My fiancé and I raise a few goats each year. Kidding season is exciting – goat kids are so cute – and we don’t want to miss a moment of the birthing process, just in case assistance is needed. Lately, we’ve been doing late night, middle of the night, and early morning checks on Fiona, the older momma goat, which are tiring, but necessary.
Enter the Goat Cam.
That’s right – a Wi-Fi-capable live-feed camera, complete with sound and night vision. It’s now hanging in the corner of the goat shed, and with a couple clicks on my smart phone, I can check in on the goats from anywhere, at any time. Fiona still hasn’t kidded, but it’s been fun watching her.
Technology is great, isn’t it? More farms are using webcams and sharing those live feeds on the web. JS West, for example, has six cameras watching over their chickens. And the Orange County Fair has a live pig cam. Finally, Stew Leonard’s cow cam switches between different cameras at their dairy.
Most consumers today are more than two generations removed from the farm. They don’t understand why farms look like they do today, why beneficial technology is used, or other recent advances in food production. Our 2011 Consumer Trust Survey found that only 23% of consumers say they strongly agree they have access to all of the information they want about where food comes from, how it is produced, and its safety. There’s definitely room for improvement. Perhaps webcam live feeds or YouTube videos can help connect consumers back to the farm.
Being more open and transparent about today’s production methods shows that farmers are providing livestock with great care and producing safe, nutritious and affordable food.
Posted by Abby.
Two words: Cookie Butter. I don’t live in an urban “food desert” or far out in the country. I’m comfortably situated in the suburbs of Kansas City with easy access to several well-stocked supermarkets. But the nearest Trader Joe’s, home of Cookie Butter, is on the other side of town.
On one of my infrequent trips to Trader Joe’s I noticed a small knot of people all holding jars of what appeared to be peanut butter and excitedly trading suggestions on how to enjoy it. I leaned in to see what they were talking about and discovered Cookie Butter. Evidently someone had the brilliant idea of crushing British gingersnap brown sugar-flavored Speculoos cookies into a creamy spread. Although I have since found many recipes for cookies, breads and other ways to use Cookie Butter, mine rarely made it past the end of my spoon. When it did, I usually spread it on a sliced apple. If I had a jar now, which I do not, I would stir it into my oatmeal or layer it on toast with a sliced banana.
I do not have Cookie Butter right now because Trader Joe’s is a destination shopping trip for me. The nearest store is 30 miles away. I was last there a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. Since I’m not a regular, the produce department isn’t terribly useful to me. My local supermarket has very good produce, and I drive past it several times a week whether I want to or not. What draws me to TJ’s is the unknown, the discovery. In amongst the regular stuff I find things that I would never find at my local supermarket. I find myself inventing reasons to drive across town when I am hungry for Marcona almonds or burgundy-marinated lamb. I can buy ten different kinds of dill pickles at my supermarket but they have never heard of cornichons, which are necessary for my favorite French potato salad. I could just bake my chicken thighs, but they’re so much better simmered in Green Curry Sauce. And who knew there was such a thing as apple-pear cider to sip on a frosty evening?
A trip to Trader Joe’s is like a treasure hunt - one that I get to enjoy until all my loot has been eaten. The fun and funky products I find there turn my routine shopping trip into an outing and make my meals more interesting. I appreciate my local supermarket. It serves me well week in and week out. I can find everything on my grocery list and have it home and put away in the time it takes just to make the drive to TJ’s. But every now and then, I want to get out of my routine and visit a different neighborhood. I want to spend some time exploring the shelves and cases for new flavors and ideas.
I want Cookie Butter.
Posted by Randa.
I’m a dairy farmer’s daughter. Even though my family sold our herd 15 years ago, I’ll always be a dairy farmer’s daughter. While I don’t miss the times when a major thunderstorm would spook the heifers, causing a necessary round of cattle sorting, I’m thankful to have had the experience. Here are a couple life skills I learned on the farm.
“Treat people the way you want to be treated.” –Diana Rabe (Yes…. I know this is also the Golden Rule that starts “Do unto others…” but the first place I learned it was from Mom.)
Cows and their offspring are huge animals. Working with them can be difficult, but a rule on our farm was that we were never to hit an animal or our siblings. (Though sometimes you may have mistaken siblings for animals.)
Every stack of bales (for the record, hay is green, not yellow like you see in children’s story books; the yellow stuff is straw) represents an opportunity:
- To build a castle for the most delicate princess
- To create one sweet landing pad for jumping bodies
- To find a snake (YIKES!!)
When dealing with living things (in this case: our herd, crops, employees and family), there’s no room for minimizing your obligation to do everything it takes to ensure the best care. No one was more committed to the farm than my dad. And before him, my Grandpa Marvin.
“Most people don't recognize opportunity when it comes, because it's usually dressed in overalls and looks a lot like work.” –Thomas Edison
When I was three, I began doing chores with dad. Don’t go calling the authorities – it wasn’t child labor. This was just the beginning of the opportunities my siblings and I had to prove ourselves worthy of being put in charge. By age 10, we each had a barn of calves of various ages to tend to. When we all became involved in sports and extra-curricular activities, the accountability to the farm didn’t decrease. We still had to find a way to tend to our barns and make the game/concert/birthday party/etc. While it may have felt like “work” at that point, as an adult, I have truly come to realize the opportunities this accountability has afforded me. Now if I can only figure out how to give my kids equal opportunities… we only have dogs, but I guess that’s a start.
Dad used to say, “If it’s worth doing, do it right,” and, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” Sharing the perfectionist gene with dad (we’re both Virgos) means we both pursue our interests and tasks with an eye on quality. There’s always something to be done, and there are always improvements that can be made on those things others think are done. Dad’s focus on excellence not only earned him leadership positions in organizations, it also earned him accolades among the farming community. It brought awards to our operation and it brought visitors to our farm from across the globe to celebrate everything that Dad had made sure was done right. Today, I understand that there may be many definitions of “right,” but I’ll never be satisfied with good enough.
Dealing with Loss
When you’re raising animals, you will have to deal with loss. We were a small operation with between 70 and 80 milking cows. The cows were impeccably cared for, each one was given a name that followed the same first letter of its mother and every cow had a sign above her stall with her breeding history on it. Each was trained to go to the exact spot in a barn every day, which allowed us to get to know them on a more personal level and ensure they received a customized diet for their unique needs.
I recall a very cold and snowy winter day when dad made a very hard decision. One of our cows had been sick and was not recovering with treatments from our veterinarian. Her illness was visible in her eyes, and physically, she wasn’t herself. The diagnosis wasn’t in her favor. Dad made the decision to have her euthanized. Of course it wasn’t the first time he’d made that call, nor would it be the last. But this was the first time I realized how connected he was to the animals and how important it was to make decisions that are in the best interest of the animal, even if it means losing something you love.
What are the skills you learned when growing up? Who influenced you?
Posted by Roxi.
Who doesn’t love a big potluck dinner? A little internet research tells us the word pot-luck first appeared in 16th century England, used to mean “food provided for an unexpected or uninvited guest, the luck of the pot.” Since that time, the term has been used to mean “a communal meal, where guests bring their own food.”
I attended three potluck dinners during the holidays. The first, a year-end awards ceremony for our local horse show circuit, had long tables, each full of home-cooked dishes, stretching the length of a small gymnasium. The second was a meal following the funeral of a teacher from my hometown, comforting those who came together to mourn the loss of a loved one. The third was here at the office, our tradition of enjoying our colleagues’ company before everyone departs for the holidays.
Each potluck came with echoes of “You have to try that casserole,” and “Oh, my, this dessert is good,” and “Can you send me that recipe?” My favorites from each potluck? In no particular order: pumpkin cheesecake bars, creamed corn, and tamales.
With each of these potluck dinners, I realized that food enjoyed never seems to go together. For instance, at one potluck, I had pasta salad with enchiladas and BBQ meatballs, all on the same plate. But it never seems to matter, because each is great, showing off the cook’s skills.
That makes each gathering to share dinner special and if you’re “pot-lucky,” something you too can enjoy soon.
Posted by Abby.
The holiday season is upon us, a time to surround ourselves with the three F’s - family, friends, and fruitcake. OK, let’s change that last one to food. Although fruitcake is often given as a gift this time of year, either as a kind gesture or as a practical joke, many foods make great gifts for the holidays.
Foods can evoke some specific holiday memories. Maybe your family has a tradition of cookie-baking, or has a special recipe that only makes an appearance at the dinner table this time of year. Maybe you have a memory of giving or receiving certain foods for the holidays. Whatever it is, foods have a way of comforting us, and giving (and receiving) foods as holiday gifts can show the recipient that thought was put into the gift.
Here are some food-related gift ideas:
- Homemade cakes, cookies and candies – your family’s favorites are great to share
- Nuts and snack mixes – help feed the holiday crowds with quick and easy mixes
- Fruit (or fruitcake!) – it’s citrus season! Many varieties of oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, lemons and limes are great this time of year
- Food-of-the month programs – you can give cheese, coffee, specialty meats and other foods from around the world
- Restaurant gift cards – introduce friends and family to your favorite restaurant or treat them to theirs
In addition to giving food as gifts, you can give the gift of food to those less fortunate. You can donate your time at a food pantry, or help serve food at a food kitchen. Doing so may start a new tradition in your family, creating memories that can be better than any gift.
We have the most abundant, affordable and safe food supply in the world. We should share it with others this holiday season and year-round. Happy Holidays!
Posted by Jenny.