Because I care about how the food I feed my family is raised, I'm also interested in the challenges and day-to-day realities that farmers in Whatcom County confront as part of their business. I'm continually trying to learn more about how and why they do what they do.
Toward that end, I recently gained new insights at a conference called Women, Farms & Food. The theme of the conference was "Change Happens: Make It An Opportunity!" It sounded right up my alley!
Through the magic of technology, participants met simultaneously at about eight locations around the state. Our local group gathered in the event room at BelleWood Acres.
Vermont farmer Heather Darby was keynote speaker. She spoke live via the Internet, and each location could submit questions to her as she spoke.
Darby focused on the emotional drama she encountered when she decided to return to her family's farm, rebuild a financially depleted operation, and convert 130 acres of dairy farm to 5 acres of produce farming and 125 acres of summer grazing service for other people's cows.
Surprisingly, most of the farm's income is now generated by the 5 acres of fruits and vegetables and sales at their honor-system roadside stand. Key for them, she said, has been a single-minded focus on product quality, creating an extremely loyal customer base.
It was interesting to hear her talk about the difficult work of transitioning a farm from one generation to the next. Some of the local women present later described similar difficult experiences.
I think many of us have a romanticized notion of children growing up on a farm and magically being handed the reins of the business by their parents to pick up where they left off. In reality, the incoming generation often needs to raise money to purchase the farm from their parents in order to pay off existing loans and qualify for their own operating loans.
Parents may also, intentionally or unintentionally, be unwilling to turn over the decision making if the younger farmers want to take things in a different direction. Parents may even discourage their children from taking up farming because they believe they can make a better living doing physically easier work in another profession.
Emotional stress is exacerbated because long-standing family relationships add their own level of baggage to the succession process. It's not a simple business transaction between strangers, but a complex process with people you care about and who care about you - people with whom you have sometimes felt exasperated throughout your lifetime.
Just when a farmer has successfully navigated the process of assuming management of the farm, most then face a new and similarly emotionally perilous adventure - figuring out how to maintain a healthy marriage while also having a 24/7 working relationship with their spouse.
Sometimes a spouse works off of the farm, but financial decision making is often still a shared responsibility. Most of the women present seemed to have solved the problem by creating clearly delineated parts of the business for which each partner is responsible.
After lunch, the conference switched to local presenters. For us, Tanya Dostal of the WSU Extension Service taught some techniques for improving risk management when making financial decisions. Later, two women from local dairy farms led a panel discussion describing changes they have faced in their farming lives and how they have dealt with them.
Local women who attended the conference represented diverse parts of the farming industry, ranging from hobby farms to farmers market and CSA farms, to large-scale conventional farming operations. Some were also from farm-related agencies, such as Sustainable Connections. The conference, an annual event, was organized by the USDA Farm Service Agency and the Washington State University Extension.
Today's recipe is part one of two created in honor of St. Patrick's Day. Locavore "Marco Polo rules" were applied, which means the use of nonlocal spices was considered acceptable. It's an exception I invoke rarely, and mostly for holidays. (A locavore eats only locally grown food, as much as possible.)
Last Saturday I cooked the finished corned beef (part two), and will share that recipe with you next week.
HOMEMADE CORNED BEEF
For pickling spice mix (enough for two corned beef batches - see photo):
2 tablespoons black peppercorns, freshly cracked
2 tablespoons ground allspice (or allspice berries)
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
4 bay leaves, crumbled
2 cinnamon sticks, broken into chunks
12 whole cloves
2 tablespoons mustard seeds, slightly crushed
2 inches smoked cayenne pepper, finely minced (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger (Terra Verde Farm, Everson)
Optional: 4 teaspoons pink salt (curing salt - sodium nitrite - not Himalayan pink salt)
11/2 cups kosher salt or pickling salt
1/2 cup honey (Guilmette's Busy Bees, Everson)
5-6 pounds grassfed beef brisket or round roast (Second Wind Farm, Everson)
Mix the pickling spices. Because the recipe makes enough pickling spices for corning two pieces of beef, you can either add the grated ginger now and freeze half of the pickling mix, or add the ginger later when you make the brine and keep half of the spice mixture dry in a jar.
In a large, non-reactive pot (stainless steel, ceramic or glass), put two quarts of water, 1/2 of the pickling spice mix, the salt and the honey. If you want your corned beef to have a pink color, you can add the pink curing salt. (I didn't use it, so will get the gray, New England-style of finished corned beef)
Bring pot to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to simmer, stirring until the salt and honey are fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and add another two quarts of cold water. Set aside until cool.
Put the beef in the cool mixture and make sure it is completely submerged. Use a plate or filled jar to weight down the meat, if necessary. Place in the refrigerator for 5 days.
(See recipe next week for cooking suggestions.)
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or email@example.com. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.