Steve’s Weekly Update for 9/29/10

Dear members,

Climatology 2010: A lovely day of rain on Wednesday last, and back to the balmy, mild, moderate “fall.”  The squash plants are getting tired and old without ever having been hit with a serious frost which is unusual for us at Mesa Top.

Steve’s Soapbox: I want to take a week off from the “big picture” soap box to write a personal thank you in this space to Adam Mihalik and Amelia Robertson, who have been the dynamic duo managing the plants and animals at Mesa Top Farm since early June.  Some of you have met them; many have not, but let me offer without equivocation my gratitude for their dedicated season of stewardship.  When Adam and Amelia arrived, things were quite a mess.  Last year’s farm manager and crew had pushed the envelope of production, while neglecting many aspects of “quality of life,” leaving the farm looking and feeling pretty worn out.  Last season was followed by a long tough winter with MUCH snow and mud and a slow release to spring.  No time for much except survival.  Many of you remember my protestations about the difficulty of caring properly for the cows and chickens as the mud deepened.  And then the spring crew arrived, with more personal distractions than reasons to hunker down and “right the ship.”  By the time Adam and Amelia came along in June, there was a lot of “raw material” to work with, but things felt rather tenuous at the farm.

So they dug in and learned day by day and step by step how to manage the resources that are present at Mesa Top.  They also brought a steady and keen eye to order and cleanliness.  For the first time in my memory, the farm became brighter and more livable as the produce season progressed.  This has been a high goal for me.  I have long felt that Mesa Top was a poor choice for high volume production pressure.  Rather it should be a place where it is a joy to live and learn about “resource conservation” as a lifestyle, and where a modest amount of good food is raised well with care and with a minimum of resources consumed along the way.  This summer, with the help of two sincere, dedicated, hard working, and very smart young people, Mesa Top took a good big step in that direction.  It will be an honor for the staff that follows them to carry on in that tradition.

Adam and Amelia will leave for the Pacific Northwest around October 10th.  I have warmly thanked them and extended them the invitation to return and captain the garden and livestock again next year.  If you want to thank them for all of the consistent and generally amazing produce that Mesa Top has contributed (and continues to contribute) to the CSA this season, email them at aamihalik@gmail.com and ameliajeanrobertson@gmail.com.  It is important to recognize our farmers, and I especially appreciate our young farmers.  The day is coming quickly when the mantle of opportunity and responsibility will shift to them.

This week’s Cow stories:  update on Mesa Top cows, Jim Miller Ayrshire projects and more:

Last week one of our Ayrshire cows unexpectedly calved at Kurtis’s dairy in Fountain, and we moved her to Colleen Agard’s Common Sense Dairy near Elizabeth.  She is doing very well, with a feisty bull calf.  She is Dottie Jr, daughter of sweet tempered Dottie, who we lost last summer after she calved a heifer that also now lives at Colleen’s.  Dottie’s last heifer is now named Abigail.   There is a little bit of Dottie’s line in the bull who we have been breeding the cows to for that last two years.  It is easy to see Dottie’s calm, implacable, and docile nature in these cows.  I am glad to see that we have retained so much of that personality in the herd.  Dottie Jr. is settling in to a cow’s life on a small family farm.

Colleen is an avid RMAC (Raw Milk Association of Colorado) producer.  She takes great pride to keep the cows healthy and well, and in producing clean safe raw milk.  For example she prefers to milk by hand because she worries about the difficulty of to keeping milking equipment clean and sees it as easier to keep hands and hand milking equipment clean  (buckets and bottles and so on).

Colleen became a raw milk producer “by accident.” She had been milking cows and goats so that she had milk for her family, which she diligently pasteurized by heating it lightly on the stove.  One day she came into the house and found 4 children with milk mustaches drinking milk they had dippered right out of the milk bucket.  Her (then) 15 year old daughter Kim said “Mom, we’ve had it!  That horrible smelling pasteurized milk is no good for us.  If we are going to drink milk, we want THIS KIND!”  That launched Colleen into the world of raw milk, and if she and her family were going to drink it, of course it had to be the safest that it could be!

She is learning the system that I previously learned from Ursula and Larry Holmes of Cresset Farm near Loveland Colorado, in which the momma cow raises her calf, and each morning, after being separated over night, the haltered calf is led over to nurse momma and help get her milk going.  Then the hungry little beast has to stand aside while we milk off a fair amount of momma’s milk, and leave the rest for him.  Momma cow spends her day doing what momma cows do with their calves, before he is separated at night and the next day we start again.  Usually within a few days they get the idea and things go very smoothly.

We have been studying the details of “HACCP” (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) method as it applies to a small dairy.  A fabulous program was developed by Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy in California.  He shares it willingly and we post it for any of you who want to learn the details of the “best practices” for raw milk production under the new RAW MILK menu at the top of this blog.

Click here for the link.

I am very impressed with RMAC commitment to education of the producer members about the methods and processes which can be used to improve the quality and safety of the raw milk that they produce.  The RMAC process was launched as a result of a law passed in Colorado with the help of significant effort by rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union making it legal for Colorado Citizens to own a share of a cow and to receive raw milk from that cow.  The formal process of members signing contracts, taking “part ownership” of the cow for as long as they want, and directly supporting small farms that are committed to continuous improvement is a model for me.

The “group process” aspect of RMAC, in which it is in all member’s best interest that no one cut corners and take risks with the public health is a perfect example of the kind of “group process” that I have been advocating for in the world of produce food safety.  RMAC members know that when any of them fail to fulfill their responsibilities to the public, all members are placed at risk.  They also know that no one is perfect and there is no way to guarantee total safety of healthy, living food.  But their job, as it is all of our jobs in agriculture, is to minimize the risk in every way we can.

Now RMAC leadership and members have embarked on a course of learning about HACCP, a system of risk assessment and management control that, when implemented in the meat processing industry in the 1990s, led to many small and local processors closing their doors because it was so intimidating.  I believe that the RMAC producers are right to look to HACCP and its methodology for guidance on how to make their raw milk as safe as possible.  I hope I will also learn as they do how to apply large industry principles to making small and family farms better and safer for customers and all others involved in the process.

This week’s cheese share update:

This week the cheese share will be Green Chile Cheddar and a piece of Artier.

This week’s Veggie/Share Update:

Slowly switching from spring to fall.  This week’s cool season arrival is yellow potatoes from White Mountain Farm.  The last Mesa Top summer squash are coming to you this week.  We have some small patches of Mesa Top carrots, which get the most amazing flavor due to being grown in clay and then “tempered” by cool fall nights.  The Mesa Top Chard and Salad mix look great still.

We will also have daikon radishes from Vida Verde Farm.  Other root crops from Mesa Top and other farms are coming soon!

And we still have the luscious late season heirloom tomatoes from Virgin Farm in South Albuquerque.

We successfully distributed all of the sweet poms from Shiraz.  If you have not eaten them all yet, and the skins are getting tough, do not worry.  Cut the tops off carefully and the fruit inside is as sweet and tasty as ever.

This week’s fruit are apples from San Juan Orchard and prune plums from Cider Hill Organics, a new supplier to the La Montanita COOP warehouse from the Sacramento Mountain town of Mountain Park.

Membership news:

Interested in living next door to Mesa Top Farm?  An 1850 square foot home, with guest house and shop, on 40 acres of land that Steve W sold in 1990 is for sale.  It is a very nice home, well built and maintained. Mesa Top sure could use new, friendly next door neighbors.  Interested?  Email stevew@plateautel.net and I will help you find out more!

Thank you for your continued support!

Steve Warshawer

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