Reflections on the One Year Anniversary of the Egg Recall

Borden - poached egg on toast A year ago this month, there was a national egg recall. You would think more communities would be welcoming the chicken to backyards as a result. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case - many cities are still mired in debatessimilar to what happened in Grand Rapids, MI last August.

The egg recall of 2010 started slowly. On Aug. 13 2010, Wright County Egg Farm of Galt, Iowa, issued a voluntary recall of eggs due to reports of sickness from salmonella poisoning. According to the egg reporting of Juliana Keeping, the national egg recall was expanded to Michigan on Aug. 25, 2010.

On Aug. 10 2010, Grand Rapids City Commission voted down an ordinance for residents to be able to keep backyard chickens. Several Grand Rapids commissioners argued they needed more information before they could approve the measure. In 2008, when Ann Arbor passed the city chicken ordinance, there were similar points argued around noise, waste pollution and avian flu. As my lawyer friends point out, those three points could be used against my dog and cat (just ask a pregnant woman about cleaning out a litter box). However, my dog and cat don't provide food for the family every day - unlike my chickens.

Though just 3 years since the Ann Arbor debate the backyard chicken conversation already feels antediluvian. In the last year, I had hoped the egg recall would have shortened, nay, rendered meaningless, the backyard chicken debate for our neighboring cities.

Unfortunately, I continue to hear of communities fighting for backyard chickens, losing the right to grow their own food in the face of outdated zoning rules.

Borden - Chickens eating weeds

The urban explosion of the 1920s fueled zoning rules (NYC adopted the first zoning rules in 1916). People left the country and did not want to live next to a slaughterhouse pouring offal into the streets or the noise of a machine shop. Residential zoning rules were adopted to protect home-owners from commerce and animal husbandry. 90 years later, you would think a modicum of compromise and common sense might prevail in our zoning rules - especially in the light of food recalls.

Maybe next year.

Here is the piece on Real Time Farms blog.

(and this is very similar to the piece I wrote last year about the recall)

3rd Annual Homegrown Local Food Summit

The Homegrown Local Food Summit celebrated its third year with over 300 people at Washtenaw Community College on March 1st. The sun drenched lobby shone down on the information booths and tables groaning under the bounty of donated food. Rachel Chadderdon, of Double Up Food Bucks, introduced the day's event as a way "to bring together leaders in the local food movement to reenergize ourselves."Borden-homegrownfoodsummit2011 The conference had more of a conference like feel to it this year with a full morning of shared lectures and then break-away talks in the afternoon. The full morning started with a tag team presentation by Kim Bayer, of Slow Food Huron Valley, and Dan Bair, of The Farm at St. Joes, of our local food victories. Two keynote speakers: Dan Carmody, President of the Detroit Eastern Market Corporation, and Ken Meter, President of the Crossroads Resource Center, spoke to the larger world of food.

The morning wrapped up with four local food initiatives pitched by Mark Hodesh (for Mark's Carts and the Union Hall Kitchen), Aubrey Thomason (for her vision of Small is Beautiful Goat Dairies), Edward Weymouth (for Arborcycle), and Jeff McCabe (for his vision of building 20 hoops in 20 days).

All of that before lunch.

As Kim Bayer said in her introduction, "the local food victories inspire me to keep doing this. There is a network that is starting to form that can support our health and our community." She and Dan Bair read quotes from the recipients as the slides moved through the almost 30 local food victories.

2011 Local Food victories

A Local Food Victory Cluster: Johnson Jams "When Karen Johnson made a jam at the Preserving Traditions class last year, Emily Springfield told Karen she thought it was prize-worthy jam." When the Cottage Food Bill passed, Johnson Jams was born and eventually began selling at the Saline Winter Farmers Market. As Dan summarized, "it is a virtuous cycle, it is an example that demonstrates what is possible when the right pieces are in place."

Michigan Good Food Charter Kim Bayer describes the Michigan Good Food Charter, as "a framework that helps us see the aspects or categories of a foodsystem that provide community food security from the pieces that we need to have in place... State policy work is happening for food that is healthy, green, fair and affordable." The charter focuses on four main areas: Farms and Farmers, Food System Infrastructure, Institutions, Good Food Access, and Youth.

As such, the remaining local food victories are divided into those categories with two more added: Entrepreneurs, and Mentors.

Farms and Farmers

Stephanie Phillips - The Family Farm

Organic since 1980 The Family Farm has now become a Biodynamic Farm. As quoted from Stephanie Phillips: "'Use what you have and do what you can' this has been my motto. I don't believe in making excuses, like I am a woman or I am black so I have had a hard time. You overcome obstacles by sticking to your convictions and not giving in to those who mock or ridicule your ability. I started this business because I was tired of being subjugated by bureaucrats."

Kate Long  - Deer Tracks Farm

"I would like to think my business is helping the general community."

Jennifer Kangas - Capella Farm

"It's a great feeling to know that people like to eat what we raise and are finding new ways to enjoy food. We are also helping by providing a fair wage for our employees. They are a our key to success."

Tomm & Trilby Becker - Sunseed Farm

"We started Ann Arbor's first year round fresh vegetable CSA. We began an apprenticeship program to help other beginning farmers to start their own businesses."

The Doll Family -  Back Forty Acres

“Farming is a noble profession — from raising the animals to selling the meat — providing things that are real…It is a shame that there are so few meat processors nearby.”

Food System Infrastructure

Corinna Borden - Westside Farmers Market

Quoted from what I wrote to Kim Bayer in January: "One day when people say, 'I saw them at the farmers market.' The other person will have to say, 'which one?'"

Nancy Crisp - Saline Farmers Market

Nancy Crisp has managed Saline's markets from the beginning and they are doing great! As she says: "We now have three farmers markets in Saline."

The Roseans - Real Time Farms (check out their newly redesigned website!)

"We are taking on 32 interns, encouraging people's participation nationwide and madly building tools to help our regional food system the world over. Did we mention worldwide?"

Ed Weymouth - Arborcycle

"I like riding my bike and I wanted to turn it into something practical and useful for the community and the burgeoning local systems that are beginning to spread their roots through Ann Arbor."

Tim Redmond/Bill Taylor - Eat Local Eat Natural

"We have made it through nearly three years so we have overcome the temptation to quit when the truck is broken and there is no money in the checkbook and somebody just canceled a big order. The major hurdle that remains: the tough local economy."

Dawn Thompson/Jane Pacheco - Lunasa

As quoted from the ladies of Lunasa: "Connecting over 30 local producers, representing over 1500 locally grown foods and natural products, supported by over 300 members and growing daily. We are planning on opening another Lunasa in Garden City on April 2011!"

Emily Springfield - Preserving Traditions

"Started in 2009 to teach people the skills they need to eat locally all year round... now has over 325 members. People can contact me if they want to teach!"

Institutions

Dan Bair - The Farm at St. Joe

As introduced by Kim Bayer: "Dan told me that his own business called the Careful Farmer comes from a Wendell Berry quote that says, 'the most important thing the land can produce is a careful farmer.'"

(Dan Vernia) - The Royal Park Hotel

Dan Vernia shares he "is working on one plate, one event at a time... We need more consumer education, demand for local food will define our local food system in ways which we can only speculate."

Alex Young - Zingerman's Roadhouse

"At the Roadhouse, our commitment to local went to new heights with the opening of Cornman Farms. Chef Alex found that he was able to get great tasting produce without trucking tomatoes from Arizona."

Silvio & Catia Medoro - Silvio's Organic Pizza

"We are changing our recipes to include more local organic ingredients, such as using Ferris Mills flour for our dough and our Michigan blueberries on our pizza."

Good Food Access

Rachel Chadderdon - Double Up Food Bucks

Launched by the Fair Food Network: "Double Up Food Bucks is coming back to all four [Washtenaw] markets this summer and to 34 others all over Michigan and Toledo."

Jenna Bacalor & Sharon Sheldon - Prescription for Health

"In 2010, Washtenaw County of Public Health was awarded a 2 year, $294,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation. The award will expand the Prescription for Health program which connects low income patients of local medical clinics with farmers markets ensuring greater access to healthy foods."

Youth

Michigan Young Farmers Coalition

"Is based on a model of regional hubs and was started because many young farmers need access to land, financial support, business support, network and community."

Amanda Edmonds - Growing Hope

Dan Bair shared, "Growing Hope offers classroom and afterschool and summer programs for people aged 3 to 21 at its gardens and greenhouses in Ypsilanti." Growing Hope is: "making access to affordable, healthy food available to everyone in our communities in a way that increases self-reliance and supports local food producers and purveyors."

New Entrepreneurs

David Klingenberger - The Brinery

Their song was laughter inducing, gasp worthy, and educational:

Helen Harding/Blake Reetz - EAT

"We are so proud of our state. We love being able to support as many local farmers and purveyors as possible... in 2010 we doubled our catering business and we plan to do that again in 2011. We hope to be part of Downtown Home and Garden food cart court aka Mark's Carts."

Mary Wessell Walker & Michelle Hartmann - Harvest Kitchen

"We received funding from the USDA farmers market promotion program - we are using this money to outfit a new kitchen in Ypsilanti's Depot Town."

Mentors

Deb Lentz & Richard Andres - Tantre Farm

Anne Elder & Paul Bantle - Community Farm of Ann Arbor

The King Family - Frog Holler Organic Farm

Whew!!!

Dan Carmody then spoke about his experience in Detroit and some of the expansion plans for Detroit's Eastern Market. His talk was engaging, informative, and piercing. Several quotes have stuck with me: "The food pyramid that they recommend we eat is exactly the opposite to what they subsidize in the field." "In 2004, there were 80 community gardens in Detroit. In 2011 there are 665." "On Saturday we proudly sell pineapples and oranges because our customers need citrus."

Carmody spoke of Detroit's "poverty of place" and the initiatives he is working towards to help create destinations around food to encourage a greater community. Hence, there are plans for the Eastern Market Corporation to build a teaching and community kitchen space, to build a 2 ½ acre market garden with 3 hoop houses on wheels, and to support mobile food operators. Carmody finished his talk with a very sensible summary. "I don't want to live in a place where Happy Meals are outlawed but I want to live where no one would ever want to buy a Happy Meal."

Ken Meter, of Crossroads Research Center, spoke as a food system analyst looking at our food system through the lens of community. Ken Meter argued "food takes money out of a community" and that the "goal is to build community-based food systems." He showed an alarming graph showing farming income, in real dollars, has not increased in almost 90 years and the price increase in food comes from the middle-men/marketing element. That is directly a result of the prevailing view of our food system as a supply chain. For example: Producers » Processor » Distributor » Retail » Consumer.

"The problem with that is that the producers and consumers are not talking... better to have a value network."

Ken Meter finished his talk with this rallying call, "you can't outsource a local food economy."

The morning concluded with four entrepreneurs sharing their vision for a local food initiative and asking for help. Mark Hodesh is looking for 3 more food carts for his Mark's Carts. Aubrey Thomason has been making cheese at the Zingermans Creamery for 5 years and she wants to source her goat milk locally. She is offering a market for anyone who wants to raise goats for milk in our area. Edward Weymouth is looking for bicyclists and customers for his Arborcycle business. Jeff McCabe is looking for volunteers to make possible his vision of building 20 hoop houses in 20 days starting June 15. He is also looking for people wanting to donate money and 8 more sites to build the hoops.

A myriad of talks filled the afternoon: Farm to School, ABCs of Local Food/Planning/Zoning, Toxins in our food, Michigan Wines, Cottage Food Bill, Four Season Farming in Hoophouses, Food as Medicine, etc.

The day ended with a showing of a few favorites from the 1st annual Michigan Good Food Film Festival, which took place the night before. The judged winner was Edible Avalon's entry. If you have not seen it before: here it is!

Here is the article on annarbor.com

Cooped up backyard chickens revel in the melting snow

Borden - chicken in coop

I returned Wednesday to Ann Arbor from a week away. I left town with snowdrifts and nary a sight of grass or earth anywhere. I return to puddles, calcifying stalagmites of gray snow forms and soil once again visible in our back garden. The soft breeze and the smell of warming earth enveloped me on Thursday as I went out to open the coop for the chickens.

I am reading Joel Salatin’s "The Sheer Ecstasy of being a Lunatic Farmer," and he describes the joy he experiences moving chickens onto fresh earth. “The unbridled delight these animals express through their demeanor and antics when offered a fresh salad bar is both obvious and palpable. You can feel the happiness in the flock.”

Happiness I felt, and happiness I want to share.

Given the state of the weather and my girls’ unwillingness to venture onto deep snow, there had been very little happiness these past few weeks in the flock. One gets a whole new appreciation for the term cooped up when you open the door to a coop that has been lived in 24 hours a day for weeks at a time. Usually our girls are outside during the day, but not when there is snow on the ground – they don’t like walking on deep snow because their legs are so short.

Our girls knew something was different today. Instead of clustering on the spilled sawdust around their coop door, they all paused – heads high, beaks in the air. One ventured onto my path of trodden snow towards the dirt closer to the house, and, suddenly, a fluttering barrage of feathers and flapping wings launched themselves towards the soft wet earth.

It was a struggle to tear myself away from watching their evident contentment and thrill at being able once again to scratch and dig into earth not covered in snow.

One girl took such obvious pleasure in burrowing into the soft warming soil, I could almost feel the nooks and crannies of my feathers being dusted by the earth.

I know, being human, we have weeks of snow and cold ahead of us. Yet this week my backyard chickens were able to dig in the soil, the pendulum is swinging towards spring.

Their clucking pleasure was a huge gift. I don’t imagine chickens have any sense of time. So for my backyard chickens, the moments of digging and bathing in the soil in our temporary respite from winter this week lasted for eternity.

I can only hope.

Here is the article on annarbor.com.

Why (and how) we killed one of our chickens

(Note: This article contains very vivid descriptions of chicken slaughter.)

According to Human Rights Watch, the average speed of dead poultry moving past the inspectors in a slaughtering plant is 70 per minute. That means in the time it took you to read this last sentence you would have been expected to examine six birds for the nearly 20 listed items the Food Safety and Inspection Service list in their 2009 directive. Whether it be "pulling the cut skin and muscle back [to look for a] "yellow scabbed areas between the skin and subcutaneous tissue...enlarged or reddened kidneys that indicate infection of early sepsis, [or] ...an overscalded carcass." One second per bird is optimistic at best.

This fact, along with many others about the state of our slaughtering facilities in this country, is why I wanted to kill my own chicken.

John Harnois, of Harnois Farms, was kind enough to teach us one fine October day he set up his metal funnel to hang the bird, a tub of water to scald the feathers and a de-plucking machine for after the deed was complete.

Many people I have spoken to about killing birds dispense with the first part of the process, but Harnois explained he felt it more humane to render the brain dead before draining the body of blood.

After placing the chicken upside-down in the funnel, we grabbed its bottom jaw. Quickly before losing my nerve, I drove the point of a sharp paring knife through the upper soft palate into the chicken's brain. After watching the eyes slowly close, my husband took a pair of double-handed pruning shears and lopped off the head.

While we waited for the body to drain of blood, there was a great deal of movement and activity. The bloody neck emerged once or twice from the headless feathers and the legs scissored back and forth. Watching an animal progress through its death throes is not for the tender hearted.

Once the chicken had stopped moving we took it by the legs and dunked it completely in a large vat of simmering water (hot enough to loosen the feathers, but not so hot as to cook the bird). Deemed ready by Harnois when a few feathers came out to his tug, we held the bird over the rapidly spinning rubber fingers of the de-plucking machine for the majority.

Once the feathers were off, the chicken no longer felt to me like the same animal that pecked and preened and stretched in our back garden. The chicken, without feathers, became a biology experiment.

Cutting around the vent and removing the innards was 100 percent benign in comparison to the emotional bracing it took for me to stab a living chicken through its brain.

Yet without the stab, there is no dinner, which is why I stabbed.

Time to Molt!

(In the video you can see the difference between a molting Buff Orpington and one with full plumage.) The chickens have been part of our lives for 17 months now. The patina of the unknown had faded into a routine.

Thank goodness for Mother Nature. Just when I thought all was staid, she sends the message to our chickens: Time to molt. And wow, a molting chicken is a silly looking chicken. The first inkling that something was amiss began at the beginning of November. Though I was unsure as to why, we had been told to keep track of daily egg production by people we trusted. A few weeks ago, our numbers dropped off precipitously and stayed dropped. Three to four eggs a day became one. I am grateful we had been keeping track of production, because it put us on notice to be more attentive to their subsequent behavior.

After a week of decreased production, more feathers were on the bottom of the coop than I had ever seen before. Our chickens also became highly skittish. Whereas before when we brought out treats, they would say hello – some of them even jumping up on shoulders and knees – now most stayed away.

Diminished egg production and loss of feathers could indicate several fowl situations (pun intended). Mites, lice, poor nutrition, general stress or molting were all possibilities. Just when I had decided to read about mites, I was able to catch one of the skittish birds.

According to the Western Australian Department of Agriculture Farmnote from January 1979, “the three main factors that bring about moulting are: physical exhaustion and fatigue; completion of the laying cycle (as birds lay eggs for a certain period of time); and reduction of the day length, resulting in reduced feeding time and consequent loss of body weight.”

Pullets are expected to produce eggs continuously for 11 months before taking a break to build up their bodies' reserves of nutrients. Our girls started laying in late December, so we were right at 11 months. Day length is certainly shorter.

When I was able to catch a bird, I saw pin feathers coming out of her neck – a molt it is! Pin feathers look like short clear straws with tightly compressed feathers tufting through the very top.

“The first plumage is lost from the head and neck, then from the saddle, breast and abdomen (body), then from the wings and finally from the tail,” according to the Australian Farmnote. As we watch for our birds to pass through the stages of molting, we are reminded of our initial adoration for our backyard chickens. It's probably good for us to take a break from eating eggs anyway.

Here is the article on annarbor.com.

Grand Rapids residents could be eating more eggs soft boiled right now

On Aug. 10, Grand Rapids City Commission voted down an ordinance for residents to be able to keep backyard chickens. On Aug. 13, Wright County Egg Farm of Galt, Iowa, issued a voluntary recall of eggs due to reports of sickness from salmonella poisoning. According to the egg reporting of Juliana Keeping, the national egg recall was expanded to Michigan on Aug. 25.Borden - poached egg on toast I am going to take a moment here and state the obvious. What a difference three days can make.

Several Grand Rapids commissioners argued they needed more information before they could approve the measure. In 2008, when Ann Arbor passed the city chicken ordinance, there were similar points argued around noise, waste pollution and avian flu. As my lawyer friends point out, those three points could be used against my dog and cat (just ask a pregnant woman about cleaning out a litter box). However, my dog and cat don't provide food for the family every day - unlike my chickens.

There have been 34 permits for backyard chickens issued in the city of Ann Arbor as of the end of July. Though it has just been 2 years since the Ann Arbor debate the backyard chicken debate already feels antediluvian. Hopefully the silver lining from the egg recall is to shorten, nay, render meaningless, the backyard chicken debate for our neighboring cities.

Here is the article on annarbor.com.

Borden - Chickens eating weeds

Backyard Chickens: Thoughts on our one-year anniversary of keeping hens

Borden - chick on man's hand

I taught a Backyard Chicken 101 class recently at the Reskilling Festival and one question was repeated again and again, “Are they a lot of work in the city?”

The answer is no - they are easier to care for than our cat. Aside from the initial expense of a place to live and the feeding and watering containers, food costs anywhere from $12-20/month (ranging from the feedlot gourmet to organic no soy layer mash), they are not expensive either. We are getting 20-27 eggs a week out of the four girls, which is more than enough eggs for the two of us.

In my experience, chickens take care of themselves. The great benefit to having chickens inside the city limits is that fewer raccoons wander around the urban jungle wanting to eat them.

I have several friends outside of town who “lose” chickens on a regular basis courtesy of hungry raccoons - which is upsetting from a cleaning standpoint and a financial one. Horror stories are shared of being awoken in the middle of the night by a ruckus from the coop. One investigates to realize a raccoon snuck into the coop and is eating a chicken for dinner.

When faced with such a scene - most of the people I talk to say they go back to bed and let the raccoon do what he does. Given the alternative - cornering a potentially rabid animal at 2 a.m. in the dark - I would probably do the same thing.

Though there are more predators in the country, there is also more space for the chickens to wander. One can have roosters and the fertile eggs that result. With more space for chickens one could have varying ages as well - chickens lay regularly for the first two/three years and then their fertility starts to diminish. The eggs are bigger, but laying happens less frequently.

Outside of the city limits one could cull the older chickens, turn them into soup, and allow a brooding hen to hatch the fertile eggs to have new stock join the flock. If the fertile eggs turned out to be roosters, one could cull those as well. Few farmers will accept hens past their laying prime or extra roosters, and it feels wasteful to kill a bird and bury it when I have happily munched on fried chicken in the past.Borden - full grown aracona

The decision we need to make next year is whether it will be time to introduce new baby chicks to our backyard and cull the girls we have lived with for the last two years. If we lived in the country we could let them live, but with the number of restrictions for backyard chickens in the city, that is not possible. Culling our girls involves taking them outside of town to a willing farmer friend and doing the final deed.

As I think about that prospect, my belly twitches. Next time I teach a class on backyard chickens I am going to make sure to include this piece of advice. Don’t name your backyard chickens if you plan on eating them.

Here is the article on annarbor.com.

Preserving Eggs: pickle or pack

Our chickens are laying an average of an egg a day. When the light starts to decline, that rate will diminish. Fannie Farmer’s cookbook was published in 1896 - a good resource to consult for traditional egg preserving methods. According to Fannie Farmer’s section on eggs, there are three ways to “keep eggs. I. Pack in sawdust, small end down. II. Keep in lime water. III. Eggs are often kept in cold storage six months, and then sold as cooking eggs.”Borden - pickled eggs I like her idea of “pack in sawdust, small end down.” I found more references to that method, many of them recommend rubbing the outside of the egg with salted butter to prevent the air entering the egg and packing in anything from salt to sawdust. I am going to collect fresh eggs, rub them in butter, pack them in flour, and see what happens in 6 months as an experiment.

Fannie Farmer’s second recommendation, “lime water,” was made from pouring boiling water over “unslacked lime” - now known as pickling lime.

Pickling lime is calcium hydroxide and it helps keep pickles crunchy. Modern cooking methods recommend that you soak pickles in the lime and then wash it off thoroughly before you put the vegetables into the brine - the alkalinity of the lime can undermine the acidity of the brine and botulism can result. Therefore Farmer’s argument to keep the eggs in “lime water” could be an experiment best left untried. However, pickling eggs, which one could argue is an extension of lime water, is a tradition alive and well.

A month ago, Mike Smith of Solar Refuge Farm was selling quail eggs at the Westside Farmers Market and recommended to me that I pickle them.

I took the quail eggs home, hard-boiled them (with two of my green eggs from the girls) and put them in reused cucumber pickle brine. Today I ate my first pickled quail egg, and I am going to make more. Pickled quail eggs are bite-sized, pleasantly chewy, and have a nice bite from the pickling vinegar. I found the pickled chicken eggs too soft and mushy in contrast to the quail egg’s dense flavor.

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has a long tradition of spicy pickled eggs as an accompaniment for beer. The tradition is so ingrained that the Michigan Tech Alumni page has a list of various recipes for spicy pickled eggs. According to Mother’s Kitchen the most famous place to get pickled eggs is B&B in Houghton. This recipe is posted on the MTU website and on Mother’s Kitchen.

Ingredients: 2 dozen hard-boiled eggs (peeled)

4 cups vinegar

1 jar sliced jalapenos, including the juice

1 onion, chopped finely

1 cup water

1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce

1 tablespoon salt

Directions: Put peeled eggs in a large glass jar with a lid. Put remaining ingredients in a large saucepan and boil for 10 minutes. Pour over eggs and let steep in the refrigerator for a minimum of 3 days. Serve eggs in a paper cupcake liner with Frank's Red Hot Sauce, black pepper and plenty of the jalapenos.

Pickled quail eggs worked for me because there is only so much brine that I want to ingest. Spicy pickled eggs are a good next step as I work to preserve our summer egg bounty from the girls.

Here is the article on annarbor.com.

Backyard Chickens 101 at the Reskilling Festival

The day of the Reskilling Festival I had a debate - bring a chicken with us in the car or be able to enjoy the Festival ourselves (it seemed cruel to leave a chicken in the car while we wandered from session to session). We brought a chicken with us and I had a GREAT time teaching the 15 curious souls who came to hold our chicken.

Here are some videos of what I spoke about at the festival and here is the outline that I used as my talking points.

Viva la poulet revolution! (hehe, so many languages to confuse, so little time)

2nd annual Ann Arbor Reskilling Festival: from bicycle maintenance to de-mystifying natural death care

Basic Homebrewing: Making your own beer that is local, tasty, and cheap (intermediate class offered as well), Chickentainment: All About Back Yard Chickens, Basic Bicycle Maintenance, and De-Mystifying Natural Death Care: Home Funeral and Green Burial are just a few of the wide array of educational sessions being offered this year at the Ann Arbor Reskilling Festival. Hosted by the Rudolph Steiner School and Transition Ann Arbor, second annual festival is July 17 from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. (registration begins at 9:30 a.m.) and is a free event (material fees may apply for some sessions). In addition to those sessions above, the festival will include:

- Composting: Turning Refuse into Gold

- Making Toys from old clothes

- Wild Salad

- Primitive Wilderness: Living Skills

- Winter harvests

- Knot tying

- Not all Energy Audits are Created Equal

- Meet Many of Your Transportation Needs by Bicycle

- Quilts ($1 for materials)

- How to Host or Attend a Crop Mob

- Permaculture for Michigan: from Consumers to Producers

- Introduction to food preservation methods

- Beekeeping 101 - Small Scale Backyard and Rooftop Hives

- Crocheting for Charity

- Serving Natural Shaved Ice

- Low cost/No-cost Playing things for Adults and Kids

- Natural Detergent Made in your Kitchen

- Making milk into Butter, Crème Fraiche, and Mozzarella

- Cook Renewably with a Sun Oven

- 350 Cookbook: Recipes for Neighborhood Resilience

All of these classes will vie for your time and attention on July 17. Presenters include Emily Springfield and Holly White of Preserving Traditions, Shannon Brines of Brines Farm, Deb Heed of the Clean Energy Coalition, and Lisa Perschke of Recycle Ann Arbor, members from 350.org (a group dedicated to having CO2 be 350 parts per million in the atmosphere, we are currently at 390), and me.

I sat down recently with Laura Smith, a member of the Transition Ann Arbor group and one of the organizers of the Ann Arbor Reskilling Festival to learn the motivation behind offering such a wealth of classes to the community.

“It was from the UK model, we are adopting what they are already doing,” Smith shares. The Transition Ann Arbor vision is to get people to meet each other, “feel the excitement of being together and learning new things, we really want to focus on the fun."

With so many groups in Ann Arbor focusing on local and self-sufficient food, transportation, and energy paradigms - I asked Smith what distinguishes the Transition Towns Movement from the other groups in town. She smiles, and notes that “there are a lot a big serious issues that are pushing us" to do the Reskilling Festival, but that last year they did not talk about them. “What distinguishes Transition in some ways is the assumption of energy descent."

Energy descent? Let us listen to Smith’s response.

Smith feels Transition work is “targeted toward our culture. It is a transition for those people who are already on this very high energy use paradigm, however good we think we are doing we are still using dramatically more energy than others."

As I type at my computer, with the air conditioning running, listening to the dishwasher run downstairs, surrounded by my digital camera, cell phone, and video phone I think I know of what Smith speaks.

Whether you are curious to learn more about the Transition Towns Movement, the Reskilling Festival offers a wide range of workshops to titillate your imagination and perhaps jump-start a new space of self-sufficiency in your life. They are looking for volunteers on Doodle and if you have any questions you can contact Rebecca Streng.

Here is the link to the article!

Borden - Reskilling header

Backyard Chickens: the deep litter method

Borden - chicken coop with dirty litter

In one of my first chicken posts I mentioned the book I “borrowed” from my grandparents, Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening: A complete guide to gardening without DDT or other poisons or chemicals edited by J.I. Rodale (published in 1969). There is a section on poultry. I took their litter advice for our girls: “A practice that makes healthier and more productive chickens in deep litter, sometimes called built up litter. Simply let the little accumulate instead of cleaning out the poultry house every couple of weeks. Biological activity in the litter, just as in the compost heat, produces huge amounts of rich food.”

Wait. Not cleaning out the litter from the coop on a weekly basis, me being lazy, is good for the girls? This seemed to good to be true! The section continues.

“Litter-reared chickens need no expensive animal proteins or mineral supplements, and if pastured or given ample feed in addition will need to vitamin A or D supplements. Antibiotics are also produced - litter-raised poultry is remarkably free from disease.”

Borden - chicken coop with clean litter

Wow. What a huge gift. It is healthier for the girls to live around microorganisms in their litter. And yet, summertime is for cleaning.

The Augean stables it was not, but there was about 10 inches of accumulated litter to be transferred onto the compost pile. Last August, we put pine chips 2 inches deep. Over the course of the year we added handfuls of pine chips and cedar chips. The cedar chips smell nice; yet we found cedar stains the outside of the egg, so it is better to avoid cedar where the girls are laying.

I don’t know if they care one way or another, but I love the fresh yellow and the smell of the new sawdust - should last about another week.

Here is the link to the article!

Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) unveiled

Over the last year, when speaking with different people in disparate circumstances, I began to notice a new vocabulary word. The word "efsepp" came up again and again. As in, "farm to school is an efsepp project," or "they worked with efsepp to start this," or "Jen Fike of efsepp is working on that issue."Borden - Food System Economic Partnership logo At the Homegrown Summit I had the opportunity to clarify my listening of this wonderful organization that works on so many facets of our food world in and around Ann Arbor: the Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP). Recently I was able to sit down with Jennifer Fike, executive director, and educate myself beyond what can be gleaned from their website or conquering their initials.

FSEP came into being in 2005 when a myriad collection of organizations were brought together to comprehensively “localize the food system and preserve our agricultural lands,” Fike explains. The resources and institutional knowledge of each of these organizational “members” create a synergy of shared commitment and co-opportunity. Here is a list of the member organizations, for you to see for yourself the great wealth of experience and connections sitting at FSEP’s table.

- Agrarian Adventure - AVI Foodsystems - C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at MSU - Eat Local Food, LLC - >edible WOW - Gould Farms - Growing Hope - Jackson County - Legacy Land Conservancy - Lenawee County - Locavorious - Michigan Coalition of Black Farmers - Michigan Farmers Union - Monroe County - MSU Extension - MSU Product Center for Agricultural and Natural Resources - Slow Food Huron Valley - State of Michigan - DELEG (Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth) - SYN Associates, LLC - The Conservation Fund - University of Michigan - Washtenaw County - Wayne County - Zingerman's Community of Businesses

The five-member counties are the focus of FSEP’s current docket of programs. Fike tells me that FSEP might spread beyond our corner of SE Michigan, but only after all of the programs offered are in each of the five counties first.

FSEP has four main program areas: Business Innovation & Networking, Farm to Institution Program, Market Research & Development, and Education & Outreach. I will explore each one in turn.

Business Innovation & Networking

Jane Bush, FSEP’s Business Development Specialist and owner of Appleschram Organic Orchard, “has a great knowledge of farming and she is a certified business counselor,” extols Fike. As the founder of Grazing Fields Eggs Cooperative, Bush has experience bringing farmers together to maximize returns on their efforts. According to Fike, Bush is currently helping farmers in Jackson County create a hoop-house cooperative to extend the growing season. I can imagine Bush’s experience in branding, financial logistics, and marketing is invaluable for those individuals venturing into new territory.

Farm to Institution Program

The Farm to School and Farm to Business Programs are the most visible part of FSEP’s work. The programs facilitate sourcing local food for institutions.

Farm to School began in 2006, courtesy of a grant from the Community Foundation of SE Michigan, to bring in more local food to school cafeterias. They started with three different types of school paradigms: Ann Arbor Public Schools, Chelsea Public Schools, and the Henry Ford Academy.

Fike explains, “we chose those three different types so we could learn about the challenges of each and find out what the barriers are and what some of the advantages are to the different sizes.”

FSEP is the facilitator between the food service directors and the farmers. “We work to bring the parties together. We have been so removed from where our food is coming from often people don’t know where the farms are, or what is in season, or how to prepare it. Many of the schools have moved to heat and serve - so people aren’t used to preparing fresh food. The farmers aren’t sure how to sell to an institution, so we have done workshops"

Fike continues to educate me on the complex route vegetables take to a school salad bar. “One of the things we learned was that when there are multiple layers within a school district - like Ann Arbor Public Schools - they have Chartwells that runs it - Chartwells buys the food through Compass Group, which is a multinational corporation - and Compass Group buys from food distribution companies - so there are these different layers that make it more challenging - than say Chelsea Public Schools where the food service director can say, “I just want to buy directly from the farmer.””

Fike shares a story that brings her much happiness. “Our first foray working with Farm to Institution was working with the U of M in the fall of 2006. There was a chef in South Quad - they contacted the Lesser Farm to see whether they would be willing to sell local apples to the University. He swapped out the apples in the fall from apples from the Lesser farm and apple consumption doubled. Wow - students love it!” She starts to laugh.

FSEP sees itself as the catalyst and educator for institutions. After the first year of a program, the contacts have been made and FSEP is ready to serve as the facilitator for a whole new cadre of schools, while maintaining an advisory presence for those school alumni of the program. The Farm to School Program has expanded to 5 school districts in Jackson County and this past year they launched, again with grant monies, the program with Detroit Public Schools.

Thinking of the recent Nutrition in Schools article in the Economist, I ask Fike about the response from students for fresh vegetables. Fike’s response illustrates her understanding of the consumer side of the equation. “If we just have local food on the salad bars from Chartwells in the Ann Arbor Public Schools and the students aren’t eating it - it is not going to work. And so that is where we work with partners in helping to making the connection with the students about why it is good, why it is tasty, why it is important."

Volunteers have visited the school to help educate the students as to the produce and what to do with it. Deb Lentz of Tantre Farms and Alex Young from Zingermans Roadhouse have both donated their time. As Fike says, “it needs to be a comprehensive program so that the students are consuming the food.”

In addition to schools, FSEP is working with restaurants. I learned Matt and Rene Greff of Ann Arbor Brewing worked with FSEP to funnel most of the $400,000 a year they spend on food to local suppliers. “Rene spoke at a Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting in support of FSEP talking about how their food purchasing has shifted because of FSEP, that warms my heart,” shares Fike, as she laughs a happy laugh. Mine too.

In addition to schools and restaurants, FSEP is working with the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit. Allegiance Health in Jackson County has just launched a new farmers market on site at the hospital with help from FSEP.

Market Research & Development

FSEP keeps its eyes out for best practices across the country that it would like to implement in SE Michigan. For example, Thursday is the fifth annual FSEP Conference and the keynote speaker is Michael Sands, executive director of the Liberty Prairie Foundation in Illinois. According to Fike it is a “farm incubator program” and is a program “we are very interested in launching ourselves.”

Education & Outreach

FSEP has been making appearances at local festivals to spread the word of what they are doing. This year, they were the local host for the National Farm to Cafeteria conference held in Detroit. Nearly 700 people attended the conference. Fike was appointed this February to the Agriculture Commission for the state and is keeping an eye on policy both in Lansing and D.C.

I asked her at the end of our talk what brought her to this world. Fike glows as she shares her background, “I took a trip out to Vermont in the fall of 2004 and I just couldn’t believe what was happening there - in terms of how they use land and promote local farms, the Vermont Fresh Network, and I thought, wow that is so cool - I want to do that here. And here I am. Wow.” She laughs.

Here is the article on annarbor.com!