Steve’s Weekly Update 10-13-10

Dear members,

Climatology 2010: Colder nights finally arrive at Mesa Top.  September was FREAKY:  warm days and nights.  It is starting to feel more like fall.  The most obvious indicator is snakes on the move, looking for their winter place of hibernation, a couple of weeks later than usual, but yes, fall is here.

Steve’s Soapbox: I want to share a bit of my experience at the NACMPI (National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection) in Washington, DC 2 weeks ago.  It was illuminating to see how FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service) is working hard to become a more transparent agency.

The committee has a strong representation of consumer groups who are working to improve FDA food safety and through Senate Bill 510 are trying to get FDA more authority over farms.  I have written frequently about the issue of farm food safety.  I look at FSIS and I see “the shape to come” of FDA food safety and am keen to find the lessons that we can learn and avoid, or emulate.

The FSIS was created in the 1970s and therefore had many years of “development” as a food safety agency.  Its implementation of HACCP in the late 1990s is considered a success by government and industry, but the manner in which it was implemented was a major factor in the loss of local and regional meat packing capacity all across the country.  That is not an outcome that local and regional food system advocates will accept in 2010.

FSIS is developing a data system so that records are created about inspection results and pathogen testing results “in real time”.  The Committee discussed various aspects of how accessible that data should be.  Should “bad results” for a given operation be publicized in such a way that the public can choose to avoid those players?  This approach could lead to strong competition around food safety, as operators compete for a better scorecard, and higher consumer acceptance.

This is the opposite of what I think is right:  All food should be safe enough that any of us would choose to eat it or it should not be on the market.  If we allowed “grades” for food safety (excellent, very good, fair, etc), then those with higher grades would seek a premium for their performance, and thus the poorer people would end up eating the less safe food.

In the end, just as a “one size fits all” approach to regulation favors larger and centralized operations, a transparent and competitive reporting process on regulatory reporting would support a class system around food safety, with lowest risk for the wealthiest consumers.

Even though this may seem counter-intuitive, I believe that not all data should be reported to all eyes AS DATA.  Without context it can do more harm than good!  We do not need to encourage competition over which/what food is safest.  We need the safest possible food for all.


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

I am in the middle stages of documenting a “stage by stage life cycle plan” for our dairy cows.  It looks something like this:

Birth to 6 months:  raised by momma cow:  estimated weight at 6 mo:  350 lbs.

6 months to 12 months:  weaned, train to stanchion, living on small pastures eating green grass as much as possible along with good hay:  estimated weight at 12 mo:  600 lbs.

12 months to 27-30 months:  continue as at previous stage except breed at 800 pounds and move as soon as practical to dairy where she will have her first calf.

30 -36 months:  living at the dairy, getting used to her surroundings, ready for her first calf:  estimated weight at first calf:  1,000 lbs.

In the larger dairy world, the function of raising replacement cows is totally separated from the milking process.  It is usually carried out at “heifer ranches.”  Another major difference is that the calf is immediately separated from momma and is raised in a calf yard, where at first each calf has her own small “pen”.  I believe that most dairy men want to keep their calves close to “home” at first because they can use non-salable milk as calf feed and they also have very good veterinary and nutritional services available at or near the dairy so they can assure the calf’s health when she is most vulnerable.

The calves are weaned very young (2-3months) and then are sent off to the ranches where grain becomes a major source of energy and protein to support growth.  The calves are then bred at 15 months.  They return to the dairy for calving and go on the milk line at around 24 months.

Our process with the Ayrshire mimics the industry approach with a major deviation that all phases are slowed down.  We do not see it as effective for most of our dairies that the replacement heifers live at the dairy.  So now we are working on the parameters and equipment for a new type of heifer ranch.

We are finding that with a forage based diet after weaning, our young heifers grow slowly.  We believe that allowing them to get closer to their full adult size, and to build a strong skeleton before their first calf is a higher welfare standard and ultimately will give them a longer, healthier, productive life.

Eventually we hope to develop a “one stop” calf ranch where weaned calves are raised and handled and trained all the way up to the time when they get close to their first calf.  We are doing that now at Mesa Top with the bull calves, but we cannot have heifers and bulls on the same ranch because we would have heifers being bred far too early!

For now we are considering the lessons being learned at Scott and Julie Bennett’s in La Puebla, and at Colleen Agard’s Common Sense Farm and Dairy in Elizabeth Colorado.  We are beginning to understand a few more pieces of the puzzle.


This week’s cheese share update:

This week the cheese share will be a variety of Ayrshire and other artisanal cheeses.


This week’s Veggie/Share Update:

Mesa Top Salad Mix is back on the menu this week.  We will also have arugula from Agricultura COOP.  From Mesa Top we will also have bunched carrots along with the last, aging kale of the season.

Last week we promised the unique “watermelon radish” from Gemini Farm.  Due to a communication foul up we never received them.  Meanwhile we had agreed with Agricultura COOP that we would get radishes from them this week, so the watermelon radishes will have to wait till next week.  Our apologies.

We continue with tomatoes from Virgin, but are expecting a full pound per member this week.

This week’s special addition is eggplant from Vida Verde Farm.

We continue with the incredible San Juan apples and add a one time special: Bosque pears from Shiraz vineyard.  Remember that Bosques do not get “soft” like a Bartlett pear, but when under ripe they are grainy and not very flavorful.  They need to be ripened like any pear or peach, which is done best in a paper bag for a couple of days at room temperature.  They will be SLIGHTLY soft to the touch when ready.  We hope you enjoy them!


Membership news:

Welcome back Dena and thank you Colleen for doing such a terrific job filling in!  Please continue to refer your friends and co-workers to redeem that $10 referral bonus!

Thank you for your continued support!

Steve Warshawer



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