Over the last three years, we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in setting up a vegetable production site including 5 greenhouses. The MAPAQ has generously supported us with hundreds of thousands more, through various subsidies.
It turns out that managing the production of organic vegetables is not very difficult, but many hands are needed for seeding, transplanting, weeding, harvesting, washing, packing and so on. Seasonal labor certainly poses some challenges, even though the federal government has several programs.
The biggest problem is that vegetables are perishable, low cost items, so we need to sell them in bundles (baskets) to make the logistics work. Unfortunately, we have not been able to reach our target of 400-600 vegetable basket subscriptions by a long shot. It just seems that consumers are not really interested in organic vegetable subscriptions and competition for clients is rather fierce. We found that resellers are notoriously unreliable. We really hate to throw out perfectly good veggies!
Right now, the vegetables represent less than 7% of our total business and take up 70% of our time. We love growing veggies, but selling them is a drag. We are currently not planning to grow veggies during the 2022 season. But things may change quickly!
We sell liquid honey that is not pasteurized, ultra-filtrated or blended, so it will crystallize (or granulate) over time. This is a normal process. You can heat up the honey gently “au bain mari” to liquify it again.
We also offer creamed honey. We prime the honey with very fine crystals so that the consistency is more like butter (depending on the temperature). This is the honey that we prefer.
Raw honey is very popular in Europe. Nothing is done to prevent crystallization, so it is honey in its purest form. The granules are course, like sugar.
Most honey on the market is pasteurized, blended and ultra-filtrated, because people generally like liquid honey that stays liquid. For the cheapest imported honeys there are some concerns that corn syrup or another sweetener could be part of the mix.
No pasteurization. We try to heat the honey as little as possible, because heated honey produces HMF (Hydroxymethylfurfural) and HMF gives honey a bad taste over time. There is no need for pasteurization because honey contains so little water that bacteria or yeast cannot grow on it. That is why bees use it as their winter store.
No ultra-filtration. Ultra-filtration removes much of the pollen and the taste. Local pollen could help alleviating allergies.
No blending. Flowers bloom during different times of the year, so each honey flow has a unique bouquet. We usually have linden (or basswood) honey which is tangy, spring honey (mostly dandelion) and darker fall honey (clover, goldenrod and asters) available. We have a hard time making pure clover honey were we live.
Mead. We are making mead (honey wine) according to an age-old secret Belgian recipe (merci Charles!), but we are unfortunately not allowed to sell it in Québec. So, you need an invite to taste.
Not all parts of a beef are equally tender. Some parts are only useful for ground beef, some parts make excellent slow roasts. Others are a little less tender, but more tasty. Some parts that are unspectacular on their own can become mind-blowing once smoked or marinated.
The ribeye, tomahawk and ribsteak are ways of cutting from the prime rib, the most delicious and expensive part of a beef. They are the ideal steaks.
The tenderloin is the most tender, but not the most tasty, part of the beef.
The round is less popular, not so tender and contains no marbling. We use it for jerky, smoked meat, etc.
We consider the tri-tip as the best kept butcher’s secret: use our special tri-tip rub for a spectacular eating experience.
Beef cooking basics
The process of raising flavorful and tender beef doesn’t stop when the cattle leave the pasture. Cooking strategy matters. A lot. There are two rules:
If the temperature of your beef changes too rapidly during the cooking process, it can cause the meat fibers to contract, which will make your meat tough.
A rapid temperature change will also cause moisture to be escape from the beef through condensation. Moisture is a key component of beef tenderness.
When thawing beef, always remove the original wrapping paper, cellophane, or butcher paper to prevent the tastes and smells of the packaging from leaching into the meat. It is also a good idea to rinse your frozen beef immediately after removing it from the packaging to remove any ice that may have absorbed the flavors and smells of the packaging.
Remove your steaks from the refrigerator an hour before cooking so your steaks can warm up to room temperature before they are thrown on the grill.
For best results when grilling, begin by searing the outside of your steaks to create a crust to lock in moisture. Then turn the grill to low to finish the cooking process on low (slow) heat to prevent excessive moisture losses and protein fiber contraction.
What determines eating quality?
High quality lean beef requires slightly lower cooking temperatures and slightly shorter cooking times than marbled beef, yet marbling in itself is a poor indicator of quality. Continental beef such as Limousins and Belgian Blues are less marbled. Angus is marbled and Wagyu is extremely marbled.
Age is also a poor indicator of quality. Slow growing animals do not taste better.
Eating quality depends first and foremost on whether a beef is properly finished. Properly finished beef has lots of microscopic fat and a fat cap is present .
Most beeves finish around 750-900 lb carcass weight (500-650 lbs of meat). Males from large breeds such as Charolais, Wagyu or BBB should exceed this range. Females from small breeds such as Galloway or Highland cattle can be butchered at slightly lower weight.
A lot of direct marketed and especially grass-fed beef is butchered at much lower weights (unfinished!). This type of beef is sometimes referred to as baby beef. All we can say is that it is hard to give good advice on how to cook an inferior product.
Dry aging is another very important determinant of eating quality. Direct marketed beef carcasses are usually hung for 2-3 weeks. For dry aging, a fat cap (finished beef!) is important to prevent waste and spoilage.
Some parts of beef, such as the rib primal and New York strip can be aged longer. Water loss during the aging process and enzymatic reactions in the meat are in large part responsible for a more concentrated taste and a more elevated price tag.
We have a quota for producing 500 laying hens and we are allowed to produce 300 broilers per year.
Our laying hens live outside when the weather permits and they eat surprising quantities of grass and bugs. They also fertilize our fields. In nature, birds often follow herbivores to clean out the patties and thus they reduce fly populations and prevent diseases like pinkeye in cattle.
The biggest challenge is predation, even with electrified netting and frequent rotations.
We have long been conflicted about raising meat birds on pasture. Modern meat birds are highly susceptible to temperature and humidity changes, and virtually unable to walk after 40 days. Subsequently, mortality is unacceptably high, and animal welfare compromised from the start.
We turned to genetics to reduce mortality. We tried to raise (overly) expensive Bresse chickens for a while, but settled on a hardy red meat chicken. Mortality is now very low, but growth is slower. Therefore, it costs about twice as much to raise these birds.
Because our production is limited by law, we are always looking for other small farmers who want to raise these chickens for us.
We get multiple calls every week from people looking for 100% grass-fed chicken. Sorry folks, but it makes us a little cranky. Before you are call us, please please please understand that chickens are not herbivores. Despite what Steven Gundry says, chickens can no more survive on grass (and insects) alone, than you can! Shame on those who lie to you.
Grass-fed beef is said to have a better composition of omega-3/omega-9, CLAs. It is said to be better for the environment, better for animal welfare and even to sequester enough carbon to mitigate its impact on climate change. On the other hand, grass-fed beef takes much longer to finish, thus ‘wasting’ precious resources and emitting more greenhouse gasses per pound of meat produced.
Since grass is their staple, we do all we can to make the grass grow better: think of timely stand renewal, managed intensive paddock rotations and environmentally sound manure management.
After a pregnancy of 9 months, all our cows calve when the deer fawn in the spring. In the fall our beeves are weaned. They weigh anywhere from 600-800 lbs.
The cows return to the field and eat hay, while the calves spend the winter in a three-sided barn, protected from the elements, eating grass silage (fermented grass) and recycled vegetable cuttings. We try to keep them growing at 2.5 lbs/day, about half the rate of growth of conventional feedlot cattle.
Come spring, these beeves now weigh about 1200 lbs. We need another season of pasturing (with added vegetables) for the beeves to be ‘finished’ and yield an 800 lbs carcass. Those that stay for part of the winter will reach around 900 lbs carcasse weight and they will get better as we go. As the grow, the growth rate goes down, but microscopic fat, marbling and fat cap increases. Finishing beeves is the most important part in terms of eating quality. Read more about this here.
Our grass-fed-and-finished beef takes about 18-24 months to finish, compared to 12 months industry standard for conventional feedlot beef with hormones. No wonder that it is a little more expensive.
Since the environment and climate are among the most important reasons for choosing grass-fed beef, it is within our mandate to improve the efficiency of our grass-fed program. The addition of vegetable cuttings and our quest for top-notch genetics are integral parts of our commitment to sustainable agriculture: improved efficiency means less waste and less GGEs.
The Berkshire breed is known for marbling and the pH and juiciness of the meat.
Compared to other heritage breeds, whose claims to fame are… rather inventive, most of our clients say they had no idea what pork was supposed to taste like, before they tried our Berkshire.
That is certainly true for some cuts, but there is definitely a place for crossbred pigs on our farm as well. Our crossbred Duroc pigs are leaner… and cheaper.
Unfortunately, Berkshires aren’t great mothers, and they do not have a lot of babies. So raising them is quite a lot more expensive, especially if one elects to follow humane methods of raising pigs from birth to plate.
We find that raising pigs on pasture is easy and it has only a small impact on taste, costs, animal welfare, the environmental etc. That is, if it is done well.
For us, doing it right does not mean forcing the animals to be outside rain or shine, year round. It means giving the animals a choice. So we have to ensure a good environment inside as well.
The harder part, and where the more sustainability gains can be achieved, is in the maternity, where ‘natural’ and ‘humane’ do not always go hand-in-hand, and where diseases are usually rampant. On our farm, Berkshire pigs are raised under the best possible humane conditions, without antibiotics, from the day they are born. This is not some vague promise. Our ‘humane Berkshire’ maternity costs are four times higher than for those for a conventional pig. No wonder our pigs are a little more expensive.
Biyearly blood test indicate that our herd is exempt of all major pig diseases and we enforce strict biosecurity measures to keep it that way.
And the hardest part of course is genetics. There is probably more variation within breeds than among breeds, in terms of meat quality and efficiency. Efficiency is important because it limits waste and thus saves the environment and the farm finances. So, for us, it is certainly not enough to raise Berkshires. We want to raise the best Berkshires, and this implies artificial insemination and matching breeding pairs based on DNA samples.