How do you find good meat?

20140729-184224-67344093.jpgI get inquiries often from people looking to buy quality meat whether it is beef, pork, or chicken. Since we are perennially sold out I end up talking to these nice folks trying to help them find a good source of meat that they can trust. Everyone is at different stages on the path to better food. Some having just found the path and some much further down but they all seem to be struggling with how to tell if they are getting good meat because they don’t know what questions to ask. They’ve heard the horror stories about factory farmed meat but trying to find an alternate they trust is something they are struggling with. Since I’m not selling them, I’m considered to be a trustworthy source of who to go to next and how to know if they are a good source. Like my reading recommendations, I thought I’d summarize what I tell them here for everyone to read.

General questions

  1. Know your farmer. If you are concerned about where you meat comes from, then go to the farm and see the animals living conditions for yourself. What are proper living conditions? If it looks like a Normal Rockwell painting, you can feel pretty good about things. If it looks like a junk yard, or the surface of the moon, there MAY be issues. Understand farming isn’t always picture perfect but things should look healthy by and large. The fields, the grass, the trees. Heck, are the roads maintained? If people don’t take care of their farm, they likely don’t take care of their animals.
  2. If the farmer doesn’t give tours, or won’t let you on the farm to see their operation. Find someone else.
  3. Who does the farmer’s processing. Around here it’s going to be Chadhry’s, Acre Station, Key Packing, or Quality Packers/Dean Street Processing. Any of these are fine. If it’s someone else, then have the farmer explain why they utilize someone else. Are they a humane processor? Are they USDA inspected? A fine animal can become bad cuts of meat when handled by a poor processor.
  4. How are animals transported to the processor? How are they kept cool? How long do they spend on the trailer? Death is a part of life on a farm. However the animal should be kept cool and calm. The only bad moment in that animals life should be the moment it is humanely stunned with no pain. If you want to see a really good Hollywood movie on animal handling (a rarity), you can watch Temple Grandin here for free if you have Amazon Prime.
  5. How is the meat transported back from the processor? How is it kept at the proper temperature? Coolers? Coolers with ice? Plug in coolers? Refrigerated truck? Is it still safely frozen when it get’s home?
  6. Are you inspected as a NC meat handler? To sell meat by the cut in NC you have to be inspected by the state. Is your farmer inspected? You’d be surprised who isn’t.
  7. How is the meat kept frozen and stored on the farm? What is the farmers backup plan should he lose power? How is the temperature monitored?


  1. What does grass-fed mean to the farmer? Have him explain.
  2. What does grass finished mean to the farmer? Finishing is the process of building a fat layer onto the cow, increasing marbling and flavor in the cow. Many “grass-fed” cattle are put into sequestration for the last week/month(s) of their life and fed corn to finish them. This isn’t grass-fed or finished in my opinion. The entire animal is changed by this corn diet. Does the farmer actually grass finish or simply grass raise then pour on the corn and then sell “grass raised” beef?
  3. What is the farmer’s process for finishing their cow? Does he have a process?
  4. How does the farmer know when a cow is finished? By look, by experience? Have him explain it. What does he look for on the cow? Listen for things that tell you the farmer is watching each cow individually and only processing when the cow is ready, not when the bank account is low.
  5. Does the farmer have meat all year round? It’s pretty much impossible to have high quality, grass only finished cattle except for a few months per year, usually in late spring and in the fall. Any other time the cow won’t finish as well because the available forage isn’t of high enough quality. If the farmer finishes X cows per month, all year round, something else is going on. It may simply be that their winter cows don’t have quite the quality, which is fine. But if they are supplementing with something else, you need to ask the next question.
  6. What do you supplement with. Nothing is a good answer as at least it’s easy for you to make your decision however most farmers supplement with something. Kelp, silage, corn, bran, soybeans, hay, cotton seed meal. Each supplement has its own issues. Soybeans are the most heavily sprayed food crop in the world and 99% of them are GMO. Cotton seed is not a food crop and is not treated as one. Eating the meal from cotton seed is putting things into what you are eating that aren’t even regulated. Even Organic farmers can feed some of these things so know what the cow is eating, if it’s anything besides grass.
  7. Genetics matter a lot to a farmer. However they really don’t matter that much to you as the consumer. I often get asked what breed our animals are but in reality, it’s the raising that matters more to you than the breed.


  1. Simple first question. What do your pigs eat besides what they forage for. I’ve been to many farms and nearly all of them feed corn to their pigs. I’ve had farmers tell me you simply cannot raise pigs without corn. I took two 800 pound hogs to slaughter and they’d never had commercial feed in their life. They seemed to grow ok (sarcasm). A pig on a diet of corn isn’t a pig you want to pay a big premium for. It’s better than a CAFO pig, for sure. But just because it’s a heritage pig and roams around a bit in a paddock while snacking on unlimited corn doesn’t mean it automatically has a better health profile when it comes to Omega 3/6 ratios and the like.
  2. What breed of pig do you raise. Large blacks? Berkshires? Yorkshires? Ossabaws? My favorite, the “farmers cross” which is simply a random mix of various breeds. It does matter which breed you are buying when it comes to pork. Not because one is good and one is bad, but because there are lard pigs and meat pigs. Lard pigs are throwback to when lard was highly valued because we used it for everything like cooking, preserving, medicine, etc. A lard pig like an Ossabaw is a very old breed. Meat pigs are larger, longer, and leaner. They are bred to produce more usable meat on the same body, and to minimize fat. Both have excellent meat on them, the lard pigs and the meat pigs. You simply will want to know what you getting, and why the farmer chooses that type of pig. It does matter if you are buying non-heritage breed. Modern breeds have had the flavor bred out of them. It’s “the other white meat” campaign that was so popular for so long. The meat is flavorless and dry. Get a heritage breed pig to know what pork actually tastes like.
  3. Does the farmer castrate their male pigs? If so, how old are they when castrated? Anything beyond 7 days is frowned upon by the welfare people. Some places are banning piglet castration entirely. The issue with uncastrated pigs is that some boars can develop “boar taint” which imparts an off flavor in the meat. For the record we DO castrate our pigs and we get them as early as possible as it’s easier on us and the pig. Walter Jeffries, who is a remote mentor of mine and is the source of the previous link, has done lots of research on castrating and has written plenty on it. You can learn all you want on his site.


  1. How are the chickens housed? A barn, a Salatin style chicken tractor, a mobile house? How do the chickens get forage with their housing? Chickens need to take dust baths, to scratch for bugs, to eat grass. How are they getting that and how often?
  2. Free range? Meat chickens need to be confined for their own safety. However are they confined by poultry netting on fresh grass daily or cooped up in a small run with no grass and no bugs? It makes a difference.
  3. Like pigs, chickens “need corn” according to conventional wisdom. As far as I know, we are the only grower who doesn’t feed chickens corn. Chickens do need grain and our no grain meat birds we are raising now are an experiment to see if we can raise chickens without grain. However you should know how much of a chickens diet is grain vs how much is forage.
  4. Is your grower growing Cornish cross birds? This is the breed that represents 99% of the chicken you buy in the store. Cornish cross have often been called Frankenchickens. They grow unbelievable fast and they can quickly grow so large that their legs break under their weight. Many producers in this market choose freedom rangers because they grow only slightly slower but are able to still be a fully functional chicken. You can have what you want, but knowing what breed can tell you something about your farmer.
  5. It’s common to process chickens on farm in NC. However, that means you should look at the processing area and be comfortable with the cleanliness and attention to detail. When does the farmer process and how often? How many birds per day? Some farmers will trade some birds for help on processing day. You’ll never be more comfortable with the processing than when you’ve been part of it yourself. Is that an option?
  6. In order to process on farm, the farmer has to be inspected by a NC regulator twice per year. Is your farmer inspected? If not, it’s illegal for him to sell chickens to you. Many farmers don’t know this and think they are exempt. They aren’t.


Why yes I do have some reading recommendations

I give a tour about once per week to some family who is interested in learning more about their food and where it comes from. Lately I’ve been getting the question of what to recommend for people to read as they continue on their journey to good food. Rather than trying to answer everyone individually, I thought I’d make some recommendations via the blog. That helps those of you who haven’t or can’t make it to the farm for a tour and those who do who will now have a handy list.

In no particular order.

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. This book is a great read on eating local. Barbara is an excellent writer and this experiment on eating local they performed with their family is a great story on food miles and reconnecting with the seasons. I actually reread this book in 2016 and it’s still as good and pertinent as ever. It’s actually interesting to read it now as she talks about the local food movement because back when she wrote it, there really wasn’t a local food movement. We’ve come so far since her book.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Or anything by Michael Pollan. Michael isn’t a farmer, but he does a great job of articulating the story about why real food matters.

Farmacology. This book was one I read after watching the authors Google talk which is free on Youtube and I highly recommend.

Make the bread, buy the butter. A lot of people on this path get overwhelmed by all the life changes that accompany changing your diet. I don’t agree with every recommendation in this book, but overall it’s a great read and set of recommendations on where to focus your time to get the best bang for the buck with your time in the kitchen.

Folks, this ain’t normal. Or anything by Joel Salatin. Most people know about Joel, but for those that don’t, he’s the godfather of the local farm movement. If you aren’t ready to dive into his book, then you can watch video’s of him here or here. Once you watch these two, YouTube will direct you to the next 100.

Stockman Grass Farmer. If you want to dive into the minutiae of holistic grass ranching, this is the periodical for you. Don’t go down this rabbit trail unless you really want to get into the details.

Allan Savory’s TED talk. Animals and grazing aren’t the problem. They are the solution.

The 64 dollar tomato. A reminder why I garden the way I do, rather than the way the author does.

Anything with Greg Judy. He has a number of videos on YouTube about grazing practices and how to be profitable ranching and grazing.

The Cook and the Gardener. Reconnect your cooking with the seasons with the great read of a cookbook. Yes, you can read cookbooks. It’s not weird. No really.

Backyard Livestock is a primer on keeping animals on your homestead or farm.

And because every book can’t be serious, a book by Christopher Moore. This one is one of my favorites.

Gardening without weeds the easy way

When we have people visit for a tour they are often young parents with new kids. They are just getting into the lifestyle of knowing where your food comes from and they are searching almost every aspect of their diet out and trying to improve it. That means they are finding farmer’s markets, finding farmers like us directly, and finding ways to produce their own food. Some of them are starting their first gardens or are retrying a garden again after having failed in the past.

Whenever someone is new to gardening, we always stop by our garden here on the farm and I try to save them years of labor and frustration by explaining our simple but effective gardening techniques. It’s a challenge to explain to someone what and how it is that we garden and I’ve always struggled to give them something to go back and reference when they leave. My only thing I could point to was Lee Reich’s book, Weedless Gardening which was the book that got me started down our current path and has worked very well for us. The problem is I can tell my recommendation wasn’t going to get read by most people because they are going to drift off into Lasagna Gardening or some other such source of info. When someone isn’t sure how to plant beans, it’s hard to keep them from ordering other books on gardening and getting information overload and frankly that’s what we have with gardening, information overload. Plant 2″ deep, 6″ apart in hills. Prune in this month only. Side dress with bone meal. Plant in acidic soil. Don’t plant in acidic soil. If you start reading all the things each type of plant needs, you need a chemistry degree and 5 different gardens for all the diverse requirements.

Now I’ve discovered (it was made in 2011, I’m slow to find these things out) a movie has been made about the type of gardening we do. It’s called Back to Eden and the best part is the movie is free to watch at the link. Just scroll to the bottom and watch away. They do ask for donations if you are so inclined, something you can decide after you watch it.

The only real difference between what they are doing in the movie and what I do is that I don’t utilize wood chips very often,  I prefer grass clippings and mulched leaves because we have lots of grass and lots of leaves but no chipper.

(Update for 2018, we now utilize wood chips exclusively. Only because we get them so much easier now. Grass clippings work just fine)

Also planting by hand is more pleasant to me in grass than in wood chips as it’s a softer material. The downside is it breaks down faster than wood chips so we have to mulch more often but since we mow the grass anyway, we have to put the clippings somewhere so the reality is, I’ve never had enough mulch for my garden. Rather than go haul in wood chips, I prefer to use the already bagged grass as my mulch and it works just fine. As in the movie, I simply keep 4-6 inches of mulch over my soil and plant into the beds where and when I want. I’ve never had too much mulch but whenever I get below 4 solid inches of compacted mulch (it’s fluffy when you first apply it) I start getting weeds. By adding plenty of grass clippings I am adding weed seeds by the pound but have very few weeds.

I don’t have a compost pile. I did years ago because all the books and experts said you should but I quickly grew tired of the work associated with hauling everything to the pile, turning it regularly, then hauling everything back. Now, anything I compost I compost directly on the garden bed and simply cover it with more grass next time we mow. No special compost turners, no heavy labor flipping a compost pile and beautiful black loamy soil for our garden as the final product. I don’t worry about the brown to green ratio. Any excess nitrogen is off gassed as the grass goes from green to brown sitting on top. I’ve even emptied the chicken coops directly onto the garden beds as an experiment. Chicken poop is known to burn plants due to its high nitrogen content. Even with high concentrations of chicken litter (1/2 of the total mulch or better), we had no adverse effects in our garden and it composted away in short order without turning, moving, etc.

As another experiment with this mulching method, I took two planters that my father had built and did a test on them. My father took the “well-drained soil” idea to new heights when he built these brick planters. The are filled with masonry sand, completely. There is no soil in the planters at all. I believe his plan was to only add soil from the pot he planted from and to water and fertilize where he wanted life. The dry, lifeless sand wouldn’t support life everywhere else and his planters would be weed free. He did grow plants in these planters because he could grown anything anywhere when he wanted to however they still produced weeds so it wasn’t a total success. These planters had been relatively fallow for some years when I decided to try a simple experiment. I took a small weedy section of a planter and added a top layer of grass clippings. I kept the grass there for about a month and left it completely alone. When I pulled back the grass, about half of which was gone through decomposition, the sand in the top inch or so was gone as well. Instead I had a layer of black, soft soil teeming with life. Bugs, worms, etc. I proceeded to mulch the rest of the beds and now if someone wants to see when we are discussing gardening, I show them 6 inches of black loamy soil under my mulch layer. I’ve never tilled, never fertilized, never done anything but add grass and leaves on top and I went from coarse masonry sand to perfect garden soil in less than a year.

If you garden, or want to garden, I recommend you watch Back to Eden and give the recommendations a try in your garden. I know these techniques worked for me.

The questionable link between fat and heart disease

I looks like there is a trending article in the  Wall Street Journal making its way around the inter-web that does a nice job of telling the history of our war on fat and gives some compelling evidence of why it is a failed war on many fronts. The most major failing is that we as Americans are fatter than ever. Certainly fatter than when this war on fat started.

Chilaquiles. Pork sausage, fatty beef, and yes some corn chips. Now that's diet food!
Chilaquiles. Pork sausage, fatty beef, and yes some corn chips. Now that’s diet food!

The article is fairly long and makes a lot of references to studies, both good and bad. It also pokes some pretty big holes in the original studies that supposedly showed that fat is bad for you. The author of this article is pimping her new book, which surprise surprise, is based on the same topic. Now there’s nothing wrong with promoting your book, and based on the one review so far on Amazon (850 reviews as of mid 2017, 4.5 stars average), it needs some attention to get people to buy it. It was only just released (as of May 2014) so I’m not knocking the book, just pointing out the obvious.

I read the critic’s reviews and it looks like a who’s who of the anti-carb movement, all people who have their own books. Again, not really an issue but I like to see a broader cross-section of people before I can believe the hype. However, what I have read sounds pretty good. The author is an investigative journalist and has apparently spent 9 years on this project which puts her earlier in the movement than a recent book publishing would suggest. She has gone beyond hyperbole and has, again apparently, done her research to back her findings. She lists her copious sources which isn’t common. Finally, the findings of her book match my life experiences that I’ve written about before.

As an update to the post I wrote before, I’ve decided to dip my toe back into flying. Not in any big way, but just easing back in. Step one was to go and get an airman’s medical. It’s one thing to go to the doctor and have him tell you something you don’t like hearing. It’s quite another to go to a FAA doctor, who is reporting everything he sees to Big Brother. We’ve just come off a winter where my family consumed over 800 pounds of pork. That’s over 5 months. Folks that’s about 5 pounds a day of pork! Now some of that we served to friends, some was bones and gristle and whatnot that went to the dogs. But bacon/sausage for breakfast, and pork roast/pork chops/etc for dinner, and leftovers in between? We have practiced what we preach this winter.

Now I’m sitting down with the nurse and she’s checking all my vitals. I haven’t had an exam since I turned 40 and this is when things begin to fall off of you. I’m picturing all the fat I’ve scarfed in a short amount of time. Was all this stuff wrong? Will I have blood pressure through the roof? I’m certainly stressed enough at this point. The result? Better blood pressure and pulse rate than I had when I was in my 20s. Oh, and I’m about 5 pounds lighter than I was when I wrote that previous post too.

Cooking with your kids

The Princess working with tomatoes
The Princess, after peeling blanched tomatoes and before cutting them up, all on her own. This was the first time she used a knife by herself.

I came across a good article on kids and teaching them to use knives in the kitchen and then *gasp!* actually letting them go at it. There were some pretty interesting statistics about what teaching a kid to cook and to use knives in the kitchen means when the kids gets older, and no it doesn’t mean they can no longer count to 10 without taking their shoes off.

This is the Princess, at 6 years old, helping me can tomatoes. She peeled the tomatoes, then grabbed a razor-sharp chef’s knife and proceeded to quarter the tomatoes and get them ready to can. How did I know she was ready at six to handle a knife? First, she asked. Not the whiny can I have what you have (mom’s you can hear it in your head, right?) No, she asked if she could help me do what I was doing. I spent about 3 minutes showing her how to hold the knife, how to cut with the knife, and how to be safe with the knife. My famous safety lesson on knives is, “This knife is designed to cut meat and it’s really good at it. Do you understand? Yes. Ok, now what are you made out of?” Blank stare. “The answer is meat.” I’ve had children hand me the knife back after that explanation. They weren’t ready yet.

So after that quick demo, I watch her for five minutes and make sure she’s doing it right. Is she taking this serious? Is she playing or working? Is she keeping her mind on her business or getting distracted by her siblings? Any signs she’s not focused and the knife goes on the cutting board till she talks to her sister or smacks her brother. Mom comes in and tells her to do something? Sorry mom, she’s working and can’t, get someone else to do it (that goes a long ways folks, when you’re working your above kid duties and get treated like an adult).

Did The Princess ever cut herself? Yes, not that day but yes. She didn’t even cry (something she’s very proud of and still remembers). Did Bok Bok try cooking later and cut me in the process? Yes. Did either need stitches, a trip to the ER, a blood transfusion? No. If you work in the kitchen enough, you get cuts. You don’t die, and neither will your children.

Three generations in the kitchen
Three generations of cooks. The Princess, SWMBO, and Grand SWMBO. This was late in the day, grinding hamburger of the actual ninja cow.

And of course what could be more long-lasting than cooking not only with mom but with Grandma!

candied apples
Candied apples, home made caramel, and the beginnings of the decorations. All kid made (with dad’s help.)

Of course here at Ninja Cow Farm, we care not only about knives and cooking but also about the kids nutrition and wouldn’t dream of letting them actually plan a meal and then cook it. Who knows what kinds of unhealthy sugary things they’d make if mom wasn’t here to supervise, like say if she went to the beach and left the kids and dad to cook on their own. 🙂

Bok Bok in her PPE
Bok Bok, in my shop wearing all the personal protective equipment (PPE) we could fit on her. I think I was tightening a screw or something equally benign.

So cook with your kids. It’s good for them and good for you. Just remember, safety third!



For Gina, and anyone else looking to eat real food.

20131105-054949.jpgI have a friend Gina who told me yesterday that she has decided to stop eating processed food and is starting down the path of eating real food. She told me that she’d watched a video on youtube that had opened her eyes to what’s in processed food. I can’t recall the name of the video, but I’ll ask her to comment here with the title or the link.

I was happy for her, although I know how overwhelming it can be to try to make this change when you’ve been part of the traditional food system for so long. This change in perspective is huge when you’re coming from McDonald’s for lunch and Kraft Mac and Cheese for dinner. I didn’t want to start peppering her with advice and things she’d need to know right there at first. One, because I hate unsolicited advice, and two, because it’s too much too soon. So today I came across this blog post for how to get started on real food and I thought it would be a good start for her on making the transition. And since she likely isn’t the only one who is making some sort of eating transition, I posted the blog post here for anyone else to read.

A few things that aren’t mentioned in this post that I feel are noteworthy when making this transition.

  • Many of the changes I’ll reference here are ones that need to be made over years. Much like committing to go to the gym and finally get in shape for New Years, you have to make changes over a long term to make them stick. It takes 60 days of consistent action to form a habit. That means if you’re going to join a gym, you have to be diligent for 60 days, going very consistently, for it to stick. It’s the same with eating habits.
  • If you have a reluctant spouse or kids, it takes quite a bit longer to effect change. We kill our own animals, raise our own veggies, and are to the point where it’s not unusual to sit down at a full course meal and realize literally everything going into our bodies was grown and produced by us on farm. We didn’t start here, and we didn’t get here easily. It took many years and quite a few conflicts and countless unfinished meals. Start small and just try to take a new step each week, or whatever pace works for you.
  • Many people recommend to throw out all the stuff in your pantry. Those folks don’t have the budget worries that some of us have I think. Most people only have a weeks worth of food in the house anyway so you can make a change quickly enough without filling the trash can. Don’t start by dumping food, start in your buying. Slowly you’ll eliminate the bad and replace it with the good.
  • So what do you buy? I have a few simple rules on what to buy and what not to buy. First, if there is something in the ingredients list I cannot pronounce, it doesn’t go into the cart. Second, if it has more than 7 ingredients, that’s the next elimination. Those two rules will eliminate about 90% of what is in the grocery store. I also will not buy anything “Low.” Low fat, low salt, reduces calories. Basically anything that says the food industry has changed the food to comply with some reduction based on the latest trend. That even includes all the gluten free stuff that is popular now.
  • So what does this leave to buy? All the things that don’t have a New York based advertising campaign. Things like meat, cheese, vegetables, milk, flour, sugar, eggs, herbs. You know, food, actual food.
  • Here is the big “uh oh” of eating real food. It requires cooking. A lot of cooking. Processed food means convenience food. Real food isn’t convenient. It requires time on the stove. I happen to love cooking so to me this is a positive. You’re getting back to the lifestyle of your grandparents. You’re controlling what actually goes in your body, and you’re developing skills that are life skills. Cooking your own food is probably the biggest thing you can do to take control of your diet. No MSG sneaks in when you add your own ingredients. 
  • Fat is good. This is another one that is a big mental shift. We’ve been told all our lives that fat is bad for you. There are many articles now detailing why low fat is all bunk, here is a primer to get started. If you can accept that fat is good, then cooking at home becomes a lot more fun. Now you can make food that is considerably better than what you can buy. Better for you, and tastes better too.
  • You can’t eat perfect, accept that you can’t have it all. Even with our ability to produce so much of our food, I still eat at restaurants. That means that I eat meat that was produced using GMO corn and soybeans. I also eat veggies that were GMO based. I can’t only eat my food, at my home, 100% of the time. You can be a hermit or you can embrace the fact that you’re 50% healthier, or 75% healthier. Small changes still make a difference. Celebrate the victories and enjoy life.
  • Eating healthy is more expensive. I know this can be debated but usually it is. This is the one thing I mentioned to Gina yesterday. I could see a bit of the fire go out of her eyes when I told her. It doesn’t HAVE to be, but to not be you’ll need to change more than what you eat. You have to change your lifestyle.
  • A relatively easy change to make is to start a kitchen garden. Eat what is in season, eat from a 99 cent pack of seeds for 3 months instead of from veggies from Chile in February. Gardening has all kinds of benefits besides diet, more than I can detail here. That’s another post.
  • Learn to can. This is something we’ve been doing for a few years. It takes work in the season, lots of work. But it brings convenience back to cooking. Our dinner last night was a pork shoulder from the freezer from our own pigs. Beans we’d canned from last summer, served cold right out of the jar, and zucchini pickles made from last summers zucchini also served cold. We have a bunch of sick kids and this was an easy dinner to get onto the table. Everything on the plate was from our farm and the total prep time for dinner was about 10 minutes, all of which was rubbing spices on the pork shoulder and dropping it into the crock pot that morning. Of course there was a day of canning for the pickles and a day of canning for the beans back during the summer, but we’ve saved more than 16 hours of cooking one meal at a time over the winter and eaten well during.

All of these changes have happened over a decade for us. You cannot get there overnight but it is worth the trip. There is a ton of conflicting information out there about diets and food. Sometimes I think the “real food” movement is just a way to throw up your hands and do what makes sense rather than trying to sort out all the different studies and counter studies. If so, that’s good enough for me. I’ll be in the kitchen cooking  a real pork roast, with a real glass a wine in hand and I’m perfectly ok with that, studies be damned.

How to stop heartburn easily and without medicine

As many of you know, I’ve lost a bunch of weight. January 2013 my darling SWMBO decided that she (and therefor I) was going on a diet. Having been in a household where diets came and went continuously, I had no issue with a diet. What I did have an issue with was having to give up ice cream. Not because it was yummy (it is) but because I used ice cream to treat my heartburn. I probably ate ice cream 4-5 times per week, plus I took antacids another once or twice per week. For those of you doing math, yes, I had heartburn nearly every day. This didn’t really worry me as my father had suffered with heartburn all the years of my life. It came with the job. However with SWMBO saying we were giving up carbs, I was terribly worried that my heartburn would get out of control. So what was the result?

With trepidation I gave up carbs and on day one I had to take an antacid to get through the day. On day three it occurred to me I had somehow had a good day with no heartburn. By day 10 I’d forgotten what it was like to have heartburn. Folks, I gave up carbs and my chronic heartburn disappeared, period. I can recreate it whenever I want simply by dosing on carbs for a day. With all this in mind, I thought I’d share this blog post about heartburn. I never made it past step 2 so I cannot comment on the rest, but I can tell you step one worked like a champ and no doctor every mentioned anything about carbs, exactly as this guy describes.

Here is the link to the blog post.

One reason why farming is so vibrant in NC

Local Governments and the Special Status of Bona Fide Farms

I posted a picture of the new sign we hung on our farm that is required by NC law for liability protection. We had some good conversation in the comments section. Well any comments is a good amount for our little blog but it seemed people were interested in the government and how it has an effect on farming. I personally am a libertarian so my view of the government isn’t too rosy in most regards however when it comes to farming in NC, I have a somewhat different view. Compared to all other forms of business, I think farming is one of the sweet spots when it comes to government involvement (I’m referring to state government here, the Feds, ugh.) We have many support programs like extension agents, soil and water, etc. We have lots of grant and cost share programs. We get special exemptions from the NC DOT for weights and CDL requirements. But more importantly to me we have a lot of the protections under Bona Fide farms, some of which are relatively new. The article in the link above does a great job of detailing all these protections and giving some back story to each. This is my go to article for people I talk to who are interested in farming or getting into farming in NC. When I was reading the comments to the earlier post it occurred to me that while I would have shared this info with you in an individual conversation, I hadn’t shared it to everyone on the blog. Shame on me. I guess I just assumed nobody would want to read boring old law stuff.

My treatise on health and nutrition

Home made sausage
Will this kill you, or make you like longer?

I’ve had a lot of questions from people on how I got to where I am with diet and nutrition. This is a really long post, over 3000 words. I have people ask me how I did what I did often. I never am able to tell them properly. Now I can direct them here if they are inclined to try. Thanks to my darling wife who sent me the following article which prompted me to finally write all this down. Link to article on food myths. (The formatting is a bit weird, it’s a 14 page article. Find the next button to continue reading)

Eating the way we currently do on the farm isn’t something that I’ve always done. Growing up I had the best steak dinner in the world most Saturday nights (it was family night at our house growing up) the rest of of the nights growing up were as often a TV dinner as anything else. Processed convenience foods were the staple of our household and whatever was quickest and easiest is what was served. The times when my mother would make something homemade, I would complain mightily and never let her hear the end of it till pizza was ordered in defeat (sound familiar to any moms?) In addition to that poor start, my mother went on every fad diet the came and went from the 70s till I turned 16 in 1988 and I started feeding myself by going out for meals breakfast lunch and dinner. I was more than thankful to go out since I could have all the McDonalds that I wanted. During high school it was fast food 1-2 times per day and the same on into college, except now the McDonalds super sized value meal was washed down with cheap beer. If a nutrition class was offered in my major, I’d have changed majors.

Fortunately while in college I discovered that girls like to eat food cooked by a man who knows how. One day while shopping for something I stumbled across this book. With a tongue planted firmly in cheek, the cookbook was laid out from appetizers to breakfast (in that order) and had chapters and cartoon drawings on helpful things like cleaning up your disgusting man’s bathroom and what is a pan used for besides killing a bug. Despite all the humor and cartoons, it actually did have quite a few good recipes and helpful suggestions of what sides go with which entree and which wine goes with the meal effectively giving you the look of someone who knows what they are doing. While I did feed a few girls I never did get to make it to the chapter on breakfast but I was lucky enough to get something much better and that was the beginning of a lifelong appreciation for home cooking. The pots and pans I bought back then are the ones I still use today (All-clad wasn’t very well known back then thank God, I can’t afford them now). More importantly, I took a step into adulthood that I didn’t quite recognize at the time. While my friends were ordering pizza or running out for a burger, I would whip up a quick chicken marsala. I was no great cook by any means, but I found that I had somehow stepped away from my peers in how I viewed food and how they viewed me.

After college, I had to good fortune to discover The Food Network and a new show called Good Eats with Alton Brown. Of course, this was a closet indulgence because nobody but housewives eating bon bon’s watched cooking shows back then. Even when I would admit that I watched Good Eats, nobody I knew had ever heard of it. I was always amazed that it stayed on the air because I honestly felt like I was the only one watching. Young, single, and working a new career I found I didn’t cook that much but I did watch a good bit of Good Eats and continued to build the knowledge base and cooking paraphernalia (Thank you Alton for not letting me have uni-taskers in my kitchen) It’s safe to say that as far as my cooking goes, I grew up on Good Eats and Alton is still my first reference today for many things. Along this time I met the lady who became known as SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed). She is to cooking everything that I am not. I will plan a meal days in advance, shop for all the ingredients, likely at multiple stores. On the appointed day, I’ll start at least 3 hours before we are planning on eating but more likely 6 hours before (basically I start cooking dinner at lunch). I will make multiple versions of the same thing, with all the best ingredients all hand selected, hand cut, hand prepared, and fussed over to no end. I have backup thermometers for the pan, the oven, etc. and leave nothing to chance. If I’m making something like bread, or green bean casserole, then that’s what we’re having. Bread OR casserole, not both. I don’t make a meal, I make one thing and I make the heck out of it. And it’s probably good or even great, although eating at 6pm is somewhat of a miracle. 8 or even 10 is more commonplace. I have used all the dishes, all the spatulas, all the aluminum foil, both ovens, and everything now has a covering of something that I’ve spilled. Like Alton Brown, I’m a bit mad scientist.

My darling wife on the other hand, cooks with a glance at two different recipes, plus the one in her head she’s remembering wrong. She has perhaps half the ingredients, plus a few extra that are not part of any of the recipes. Her oven/range/etc. has two settings. Off and Nuclear Heat. Her meals arrive steaming hot and delicious at 5:59pm, with two sides and a dessert, plus two loads of laundry were done during prep, she’s been on the phone to her mother, and she’s consumed most of the wine I opened for myself. She’s used two pots and a spoon. She’s a force of nature in the kitchen and I’m a bit afraid of her (I keep putting the knives just a bit higher every few months hoping one day she won’t be able to reach. So far no go.)

So what does this have to do with nutrition? SWMBO won’t set foot in a McDonalds. Once when I was able to get her in Mickey Ds while on a trip, I had to pull over later because she got sick. Having eaten fast food all my life I thought she was being a little over the top and hard to get along with. However, my days of eating fast food were numbered, I just didn’t know it. Car trips became trips with a cooler and sandwiches packed. Much like with my mother’s cooking, I actually resented the home cooked food and was bothered I couldn’t get my burger and fries. Sometimes I’d sneak in a burger here or there just because I knew she wouldn’t let me when we were together. Over this time period we had 3 kids, I worked overtime, I took over my family business, the family farm, and I went from about 220 pounds to about 250 pounds.

Taking over the family farm caused me to start getting involved in the food culture that is so vibrant in NC. I began to read articles and then books on localvores and the local food scene. We were still eating a somewhat typical American diet, albeit with more focus on home cooking and fresh made from scratch but nutritionally something that the USDA would bless. Then one day I came across a new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and I found myself looking at food differently than I ever had before. I’d never thought about my bananas from Chile, or even my oranges from Florida. I’m not a save the world eco-hippie by ANY stretch of the imagination. What touched on my psyche was that I know that my tomatoes in my garden are better than ones from the grocery store. They are better than the ones even at the farmers market. The closer they are to my kitchen, the better they taste. I know that the sweet corn I grow is so good when it’s picked that when the wife says go out and bring in enough corn for dinner, I wait till it’s time to eat, then walk out to the garden and pick 5 ears of corn. I eat my ear raw on the walk back because in 5 minutes it won’t taste as good. I know what a difference garden fresh vs market fresh means and I certainly know what garden fresh vs. shipped across the globe means. After reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book I began to reconnect to the seasons. Tomatoes weren’t just in abundance in summer. They were ONLY available in summer unless I’d canned them. Red ripe tomatoes in February just aren’t natural, and whatever it took to put them in the supermarket didn’t do a good job of making a palatable tomato and couldn’t have done much for the nutritional value.

Once I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I ended up going down the rabbit hole on Amazon’s recommendations and quickly came to Omnivore’s dilemma. I won’t go into the details of that book other than to say it opened my eyes to the ingredients in our food that really aren’t food and shouldn’t be there, especially the amount of corn products we consume. My summary of that book is, I try not to eat anything that has more than 7 ingredients on the label and I try not to eat anything with a word that I cannot pronounce. So by this point I’m now off of fast food, eating what I grow or source somewhat well, eating little processed food, I am part of the localvore movement not just as a consumer but as a producer growing beef, pork, and chicken and I’m 6’5″ and weigh around 250+ pounds. I take antacids daily, often multiple times per day and I can tell I’m on the way to 280 pounds at this rate by the time I’m 65, which means obesity and possible diabetes. So I’m someone that should be doing everything right with unlimited amounts of grass raised beef, pork, and chicken, a wife who cooks home made meals every night, and plenty of exercise from the farm work yet the results I’m getting are going entirely the wrong direction.

Enter that lady I love one evening when I get home from work who informs me that she’s going on a diet. More importantly, if I were a loving and supportive husband, I’d go on the diet with her. Having grown up in a household where mom went on about 3-4 diets per year I said fine which completely shocked her. She thought I’d be a much tougher sale. SWMBO informed me we were going on the Atkin’s diet. Not the modern one, but the one originally made famous by Dr. Atkins. Apparently there is a difference, I don’t know because I never read the book. After about 30 days of my eating the wrong thing each day because I’d not read the book, I finally settled into the routine of staying on the diet each day and weighing in each morning before I moved the cows and chickens with Spork. Much to my delight, the weight started to come off. Even more amazing, my acid problems with my stomach went away completely. This is something that I’d already been prescribed various pills by the doctors, none of which I’d get the prescription filled. None of the doctors ever hinted at carbohydrates having anything to do with my issues. Now in a weeks time I’d gotten rid of a problem they wanted to put me on maintenance drugs for for the rest of my life, and I was loosing weight.

So today, I weigh 208 pounds, which is 4 pounds less than I weighed when I graduated high school. I take no medication of any kind except aspirin when I have a headache or ibuprofen when I have a backache. I agreed to back off of the diet through the summer so that I could enjoy ice cream and similar things with the kids. Despite all my “cheats” all summer I haven’t put the weight back on. With today’s 40 degree start to the day, I’m looking forward to going back onto Atkin’s induction and getting 10 more pounds off of my frame which at 200 pounds would put me in the best shape of my teenage and adult life, all without changing my exercise from what I was doing at 250 lbs. I’m seeing books like Wheat Belly starting to really question why we have a food pyramid with wheat products as the core of nutrition. I’m seeing people in the paleo community question why we eat wheat at all and challenge that it’s actually responsible for things like crohns disease, arthritis, and many other auto immune diseases. I don’t know if it is or not, but I’ve seen first hand digestive problems that my father fought all his life and that I’ve fought since my twenties completely go away with my diet. Problems that for him ended up with diverticulitis and having part of his intestines removed. A path I was heading down before this change. I see how hard it is to avoid the things that aren’t allowed on my diet in the typical American diet. Every meal has one item that I can’t have. Stir fry, with rice. Steak and potato. Burger and fries. A starch is part of every meal even without the bread. I also have learned that there is a nearly perfect inverse relationship between how convenient a food is and how good it is for you. I see now why we have obesity at the levels we do. I have friends who get excited when they see how I look and feel and want to know what I do to be so successful. When I tell them how they need to eat, I see the light fade before I can even finish telling them. “I could never give up bread.” “Ugh, fat makes you fat.” “I couldn’t eat all that meat and be healthy.” “Aren’t you worried about heart disease?” Between the discipline to stay on a diet and the brainwashing we’ve received from the government and our medical groups, you are really stepping off the reservation to go onto a diet like Atkins or Paleo. If you do what you’re told by general health guidelines and your doctor, it’s nearly impossible to have a happy, healthy life without constant struggle for weight control.

I realized this when I was a young teenager and the study came out saying that eggs were a huge source of cholesterol and should be avoided. Overnight eggs disappeared from stores and egg substitutes became common place. When informed by my mother that we were not having eggs anymore, I responded that I didn’t believe the study. That anything as perfect as the egg can’t be bad for you, period. It was many years later that eggs were found to have high cholesterol but actually the newly discovered “good” cholesterol. I shrugged my shoulders and kept on eating my fried eggs. I knew enough at 13 to know it was bunk, and I know it now. There is always a new study saying this juice will make you live forever, that mineral will cause cancer. I’ve lived long enough now that I just don’t believe any of them anymore, even the ones that agree with what I think. I don’t base my diet off of studies, government programs, or even the books I’ve detailed here for you. I base my diet off of observation of a single data point case study, me. Since going on Atkins, I have a consistent routine of observing what I eat, then observing the result.

  • Lasagna? Gained 5 pounds in 1 day!
  • Ice cream in moderation, no real change.
  • Gin and tonic, not a problem.
  • Rum and coke, not too promising.
  • Chips and salsa? Negligible difference.
  • Nigiri sushi (the kind with rice)? +4 pounds after 1 meal.

The list goes on and on, but the point is I do for myself what those studies profess to do. I test and observe. Then I assimilate the results into my diet. Strangely enough, this is what the Atkin’s diet says to do. What I’ve found is that people I’ve talked to don’t know this about Atkins, including the ones who are familiar with the diet. When you get into the later phases of Atkins, the maintenance phases, it’s all about slowly adding back foods and seeing the results. So with 2000 plus words to describe 40 years of nutrition and life experience, what do I do now to eat healthy?

  • Eating this way is a lifestyle, not a diet. I will be on Atkins the rest of my life. That doesn’t mean I won’t have spaghetti again, or ice cream. It means that they will be the exception and only when I’m on my target weight and in control. I’m greatly encouraged by how free I can be with my eating and still maintain my weight. I’ve downed a ton of ice cream this summer and maintained my weight.
  • Just try it. You can get irradiated by uranium without penalty for certain amounts of time. In other words even if you don’t believe in a no-carb diet, try it for 6 months. It won’t kill you. Most people I’ve talked to that have tried to emulate what I do fall off the wagon quickly. Usually around 14 days after they start. It’s not that they eat too much, it’s that they go back to eating the convenient foods or that their long held beliefs that bacon is bad and bagels are good trip them up.
  • If you are having a tough craving, eat something on the diet till you are sick. Don’t give into the craving. I didn’t loose 1 ounce the first 30 days. Stick with the plan.
  • If you cheat, don’t blow the day or the diet. “Oh, I ate a doughnut at the office this morning. I’ve blown the day may as well have lasagna.” If you cheat, stop there and then. Don’t go crazy and have a “cheat day.” When I had lasagna and gained 5 pounds in a day, it took me a week to get it off. A cheat day like that would have taken me 2-3 weeks which would just kill your attitude.
  • Fat doesn’t make you fat. Period. It actually made me skinny if you cut out the carbs. Fat helps you from eating all the calories. It helps trigger your body that you are satiated. Slather on the butter, get the ribeye rather than the filet, get the whole chicken, not the boneless skinless breast.
  • Eat with the seasons. The food is better and better for you. Learn to cook different things. It’s winter right now, find some winter squash and do something with it. Expand your culinary horizons.
  • Avoid wheat and corn like the plague. Just avoiding those two is 95% of the battle. This will cut out nearly everything in a box. That’s good.
  • You are your own personal chemistry set. Test and evaluate. Do you loose weight when you’re on the diet 99% of the time? Good. No, then change what the 1% cheat is to something different and try again.
  • Eat only items that have 7 ingredients or less on the box.
  • Don’t eat anything you cannot pronounce.
  • Don’t eat anything your great grandfather wouldn’t recognize as food (that eliminates about 90% of what is in a grocery store)
  • Eating out isn’t the problem. While I was loosing my 40 pounds, I ate out on average once per day. Eating out making you fat comes from the fact that restaurants always have a starch as part of the meal (ask for double veggies instead), always have a bread (decline, or get it bunless) and cook in real fats like butter and use things like cream because it tastes good. That’s actually the cooking you want.
  • Don’t use any unnatural oils. No peanut oil, no canola oil, no vegetable oil. Instead use lard, butter, coconut oil, olive oil.
  • Butter, bacon, fatty meat, cream, sour cream, all the things we were raised to believe are bad for you are not. Period. Learn to enjoy food again.

The biggest takeaway I have for anyone is that I ate like a king and lost weight doing it. Don’t think about what you don’t have, embrace all the things that you can and I promise you can enjoy “dieting.”


Kencove fence charger, and my treatise on chargers in general

Kencove electric fence tester
Kencove electric fence tester. If you have electric fencing, you NEED one of these.

Before we started paddock shift grazing I had some really nice fence chargers that did a great job. They were about 1 joule of power but for one hot wire on top of hog wire with no contact to grass they did great.

Then we added some temporary fencing and stopped having the cows mow the grass right down to the ground. So I bought a 2 joule fence charger. Double the power!

Yeah, that didn’t work. So I called Kencove and asked them what I needed. I had heard great things about the Stafix chargers and they recommended that I get a 6 joule charger! Now were talking. We’re talking massive power, which Miguel confirmed when he accidentally touched a wire. So all was good in cow land.

Then I decided to put the pigs in the pasture. That required putting the wire down on the ground and therefor further into the grass. It also meant adding more high tensile wire which was also in the grass. When we did all that, the voltage dropped all the way down to under 2000 volts which barely keeps cows in and you can forget about pigs.

So back to Kencove I go to shell out even more money. I explain my problem, and let it slide that I hold them personally responsible for not selling me way more than I needed the first time. They recommend I get a 12 joule charger which is double what I have. After several rounds of this I have finally learned and I ask what is bigger than 12 joule. After a snarky comment about a 54 joule unit they sell we settle on the 18 joule charger. Pictured above is the result, through the grass, through all the connections, 6000 volts at the business end of the poly wire. Now that’s what I am talking about.

What I’ve learned.

A charger cannot be “too big.” If it is overpowered it will simply ramp down its output and loaf along. This is speaking of modern chargers here. Now if you go lay against the hot wire, it will ramp up and light you up. I’ve never seen anyone or anything go back for seconds on a hot wire.

Everybody lies. The first chargers I bought were “50 mile” chargers. We estimated that they were about 1 joule. Who knows, they aren’t really rated. Mileage, estimates, ratings, specs. They all are pretty much meaningless.

The day you install your new charger is actually the worst day to test because more than likely prior to spending money you went around and cleaned up all the possible shorts, bad connections, fallen limbs, etc. the fence is wearing its Sunday best when you pop your new charger in place and of course then tests at a great output. Then day by day things get worse as the grass grows, it rains, etc. by the time the power is down on the fence to unacceptable levels, it’s too late to return the charger you bought.

It would have been way cheaper to buy the biggest charger I could ever conceive of buying the first time than to have worked my way up one by one. The only saving grace is that the Stayfix charger will work off of solar so I can use it in the back pasture where we don’t have power. Something I did plan for should it not be big enough.

A proper digital tester like the one pictured is worth it’s weight in gold. The first one I owned came with the Stafix charger. It doubles as the remote. It finds faults but more importantly it gives you accurate readings without having to insert a ground probe. That means you are much more apt to actually test your fence which is really the key. Every time you turn the fence on and off you are also testing the fence. One grounded reel or line and cows are everywhere.