Archive for the ‘From Local Farms – The Series’ Category

From Local Farms – Sunworks Farm


My time with Ron Hamilton of Sunworks Farm left me drowning in fascinating content – making this the most challenging edit to date. Ron and Sheila have been at this game longer than all the others I’ve covered so far, and have achieved a level of success in the organics business that places them as leaders in their industry. Being the biggest also makes you a target for criticism, and it seems like one of the emerging local ethics-of-food debates is whether one can get this big without compromising values. Ron addresses scale, growth, ethics, feed, conventional vs. organic practices both outdoors in the summer and in-barn in the winter, among many, many other topics.

I find feed interesting – and specifically the quest for farmers to achieve high-protein diets required to build meat without the use of soy. Ron says the roasted soy they use has 38-40% protein while the next best protein source, peas, has 20-22% if conventional, and  18-20% if organic. Problem is, much more than 15% peas in the ration doesn’t agree with the chickens’ tummies, and makes them sick. Another feed element that helps is alfalfa meal at 18% protein, also offering a greenness to the flavor of the meats. It currently comprises 12% of the ration. But the challenge remains: how to get birds to put on meat fast, with the use of local feed. I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked that Ron knew all this stuff off the top of his head, you might too if you had to feed 8000 lbs of it a day to your birds.

One of the many new frontiers for Sunworks Farm is a brand new value-add facility where they’ll capture current waste products [chicken livers, wing  tips, etc] into patés, stocks, and other prepared foods on a large scale. I love the idea – more locally produced organic products, they can reduce waste from the animals the already produce, and it creates a new revenue stream for them in the value-add game. They also have a new facility with giant drum composters to handle waste they generate, turning it into healthful-for-the-land compost, and continue to build innovative facilities as practicality requires. It’s an exciting time in the world of Sunworks Farm, and they’ll be a key player to watch as the regional, ethical, and artisan food industry moves forward.

From Local Farms – Serben Free Range


Jered Serben is the 4th generation in his family to tackle farming out by Smoky Lake. Over the generations, his family went from traditional pioneered diversified family farm [was there a method other than organic in the early 1900's?], to industrial conventional  factory pork farming – all the way back to natural, free range practices. Having grown up immersed in the business of  ‘factory farming’ pork, he has an unusually credible position to speak to that approach. He even takes us for a little tour of one of the remaining now-vacant pork barns from that era that still stands on the property. The pork’s now chemical free and free ranged – as are his chickens, turkeys, and sheep.

Unlike his great-grandfather’s, you can buy Jered’s products online via their website.

Other episodes in this series

From Local Farms – Sundog Organic Farm


Jenny’s visual arts background explained for me why their stall at the City Market is so darn eye appealing. The overall vibe compels you to stop for a look at the myriad of colors, shapes, textures, and artful display of it all. In my mind, these folks help fill an important void in our regional food culture, making a brilliant diversity of veg available to the masses. Not seeking the conventional, the easiest, the biggest, or the most shelf-stable, they get excited about the fragile, the tasty, and the different. Gardening has certainly taught me that many lovely taste experiences are missed simply because a variety doesn’t hold well in industrial distribution systems. One of the great advantages of buying local, fresh, organic produce from people like these guys is that you don’t need somebody else to decide which cultivar you’ll eat because it’s shelf-stable and we’re used to it – you can choose the cultivars you’ll eat because they’re exciting, healthful, and tasty.

Coming from a multi-generation history of local organic produce farming, Sundog Organic Farm seems to have quickly positioned themselves as an inspiring and key player in defining and enhancing the character of our local food.

FROM LOCAL FARMS – Nature’s Green Acres


Shannon & Danny Ruzicka at Nature’s Green Acres are pretty tough not to like, their kids are cute, their farm is neat, their dog is gentle, their land is gorgeous. But tossing all that bias aside, how they raise their beef, chicken, and pork is truly remarkable. Clearly heavily influenced by Joel Salatin [If you haven't watched Food Inc, you should] and well read and mentored in contemporary sustainable agricultural practices, these two are operating at an incredibly high standard right out of the gates.

For example. I’d arrived early in the morning, and hopped in the truck to tag along while Danny did his morning chores tending to the pigs. First off, their pen looked pretty nice. Their water’s overhead and always clean, the ground was not nuked to bare dirt as pigs tend to do, and the animals looked rather…clean. Didn’t even stink. He proceeded to hook up the truck to the pen and move it onto fresh knee-deep-grass. The shocker: he’d done it the evening before. Every morning. Every evening. Every day. The pigs are on deep, thick, fresh pasture essentially every few hours. I probably looked a little stunned.

The good news is they do the same for their chickens. I had arrived with a question from my wife wanting to know why their chicken was so exceptionally good. It could be their ration of 90% wheat/10% peas [they avoid soy, the standard protein-rich item in feed, to avoid GMOs], could be the grass – I left without a conclusive answer. As for their Nouveau Beef – a brand they’re creating for milk-and-grass-fed 6-7 month-old beef calves slaughtered in the fall – they’re tougher to spot when you visit. They have just under 20 cow-calf pairs on 200 acres of beautiful land. The way I figure it, that’s more than 5 acres per animal. And it sounds like the next step is implementing a rotational grazing program to further improve the health of the soil, grasses, animals, and ultimately us. How nice of them.

The bottom line is I’m a huge fan of what they’re doing already, and where they’re headed. They’re happy to sell sides and whole animals [important to me], are completely transparent, and as best they know how are growing the healthiest food they can in the healthiest way for the land. What more could you ask from the farmer who raises your meats?