Know your Farmer, Love your Food!
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Remember visiting Grandma’s farm as a child, helping feed
the chickens, or watching her make an apple pie from scratch? Remember helping haul firewood for the cook
stove or climbing down into the earthen root cellar for potatoes or carrots? Remember the smell of fresh-pressed garlic or
the joy of a roast turkey that was raised right on the farm by Grandpa’s loving
hands? While many of these memories are
part of our collective past—often many generations removed—these are
experiences contemporary food enthusiasts (today called “foodies”) savor as
part of a regenerative interest in bringing the eater closer to the rich
experience of food production and preparation.
As part of what has been called “the foodie generation,” I
take a special delight in sharing our farm’s unique story, history, and values
with the wide variety of folks who visit us—whether this is through a farm
tour, a wholesome and homemade meal at Farmstead Creamery & Café, or most
recently through educational courses.
The idea that “Those who can—do and those who can’t—teach”
is a far cry from our philosophies at North Star Homestead Farms. So often, the best learning opportunities
happens “in the doing”—or what is otherwise called experiential learning. Most recently, our farm organized a course
titled “Sustainable Foodie: Making a
Meal, Making a Life” through Northland College’s Wellness Program, which seeks
to round out the liberal arts experience for their students by fostering
meaningful life skills beyond the classroom.
“Sustainable Foodie” focuses especially on building
traditional food skills, appreciating the value of local foods and knowing your
farmer, and exploring the vocational potential for young folks interested in
sustainable food’s many facets. Conceived
as a mix of critical theory and hands-on experience that culminates each
session by preparing and sharing a meal together, “Sustainable Foodie” is
capped at 10 students. Held three
consecutive Sunday afternoons, it fills the requirements for three of the eight
wellness criteria required by the college.
Add that statistic to the idea of making and eating food, and it’s not
surprising that enrollment filled within the first 10 minutes.
Last Sunday, the dark blue Northland van pulled into the
Farmstead Creamery parking lot, and a unique and creative assortment of
students from freshmen through seniors piled out and stepped into the
transportive world that is our family’s homestead.
With an in-depth farm tour, cheese tastings, and discussions
on finding your local farmer, the conundrum of food miles, and the value of
eating regionally and seasonally, we were off to an exciting and poignant
start. But the hands-on learning aspects
focused primarily on comparisons to bring the discussion points to full
reality. Along the way, we snapped some
photos to document the process.
The poster child of comparison projects was making salads. Splitting the group in half, the first five
worked in the kitchen downstairs with my mother and sister, while I led group
discussion and cheese tasting in the loft upstairs. The first salad team approached the prep
tables to discover their potential ingredients:
a head of iceberg lettuce; two hard, pink tomatoes; an aging cucumber
with a withering issue at one end; and a bag of “baby” carrots. The long carrot is to show that those little
carrots don’t grow that way—they’re cut and rounded to size.
After reading the list of ingredients off the bag of
carrots, my sister Kara asked the crew, “Now, why do you think these carrots
don’t spoil?” The students looked at one
another, shrugging. Kara smiled. “Notice that the carrots are wet. That’s because they’ve been dipped in a
chlorine bath as a sanitizer. Yum, yum.”
The students opted to use the long carrot and did not even
bother to open the bag of baby carrots.
After preparing their salads, one student offered. “Hmm…looks like a nice, em, restaurant type
salad.” Everyone chuckled knowingly.
The groups switched and the second team came down to the
kitchen for the salad project. All
traces of the first salad had been hidden away and a new tray lay ready. This time, all of the ingredients were
harvested that day from our aquaponics greenhouse and included butterhead
lettuce, mixed leaf lettuce, elegance micro greens (a mix of baby bok choy,
mustard, kale, and Chinese cabbage leaves), broccoli raab, and fresh radishes.
The students marveled at the mix of colors, textures, and
flavors, filling a bowl with a medley of purple, red, and dark green. “Yum!” one student exclaimed. “Can I eat this now?”
Later that afternoon, we shared how to make homemade
applesauce from local apples and created individualized locavore pizzas (being
a locavore means that you choose to eat locally). All the toppings, from the tomato sauce or
pesto to the sausage, onions, garlic, and cheese, were grown and prepared here
or from area farms. As we enjoyed our handmade
meal together, each group introduced their salad before passing it around.
I encouraged the group to try some of each salad, but the
community opinion (despite the best verbal marketing efforts of each salad team)
was quite apparent as we cleared the table.
This is what remained of the iceberg salad AFTER supper was
finished. Did anyone even try this?
And this, good friends, is what was left of the aquaponics
Need I say more?
Remember that our individual choices, based on our learning experiences,
can make a difference. This week, I hope
all these students are making new and critical choices about their food, which
is an important cornerstone in everyone’s wellbeing.
Feeling hungry for a salad?
We’ve got some! (And I promise
not to serve the pale stuff.) See you
down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner
of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. northstarhomestead.com
Posted by Ann, Laura, and Kara
@ 03:05 PM CST
A farmer asks a small child, “Where does milk come
from?” The child responds, honestly
enough, “From the store.”
It’s hard to blame the child, who has probably never stepped
foot into a dairy barn or seen the milk from an ample udder stream into the
pail all frothy and warm. But the
question of where food comes from is
still just as relevant to the learning of that child as it is for each of us
today. That educational process can be
both enlightening and disturbing.
In the child’s perception, the movement of milk is from the
grocery store to Mom’s refrigerator. But
before it reached the grocery store, it spend time with a distributor, which
received the product from the processing facility, which pasteurized,
homogenized, and bottled the milk that was shipped in from a variety of dairy
farms. All of this moving around of food
from one place to another tallies up to what is called “food miles.”
On our farm, it could be called “food yards” because very
little has to travel far from field to kitchen to plate, but this is an
exceptional situation. Tropical fruits, out-of-season
vegetables, or farm-raised meats might be shipped in from Chile, New Zealand,
or China. Sometimes local growers find that their
market is in a distant city rather than in their hometown. At other times, companies find that fewer
regulations make it more economical to fly American grown apples to South Africa to
be waxed and then fly them back to be sold at American supermarkets. Economics drives these decisions—cheaper
labor, subsidized fossil fuels, and even subsidized agricultural practices swaying
A study published through www.postcarbon.org cites statistics illustrating
that 15% of US
energy is spent on feeding Americans, which includes growing, shipping,
displaying, and preparing. Pair this
with the fact that nearly 50% of all the food that is grown in this country is
wasted, and the environmental impact is quite disconcerting. Most of the wasted food comes from the
methods of mass-production. Not
everything matured in the field at the same time, so part of the crop was lost
during mechanized harvesting. Not all
the tomatoes or apples were the same size, so they did not crate up evenly and
were discarded. Produce rotted during
shipment or in a warehouse. Half of the
lettuce had to be thrown away by the restaurant because it was too old or unfit
to serve. I know because I have received
those frantic calls from chefs when the box of green beans from their
commercial purveyor arrives white and fuzzy.
Processed foods or foods with a high fat or high sugar
content are the greatest offenders in the food mile problem. A recent study in Sweden quoted on www.thedailygreen.org traced the
components of a traditional Swedish breakfast—apple, bread, butter, cheese,
coffee, cream, orange juice, and sugar.
When combining all the miles traveled by each breakfast component, it
was startling for the researchers to discover that this breakfast had trekked
24,901 miles, approximately the circumference of the earth!
the traditional quote for food miles (be it for a steak, a tomato, or a cake)
is 1,500 miles. This is in accordance
with a study conducted in Chicago. More recently, the study was similarly
repeated and found that the number had jumped to 2,500 miles. This figure is for an individual product, not
even a whole meal! The trip from the
grocery store to your home is but one small piece of your food’s story. Find yourself a local farmer and cut out most
of those miles—the farmer and the environment will thank you!
So, in light of these alarming statistics, I tried my own
food mile experiment, focusing on local.
Try it and see what you discover!
Be empowered to know where your food comes from. In the meantime, you’ll enjoy this delicious
French Bistro Frisee
1 head frisee endive
(from our aquaponics greenhouse, 1/100th of a mile)
2 Tbs. olive oil
(4,300 miles from Italy to New York distributor,
then another 1,430 miles)
2 tsp. red wine
vinegar (Same Italy
number as above, plus 1,400 miles from New
1 shallot (from
our garden, 1/10th of a mile)
½ to 1 tsp. Dijon mustard (at least 2,330 miles from California distributer, miles
for individual sub ingredients unknown)
Salt and Pepper (620
miles from the packing company)
2 slices bacon
(from our pigs, to the butcher and back, 75 miles)
2 to 4 farm fresh
eggs, one per person (from our chickens, 1/10th of a mile)
Tear or cut endive into bite-sized pieces. In a small bowl, mix oil, vinegar, shallot,
and mustard. Add salt and pepper to
taste. Set dressing aside. Fry the bacon in a skillet over medium heat
until brown and crispy (about 5 minutes).
Set aside on paper towel to cool.
Simmer a medium-sized pot or deep skillet of water to poach
the eggs. A tiny scoash of vinegar helps
hold the egg together. Crack eggs into
simmering water (don’t let it get to a rolling boil) and poach until desired
doneness. Meanwhile, toss endive in
dressing until evenly coated. Plate up
endive, crumble bacon over it, and top with poached eggs. Serve immediately.
For the food mile calculation, the bulk of ingredients were
sourced locally (frisee endive, shallot, bacon, and eggs), with a total of
75.21 miles, most of which went to the butcher for the pig. Considering that this makes approximately 99%
of the dish, this is an exciting achievement!
For this category, the average food mile for each item is 18.8.
Consider these same items purchased from the grocery store
in town (20 miles away from my home, so that will add 80 miles to the
figure). The eggs could be from a caged
egg factory in Nebraska (509 miles), the pigs
from a confinement feeding operation in Iowa
(340 miles), the endive from a mono-cropped farm in California
(2,165 miles), and the shallots from a field in Ohio (863 miles). That comes to a total of 3,957 miles for the
meal or 989.25 miles per item. That is
one exhausted endive! By choosing local,
I saved 3,881.79 food miles. The average
tractor-trailer uses a gallon of fuel every 5 to 7 miles, so theoretically that
would be the equivalent of 647 gallons of diesel.
The tricky part comes with the remaining 1% of the
meal. For the accent items (olive oil,
red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and Dijon
mustard), my score was around 14,380 miles—a good portion of which went to Italian
imports. Understandably, it would take
quite a few batches of this recipe to use a full bottle of red wine vinegar or
a package of pepper, compared with a whole head of endive or a third of a
carton of eggs. While it is unlikely
I’ll be growing my own olives on the farm, this meal is still significantly greener
than the Swedish breakfast.
Even though my food mile count is not perfect, I am choosing
to make a difference by eating foods close to home. As we all learn more about our environmental
impact and make changes in our daily habits towards smaller carbon footprints,
together we can begin meaningful change on a greater scale. Vote with your fork. Vote local.
See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner
of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. northstarhomestead.com
Posted by Ann, Laura, and Kara
@ 10:02 AM CST
Maybe you have met the
ladies—Laura, Kara, and Ann Berlage—at the Cable Farmer’s Market on Saturday
mornings, or as a member in their produce CSA (Community Supported
Agriculture), or through a friend while enjoying a meal of pasture-raised
chicken, turkey, pork, or lamb from North Star Homestead Farms. Either way, you may also have heard some of
the buzz that surrounds these ladies’ latest enterprise—Farmstead Creamery
This century-old homestead (nestled
in the ChequamegonNational Forest just off Moose Lake Road) is
stepping forward as a regional leader in the growing movement for local,
sustainable, and bio-secure foods. As
increasing national food scares and documentaries such as Food Inc. bring to our attention the desperate nature of industrial
food production, farms like North Star Homestead Farms have been pushing back
and offering wholesome alternatives that bring a story and a face to your
food. Now, having access to their and
other slow-food movement products will be even more convenient and enjoyable.
2011 has been anything but a
quiet season at the homestead, with hammers and saws from Jon Sorensen’s
Venison Creek Construction bringing a long-researched dream to life. Farmstead Creamery and Café’s design is
inspired by the farm’s picturesque 1919 barn, with a “hay loft” upstairs and
stunning barn quilt over the entryway.
“We created this design to be versatile and accommodate all the different
aspects that were part of our goal,” says Laura, a recent graduate of Goddard College’s Masters of Fine Arts in
Interdisciplinary Arts program.
“Farmstead Creamery and Café is very much about creating space for
possibilities—merging agrarianism, community, and the arts.”
This is reflected in the project’s mission statement, which
asserts: Farmstead Creamery & Café, as an extension of North Star Homestead Farms, is
dedicated to building community through local, sustainable, and bio-secure
foods that bring out the best of rural living.
Mindful of our unique and precious environment, our
hand-made-from-scratch ethic strives for egalitarian access to wholesome foods
directly from their place of production.
Maintaining transparency, offering educational opportunities, and
nurturing community are cornerstones in our effort to reinvigorate the culture
Driving down Fullington Road (named after the founding
homestead family), some are surprised to discover the gem of a farm just around
its natural bend. Now, the inviting
barn-like Café, bordered by a split rail fence and topped with a rooster
weather vane, serves as the face of the farm—becoming a one-stop shop for
everything from fresh produce and meats to home-style bakery goods, jams, eggs,
and dairy products. You can even stay a
while and enjoy some coffee or tea, soups, sandwiches, or gourmet salads. Alongside the Café stands a large greenhouse,
which will hold a new aquaponics unit.
This very scientific and bio-secure method of organically raising fish
and produce year-round (designed by Nelson and Pade Inc., a Wisconsin company)
will greatly augment North Star Homestead’s ability to serve the community long
after the summer growing season. “It’s a
natural relationship,” says Ann, a family physician and longtime supporter of
her daughters’ initiatives, “In which the waste from the tilapia provides
nutrients for the plants. The plants
then clean the water, which is recirculated to the fish, like a highly-managed
Inside Farmstead Creamery &
Café, however, there are more pleasant surprises to discover. Not only does the “hay loft” provide space
for more seating and a view overlooking the homestead, but it can also be used
for classes and workshops. A small stage
on the main floor can be used for live concerts, storytelling or poetry events,
or even presentations on important related issues. “Our goal is to reconnect people with what
really matters—and a big part of that is building a healthy relationship with
our food and really knowing its story, who grew it, and under what
conditions. It’s about reclaiming our
connections with the land,” Laura smiles as she calls attention to the interior
of the Café, with its large timbers and vaulted ceiling.
Behind where the bakery case and
counters will be is a window into another room, which holds a special place for
Kara, who has a BA in Environmental Studies with an Emphasis in Sustainable
Agriculture. This will be the Creamery
& Café’s dairy plant for the production of gelato—an Italian form of ice
cream with less fat and more flavor.
Kara has been working for years to improve the genetics of her flock of
sheep (so she not only has excellent lamb production but also quality dairy
traits) while studying the science and art of making gelato. “Just this fall, I went to a course from the
Gelato and Pastry Institute of America in New York,” she explains while indicating the
future placement of her dairy plant equipment.
“There I studied with a master gelato artist from Italy and
created my own recipe using sheep’s milk, which naturally has the right
butterfat content for the production of gelato.” Farmstead Creamery & Café also hopes to
carry other locally produced dairy products to augment the shop’s selections.
The ladies of North Star
Homestead Farms put considerable thought into the location for the Creamery
& Café, ultimately deciding that staying close to the farm was an important
aspect of the project’s purpose. “We see
ourselves not only as producers but also as a hub in the greater local food
network,” Laura explains. “But it’s more
than food; it’s also about education.
Many people are now several generations removed from their farming heritage,
and it’s important to revitalize that connection. Farmstead Creamery & Café offers something
new for the area—it’s a place where that heritage is brought into the present
through wholesome products, meaningful education, and dedication to supporting
the health of our rural community.”
Farmstead Creamery & Café is
still under construction but plans to open sometime early in 2012, with a grand
opening during the glory of the summer growing season.
Posted by Ann, Laura, and Kara
@ 03:28 PM CST
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