given that 60% of farmers in the US is over 55) the trend of
relying upon off-farm income is going to continue.
The next time you are thanking a farmer for feeding you, wish
them good health as well. They can use it!!
Several people have asked about our recent arrival. Since
Lexie had health issues around calving the last few times I didn’t
post a big birth announcement. It is terribly awkward to have
to say to people, “The calf is doing great. The cow is trying
to die though!” Sort of a conversation killer.
Fortunately this time she came through birth and transition
with flying colors and is milking up a storm. Heifer calf
Persi (short for Persied – as the meteor showers were happening the
night she was born) is getting fat and sassy and all is well with
Without further ado:
Sambo’s Dazzling Alexis and her
relatively adoring family are delighted to announce the birth of
Princess Persied on August 12, 2013 at 6:30 am (or thereabouts as I
missed the actual delivery this time). Mother and baby calf
are doing very well indeed.
Making Peach Pickles today (see the recipe from “So Easy to Preserve” below) because that
is one does this time of year when you have green peaches and don’t
want to wait for them to ripen because you MUST can something!
Method: Wash and peel peaches with a sharp knife, and drop into
a cold solution of ½ teaspoon ascorbic acid and 2 quarts water.
Dissolve sugar in vinegar in saucepot and put on range to heat.
Boil 5 minutes and skim. Add spices (tied loosely in cheesecloth).
Drain peaches. Drop drained peaches into boiling syrup and cook
until they can be pierced with a fork, but are not yet soft. Remove
from range and allow peaches to set in syrup overnight to plump.
Bring to a boil and pack into hot jars, leaving ½-inch headspace.
Cover with syrup, maintaining the ½-inch headspace. Remove air
bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids. Process 20 minutes in boiling
water bath. Yields about six pint jars.
This extension-tested recipe is safe for home canning if the
directions are followed. But it is sort of boring – it makes
me wonder if there isn’t something more. I miss the days when
community recipe books said things like:
“According to Mrs. Ina Mae Jones of Petersburg, these
pickled peaches are a perfect accompaniment for roast pork and
delightful on ice cream. Her bridge club is clamoring for the
If the bridge club is clamoring then this is something that I
MUST make! It seduces and entices me – I can
envision the pork roast on a beautifully appointed table with a
gleaming jar of beautiful golden pickled peaches bringing a bit of
sunshine to a dark winter meal. Oh, wait, that is just what
the blog post will look like!! The reality is quite different
– at least at my house! I also recognize that however
glamorous and attractive the cookbook or blogger makes a dish or
recipe sound, if it isn’t safe for my family then I want nothing to
do with it!
WSU Food Safety trained me – vigorously I might add – in safe
and appropriate procedures to preserve all manner of foods at home.
I am anointed by The Mother Ship (WSU Pullman) to provide
information and answer questions about all home preservation and
food safety issues using APPROVED MATERIALS. These are
defined as anything that was tested for safety (for processing time
and preservation method) by the National Center for Home Food
Preservation or any Extension program
dated 2010 or later. We are not able to teach classes or
certify volunteers in a Master Food Preserver program because our
Kitsap) does not have a food science or food safety
faculty member on staff. Right now there are only four
counties with a food safety faculty member – which is about par
with the rest of the nation. Shifting priorities within the
national land grant university system in general and extension
programming in particular 15-20 years ago moved resources from
traditional home economic and natural resource faculty (food
safety, clothing and textiles, agriculture) into economic
development and youth and family since folks weren’t cooking,
canning, sewing, and farming as much as in the 40s and 50s.
Like all large institutions this change took place slowly and
over a decade or so and was combined with regionalization of
programming in an age of cost cutting, changing the face of
A few years back we had this little economic downturn and
families and individuals returned to many of those tried and true
ways to save money in tough times – cooking, canning, sewing,
gardening, farming – and not only did they start to do those things
– but they started to BLOG
about it!! Many folks tried to pick up traditional food
preservation and canning skills after their families had taken a
couple generations off. Lacking experienced teachers and
taking the lead from the explosion of DIY and cooking shows folks
started trying new things and tweaking recipes not realizing that
the principles of safe home food preservation are based upon the
acidity of the product being canned. Low acid foods CAN NOT
be processed safely in a water bath canner. So, that
onion jam recipe that looks so tasty? It can’t be safely
preserved – you can make it and keep it in the fridge – but don’t
can it! When Martha Stewart makes jam and seals it with
paraffin? Run away! Use the jar labels but not the
food preservation advice! Someone gives you Grandma’s
cookbook? Put it up on the shelf along side those vintage
kitchen tools – it will be a nice decorator touch. I know
that this may hit close to home for some because often if I suggest
that using a recipe from 1940 might not be safe in an online forum,
a Facebook flame-war errupts as everyone weighs in with “I have
been doing it this way for years and we are fine!!!” My
response is often: “If your doctor pulled out a medical book from
the 1940s as his major resource in treating cancer for you or a
member of your family, what would you do??”
So, what are you to do if you have a question about a recipe or
need food preservation or food safety questions answered?
Extension is online and here to help! Check out the
WSU Kitsap Food
Products page for links to all of all the extension
publications containing safe and tested recipes for a wide range of
home preservation. Check out the National Center for Home Food
Preservation for recipes and tips. Or, give us a call at
360-337-7026 and leave a brief message. We will get back to
you within 24 hrs if possible. If you are right in the middle
of a project and need help NOW you can tap into the resources of
our neighbors to the south and call the OSU Food
Safety/Preservation Hotline at 1-800-354-7319.
It is staffed from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday,
Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from July 15 to Oct. 11. In
2012 they responded to about 3,500 calls from consumers!
Blackberries and heavy cream. The taste of summer.
There are many reasons that I own a
Jersey milk cow, and this right here is one of them.
Seems a silly thing to feed and milk a cow twice daily for
two tablespoons of heavy cream on a bowl of blackberries a couple
times a year but you do what you have to do!
As a kid we picked gallons of blackberries. Dad would head
out to check the cattle and we would all pile in the truck with
plastic buckets and pruning shears. We would chop our way
into the thicket of brambles along the pasture and pick for an hour
or so. Every. Night. Mom made jam and froze the whole
berries for winter. It was hot and murderously scratchy work – and
our nightly reward was a bowl of berries with a bit of sugar.
If we were milking a cow we would go to the fridge, open the
milk jar and scoop off a dollop of the heavy cream of the top.
So thick it folds into leathery pleats as the spoon skims the
top, this cream is the food of the gods.
Fair week is finally here! The 2013
Kitsap County Fair and Stampede runs through Sunday night and
all week long the 4H and FFA kids are competing for ribbons and
bragging rights on their livestock – from beef cattle to bunnies!
They are all looking for the Grand Champion – which says that
your animal is the closest to the breed standard or is the most
structurally correct animal in the competition. Then, you
participate in Fitting and Showing when the judge is looking at YOU
more than the animal. Showmanship is about ….
well…..showmanship! Effectively exhibiting your animal can
make the difference between first and second place – or Grand
Champion or Reserve Grand Champion. Fitting, or preparing
your project for exhibition, starts long before the fair.
Project animals need to be properly fed, housed and trained
in the months and weeks leading up to the show. I showed
cattle beginning at age nine and wound up putting myself through
college showing professionally. Then I got married and
had babies stopping all that foolishness, but it was fun while it
The best part about showing was the thrill of competition – and
Now, a few of you might be thinking – showing cattle?
Thrilling competition?? Just remember – everyone has
their freak! (A few years ago I read the
delightful “Candyfreak” –
this quote is my fav take away from the book!) Otherwise how
can one explain Duck
Dynasty, SCA or
Serial Rollercoaster Riders!
Back to The Slap.
Four-H and FFA use the Danish
System of evaluation and judging. Each competitor is
evaluated (for either their project animal or showmanship) and are
awarded a blue, red or white ribbon. This system best
supports the educational mission of 4-H. Everyone gets a
ribbon and comments on how to improve or information on what they
did right this time! Make no mistake, 1st blue is definitely
better than last white. But you learn as much or more from
the latter as you by winning the class. My first showmanship
class resulted in last white, which means you have to
really suck. But, when you
completely ignore the judge that is what you get. Lesson
At the end of each class the top two competitors will be invited
back for the championship round. This is the final time for
them to strut their stuff for the judge and there is no small
amount of drama involved. Typically the judge will bring
everyone in, take a final look, make remarks about all the animals
and competitors and then make their selection. In the cattle
industry it is traditional for the judge to walk to the winner and
slap the animal on the rump and shake hands with the exhibitor –
just like this! Look at the excitement on that
young man’s face! What a moment pure elation – and a
well-deserved reward for much hard work!
As you are walking around the fair this week and see the 4-H and
FFA youth dragging a lamb around the ring or driving their hogs
toward the championship, stick around and watch for a bit.
Listen to the judge make comments – teaching and sharing.
Cheer the successes and hard work. It isn’t quite the
same as baseball or dance lessons, but then, everyone has their
freak! Ours just happens to be livestock!
“The tomato sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise is, however,
a tomato’s highest calling!”
I have posted about
this in the past but there is NOTHING BETTER than a tomato
sandwich, made with a fresh and warm from the garden tomato, sliced
thick. I came across a post on
Eatocracy from a few years back about tomato sandwiches.
We are of the same mind on this – it is the perfect sandwich!
You can’t get this at Panera or Subway – simply because the
fresh tomato is a fleeting and seasonal fruit – it doesn’t ship or
store well and what makes them so delectable is the fact that they
are fresh from the garden! If you don’t have
tomatoes of your own you can get wonderful tomatoes from the local
farmers market – these beauties are from Farmhouse Organics in
Poulsbo and were at the market this week!
Where ever you get them, please don’t put them in the
refrigerator. Store them on newspaper in a cool dry place.
Eat them out of hand, make a caprese
salad or some
bruschetta, or just make endless bunches of tomato sandwiches –
on white bread with good mayonnaise. No substitutions or
While you are eating your sandwich – over the sink – you can
listen to John Denver sing his ode to “Homegrown Tomatoes”.
Two things that money can’t buy – true love and homegrown
Spent the day with a
bunch of amazing 4H volunteers judging the educational posters
today. We were looking for well-designed, eye-catching,
informational posters. Can they been seen from 10 feet?
Any spelling errors (a big no-no!) Do the illustrations
add to the content of the poster? Some yes, some no.
Anyhow, a good time was had by all. In the process I
learned a few things. For example, did you know:
Persian cats can have excessive lacrimation (tearing),
There are 13 breeds of cavy,
Goats can live as long as 12 years,
How to clip a rabbit’s claws (hint, it involves a
How much water a horse drinks daily (5-10 gallons),
Iceberg lettuce is toxic to rabbits,
Grapes are bad for dogs,
All the body parts of an American Cavy (commonly called a
As I was working with this great group of adults and teens I
reflected on the good people that are working behind the scenes to
make this year’s Kitsap County Fair and Stampede a success.
County fairs have struggled with declining revenues and tight
budgets. Many counties have discontinued their fairs as a way
to cut costs. We are fortunate that Kitsap County has found a
way to continue their fair – and the 1000s of hours of volunteer
service given by community partners like 4H, local sailors and
soldiers, clubs and organizations and individuals make this
possible. In addition to giving time, pressure washing and
painting buildings, staffing display areas, taking tickets at the
gates, parking cars and sharing educational materials and
activities with the fair-going public, these volunteers pay for
their own parking and admission. Many of the folks in the
livestock and equine exhibit areas even take their vacation during
the week of the fair so that they are able to exhibit at the fair.
I am sure that there are others who exhibit who do the same –
I just don’t know them personally!
So, if you haven’t been to the “Big County Fair” in a few years,
it is time to go back and enjoy it! Eat some fried food, buy
a couple knives in the Pavilion, eat some cotton candy, visit the
WSU booth in the Cat Barn, eat an elephant ear, check out the
livestock and still-life exhibits, and pay attention to the
educational posters! I guarantee – you will learn a few
I went grocery shopping
the other day. And, I spent more than $100. That isn’t
a big deal – it is just that I don’ t do it very often.
My grocery bill is typically $30-50 a month for food –
and another $50 or so for other essentials like TP and shampoo.
That isn’t much considering that the “average” family spends
$150 – $290 a WEEK according to the USDA. Why is our bill
so much lower than the national average? Mostly because we
plant and grow our own veggies, raise meat and eggs, preserve our
bounty, process in the home dairy and cook at home. Simply
put, we produce more than we consume.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, my feed bill is not
inconsequential. I spent $240 at the feed store last month
and I do get the hay pretty cheap ($195 last month) but that still
puts our food costs at about 25-50% of the cost of the average
Which begs the question — is there really that much
savings in fermenting your own pickles??
I guess so. I mean, we do ferment our own pickles (there
are 2 gallons of cucs in brine sitting on the counter right now and
if the kitchen wasn’t such a mess I would snap a picture for the
blog!), preserve jams, jellies, green beans, salsa, tomatoes, grape
and apple juice, apple sauce, and pickles, and make our own yogurt,
butter and cheese…which is a bit more “Pioneer Woman” than most folks.
But we don’t make EVERYTHING. This should be pretty
obvious since there are s’more fixin’s and potato chips on my
receipt! I am thrifty, but not insanely DIY enough to
make my own marshmallows no matter how easy that America’s
Test Kitchen says it is. You will also notice that there are
potato chips (You MUST have potato chips for a BBQ!) and a couple
loaves of bread on there – because I haven’t had time to bake bread
lately. Like I said, we are thrifty – but not Amish!
So what is the single thing that saves us the most $$$ on our
food budget? I cook at home and I make most meals from
scratch. Snacks are homemade (chocolate
zucchini bread anyone??) and ingredients are fresh, local or
homegrown, and unprocessed. Simple. But time consuming
at times because we are more scratch than most. Take my
lasagna for example The cow is days away from calving so we
are a little light on milk right now, but I love to make lasagna
because is uses 5 gallons of milk! The mozzarella cheese
takes three gallons and with the left-over whey and two more
gallons of whole milk I make the ricotta. Then, a pound of
hamburger and a pound of ground pork (from our own beef and hogs),
canned tomatoes (from the garden), garlic, onion (ditto!) in the
sauce and the only store bought input at this point is the lasagna
noodles. My recipe makes two 9×13 pans of lasagna – which
should be at least four meals unless I am feeding the hay
crew dinner. Pop one pan into the freezer for another day and
I have a couple of cheap, quick meals for busy nights down
The real cost of this kind of cooking and lifestyle? My
One can feel just a bit like the “Little Red
Hen” (I milked the cow, I made the cheese, I assembled the
lasagna…) because it is time and labor intensive. Is this the
most efficient use of my time? Perhaps not when one looks at
the cost of a pan of frozen lasagna in the grocery store or Costco.
Is my time really worth only $9.99 for a whole day’s work?
Depends upon your perspective. At the same time I am
making the lasagna I am building relationships with my children who
work with me, passing on skills that many have forgotten or never
learned, and making a conscious decision about the value of
producing rather than consuming.
“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not
everything that can be counted counts.” ~ Albert Einstein
WSU Small Farms Team is here to help! The Bainbridge
Grange has invited us for a Home Canning
Q&A on August 13th at 7:00pm! The grange
is located at 10340 Madison
Ave NE, Bainbridge Island. Topics covered will include
basic canning principles, water bath vs. pressure canning, types of
equipment, and approved recipes and resources. Pressure gauge
testing will be available at the workshop for $5.00. Whether
you are just getting started or would like to update your knowledge
of home food preservation, join us and learn!
If you can’t make it to the workshop WSU is available to answer
food safety and preservation questions by e-mail or phone.
Contact Diane Fish (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call the Small Farms
Program at 360-337-7026. Online food preservation and
safety information is available on the WSU Kitsap Extension website
Pressure gauge testing is available by appointment for
a $5.00 fee. Gauges should be tested annually.