Monday, September 13, 2010

Give Meat a Chance

The days have been filled with a combination of harvesting and preserving. And, no matter how delicately I present the topic...(processing being my most frequently used term), Flora reminds me there is also slaughtering to be done. She is so refreshingly matter of fact about it all.
John and I have been raising livestock under our own banner for about 7 years now. Prior to producing our own meat, we were lucky enough to enjoy the meat produced on another farm we worked on. So, for about 9 years now, the bulk of the meat we have eaten has been an animal we have cared for. This was not a goal we set out to obtain but rather something we stumbled into the more we immersed ourselves into farming in Maine.

Livestock started playing a more central role in our farm when we realized the land we were leasing was marginally tillable but grew great grass. Grass farming is a very protein lucrative approach to producing high quality, humane raised meat.
Essentially, you put your effort into producing a lush pasture and hay field and creating a modest infrastructure to house your animals. In turn, those animals eat grass and only grass in the form of grass or hay in the winter. This results in meat we feel good about eating and plenty of manure from the winter paddock to be composted and spread onto our vegetable fields in the spring.Now we get into the interesting stuff....Every time we harvest a head of broccoli and send it home with a customer, we have a negative nutrient balance, having removed a positive nutrient from the farm. In some capacity, this nutrient needs to be added back into the farm in order for us to effectively grow another crop if broccoli.
There are synthetic avenues to adding nutrients back into the farm system, but this is not permitted under the National Organic Certification we adhere to.

In addition, synthetic fertilizers open up a host of discussions about how they are derived and the potential for over use and run-off into our streams and rivers and oceans. The other very effective way to add nutrients back to the farm is to use manure and fertilizer produced from the production of meat. Bone meal and bone char, bloodmeal, and even fish emulsion are all byproducts of the meat/seafood industry. Using these substances in the vegetable fields ensures a nutrient dense growing medium.
However, it does also mean we need to buy in expensive material in order to replace the nutrients lost to the broccoli. We have been working towards closing the loop in our farming system so that we have the right balance of animals to produce the right amount of by-product (manure) to fertilize our fields.
We aren't quite there yet and do bring in horse manure, cow manure and finished compost from Benson's Farm to supplement what we can produce ourselves.

Let's get back to the grass farming piece....if we want to live in New England and eat a local foods diet and support our Maine farmers, I argue that grass fed meat and dairy is a crucial component to this loop. We have an abundance of grassland in Maine that would not be suitable to till for crops but could support a multitude of critters that in turn could produce high quality protein for our tables and byproducts for our fields. The consumption of some Maine raised grass fed meat by each person in the state could increase the demand and save thousands of acres of grassland and increase the agricultural economy in our state (not to mention put pressure on the unsustainable and abusive confinement animal operations). Livestock producers demand the services of feed store, butcher shops and veterinarians. With all the buzz about factory farmed meat, Salmonella poisoning in eggs and E.coli outbreaks from animal overcrowding, its enough to swear off meat altogether. But there is an alternative and it is delicious and positive for Maine and positive for changing the quality of life for the animals involved. Eat more locally raised, grass fed meat! If you decrease your meat consumption to only include locally raised grass fed meat, this is not out of reach for most families. There are affordable options such as purchasing in bulk. Local producers are proud of their farming efforts and would gladly invite you to witness cows doing what they do best, eat grass, just ask. A transparent local food system where farmers are proud to share their techniques with their customers ensures a guaranteed traceability about where food comes from and in increased appreciation for the work involved and the price tag attached to it. If you don't eat meat, consider what your reasons are and ask yourself whether you want to eat vegetables that are produced using synthetic fertilizers or vegetables produced locally in concert with humanely raised animals. What system do you want to support?

At Broadturn Farm, we raise meat primarily for our family and extended family, our crew and friends. We have a few long time customers but our real focus is on the vegetables and flowers. We process-- or as Flora so aptly reminds me "slaughter" the poultry ourselves, including broiler (or meat) chickens, turkeys, ducks and spent laying hens. We also process some of the lamb and pork ourselves. We have yet to slaughter a beef animal on the farm. Every year when we reach the close of the grass growing season, it is with a prayer of thanks that we approach the task of slaughtering. We are acutely aware of the shift of energy on the farm when the broilers leave or when the bull-steer goes off to the butcher. We are thankful for the meat that will feed us and the manure that will produce healthy crops for our customers next season. Mostly, we are thankful for the companionship these animals provided to us. They get us up in the morning to milk, they teach us about the cycles of birth and breeding
and death
and they constantly remind us to be humane.

Eat meat, its delicious and it helps keep our Maine farmers in business.

I recognize this may be a hard read for some of you and even more challenging visually. I welcome your thoughts and your comments and your criticisms....good conversation only lends itself to a greater awareness.

Here is a list of local folks who produce meat that is worth a taste:
And check out Eat Wild and MOFGA for additional listings

This week's Harvest:
Spaghetti Squash
Broccoli Raab

What to do with tomatillos? I make salsa verde, which can be easily frozen for winter use. Roast the tomatillos in the even for about 30 minutes on 375 F. Throw them into the food processor with a small bit of onion, cilantro, garlic, lime juice and salt. Adjust to taste and savor with some of your favorite chips!

Blessings on the meal,


  1. We decided several years ago that we were neither going to support CAFOs nor eat a vegetarian diet. As a locavore, it was my feeling that we could not have a well-rounded diet here in Maine that did not include meat. There are ways to get vegetable protiens, but the most common (and most available in our grocery store culture) are rice and soy. Rice doesn't grow in Maine, and while we eat some rice, it is not a staple in our diet. Meat is.

    Since we knew we weren't giving it up, we decided instead to source ONLY local meat, which morphed into raising our own broilers for the past three years.

    I completely respect one's right to choose what one will eat, but knowing (and believing) what I do about energy depletion and the potential for food scarcity, I have some real concerns when it comes to being dependent on a fragile on-demand food delivery system, and I really do feel that our only security is in supporting and growing our local foods economy.

    In short, I really applaud and appreciate all that you do to help make our food system here in S. Maine more secure.

  2. Thank you for a thoughtful and transparent post on this topic. It was excellent.


  3. you should be so proud!
    It is such a wonderful feeling knowing what you are eating was homegrown,cared for with love and raised humanly.
    And kudos to you for allowing you daughter? to watch.
    very interesting blog to stumble upon!!!