Organic food. Local food. Real food. Delicious!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you are all enjoying a great meal of local, organic foods with your beloved family and friends. This year, I am especially thankful for the new insulation in our home, as it has been exceptionally cold and windy. Six years ago, we bought a house badly in need of renovations, and as of this fall, we have 2/3 of it repaired and insulated. I am hoping that this time next year, I'll be thankful for finishing the final third.

We had an exceptional chicken-raising season, with an average dressed weight of 6.5 pounds. The birds were great foragers, enjoying loads of lush grass and insects. Crickets and grasshoppers were very abundant, adding protein to their diet. Due to some happy summer events out of state (our friend's wedding, and my parent's 50th wedding anniversary party), we started our birds very late, knowing we would be slaughtering around Halloween. Cold weather for tough, wet work, but we were blessed with some cheerful, good-hearted helpers who (almost) made us forget the chill. Thank you Brenda, Logan, Eamonn, and especially Joanne!

I would like to thank our amazing customers, who are willing to go out of their way to obtain clean, humanely raised meat. It is easy and cheap to buy conventional chicken at the supermarket. It takes effort to locate a local farmer, and more money to purchase well-raised meat. Thank you for your patronage this season, and for putting your values (local, organic, humane, free range, and all the rest) into practice. We hope that you love every bite of this season's chickens.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dealing with Crohns disease

This isn't my usual type of post. It's not about the farm: it's about me.

I have been struggling with Crohn's for nearly 20 years, and have found a solution that works for me. I wish I had known about it sooner, and I hope to save other people years of needless suffering.
Please feel free to contact me if you want more info. Circulate this post to interested friends or family.

I started getting sick in my mid teens with anxiety and depression. I was on a few different meds and had counseling as well. I didn't like the side effects of the meds, and they weren't all that effective. Then by my late teens (starting college), I was having abdominal pain. Got checked for lactose intolerance (no), gynocological problems (yes, ovarian cysts and really messed up hormone levels), and eventually ended up with a gastrointerologist. They diagnosed Chrohn's and put me on more medications. I was about 20 when I received the Crohn's diagnosis.
From age 20-30, I saw a number of different doctors because I moved several times. They ALL told me that diet has no bearing on Crohn's. Over those 10 years, I was, at one time or another, on just about every drug developed for Chrohn's, incuding IV infusion therapy with Remicade. Some of the drugs helped a bit, but none gave complete relief, and certainly none of them stopped the Chrohn's from advancing.
I got married at 21 to my high school sweetheart. He noticed that every time a had a depression episode, I'd have a nasty Crohn's flareup within a day or so. I was too sick to notice, so I'm glad he was paying attention.
A friend of mine had a brother who was very, very ill with a sudden and violent onset of Chrohn's, and given a prognosis of 5 years to live, if he took a bunch of steroid drugs. Their parents went searching for other answers, and found a diet to try. Of course this caused much eye-rolling with his doctors. Amazingly, the diet worked for him...he discontinued the steroids, and was back to normal life with normal, healthy intestines within a year. He's been healthy for around 8 years now.
I was really, really skeptical when my friend told me about the diet. All the doctors I'd ever seen had ALL told me that diet didn't matter. I hate anecdotal evidence,  plus this diet sounded like a major pain in the ass to follow. So I ignored her advice.
A year later, my Chrohn's had progressed to the point where the doctor was recommending a double re-sectioning of my intestines. I was pretty horrified by the idea. I had 2 toddlers at this point, and a husband working full time, how was I going to be recovering for 2 months? And I fundamentally did not like the surgery idea, since all my reading said it is a temporary fix, and the disease will recur, necessitating more surgery in a vicious cycle. So I gave this diet a try...the doctor said it wouldn't work, but wouldn't do any harm either. He also gave me his blessings to discontinue my medications on a trial basis.
So here's what happened: for the first month, I didn't see much change. I though maybe I felt just the tiniest bit better, but possibly it was just wishful thinking. After 3 months, I was more sure that the diet was helping, but I was still sick. There were days and sometimes weeks when I felt just as bad as ever, and almost gave up, but when I took the long view, I could see there was progress. Over the next 5 years, I never went back on the meds, and very very slowly improved.
It's been about 7 years now, and still no meds. The past two years I have started bringing back some of the "forbidden" foods, with mixed results. Right now, I have definitely pushed my body too far, and will need to go back to a stricter version of the diet in order to feel better. But here's the great thing...I know that I CAN feel better, and it is all within my own control.

The diet is called "The Specific Carbohydrate Diet" and it's been around for decades. Recently it has been used to treat children with autism.  Kids with autism often have colitis, Chrohns, or other intestinal disruptions, and treating the gut diminishes (in some cases cures) their autism symptoms. Turns out there is a strong connection between our gut and our brain.

The theory is as follows: we harbor a staggering number and variety of bacteria in our intestines, really a whole ecosystem worth of them. Sometimes the ecosystem gets out of balance, and the wrong type of bacteria starts either living in the wrong part of our intestines, or in the wrong quantities. The waste products from these bacteria build to levels so high that they actually act as neurotoxins. So the bacterial imbalance poisons the brain, resulting in depression, anxiety, or autism.
So here's a brief overview of the diet.
Allowed foods:
All non-processed meat (poultry, fish, pork, liver, hamburger)
All vegetables and mushrooms
All fruit
Nuts and beans (with some special instructions for preparation)
Some cheese (aged cheese such as cheddar, parmesaen, etc which naturally is lactose-free)
Homemade yogurt (actually really easy)

Non-allowed foods:
All grains and flour made from grain (wheat, oats, rice, barley, etc)
Sugar, corn syrup
Lunchmeat, hotdogs
Any prepared or restaurant food with non-allowed ingredients (most prepared foods have something non-allowed, like flour, cornstarch, sugar, soy lecithin, etc)

The theory of the diet is that the body has a hard time breaking up the type of carbohydrates in the non-allowed foods, and these undigested carbs are what lead to the overpopulation of the wrong bacteria, causing the intestinal irritation and mental health issues. In contrast, the carbs in the allowed foods (in the veggies and fruits) are of a different, more digestible type...hence the diet name, "Specific Carbohydrate Diet".
The #1 most important food on the diet is the yogurt. You make it yourself, and it is absolutely loaded with probiotics. If you decide to give this a try, you'll need to buy a yogurt maker that makes 1/2 gallon at a time, but it's easy...heat the milk to room temperature, stir in a starter culture, and stick it in the yogurt maker for a whole day. It takes seconds to prepare, literally.
So why isn't this miracle cure all the rage? Why don't doctors have all their patients try it? I have a several theories.
#1 It doesn't work for everyone. The diet website is pretty upfront about that. Their recommendation is to try it for one month, and if you don't feel better it probably is not going to help you. A friend of mine tried it and it didn't work at all for him. Every body is different, and Chrohn's/colitis has multiple causes including genetics, food allergies, exposure to chemicals, exposure to pest/herbicide, and prolonged antibiotic use.
#2 Nobody makes money on this diet. It requires nothing but home prepared foods, no drugs. The diet website actually cautions against purchasing any prepared foods marketed as "Specific Carbohydrate Diet compliant" because you just can't trust a corporation to make your food. We live in a world where we get so much information from advertisements... but there's absolutely nothing to advertise or sell to anyone.
#3 Medical schools teach students to look at one symptom and find one solution (generally a drug). The schools are not very good at teaching about whole-body issues.  They will give you a drug for diarrhea, a drug for anemia, and a drug for depression, and never think about how the three problems are linked: your intestinal bacteria are out of whack, causing irritation and neurotoxins, leading to symptoms of diarrhea, blood loss, and anxiety.
#4 This diet is not really a diet, but a lifestyle change. In some cases, it will take 1-2 years. For others, it will need to be a permanent change. This is a really, really hard thing to do. It makes quitting smoking look like a joke. A lot of people just aren't going to be willing to make the needed changes.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Summer fun...plan on it

Summer is officially here, and the list of projects and chores weighs down like the hot humid weather we've been experiencing. This summer, we intend to build a second greenhouse, re-plastic the first greenhouse, build a new chick brooder and sheep corral, bring a new ram into our flock, expand the orchard, and install raised beds of herbs. The house renovations continue: gut and repair the kitchen and bedroom and install new insulation/wiring/sheetrock, tear down and rebuild the rotting porch. Some earthmoving projects are in the works too, curtain drain to dry out our basement, and drain tile to dry out the gardens. Of course, there are many things that need doing every day (livestock care, weeding, feeding family, housecleaning maybe).

Wow, I think to myself, that's a mighty impressive to-do list. Let's get to work....

But wait a minute, there isn't anything fun on that list. Okay, not exactly true, work can and should be fun, and there's satisfaction in a job well done. However, that list is still missing something.

So here's our other list. Visit a state park and go kayaking, attend our friend's wedding, throw a 50th anniversary party for my parents, see a movie in a theater, go on 6 hikes where we've never hiked before, catch and eat fish, attend workshops at the library, ride our bikes from Burlington to the islands in northern Lake Champlain, listen to concerts, try a corn maze, host an awesome birthday party for Jonah, eat really big hamburgers, go out for ice cream, sleep in the tent, go to an amusement park, watch the Perseid meteor shower.

We have (finally) learned that if we don't plan for fun, it won't happen on its own. We post both lists on the fridge. Will we work and play till we're utterly spent, and ready for a quiet winter by the woodstove with a book? Yup...plan on it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Summer! Well, maybe....

With the warm temperatures we've been experiencing since early May, it felt like summer was here. However, we had a very wintery storm on May 25; seven inches of snow (yes, really), and freezing temperatures. Two days later it was 80 F again, and we were mowing around the last stubborn snowdrifts. June 2nd was warm and sunny, until it wasn't, and our farm was blasted with hail, lightning, wind, and torrential rain. Weather records show that this was the wettest May ever (going back to 1884 records) with over eight inches of rain.

In our six years on our homestead, we've had some pretty big losses to extreme weather. Our first summer, it rained and rained, slugs were everywhere, late blight took our tomatoes and potatoes, and most of our vegetables just plain drowned. We've had wind and hail knock over our corn and hay crops. High winds have also knocked down fences, ripped away tarps, and sent animal shelters flying. Last summer was the siege of the insects: cutworms, hornworms, cucumber beetles, potato beetles. Every disaster is sad and disappointing, but we try to learn from each experience.

Unfortunately, all this wild weather is probably the "new normal". The climate models have been out for years, and it's pretty straighforward....if you put greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, it traps extra energy from the sun. Extra energy means more power for more extreme events.

Of course, we should all do what we can to cut down on greenhouse gases. But we also need to deal with the change that is already here, by planning resiliance into our homesteads and farms. At our place, we're  working on drip irrigation for dry spells, swales and ditches for soggy times, strong structures for wind and hail, and diverse plantings in the hopes that every year, at least some things will thrive.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spring is here!

Just when I think winter will hold sway forever, the sun creeps higher and the snow evaporates. While it it is still pretty cold, and rather muddy, it is finally spring in northern Vermont. This year, the wood frogs started chorusing on April 24th, and the spring peepers on April 25th. Of course there is the usual cacophony of birds staking out territories. We've also had a few special visitors: a great blue heron, a northern harrier, an American kestrel, and some woodcocks calling at dusk. Going out at night with a flashlight, we see iridescent ground beetles out hunting, and nightcrawlers creeping about. I expect to hear the American toads calling soon, and the bluebirds and tree swallows bickering over nesting boxes.

As organic farmers, we appreciate all these visitors. It means that we are doing a good job providing them with all the essentials: clean water, food, shelter, and places to raise babies. The more diverse the ecosystem, the more resilient it is.

If land is treated harshly, with chemicals, overgrazing, or plowing and planting every inch, it will not sustain diverse populations of animals or plants. Eventually it won't produce the intended crop, either. By maintaining land in way that is good for wild creatures, we also maintain land in a way that will keep it productive for human animals.

Happy spring, everyone!