62 Mail Order Chicks Later…

So, we’re raising 62 meat chickens.

After finishing up evening chores yesterday, I walked into our make-shift greenhouse (the room below our kitchen area where I’ve been nursing various seedlings) to find a whole new set of tender challenges. In a metal incubator set on the seeding table were 62 tiny chicks peeping and scuttling like 1st graders let out for recess after a week of rain. The owner purchased them online and they arrived during the day with only one chick DOA (a good turnout).

The chicks are Cornish crosses, so they’ll quickly lose that adorable yellow-fluff and transform into dirty white little monsters. Their legs will forever be too bulky for their bodies; their breasts will grow heavy and tip the pullets toward the ground. Cornish crosses are the meat industry standard: their modus operandi during their short lives is to eat – constantly and furiously – as they mature to processing weight within six to eight weeks. Past that? They die off by ten weeks.

Totally crazy, right? After working with both Heritage meat birds and some gorgeous layers, I’m a little apprehensive to work with these franken-chicks. Plus, this will be the first time I’m raising something solely for slaughter. I’ve been on most sides of the animal industry equation (distribution, retail, slaughterhouse, dairy), so I guess it’s about time that I take on the system as a whole.

{Beautiful and healthy layers, a far cry from a mature Cornish cross}

My newest venture notwithstanding, I’m definitely not eating meat anytime soon; I’m viewing these next eight weeks as an experiment in sustainable meat production. To begin, I picked up a copy of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens. Until next time…

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A Grand Change

It’s been almost 6 months since my last post, and in that time I’ve managed to quit my full-time job, buy a car, rent our Brooklyn apartment and pack our most necessary belongings into the trunk of our Subaru Outback. It was about time that Noah and I began realizing our dream of starting a farm: post-grad life in the city was making us restless. We said bittersweet goodbyes to all of our closest friends and moved our lives (temporarily) to the great state of Vermont where we begin our farmer training. Of course, we threw ourselves a bangin’ goodbye party in our gutted apartment for all of our friends. Balcony, keg, beer pong, good company, what more?

Our journey began here, interning at Consider Bardwell Farm during their busiest time of year: kidding season, when all of their 92 milking does give birth.



Sadly, our time in Vermont is already coming to an end. We’ve fallen head over Muck boots for this tiny village called West Pawlet and of course, the farm. We’ve met some pretty incredible folks during our time here, not the least of whom are the farmers. It’d be impossible to sum up all that we’ve learned in just a single post. Instead, I’ll offer a video of what fills our days:

Next up? Grand ol’ Washington state. Barring any more car trouble (check engine light blinked on yesterday), in four days, we’ll be packing up our lives once more and trekking it across the country where we’ll be interning at Pine Stump Farms. I’ll be posting a map of our route later this week; we have just 10 days to get ourselves across the continent!


Dirty Girls – Meet the Urban Women Farmers of New York City

Women farmers have hit the big time – the BUSTy, feminist, big time. I can barely believe it, but if you pick-up the Ocotober/November issue of BUST magazine you’ll see my humble name in the table of contents! “Dirty Girls: Resourceful urban farmers are giving new meaning to the term asphalt jungle. By Stephanie Fisher” Over the summer I spent a month running around Brooklyn interviewing women farmers – from bees to sub-irrigated planters to organic vegetables, all of these seven women are doing their part to bring a little bit of nature into this hectic gotham. The women also gave us some farm-centric projects that you can do at home, like a low tunnel cold frame and beet infused vodka. Check out the issue (it’s the eco issue, so there’s tons of good stuff) and meet a few of the beautiful women farmers of New York City.


Craft Fairs, Honey Festivals, and the Nation Magazine – Oh My!

Ok, so that wasn’t the best play on the famous Wizard of Oz mantra, but I tried. This weekend is choc-full-of exciting events here in New York. Saturday and Sunday is the World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science. Be prepared for reclaimed disaster relief housing, vertical gardens, and robots that teach you things. I’m nerding out over the whole event, but I’m easily most pumped for BUST Magazine’s sub-section Craftacular! (Also, keep an eye out for the Oct/Nov issue of BUST! Yours truly wrote the feature story on urban farm women in NYC!)

Craftacular is BUST Magazine’s outdoor shopping village featuring 50+ vendors, deals, and demos. Check-out hand weaving, mozzarella making, and more!

Purchase tickets to Craftacular and the Maker Faire here. See you there!

Do you like honey? Do you like the beach? If you answered “yes” to these questions, then let me propose this: what are you doing tomorrow, Saturday September 17th beginning at 10AM? It’s the premier of the NYC Honey Festival at Rockaway Beach, sponsored by rooftop farm Brooklyn Grange, and featuring one of the women I interviewed for my BUST Magazine article, the wonderful Meg Paska of Brooklyn Homesteader.

So what can you expect: beekeeping demos, food raffles, cooking demos with the folks at Brooklyn Kitchen, honey-beer brewing with the guys at Sixpoint, honey mustard pickles from Horman’s Best Pickles, and a honey-themed dinner on the boardwalk after dark. Pack some sunscreen, a bathing suit, and your beekeeping veil and head down to the Rockaways for a new twist on a day at the beach. For more information, visit http://www.nychoneyfest.com.

In other food news, the Nation magazine premiered its annual food issue. This is an important one for the food world, as it carries pieces on food economics, crisis, and the environment. The 2011 issue features a roster of a who’s who in food systems celebrity, including articles by the likes of Michael Pollan, change-maker Vandana Shiva, Raj Patel, Frances Moore Lappe, Anna Lappe, Eric Schlosser, Daniel Imhoff, and Civil Eats editor Paula Crossfield. Check-out the full list of articles here, and be sure to pick-up your copy on newsstands today.


Real Food Challenge – Gearing Up for The Year Ahead

Have you heard about Real Food Challenge? It’s a non-profit supported by a network of student leaders across the country who are working toward shifting 1 billion dollars in campus dining money to “real food” by 2020. Isn’t that amazing? I’ve been working with them since July on a few projects, and I am perpetually impressed by the enthusiasm and passion of this network. As we’re gearing up for an uber-busy year ahead, I wrote a piece for the Real Food Challenge blog in reaction to the USDA’s bail-out of the chicken industry to remind us of why we work.

{Originally posted on the Real Food Challenge blog on August 31, 2011.}

Throughout August and September, the Real Food Challenge is hosting regional summer trainings for student leaders all across the country. Student leaders will be participating in intensive, four-day trainings as they prepare for a jam-packed year ahead of them. Come September, they’ll embark on a year filled with campaigning and strategizing on their campuses. The leaders are working towards the Real Food Challenge’s long term goal of shifting $1 billion of campus dining funds away from industrial food and agriculture to more sustainable, community-oriented farms and processors – or ‘real food’ – by 2020.

These regional trainings couldn’t come at a more relevant time. Last Monday, the USDA purchased $40 million in chicken products in a move to bail out the chicken industry. (Thankfully, they’ve pledged to donate the food to soup kitchens and families in need.) The chicken industry (read: industrial agricultural conglomerates) cited the rising cost of production and the apparent struggle to turn a profit as reasons for the bail out. We can’t help but wonder where these funds are actually going to end up, and something tells us that it won’t be in the farmers’ wallets. Some argue that the bail out was necessary, but this is just another example of the government supporting the industrial producers who are “too big to fail” as the smaller, real food farmers are left in the dust.

This is why we need passionate student leaders and people like you – because real food farmers, those who are farming for our environment, our animals, and our communities, don’t have the USDA to bail them out when times get tough. They instead depend on a network of people who believe in shifting power away from the industrial conglomerates that abuse the environment, laborers, and animals, and into the hands of real food farmers.

The USDA transferred $40 million into the chicken industry, but Real Food Challenge hopes to shift $1 billion of campus dining funds to real food farmers and processors over the next nine years. Imagine what kind of change $1 billion affords: increased access to markets, higher wages for laborers, improved farm infrastructure, just to name a few. The prospect of that change is exciting, and should empower our student leaders, grassroots leaders, field organizers, and anyone passionate about transforming our food system as we continue working toward our goal.

Don’t forget to check out this inspiring video of the 2011 Northeast Regional Summit! It captures the importance and influence of the Real Food Challenge’s radical regional student summits:


No Goat Left Behind

{image courtesy of Heritage Foods USA}

Goat cheese is delicious – creamy and tangy, it’s perfect in an omelette, on a salad, or with some roasted beets. And goats themselves are the funniest little creatures. They have dynamic personalities and, as pack animals, they’re incredibly social. I spent some time with a herd of goats during my farm women research up at Cross Island Farms on the Thousand Islands. That fall day, the herd was checking out two new additions to their family:


As the women were trying to size-up their new sisters, the billies were off in a neighboring field mowing down some unruly brush. Dani chose to keep her billies to use as future agri-tourism for the farm. She envisioned them pulling wagons, accompanying children on farm tours, and aiding in the upkeep of their fields.

However, most dairy farms don’t have the capacity to keep their billies, so the males are culled at birth. Heritage Foods USA has a solution to the problem of billies on dairies that would not only give dairy farmers a fair price for their male goats, but it would also extend the market for undervalued goat meat. Check out the video below with the wonderful Anne Saxelby of Saxelby Cheesemongers here in NYC as she introduces “No Goat Left Behind,” Heritage Foods’ cleverly named goat program which begins in Goatober.


The Greenhorns Movie Comes to Brooklyn! This Sunday Only!

Have you heard about the Greenhorns? You haven’t? Then it’s about time you got to know this awesome organization! Its mission is to recruit, promote, and support young farmers across America. How cool is that? The average age of the American farmer in 2002 (the last available ag census data we have) was 55 – and the number continues to climb as the farming generation gets older, and less young people name “agriculture” as a preferred profession. But the Greenhorns is here to change that! As an aspiring farmer (who qualifies as young for now…), I can’t help but nerd-out over the Greenhorns’ commitment to encouraging more young people to go into farming.

As part of its non-profit venture, the folks over at the Greenhorns have produced a film that explores the lives of young, American farmers. Their hopes is that the film will inspire and entice more young people to chose farming. The film has been highly anticipated for the past three years in the sustainable agriculture community, so I’m super pumped to announce that the film is coming to Brooklyn this Sunday at the Bell House! Tickets are dirt cheap (mind the pun) at $5 in advance, $7 at the door. Music, snacks, and agricultural inspiration are guaranteed to be had by all!

Don’t forget to check out the Greenhorns website, blog, and radio show hosted by the Heritage Foods Radio Network!