North Star Homestead Farms, LLC

  (Hayward, Wisconsin)
Know your Farmer, Love your Food!
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Sustainable Foodie

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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 salad.

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

 

 
 

The Truth about Food Miles

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 decisions. 

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!

In America, 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 recipe.

French Bistro Frisee Salad

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 Jersey plant)

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

 
 

Introducing Farmstead Creamery & Cafe!

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 & Café.

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 in agriculture.

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 pond.”

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.

 
 
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