Ciranna Bird's NC Food Blog

Welcome to my blog! I am a freelance farm and food safety writer passionate about preventing infectious disease and educating the public on the health aspects of meat, dairy, and eggs collected from animals that were raised humanely. Below are articles inspired by my appreciation for the animals and farmers that work hard to produce the food I eat in North Carolina.

Table of Contents

Summary of the "Meat Labels that Matter..." panel

How to eat and drink fewer raw eggs

What's the difference between pasture-raised eggs and pasteurized eggs?

Quiz: How many raw eggs did you eat this month?

Conditions inside U.S. Poultry Processing Facilities...

Advantages of buying pastured poultry during avian influenza outbreaks

Agritourism creates common interests between neighbors

Highlights of the 2016 Carolina Food Summit

Leonard-Mobley Grant for small-scale farms in NC

Home-canning Heirloom Tomatoes

Getting Ready for the Farmers’ Market

Highlights from the 2016 Piedmont Grown Conference

The relationship between bacteria and ethical meat

The launch of the Durham farm and food network

A review of the book "The Mobile Poultry Slaughterhouse"

The NC Choices Carolina Meat Conference

Who owns your favorite meat brands?

Celebrating Farmers at the Farmer's Ball

Audio conversation between medical writers

What is the bird flu?...HPAI?

Gifts of the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour

Protect the Quality of our Pork

Strawberry picking at the Collard Patch

Five Tips for Milking a Cow

An Unexpected Purchase

Summary of the "Meat Labels that Matter.." panel

Author: Ciranna Bird
Meat Conference attendees Jeff Carolina Meat Conference logo Winston-Salem

This year’s Carolina Meat Conference, was held in Winston-Salem on Monday and Tuesday. The event attracted men and women who raise livestock on pasture, process the animals into cuts of meat, regulate the labeling of meat, distribute, cook, and/or eat local non-conventionally raised meat. NC Choices, an initiative of the Center for Environmental Food Systems, hosts this type of event yearly to advance the local, niche, and pasture-based meat supply chain in North Carolina and other states.

This article will provide a summary of the panel session Meat Labels that Matter: What Qualifies as Grass Fed and More, which was held Monday morning on September 25, 2017 at the Carolina Meat Conference. The content about how to submit proposed meat labels to the federal regulation agency provides timely information to meat processors and meat label applicants. Farmers, and agriculture cooperative extension agents may be interested in the description of the two different Grass Fed certification programs. While the overview of U.S. food sales trends appeals to a wide audience including managers of local food hubs, and regional culinary guilds.

panel speakers

The full-length article is available at www.cirannabird.com/writer-portfolio.html#meatconf-panel


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How to eat and drink fewer raw eggs

Author: Ciranna Bird

Some eggs have harmful bacteria, called Salmonella, living inside or outside their egg shells. If you eat raw or undercooked eggs, you may get sick from Salmonella.

raw egg in frying pan raw egg drink

People may have a mild case or severe case of Salmonella.

  • People with a mild case of Salmonella infection may have a few days of diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps.
  • People with a severe case of Salmonella infection may have bloody diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, and blood infections that may require them to be treated at a hospital to prevent death.

It is estimated that every year in the United States of America, 380 people die, 19,000 people are hospitalized and 1,000,000 people become ill from Salmonella (Scallan, 2011).

The groups of people with the highest chance of getting severe Salmonella infections, include adults older than 60 years of age, children who are 5 years old and younger, and people with weakened immune systems due to organ transplants, cancer, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS (Medscape, 2012).

This article will provide specific ways to reduce the chances of you being one of the million people who get sick with Salmonella this year. The section headings are questions from the How many raw eggs did you eat in the past month? Quiz.


Question 1 & 2: Do you eat raw home-made cake batter and raw home-made cookie dough?

This question focuses on the cake batter and cookie dough you make in your own home. When you add unpasteurized eggs to the batter and dough, you have introduced the chances of getting sick from Salmonella. In addition, according to the Food and Drug Administration’s guidance Raw Dough's a Raw Deal and Could Make You Sick, the uncooked flour in your cookie dough may contain harmful E. coli (FDA, 2016).

dozen of eggs in their carton flour

For these reasons, it is advised by food safety officials to cook raw home-made cakes, cookies, stuffing, French toast, and other baked goods before eating. Use a food thermometer to check that the center of the baked product reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure that most of the Salmonella and harmful E. coli bacteria will be killed (USDA, 2015).

food thermometer

The safest option for reducing the chances of getting sick from Salmonella and reducing the chances of getting sick from harmful E. coli is to eat cooked cake and cooked cookies. For those who choose to continue to eating uncooked homemade batter and dough, here are a few options to reduce your chances of becoming ill with Salmonella. None of these options, reduce your chances of getting sick from harmful E. coli that may be in the raw flour.

  1. The safest option for reducing the chances of getting sick from Salmonella is to eat homemade uncooked cake batter and homemade uncooked cookie dough made without eggs.
  2. The second-safest option for reducing the chances of getting sick from Salmonella is to eat homemade uncooked cake batter and homemade uncooked cookie dough made with pasteurized eggs.
  3. The un-safest option for reducing the chances of getting sick from Salmonella is to eat homemade uncooked cake batter and homemade uncooked cookie dough made with raw un-pasteurized eggs.

To learn more about pasteurized eggs visit the article What's the difference between pasture-raised eggs and pasteurized eggs?

pasteurized liquid egg whites pasteurized liquid egg product

It’s important to note that, according to the USDA Egg Products and Food Safety guidance, even pasteurized egg products should be cooked if they are being served to high-risk persons. High-risk persons include infants and young children, pregnant women and their unborn babies, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems such as those with HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and transplant patients (USDA, 2015).


Question 3: Do you eat runny, gooey egg yolks?

runny white and runny egg yolk

Salmonella can live in the egg yolks and egg whites. According to the US. Department of Health and Human Services Food Safety.gov website, it is important to eat eggs that have firm whites and solid yolks regardless if they have been fried, scrambled, boiled, or poached (US Dept. of Health & Human Services, 2017).

Note: Restaurants and fast-food places are legally allowed to serve you uncooked eggs such as runny scrambled eggs, sunny-side up fried eggs, and poached eggs with liquid-y yolks as long as they tell you ‘undercooked foods may make you ill’.

boiled egg with mostly solid yolk

This disclaimer may be in small print on the menu, or as a sign posted on the wall. It is up to each customer to ask for fully cooked eggs.

boiled egg with solid yolk and white fried egg with solid yolk and white
  1. The safest option for reducing the chances of getting sick from Salmonella is to order eggs where the egg whitess are white and firm, and the egg yolks are solid and dry.
  2. The second-safest option for reducing the chances of getting sick from Salmonella is to order eggs where the egg white are white and firm, and the egg yolks are mostly solid.
  3. The un-safest option for reducing the chances of getting sick from Salmonella is to order eggs where the egg whites are runny, and the egg yolks are runny.

Question 4: Do you drink home-made liquids that have raw eggs?

raw egg drink

For a particularly unappetizing example of drinking raw eggs, watch the Youtube Movie CLIP- Breakfast of Champions from the movie, Rocky (Chartoff, 1976). In this clip the fictional boxer, Rocky Balboa, rolls out of bed, breaks open five eggs and puts the raw yolks and whites into a drinking glass. He drinks the raw eggs, leaves the unwashed drinking glass in the kitchen and begins the rest of his day.

A more common way to drink liquids with raw eggs in it, is via cocktails and the type of home-made eggnog made with raw egg yolks, confectionary sugar, cups of alcohol, quarts of heavy cream and egg whites (Rombauer, Cocktails and Party Drinks).

a cup of eggnog

For tips on how to make home-made eggnog safely, visit the Food and Drug Administration Homemade Eggnog: Make it Safely webpage (Bufano, Nancy, 2010). To answer your questions on the inability of alcohol or acidic liquids such as lemons and citrus to kill enough of the Salmonella bacteria, read the “Would you like some eggs with your cocktail” blog article (Levine, 2014) and the NC State Article, “If Eggnog has eggs in it, why is it safe to drink?” (Shipman, 2014).

  1. The safest option for reducing the chances of getting sick from Salmonella is to drink commercially prepared eggnog.
  2. The second-safest option for reducing the chances of getting sick from Salmonella is to drink homemade eggnog that has been cooked or made with pasteurized eggs.
  3. The un-safest option for reducing the chances of getting sick from Salmonella is to drink homemade eggnog made with raw unpasteurized eggs.

Question 5: Do you eat mayonnaise, Aïoli sauce, Caesar salad dressing, chocolate mousse, and tiramisù made from unpasteurized eggs?

The spreads and desserts listed above are just a few examples that contain uncooked eggs according to the Joy of Cooking cookbook (Rombauer, Desserts). Homemade and restaurant-made mayonnaise has raw egg yolks, lemon juice, and vegetable oil. Mayonnaise is the base ingredient to make Aïoli sauce, tartar sauce, and remoulade.

scoop of mayonnaise

The ingredients for Caesar dressing include garlic, lemon juice, raw egg, and Worcestershire sauce. Chocolate mousse is made with chocolate, butter, vanilla, raw egg yolks, sugar, raw egg whites, cream of tartar, sugar, and heavy cream.

For those who choose to continue to eating uncooked mayonnaise, Caesar salad dressing, and chocolate mousse here are a few options to reduce your chances of becoming ill with Salmonella.

commercially-made mayonnaise
  1. The safest option for reducing the chances of getting sick from Salmonella is to eat commercially prepared mayonnaise, mayonnaise-based sauces, Caesar dressing, and chocolate mousse.
  2. The second-safest option for reducing the chances of getting sick from Salmonella is to eat mayonnaise, mayonnaise-based sauces, Caesar dressing, and chocolate mousse made with pasteurized eggs.
  3. The un-safest option for reducing the chances of getting sick from Salmonella is to eat home-made mayonnaise, mayonnaise-based sauces, Caesar dressing, and chocolate mousse made with raw unpasteurized eggs.

Note: Although, Tiramisù contains raw egg yolks it does not belong in the same category as mayonnaise, aioli sauce, remoulade, Caesar dressing, and chocolate mousse. The reason for this is the mixture of eggs is heated until the temperature reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit, which will kill most of the Salmonella bacteria (Rombauer, Desserts).


Summary

Some eggs have harmful bacteria, called Salmonella, living inside or outside their egg shells. Salmonella is destroyed when eggs are fully cooked. Use a food thermometer to check that the temperature of egg mixtures are 160 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. For eggs cooked by themselves, ensure that the egg whites become white and firm, and the egg yolks are solid, firm and dry.

There are options for those who choose to eat raw cookie dough, raw cake batter, undercooked eggs, mayonnaise, and other drinks, dressings and sauces made with raw eggs that can reduce their chances of getting sick from Salmonella. Pasteurized raw eggs are a safer option than unpasteurized raw eggs.

People may have a mild case or severe case of Salmonella.

  • People with a mild case of Salmonella infection may have a few days of diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps.
  • People with a severe case of Salmonella infection may have bloody diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, and blood infections that may require them to be treated at a hospital to prevent death.

It is recommended that people who have a higher chance of getting a severe case of Salmonella should always eat fully cooked eggs regardless if they are pasteurized or not. The groups of people at most risk of severe Salmonella infections, include adults older than 60 years of age, children who are 5 years old and younger, and people with weakened immune systems due to organ transplants, cancer, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS (Medscape, 2012).


References:


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What's the difference between pasture-raised eggs and pasteurized eggs?

Author: Ciranna Bird

Pasture-raised eggs describes the lifestyle of the hens that laid those eggs.

hens on pasture hen with her pasture-raised egg

Many hens live their entire lives indoors, under artificial lights, with the amount of space their conventional battery cages, cage-free pens, or free-range housing allows them to have. In contrast, hens that lay pasture-raised eggs live most of their life outdoors, with daily access to sunlight, the ground, and ability to hunt for insects, grubs and other protein treats. The Animal Welfare Approved organization requires farmers to raise their hens on pasture in order to sell eggs with the Animal Welfare Approved label.

Tips for buying pasture-raised eggs include:

  • Look for the words “pasture-raised” or the Animal Welfare Approved label on the outside of the egg carton.
  • When in doubt, ask your local farmers what type of lifestyle their laying hens are provided.
  • Note: The abundance of pasture-raised eggs will be affected by the seasons. Hens that have access to sunlight will lay more eggs in the summer when the days are long, than they will lay in the winter.

Pasteurized liquids (raw egg whites, raw egg yolks, milk, juice, etc.) have undergone pasteurization.

Food processing facilities in the United States, use the pasteurization step to destroy harmful bacteria, including Salmonella, that may be inside the liquid they are pasteurizing. This food processing step doesn’t “cook the eggs or affect their color, flavor, nutritional value, or use” (USDA, 2015). To see how one egg farm uses automated machines to pasteurize their liquid eggs, visit the Youtube A look at how liquid eggs are processed at Willamette Egg Farm clip (WilliametteEgg, 2011).

Tips for buying pasteurized eggs include:

pasteurized liquid egg whites pasteurized liquid egg product
  • Pasteurized eggs often have been separated from their shells, and are not packaged in typical egg cartons. Instead, you will find these liquid eggs inside a pourable container, like those used for selling heavy cream.
  • The outside of the container will be labeled with the words whole liquid eggs, liquid egg whites, liquid egg yolks, or liquid egg products.
  • The term egg products indicates that non-egg ingredients have been added.

It is recommended by the USDA Egg Products and Food Safety guidance, that people who have a high chance of getting a severe case of Salmonella should always eat fully cooked eggs regardless if they are pasteurized or not. The groups of people with a high chance of getting severe Salmonella infections, include adults older than 60 years of age, children who are 5 years old and younger, and people with weakened immune systems due to organ transplants, cancer, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS (Medscape, 2012).


References:



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How many raw eggs did you eat this month?

Author: Ciranna Bird

Take this Raw Egg Quiz!

raw egg in frying pan
  1. In the past month, have you licked raw cake batter off of egg beaters, mixing bowls or other objects?
    Yes No
  2. In the past month, have you eaten raw home-made cookie dough?
    Yes No
  3. In the past month, have you eaten one or more eggs that have had runny, gooey egg yolks? These undercooked eggs may have been fried, scrambled, boiled, or poached.
    Yes No
  4. In the past month, have you sipped liquid containing raw eggs? (cocktails, unpasteurized eggnog, etc.)
    Yes No I don't know.
  5. In the past month, have you eaten mayonnaise, Aioli sauce, Caesar salad dressing, chocolate mousse, or tiramisu that was made with unpasteurized raw eggs?
    Yes No I don't know.
  6. Have all the people handling your food in the past month washed their hands, utensils, and kitchen surfaces before handling raw eggs?
    Yes No I don't know.
  7. Have all the people preparing your food in the past month kept raw eggs separated from the raw vegetables and fruit they have served you?
    Yes No I don't know.
  8. Have all the people serving your food in the past month washed their hands after handling raw eggs?
    Yes No I don't know.

How well did you do? Find out with this self-scoring answer key.


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Conditions Inside U.S. Poultry Processing Facilities may be ideal for starting an Influenza Pandemic

Author: Ciranna Bird
Edited by:
Dr. Uyen Nguyen
Written and Published for Infection Control.Tips
Processing of chicken Employees processing chicken Employee splattered with chicken blood

Abstract:
In March 2017, more than 171,000 chickens in the United States had avian influenza. The current epidemics of avian influenza virus in China demonstrate that it is possible for humans with direct contact with infected poultry, or been in areas where infected poultry have been slaughtered can become sick and die from avian influenza. U.S. poultry processing factory workers are in contact with bird feces, blood, and tissues. It is time for us to ensure that these men and women are provided paid sick time, hand-washing facilities, and adequate personal protective equipment.

Visit http://infectioncontrol.tips/2017/04/24/poultry-influenza-pandemic/ for the full article.


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Impact of HPAI on Pastured Poultry Flocks and the Advantages of Pastured Poultry as an Industry Model

Author: Carolina Stewardship Association - reposted with permission
Chickens on pasture Chickens raised on pasture Chickens living out on pasture

Many CFSA [Carolina Farm Stewardship Association] member poultry farms raise their flocks outdoors, or at least with significant access to pasture through the bulk of their lives. Most pastured poultry kept for commercial purposes are raised in portable pens or other structures that are used to keep the birds moving on a regular basis. Most would be given fresh, clean pasture at least daily, and sometimes even two or three times each day, along with clean water and traditional mixed-grain feeds fortified with essential minerals.


Pastured poultry producers are keenly interested in promoting bird health and disease prevention as an intrinsic part of their business model. Their birds are being raised in a deliberate and organized way outdoors with the express purpose of maintaining the health of the animals, the land, and even consumers. Simply put, animal husbandry is seen as the key to good health on these farms. In our view, the advantages of raising poultry in this manner, with respect to bird health, are a result of the following factors:

  1. Constant availability of sunlight and fresh air
  2. Regular exposure to fresh and varied forages
  3. Decreased animal stress in general
  4. Increased farmer observation and management on a per-bird basis

[The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association] CFSA, our farmers, and our community of engaged consumers fully understand that we are part of a complex and interdependent food system. We know that our birds and our farms are not immune to the effects of HPAI [highly pathogenic avian influenza], and that we are, like everyone else, at the front end of a learning curve on this issue. We will do our part to promote common sense biosecurity measures on farms, in processing facilities and in locations where poultry products are delivered to market.


The original post is on the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Information for Pastured-Poultry Owners on Biosecurity Measures Against HPAI.


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Agritourism creates common interests with my rural neighbors

Author: Ciranna Bird
Rural Advancement Foundation International Conference 2017 Southern Farm Show breakfast

When I listen to the radio and watch the news, I’m told that people in the United States of America are full of fear, anger and resentment toward people unlike themselves. I am informed that in addition to the existing divisions among race, religion, and gender there is additional splintering between liberals and conservatives, the college educated vs. the non-college educated, the working class vs. the non-working class. I have seen maps that show our country is politically divided between people who live in cities versus people who live in rural areas.

Personally, it is exhausting to have so many geographically, political, racial, religious, and economic class divisions to keep track of. In order to prevent becoming a target of hatred, I’m tempted to try to blend into my surroundings and minimize my perceived differences within the North Carolina agricultural communities I work with. My magical thinking tells me that if I don’t call any attention to myself or mention my gender, race, location-specific experiences, opinions on immigration, politics and religion then I will be safe. While in reality, what ultimately makes me feel less afraid and resentful of people who appear different then me is to identify the prejudices and stereotypes I have of ‘them’.

Before I moved to North Carolina from Massachusetts in the fall of 2013, I was worried about the following aspects of Southern culture; racism, the abundance of gun owners, the importance of tobacco, and the ways religion is used to control women’s rights. As a person of color, I was afraid to live in an area where slavery, lynching, and Ku Klux Klan activity occurred. I incorrectly assumed that the racism that existed in the Southeast was worse than the racism that existed in the Northeastern part of our country.

I had spent almost all of my life in New Jersey, and Massachusetts, which are two states with smart gun laws. According to the CDC National Center for Health Statistics in 2015, Massachusetts had a death rate of 3.0, New Jersey had a death rate of 5.4, and North Carolina had a death rate of 12.5. The data indicates that in 2015, Massachusetts had the lowest rate of gun death per capita among our country’s 50 states while 26 states had lower rates of gun death per capita than the state of North Carolina.

Fortunately for me, I had the courage, willingness, and opportunity to see beyond the stereotypes that I had of people in the South. In my “An Unexpected Purchase” article , I describe my visit to a farm in Wake County called the Collard Patch. Instead of finding Halloween pumpkins, I had the opportunity to ride into cabbage fields on a golf cart and learn about fresh vegetables from Hal Gurland, a former tobacco farmer who was born and raised in North Carolina. This positive first contact with a kind, local farmer allayed some of my distrust and fear of the ‘other.’

Turtle Mist Farm owner Hal, Collard Patch owner Two Agritourism farmers

Shortly after my conversation with farmer Hal, I went on a bus tour organized by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) to visit three farms in Chatham County; Edible Earthscape Farm, Piedmont Biofarm, and the Screech Owl Greenhouse. As a new resident, I savored the safety of being on the CFSA bus that knew where it was going, as well as marveled at the knowledge and passion that farmers Jason Oatis, Doug Jones, and Ralph “Screech” Sweger had.

In the past three years, I have visited over twenty farms thanks to the strong presence of agritourism in North Carolina. During these visits, I have met farm hands, food vendors, and farm owners with diverse educational and racial backgrounds. Agritourism which is a combination of the words, agriculture and tourism, is defined as “farming-related activities offered on a working farm or other agricultural setting for entertainment or educational purposes”.

In regards to entertainment farming-related activities on working farms, I’ve watched a baby goat try to nibble on my husband’s nose at the Prodigal Farm in Durham County, rode a minibus through the pastures of Rare Earth Farms to see grass-finished cattle in Louisburg County. I enjoyed feeding bread slices to pasture-raised pigs on Bob Syke’s Turtle Mist Farm in Franklin County, and watching a drive-in movie on Tammy Peterson’s Hubb’s Farm in Sampson County for Valentine’s Day.

The educational farming-related activities I’ve enjoyed in North Carolina include touring the Reedy Fork Organic Farm in Alamance County as well as digging for dung beetles and seeing the effects of no-tilled soil on buried underwear at the CEFS Pasture-Based Dairy Unit in Wayne County. I’ve also harvested tomatoes, snap peas, eggplants, cucumbers, carrots and potatoes at the Interfaith Food Shuttle Teaching Farm in Raleigh, NC and attended the Navigating the USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Audit Food Safety Program, which was held at Summerfields Farms in Guilford County.

Rural road sign Winding-road

Both the educational and entertaining farming-related activities have provided me the opportunity to drive on country roads and shop at local stores and gas stations with old-fashioned pumps. When I’m invited onto a neighbor’s farm, I connect with the farmer over our common interests about land, food, and the well-being of farm animals. Most often, our views on racial equity, gun rights, tobacco consumption, and women’s rights don’t come up during our interactions. Having the opportunity to focus on what unites us rather than divides us helps me feel connected to my rural neighbors during a time of racial, political, and cultural tension.



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Highlights of the 2016 Carolina Food Summit

Author: Ciranna Bird
NC FoodSummit audience NC FoodSummit at Rock Quarry Farm

The current food system in North Carolina was discussed at the September 2016, Carolina Food Summit: Plates, Policy, and Place. This two-day event was organized by the following organizations: EdNC.org, the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation, TerraVita, and the UNC-Chapel Hill Food For All: Local and Global Perspectives.

The second day of the Carolina Food Summit, started off with results from the State of the Plate: A North Carolina Foodways Survey. This presentation was followed by a panel with 5 speakers moderated by Andrea Weigl from the News & Observer newspaper. Below are details of this Conversation Sparks: Hunger, Change, Flavor, Policy, and Sustainability panel.


Hunger: Reverend Richard Joyner spoke on the topic of hunger because of his experience working with his community to combat poverty, malnutrition and premature death due to diabetes and hypertension. In his belief that “access to food shouldn’t be about shaming or blaming” he created the youth-led Conetoe Family Life Center.During his presentation, he shared that 60 children are managing twenty garden plots, and 175 bee hives to provide food, healthy relationships, character, dignity, and integrity to their community.


Change: Wyatt Dickson, the whole-hog pitmaster and owner of the restaurant Picnic, spoke about the decrease in flavor and quality of pork that occurred when hog-raising methods changed to an industrial model. In pursuit of better tasting barbeque, he stopped buying indoor-raised commercial breed hogs, and started sourcing his meat from a farm that raises heritage breed hogs outdoors on open-pasture.

By using only pasture-raised pork purchased from Green Button Farm, Wyatt provides his customers good quality food. He acknowledges “it [barbequing heritage pig breeds raised on pasture] is not new, it is going back to the old way of how things were done” before farmers were forced to raise their pigs in an industrial model.


Flavor: Chef Ricky Moore, owner and chef of the Saltbox Seafood Joint, spoke to the audience about flavor. He grew up in New Bern county where cooking occurred in one pot. The food was simmered for a long time and cooked in large batches in order to feed a lot of people.

He keeps the menu limited at his restaurant in order to dial in the flavor of each sea creature. He “respect the people who grew them, raised them and caught them.” He introduces diners to fish and shellfish they have not experienced before and invites them to experience new flavors and textures.


Policy: Scott Marlow, the executive director of the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), spoke on policy. He said that “we have the food system we chose 40-50 years ago” when we strived for uniformity, conformation, industrialization, and efficiency. It is now time to prioritize new characteristics such as resilience, redundancy and surplus. He encouraged the audience to pay attention to the following aspects of the US Farm bill:

  1. Who owns the land?
  2. Who controls the water?
  3. Who owns the seeds? (companies)
  4. How do we ensure the right of people to feed each other while navigating food safety concerns?

Sustainability: Chef Scott Crawford, owner of Crawford & Son Restaurant in Raleigh, NC, spoke about the sustainability of the employees in the food preparation industry. He spoke about the low wages, excessive hours and stress that line cooks and sous chefs are expected to bear. After working 30 days non-stop as a sous chef, he walked into the emergency room with diabetic ketoacidosis. His insulin levels were so high the emergency doctor had only seen those levels in dead people. It’s not just the sustainability of the food, land and soil to be concerned with. It’s time to pay attention to all the people involved with food production: farm laborers, the sorters, people working at meat processing facilities, the packers, the transporters and the food preparers.


The Conversation Sparks: Hunger, Change, Flavor, Policy, Sustainability panel was followed by three additional panels, a film, delicious food and two interactive brainstorming sessions. The keynote speaker at the 2016 Carolina Food Summit was author, educator, and activist Toni Tipton-Martin. In her Undoing Culinary Segregation talk, Ms. Tipton-Martin shared the stories of resourceful cooks, self-published authors, and entrepreneurs whose voices she discovered in African American cookbooks published over the past two centuries. The true stories and accomplishments of African American cooks during slavery and post-slavery times, dispel the “Aunt Jemima” stereotypes and myths that most of us in the United States have subconsciously developed. Uncovering the truth also helps create an inclusive food narrative that whites and people of color can use to improve today’s food system.



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Leonard-Mobley Grant for small-scale farms in NC

Author: Ciranna Bird

There are only 10 days left for owners of NC small-scale farms to send in their grant applications. More details on eligibility and the application forms for the Leonard-Mobley Small Farm grant are available at https://www.dinnerinthemeadow.org/grant-application-2/. The deadline is July 15, 2016.

Last year, the grant panel reviewed 67 applications. In the 2015 grant cycle three farms were awarded funding to help them undertake sustainability improvement projects.

In Good Heart Farm JB Farms Bee Branch Farm

Through phone and e-mail conversations in June 2016, I had a chance to follow up with last year’s winners. Here are the questions and answers with Terri Wells of Bee Branch Farm, Paula Boles of JB Farms, and Ben Shields of the In Good Heart Farms.

How did you hear about the 2015 Leonard-Mobley Small Farm Grant?

Bee Branch Farm, Terri Wells, heard about the 2015 grant via the Monday Marketing message that is sent to all farms in the North Carolina Agritourism Networking Association.
JB Farms, Paula Boles’ county extension agent told her about the grant.
Ben Shields of In Good Heart Farms, heard about the grant from a fellow vendor at the Western Wake Forest Farmer’s Market.

How have you used the 2015 grant award to increase your small-scale farm’s sustainability?

Bee Branch Farm built a shed with an extended roof covering and an attached solar greenhouse. Thanks to the grant, Terri Wells and her husband Glenn Ratcliff now have a space to grow vegetable, herb and flower transplants in their solar green house, an area to store tools, and a roof-covered area for packing and selling their produce on farm stop days.

JB Farms, Paula Boles used the grant money to buy a plastic roof to cover a section of their 500 feet long building that previously was used to raise chickens for the Tyson company. Their plan is to convert their tin-covered chicken houses into aquaponic green houses. This grant allowed them to prove that the conversions would provide enough light and air circulation for vegetables to grow in the soil. They are currently in the process of building fish tanks and a biofiltration system that will allow them to grow fish and plants in a controlled environment to maximize the use of the energy and nutrients in the aquaponics system. They estimate the total expense of the conversion will cost $30,000. For more of their story read the following Farm Aid article, written by Jennie Msall, a Farm Aid’s Farm Advocate.

In Good Heart Farms used to be located in Clayton, NC on six acres of rented land. As of June 2016, they are moving their home and farming equipment to their newly purchased 22-acres of land in Pittsboro, NC. This new land is special to them as well as it is to the surrounding community because it was formerly owned by the organic farming pioneer, Bill Dow.
Once Ben Shields and Patricia Parker complete the move they will build a covered wash station with the Leonard-Mobley small farm grant money that they were awarded in 2015. This station will be a place to wash and pack freshly harvested produce in a method that will meet Good Agricultural Practices and FDA Food Modernization Safety Act (FSMA) requirements for food safety.

What advice do you have for farms applying for the 2016 grant funds?

Terri Wells from Bee Branch Farm said

“One of the wonderful aspects of this grant is that it allows the small farmer flexibility in assessing what is most needed for the farming operation … and not be limited by restrictive parameters as many grants are. Therefore, I suggest that farmers think about what is truly going to help them for the long term - what will provide them future flexibility - and then write the grant with that focus.”

Paula Boles from JB Farms said

“The grant application process is important as it forces you to think about your project/business and to assess your short term and long term goals. It is very helpful to think through this process and to get it on paper.”
Ben Shields from In Good Heart Farms, recommends applicants have a clear and concise project in mind. Draw plans, price it out, and figure out the costs.

Any last minute comments?

Terri Wells said

“being awarded the Leonard-Mobley Small Farm grant in 2015 not only allowed me to build much needed farm infrastructure, but also gave me a vote of confidence that my work and advocacy as a small family farm is valued.” “I encourage farmers to get involved with advocacy and policy work; farmers must ensure that our voice is heard and that we have input on important policy decisions that affect farmers and our food systems.”

Paula Boles said

“It was such a pleasure to attend the Dinner in the Meadow and was one of the nicest events we had ever been to. We felt so honored and humbled to be a part of the program and moved to tears when Martha shared the grant story. Having received this award gave me the courage and knowledge to apply for other grants and to continue to network with other farmers and organizations. I am very thankful to have been a part of the process and to receive the award from such a great family!!”

The Dinner in the Meadow is an annual fundraiser hosted by Martha Mobley to raise the money awarded to the Leonard-Mobley Small Farm grant winners. As the Franklin County agricultural extension service agent for the past 25 years and farm owner, she believes in increasing the sustainability of small-scale farms. She began the grant as a way to honor the agricultural contributions of her late husband, Stephen Mobley, and her deceased mother, Marjorie Louise Gardner Leonard.

This year’s Dinner in the Meadow will be September 11, 2016 and will begin with a wine and cheese reception, an elegant dinner with video footage of the 2016 grant winner. In addition, there will be a silent auction of locally donated gift baskets. Below is a list of some of Martha Mobley’s family, friends, and community contacts that work hard to put together this beautiful farm to table fundraiser.

Chef Gaydeski and Ranell Bridges
  • The North Carolina Executive Mansion Chef, David Gaydeski, will oversee the menu of beef, lamb, goat, pork, and vegetarian dishes prepared by local chefs including Chris Prieto, Jason Smith, Ron Hobbs, Joe Lumbrazo, Jon Oliver and Elizabeth Layman.
  • Ranell Bridges, of Two Bridges Farm will be conducting administrative tasks including being the e-mail point person, and creating the video of the 2016 grant winner.
  • The CFO and executive director of Feeding Franklin, Kathy Harrelson, is donating her writing and marketing experience to advertise the event in local magazines. She is also creating profiles of the chefs and organizing the donation baskets for the silent auction.
Dinner_in_Meadow organizers2 Dinner in Meadow organizers
  • Barbara Batts will be organizing the tents with Ellen Stainback, delivering the local food to the chefs before the event, and coordinating the donation baskets with Kathy Harrelson for the silent auction.
  • Allison Belan, designed the website Dinner in the Meadow, while Pat owner of Slick Communications serves as the webmaster and designer of the advertising postcards and banners.
  • The McCracken family, Helen, Jessica, Carl, and Janice are coordinating the powder room tent and sourcing the wine for the evening.
  • Sarah Loftin will be staffing the registration table with Tammy Manning of the North Carolina DENR who will also be coordinating the inventory of rental items (dishes, forks, etc.).
  • Frank Stasio, the host of The State of Things on WUNC radio and friend of Martha Mobley’s late husband will be the host for the evening.

If you are a small-scale North Carolina farm, send in your grant application by July 15, 2016. If you want to support small-scale farms while enjoying a delicious meal of locally grown and raised food, buy your ticket to this year’s Dinner in the Meadow at https://dinnerinthemeadow.org/dinner/.



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Home-canning Heirloom Tomatoes

Author: Ciranna Bird
Location: This two-part article was written for The Sweet Potato, the sustainable farm and food blog of the Carolinas

Home-canning heirloom tomatoes Part 1 is for people like me who grew up eating store-brand canned tomatoes. In this article you will learn about the difference in taste and quality of commercially-canned tomatoes grown in California from home-canned heirloom tomatoes.
Note: The beautiful tomato pictures in the article posted on the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Sweet Potato Blog were taken by Lee Newman, a co-host of the Raleigh Tomatopalooza event.

Home-canning heirloom tomatoes Part 2 includes a step by step guide. The take home messages from this article are:

  1. Experienced and inexperienced home-canners can greatly benefit from an in-person “Safely Preserving at Home” course offered by their local Cooperative Extension Service county centers.
  2. New scientific research, new models of canners, and a better understanding of the ways to reduce foodborne illness make it important to use the most up-to-date canning instructions from trusted resources.
  3. The most trusted resource is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Download their guidance material at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website at http://nchfp.uga.edu/.
  4. Follow the canning recipe exactly as it is written. If you substitute ingredients, attempt to double or halve the recipe, or fail to reach the target temperature for the exact time your jars may not seal properly which could lead to food spoilage, paralysis and death.

Note: I made the beef tajine using the Tajine of Lamb and Tomatoes recipe from Brian Yarvin’s The too many tomatoes cookbook: Classic & Exotic Recipes from around the World. Ingredients included stew meat, garlic, onion, salt, turmeric, whole peeled tomatoes, zucchini, fresh pumpkin, and raisins.

For this article, I had a chance to interview a home-canner who was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina. Here is a little of Teresa Bland’s story. By the age of seven years old, she spent her summer days harvesting fruits and vegetables with her siblings from their 2-acre garden every morning and evening. In the afternoons, Teresa was home-canning multiple batches of food (tomatoes, blackberry jam, green beans etc.) with her Mom. They canned about 100 quarts of food every year which meant that her family of seven only shopped at the grocery for items they couldn’t make themselves such as toilet paper and laundry detergent.

Come join me at the Chapel Hills Farmers Market Tomato Festival on July 16th. I will be providing Carolina Farm Stewardship Association bumper stickers, brochures and organic cherry tomato seeds which was donated to them by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, copies of my home-canning heirloom tomato articles, and hands on demonstrations of canning equipment. In addition, Craig LeHoullier, the author of The Epic Tomato, will be there to answer all your tomato-related questions. I'm looking forward to meeting him in person!



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Getting Ready for the Farmers’ Market: Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food

Author: Ciranna Bird
Location: This article was written for The Sweet Potato, the sustainable farm and food blog of the Carolinas
Travelers Rest Farmers Market, SC

Spring is here and it’s time to get fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy products from your local farmers’ market! Some of these products get sold out quickly in the day, so arrive early and bring a cooler to keep your items cold while you do the rest of your shopping.

Visit the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association's blog, The Sweet Potato at http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/getting-ready-for-the-farmers-market-know-your-farmer-know-your-food/ to learn:

  • How to identify the percentage of growers vs resellers at your farmers’ market
  • Questions to ask your growers, more commonly known as your farmers
  • Tips for buying eggs, dairy products, and meat at the farmer’s market
  • How to support the farmers who follow the practices you value


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Highlights from the 2016 Piedmont Grown Conference

Author: Ciranna Bird

Farmers, consumers and food aggregators from the Piedmont region of North Carolina came together on March 10, 2016 for the Piedmont Grown Annual Conference. The event was hosted by Piedmont Grown, and sponsored by the CEFS initiative NC Growing Together: Connecting Local Foods to Mainstream Markets, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, and Organic Valley.

Ben Hartman at Piedmont Grown conference

Keynote speaker, Ben Hartman of Clay Bottom Farm, shared the following pieces of wisdom:

  1. To be efficient, farmers should store their farm tools in the locations where they are being used rather than storing them within one central shed.
  2. It is vital to provide customers what they want, when they want it, and in the quantity they want it.
  3. In order to provide this level of service, farmers should go beyond just talking to their customers at the farmers market and community supported agriculture (CSA) pickup locations. For example, Ben Hartman visits his customers’ in their homes so he can watch exactly how they unpack, store and cook his produce.
Unique Supply Chain Partners panel

Three different types of intermediate food buyers were on the Unique Supply Chain Partners Part 1 panel.

First Hands Food, buys cattle and hogs that have been raised outdoors, on pasture without antibiotics or growth hormones in North Carolina. Thirty-five North Carolina cattle farms and eighteen North Carolina Natural Hog Growers Association member farms sell their whole animals to First Hands Food who handle the details of promotional pricing, liability insurance, contracts, and food safety audits. Grocery stores and chefs enjoy working with First Hands Foods because they are guaranteed a steady supply of quality traceable meat that is accompanied with each farmer's story.

Farmer FoodShare provides a match-making service between individual NC small-scale produce farmers and institutional customers that serve people at risk for hunger. Small farmers such as those that belong to the Southern Organic Female Farmers Association in Vance County, learn from Farmer FoodShare how to pack their produce by the case for the ability to sell to food pantries, Durham public schools, and childcare facilities. In return, these institutions have the opportunity to buy Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certified, local, healthy food and receive training by Farmer FoodShare on how to prepare these fresh vegetables and fruits.

The Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative connects Sandhill farmers to their neighbors within Moore, Chatham, Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Montgomery, Lee, Randolph, Richmond, and Scotland County. Farmers within this cooperative gain a long-term, secure market for their crops, while members of the community gain access to affordable high quality local food. Members of the cooperative receive Sandhills farm news, recipes and storage tips for each fruit/vegetable that comes in their box as well as receive access to cooking demonstrations, canning classes, and community events like co-op You Pick Days, community potlucks, and farm tours.

Patricia Tripp - GAP Packaging and Labeling panel

Patricia Tripp of Artisan Food Solutions was the facilitator for the Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs): Lessons Learned from the Field workshop and also presented information about the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) during the closing session. Sarah Blacklin of NC Choices was on the Packaging and Labeling for Consumer Impact and Compliance panel with Dr. Kathryn Boys of NC State University, and Chris Harris of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.


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The relationship between bacteria and ethical meat

Author: Ciranna Bird
This article was re-posted on The Sweet Potato Blog: Sustainable Farm and Food Blog of the Carolinas by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.

When Meredith Leigh presented at the 2015 Sustainable Agriculture Conference, I knew I found a kindred fan of bacteria. She said “If you see me standing before you as one individual, one organism you are wrong.” She told the audience about the good bacteria that lives in our human intestines, our mouths, the surface of our eyes, and skin. Without bacteria, our bodies wouldn’t be able to digest and extract minerals and vitamins from our food.

The information below is what I gathered from Meredith Leigh’s presentation, a follow-up one-on-one call with her, and the contents of her book. Her book is the Ethical Meat Handbook: complete home butchery, charcuterie and cooking for the conscious omnivore. The first component of ethical meat is that it comes from an animal that enjoyed a good life.

As part of providing animals a good life, she encourages farmers to allow the animal to act out its natural tendencies. Cattle, pigs, lambs and chickens are best suited to eat food that their bodies were designed to eat, rather than providing them with a high starch grain diet. The second aspect is allowing them enough space for rotational grazing which interrupts the life cycle of parasites that could harm the health of the flock. Better health reduces the need to provide antibiotics indiscriminately to all the animals. She says “Just as you depend on your gut flora to survive, cattle depend on communities of bacteria in their rumens to digest cellulose and other complex compounds in grass.” She says that “consuming so much grain, exposure to harmful bacteria and then being treated with antibiotics- changes the animal’s gut chemistry”. An imbalanced gut chemistry reduces the well-being of the animal as well as the humans that consume the animal.

Another aspect of ethical meat is that the humanely slaughtered animal meat should be properly butchered to maximize the use of the entire animal. Meredith Leigh provides presentations and written guidance for butchers and intrepid home cooks on how to handle large sections of beef, pork, lamb and chicken safely and efficiently. Her book has step by step cutting instructions and black and white pictures which reduces the blood and gore aspect of seeing animal muscles being separated into steaks, strips, ribs and loin chops.

Without the safe cooking and preserving of the well butchered meat that came from animals who had a good life and were humanely slaughtered, the meat would still fall short of being ethical. As meat eaters, we have the opportunity to learn how to cook and prepare meat in new ways that will improve our diets, save money, and provide ourselves with delicious food. This is where charcuterie, which is the science of converting raw meat into preserved meat that has an increased shelf life, enters the conversation.

Although the word charcuterie is unfamiliar term to me, I am well acquainted with the final results. Before, I started choosing to eat meat that was humanely raised, I use to love buying bacon, salami, bologna, liverwurst, and pepperoni from the deli counter at my nearby grocery store. In chapter 4 of the Ethical Meat Handbook, Meredith provides step by step instructions on how I can make my favorite deli meats at home.

As a prior microbiologist who grew Salmonella, Shigella and E.coli 0157 in petri dishes to identify the source of foodborne outbreaks, my favorite chapter is Chapter 4: Charcuterie. In this chapter Meredith Leigh reminds readers that animal meat has bacteria. And for the most part the bacteria is non-harmful just like the types of bacteria that live in our digestive system, mouths, surface of our eyes, and skin. However to protect yourself and those you prepare food for, it is important to reduce the exposure to bacteria that cause foodborne diseases. She reminds shoppers to keep raw meat from touching the vegetables they buy at the farmers market. Raw chicken and turkey meat carry more bacteria than pork, while meat and lamb carry the least amount of bacteria. Therefore, butcher shops and restaurants put eggs and chicken meat on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent them from dripping on anything else. Pork meat is stored on the second shelf, while beef and lamb get stored on the third highest shelf in the refrigerator.

There are six tools to promote the growth of helpful bacteria such as Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Kocuria which are vital for the fermentation and curing of meat, while decreasing the growth of harmful bacteria like Campylobacter, Listeria, and Clostridium botulinum. The toxin of Clostridium botulinum is familiar to me, because while I worked for the Massachusetts Department of Health isolating E.coli 0157 from people who ate improperly cooked hamburgers, my co-workers were isolating C. botulinum from baby food and honey. This bacteria's toxin causes botulism which may lead to paralysis and death. Sorry, I got carried away with bacteria. Here are the six tools:

  1. Salt reduces the water activity in the meat and it effects the growth and metabolism of bacteria.
  2. Temperature can slow the growth or eliminate harmful microorganisms while promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria.
  3. Humidity, which is the moisture in the air, is critical to proper drying of fermented meats.
  4. Smoke contains compounds that will slow or stop the ability of bacteria to grow and prevents rot.
  5. pH, which is the acidity of a product, affects the bacteria responsible for fermenting, curing, and flavoring the meat.
  6. Nitrites and nitrates slow the process of meat becoming rancid and prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum spores

To prevent these tools from becoming too abstract, let me relay a conversation Meredith Leigh had during one of her previous presentations. A child in the audience said his birthday was coming up. She jokingly suggested he ask his mom for an entire pig carcass. Why? Because he could take the ham leg, bury it in a box with kosher salt for a certain amount of time, and then hang it in his bedroom closet for six to 12 months to create prosciutto. The salt reduces the water activity, and the hanging in a dark cool space with high humidity causes the ham to lose 40% of its weight and therefore becomes safe to eat at room temperature. No cooking involved. Crazy cool, I know.

But why would you want to make your own cold cuts, bacon, or prosciutto? Albeit for me, it sounds like a fun science experiment. The reason is that creating your own deli meats helps small-scale farmers earn a living. In her book, Meredith indicates that transforming ethically raised animal carcasses into chops, and sausages is very expensive for small-scale livestock farmers. This process called the “cut and wrap” happens either at the slaughterhouse, butcher shop, or grocery store. Charcuterie enables the customer to buy and store larger sections of an animal in their own home which helps the small-scale livestock farmer and reduces the customer’s grocery bill.

In conclusion, bacteria play a vital role in helping the bodies of animals and humans digest food. The good bacteria also have vital role in the fermentation and curing to transform raw meat into delicious deli meats. There are important precautions to take to avoid harmful bacteria from causing foodborne illnesses and spoiling the precious meat that has been ethically raised, butchered and prepared.

Note: Meredith Leigh speaks throughout the United States about food, farming, butchery, and cooking. Her audiences include food citizens, chefs, culinary students, farmers, food distributors, and educators. Visit her website to find out how to enroll in her hands-on butchery classes, and meat ethics workshops.


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The Launch of the Durham Farm and Food Network

Author: Ciranna Bird

Durham Food Council On Friday night January 8th, the Durham Farm and Food Network (DFFN) had its kick-off event. More than 120 community members interested in improving the local food system in Durham came together at the Duke Memorial Chapel. There was a lot of energy and optimism in the room as we listened to Jared Cates, a Community Mobilizer from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and Abbey Piner, a program coordinator of community food strategies from the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.

They explained that the values, structure, and mission of the Durham Farm and Food Network was developed by a community task force that has met monthly since 2014. The goal of the DFF Network is to promote healthy communities, environmental stewardship and economic development in Durham County via the creation of partnerships, development of policy, education and advocacy. After the brief presentation and description of the three levels of involvement, the attendees self-selected themselves into four breakout groups. These action circle groups were “Justice/Food Security/Hunger”, “Farming and Natural Resources”, “Health” and “Economy”.

Due to my experience in epidemiology and public health, I went to the breakout group on “Health” even though I was tempted to be at the “Justice/FoodSecurity/Hunger” and “Farming and Natural Resources” groups at the same time. I wasn’t the only one who had difficulty choosing just one aspect of food to focus on for the night. Fortunately, we were reassured by the facilitators that we could switch breakout groups or belong to multiple Action Circles for subsequent meetings.

To reduce the need to shout across the circle to each other, our “Health” action circle split itself into half. After quick introductions, the facilitator asked us “What changes would you like the action circle to make related to the health and food in Durham?” There were a lot of blank looks for the first few minutes.

Although many of us were interested in health, there were a few of us that felt qualified to identify the major health and food issues in Durham. In the circle, there was an employee of the Durham County Department of Public Health, a North Carolina Central University employee, an Orange County Health Department employee, a medical writer, two dieticians, one social worker, one psychotherapist, a farm church leader, a science writer from Duke University, and an educator for gifted students.

Some of the questions participants in our group asked were, “What is currently being done and by whom?” Were there existing assessments of health status that we could use as starting points? How do we as a fledgling action circle get more diversity among income levels, race and ethnicity to ensure that solutions we propose are beneficial to our whole community?

We ended the action circle discussion with an introduction to Michelle, one of the volunteers who will help set up and organize future “Health” action circle meetings. We then joined the rest of the attendees for a tasty snack of vegetables, mini-sandwiches and desserts donated by the Durham Co-op Market. Many of us left the event with optimism and curiosity for the outcome of future meetings of the Durham Farm and Food Network.


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A review of Ali Berlow's book, "The Mobile Poultry Slaughterhouse:..."

Author: Ciranna Bird

This review was submitted to Barnes and Noble in 2015, and edited in 2017.

Book’s Background

The Mobile Poultry Slaughterhouse: Building a Humane Chicken Processing Unit to Strengthen Your Local Food System" is a mouthful of a title. It begins with the author Ali Berlow, identifying herself as a housewife who cooks and eats meat. She states upfront that she is not a farmer, a butcher, or a professional meat processor. In each of the eight chapters she provides step by step instructions on how the reader can make “the cycle of life, death and dinner” more humane for the humans and animals involved in local food systems.

How I came about the book

I bought this book at the 2015 Carolina Meat Conference after meeting the author Ali Berlow. As a consumer of chicken raised by local farmers, I wanted to learn how to support the humane treatment of animals raised for meat.

However, I was frightened by the word slaughterhouse in the title. I was not sure if the inside of the book would be too visually disturbing for me. I imagined photographs of blood, dying birds, and scary people wielding giant cleavers. To my relief, when I opened the book, I only saw black and white line drawings. Most of the sketches were of double-sided sinks on wheels, tables, coolers, and drain racks.

Ali Berlow also provided the following definitions on page 37 and 72, to help rein in my imagination: “Slaughter is killing an animal for food”; Processing transform the dead animal into raw food; "butchery is the act that breaks down the raw meat into parts such as thighs, drumsticks and breasts."

Author’s idea and writing craft

This book conveys the author’s sense of humor, and passion for making a difference in her community. Her writing style is approachable and the topics and chapters are broken up in bite size segments that flow well together.

Each chapter is written in the first person with active verbs to keep the reader engaged in the story and caring about the perspectives among the Massachusetts Department of Public Health regulators, chicken workers, farmers and eaters.

What I like about this book is that the author, met me, the reader where I was, and slowly introduced me to new concepts. For example, Ali Berlow talks about her neighbor who buys chicken parts in grocery stores and doesn’t want to be reminded that the meat comes from a living creature with bones and blood. I can relate to the neighbor.

Final Verdict

This is a great book for anyone who eats chicken. The tools and information will help the reader understand the challenges local farmers have in providing safe quality meat to the public.

The Mobile Poultry Slaughterhouse: Building a Humane Chicken Processing Unit to Strengthen Your Local Food System provides local farmers and community members with checklists, tips on how to get permits, and strategies on how to build and use mobile poultry processing trailers in other parts of the country.


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The NC Choices Carolina Meat Conference and Small-scale Meat Production

Author: Ciranna Bird

In October, I signed up for a two-day Meat Conference hosted by The Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) North Carolina Choices. I wasn’t sure what to expect and was worried that I had to pass a meat-eating test to gain entry. Would I be turned away if I admitted I was a picky meat eater? Although, I love the taste and smell of meat, I need to know a lot of information before I feel comfortable indulging. Listed below are three key aspects that are important to me.

  1. The meat comes from an animal that was bred to live outdoors, grew at natural rates, had plenty of space and opportunity to act out on its natural behaviors, was fed food that their bodies were equipped to handle, and was only given antibiotics when they were sick.
  2. The meat was processed, and stored according to proper food safety guidelines to prevent the spread of verotoxigenic E. coli, Salmonella, parasites and viruses.
  3. The meat is enjoyable to eat and is familiar to my taste buds.

Fortunately, the eating of meat wasn’t a big focus at the event. Instead the focus was on bringing together all the stakeholders of small-scale meat production. Farmers raising animals on a small-scale, owners of small-scale meat processing facilities, state food inspectors, butchers, and chefs gave presentations, networked and exchanged information.

During the What’s the Buzz? Examining the Controversy over Production Practices presentation, panelists spoke about the options cattle farmers have for feeding their animals: grass, a combination of grass and grains, concentrated feed, genetically modified grains. The decisions about animal feed, and whether to use hormones and antibiotics are driven by consumer demand as well as agricultural policies and regulations.

The panelists of the Inspected and Exempt Poultry: Options and Obstacles included a turkey farmer, a manager of a small-scale meat processing facility, the director of the state Meat and Poultry Inspection Division, and an activist who helped her community build a mobile poultry slaughterhouse. Each person discussed the advantages and disadvantages for each of the options that small-scale farmers have for slaughtering and processing their poultry for commercial consumption.

During the Heritage Breeds and Pasture-Based Pork Carcass Quality: Research and Field Update a chef presented the results of a research study he conducted evaluating the meat yields from eight different heritage breeds that had been raised on pasture. This information was followed by a panel discussion that discussed efforts to identify and quantify the value of high-performing breeds of hogs.

The workshops Personal Story-Conserving Land through Pasture Networks with the founder of a farmers cooperative in West Virginia, and Meeting Demand-Scaling Up over 15 Years by a farmer who raises grassfed pasture-based pork while buying and selling pasture-based beef from select farmers highlighted success stories and challenges of small-scale farmers.

The content provided during the workshops, literature at the information tables, and the one-on-one conversations, I had with people I met at the Meat Conference have provided me a rare glimpse into the production of meat. I look forward to sharing specific ways you and I can support the animals, people and groups involved with the production of small-scale quality meat in 2016.


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Do you know who owns your favorite meat brands?

Author: Ciranna Bird

Check out my video "Do you know who owns your favorite meat brands?"

If your browser doesn't support this video element, you can watch this video on YouTube.


Hi, my name is Ciranna Bird.

I’m here to talk about the pork products that may be served at your upcoming holiday parties, family gatherings and New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Do you know who owns the following meat brands: Smithfield®, Farmland®, Gwaltney®, John Morrell®, Eckrich®, Nathan’s Famous®, Armour®, Carando®, Margherita®, Healthy Ones®, Kretschmar®, and Cook’s®?

The answer is Smithfield Foods.

  • Smithfield Foods sells bacon under many different brand names including Smithfield®, Farmland®, Gwaltney® and John Morrell®. Their tag lines include “Good Food. Responsibly®” and “Passion for Pork since 1959®”.
  • Smithfield Foods sells hot dogs under the brand Nathan’s Famous® and breakfast sausages by Eckrich®, Farmland®, and John Morrell®.
  • Smithfield Foods’ dry sausage, which includes salami, pepperoni, and bologna, are sold under the brand name’s Armour®, Carando®, and Margherita®

Smithfield Foods sells its pork products under many different brand names.

  • Smithfield Foods sells deli meat under the brand names Carando® Classic Italian™, Eckrich® since 1894, Healthy Ones®, Kretschmar® and Margherita® for true Italian taste.
  • Smithfield Food sells spiral hams, bone-in and boneless hams under the brand names Smithfield®, Cook’s® Cook’s ham. Always good to the bone®, Farmland® passion for pork since 1959®, and John Morrell®.

Therefore, if you eat bacon, pigs in a blanket, or slices of bologna, pepperoni, genoa salami, hard salami, capicola, prosciutto, mortadella, pancetta or ham at your holiday party you may be eating a product of Smithfield Foods.

But do you know who owns Smithfield Foods?

Smithfield Foods is owned by WH group, which was formally known as the Shuanghui International. After the buyout of Smithfield foods in 2013, Shuanghui International changed its name to WH Group, according to their http://www.wh-group.com/en/about/profile.php website “to reflect its emerging global reach and aspirations as a world-leading brand”. WH Group is also the majority owner of the Shuanghui Group, which is China’s largest meat processing enterprise.

Therefore, the profits from the meat brands, you have grown to know and trust, are no longer staying in the United States. Perhaps it’s time to buy your pork delicacies from local small-scale farmers.


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Celebrating Farmers at the Annual Farmer's Ball

Author: Ciranna Bird

Event sponsors Decorations at farmer's ball

On Saturday December 5th, I ate and danced at the Annual Farmers Ball in Greenville, NC. The theme of the ball was Local Farmers: "Helping People Control their Health". The event brought together farmers, eaters and community leaders to celebrate the role access to local food has in improving personal health, communities and the economy.

Presenters spoke of the challenges of being a farmer which included headwinds, recession, competition from foreign companies, weather, and cost of fertilizer and equipment. Burt James, President of NC Crop and Soil, said there are bumps in the road but rallied the listeners by saying “we are farmers”. Maxine White, the Executive Director of the Coalition for Healthier Eating, said “small scale farmers don’t have the luxury of selling their products dirt cheap, because it costs so much to produce.” While the recipient of the 2015 Farmer of the Year award, Mr. Robert D. Glover, said he became an organic farmer because “farming has been good to me... most days” and not because there is a lot of money to earn.

Mini-pork sandwiches were provided as an appetizer. The pork was raised by Maxine White. The dinner included vegetables (fresh green beans, kale, and sweet potatoes) grown by the Conetoe Family Center and Farm and the Robert & Wade Glover Organic Farm, chicken and grass-fed beef. The waiters and waitresses were students from the North Pitt High School.

Table mates at farmer's ball

Rosa Joyner Steele, Renee Hopkins, and Minnie Deloatch (Bunch), a farmer who has farmed her entire life, high school senior Tobias, fifth grader Ireonna, and sixth grader Tationa kept our table conversation lively. As part of the presentations, Tationa and Tobias who are active participants of the Conetoe Family Life Center and Farm went up to the podium and spoke about their experience at the Family Life Center and their desire to keep their families healthy by growing fresh local food.

Free groceries

At the end of the evening, every attendee received a bag of farm fresh groceries. The items in the bag included a half dozen eggs, a package of Carolina grits, pork sausage, ground beef, fresh broccoli and an entire frozen chicken. This generous gift was supported by local farmers, the USDA Rural Development, AgriMarketingNC, and the Coalition for Healthier Eating.


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A conversation between medical writers Evelyn Ishmael and Ciranna Bird

Authors: Ciranna Bird, Evelyn Ishmael. The audio was recorded and edited by Victoria J. White, Editor-in-Chief, American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) Journal
AMWA Journal Fall 2015

Published in the AMWA Journal Volume 30 Number 3 / Fall 2015

Evelyn Ishmael and I discussed the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) tools that have helped advance our medical writing freelance careers.
Evvie noted the following tools:

  • Guidelines for Document Designers, with a foreword by Ginny Redish
  • Toolkit for New Medical Writers
  • Volunteering for AMWA committees helps her connect with likeminded peers
I praised the following tools:
  • AMWA journal with the freelance forum section where people share their experience
  • Webinars on how to use Twitter and Google+
  • Volunteering for my local AMWA chapter to help increase my confidence leading LinkedIn groups and working with WordPress content management systems

Listen to the audio at http://amwa.podbean.com/e/amwa-voices-9 to hear about my time at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health digging through other peoples' fecal samples to find bacteria that cause foodborne diseases. I also share the aspects of medical writing that I love, as well as my interest in North Carolina farms, and animals involved in food production.


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What is the 'bird flu'? ... Is the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) a type of bird flu?

Author: Ciranna Bird

Most likely you know about the flu that affects you and me. The human flu, gives us runny noses, coughs, sore throats and fevers. At this time of year, our doctors and local pharmacies offer us flu shots to protect us from the human influenza virus.

But did you know there is a flu that only affects birds? This type of flu virus spreads easily from bird to bird and causes sickness in many different birds including chickens and turkeys.

I'm not a bird, why should I care about the bird flu?

Thanks to the bird flu, eggs costs twice as much as they used to. According to the New York Times, cookie dough, cake mixes, and ice cream with eggs could also become more expensive. We might also have a hard time finding a turkey this Thanksgiving.

33 million birds being raised for human food died because of the bird flu. These deaths were in the mid-western part of the United States with Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota being the hardest hit states.

Chicken, turkey, and duck farmers in North Carolina have been told that the deadly bird flu may come to the eastern part of the United States this fall.

Is the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) a type of bird flu?

Yes, but it sure is a mouthful of confusing words. Let's break this down a bit.
According to the dictionary, items that are relating to birds are called "avian". Therefore, avian influenza is the 'bird flu'. Bird flu, avian influenza, is easily spread from bird to bird.

Listed below are the two types of bird flu.

  1. Bird flu with a low ability to cause disease among birds. This type is called low pathogenic (LP)
  2. Bird flu that is highly able to cause disease and death among birds. This type is called highly pathogenic (HP)

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is the type of bird flu that kills the chickens and turkeys, many of us depend on for meat and eggs.


How do you say out loud the bird flu abbreviations?

AI, the abbreviation for avian influenza, sounds like ‘aye-eye’.

At the the North Carolina regional meetings for backyard poultry farmers, I’ve heard HPAI spoken out loud as H-pee-eye, H-pee-aye-eye and high path aye-eye.

How have you heard these abbreviations pronounced?

When people say the word Avian out loud it sounds like 'aye-vee-n'. The word pathogenic sounds like 'path-oh-jen-ick'.

What does H5N1 or H5N2 or H5N3 or H5N6 or H5N8 mean?

Scientists use this combination of letters and numbers to identify the influenza virus subtype. This level of detail is not needed for the everyday person.

The letter ‘H’ stands for the virus protein, hemagglutinin. There are 18 different versions of this protein. H1, H2, H3…H18

The letter ‘N’ stands for the virus protein, Neuraminidase. There are eleven versions of this protein. N1, N2, N3…N11


Summary

Bird flu is a disease that affects birds. Bird flu is also called avian influenza (AI). This year, there was an outbreak of the type of bird flu that was highly capable of causing disease and death. The deaths of chickens, turkeys, and ducks in the Western part of the United States will impact the cost of meat and eggs for most of us.

Listed below are some of the agencies involved with the North Carolina response to the bird flu, highly pathogenic avian influenza(HPAI).


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Gifts of the 9th Annual Eastern Triangle Farm Tour

Author: Ciranna Bird
Farm Tour cows

Last week, I was disappointed to hear that the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) cancelled their annual North Carolina Eastern Triangle Farm Tour. However, when I learned the reason why the tour was cancelled my disappointment transformed into respect for the selflessness of the CFSA staff, and participating farmers. They chose to lose the annual tour momentum and opportunity to showcase their farms because it was more important to them to protect their neighbor’s chicken, ducks, and turkeys from the bird flu. Wow.

I would like to share with you three gifts, I gained from attending the 2014 self-guided 9th Annual Eastern Triangle Farm Tour.

  1. Seeing the variety of farms near my home in North Carolina
  2. Understanding my choices as a customer who eats animals
  3. Building relationships with farmers who care for the well-being of the animals they raise

1. Seeing the variety of farms near my home in North Carolina

I bought my button ticket at Whole Foods in August, and received a map with descriptions of twenty-seven participating farms in the Eastern Triangle area of North Carolina. The brochure had the names of farmers, contact information, and highlights for each farm, which helped me narrow down my choices. When I was traveling between farms, I drove through parts of North Carolina I wouldn’t have seen if not for the self-guided tour. I passed local election signs for sheriff, tobacco farms, and busy sections of highway lined with fast food restaurants and tattoo shops.

Pumpkinpatch Farm tour-Ossabaw pigs farm lawnmower

There was great variety among the four farms I saw that weekend. My first stop was Vollmer Farm, in Bunn, North Carolina. This place was built to be a destination for families with young children with a market, ice cream store, and permanent springy orange trampoline. Highlights of my visit included walking through the pumpkin patch, and riding in a canopy covered wagon pulled by a shiny tractor.

Next, I went to the Rare Earth Farm, where I joined a tour group being conducted via a minibus that drove into the expansive fields where the cows grazed. Farmer Karl Hudson was excellent at answering questions, especially from a woman on the tour who was interested in knowing if the animals were fed organic, non-genetically modified crops.

He brought the tour group to an enclosure containing an Ossabaw pig with her piglets. The grass was so tall I could barely see the little ones. In another section we saw a Mulefoot pig and her piglets in a wooden enclosure. The mother pig was curious and was sticking her snout out through the wood slats. I was tempted to touch her, but I resisted the urge.

Upon pulling into the long driveway of Meadow Lane Farm, in Louisburg, NC, I saw a bright yellow sign with black lettering indicating that there was a “Working Livestock Guardian Dog” on the premises. I didn’t know what to expect. Would I encounter a large territorial dog mistaking me for being a coyote coming to harm their sheep and goats? The answer was no. These gentle Australian Sheepdogs, were shy and rolled on their back to expose their bellies when approached by human visitors.

I received a walking tour from Donna, the god-daughter of the owner of the farm, Martha Mobley. I was amazed by the amount of space, and numerous wooden buildings. On the side of one barn I could see pale blue lettering with the letters “GUN----K-” where Gunsmoke, the bull, used to live. There were old fashioned bathtubs in the fields which served as watering troughs for the animals.

I saw farm equipment up close including a New Holland 355 tractor with a red silo device, and a yellow-colored, flat device with wheels. I took a picture of my foot on the flat device to use as a size reference, and help me remember the name, so I could decipher what the equipment was used for. After an internet search, I learned that I was looking at a super-sized lawn mower.

The last farm I visited as part of the Eastern Triangle Farm tour, was the Homestead Harvest Farm, in Wake Forest, NC. I was given disposable blue booties to wear over my sneakers for biosecurity precautions. These shoe coverings lowered the chances that I would track harmful bacteria and viruses into this farm, owned by Jan Campbell.

I took tons of pictures when we came to a 16-foot square pen containing a mother and her piglets. The piglets were adorable. In addition to the 16-foot area, the sow was able to go into the larger paddock to reach the mud puddles that would help her cool off. At the end of tour, I threw away the shoe coverings in a designated trash barrel, therefore reducing the chances that I would carry harmful bacteria and viruses home to my husband and dog.

2. Understanding my choices as a customer who eats animals

Homestead Harvest Farmer - Campbell Homestead Harvest Farm piglets

At the Eastern Triangle Farm (ETF) stops, I collected handouts. An article by Doris Lin, helped me understand the distinction between feedlot beef, organic beef, and grass-finished beef. I read about the health benefits of grass finished beef and have price lists for beef and lamb that are hormone, steroid, and antibiotic free.

During the Rare Earth Farms tour, I learned that being ‘Animal Welfare Approved’ entails an inspection every 11 months. I like knowing that the farmers participating in the Animal Welfare Approved program are willing and ready for veterinarians to inspect the farm at every stage of production.

At the Homestead Harvest Farm, I saw adult pigs with their curly tails intact. Before going on the ETF tour, I had read that factory farms cut off piglet's tails to prevent them from being eaten by other pigs. None of the pigs at Homestead Harvest Farm had tails that were nibbled on by their neighbors, nor did they have painful rings or staples in their sensitive snouts, which some farmers use to discourage the pigs from digging in the dirt.

In addition, to healthy pigs, farmer Jan Campbell, explained the difference between her Freedom Ranger chickens, and the Cornish Rock hybrids chickens raised in factory farms. Freedom Ranger chickens take longer to mature which allows their skeletal system to have the time to become strong enough to support the chicken's body weight. A natural growing rate enables the chickens at Homestead Harvest Farm to be able to stand, walk, mate and live for years, unlike their factory-farmed counterparts.

3. Building relationships with farmers who care for the well-being of the animals they raise

Meadow Lane Farmer-Mobley Barn at Meadow Lane Farm

At every stop on the self-guided ETF tour, I met the farm owners. I saw first-hand how big their property was, how vast their responsibilities were, and how much they cared for the well-being of the animals they raised.

This past Thanksgiving, I returned to Homestead Harvest Farm to buy my first pasture-raised heritage turkey. The cost was well worth the delicious taste and the knowledge that the turkey had lived the type of life that matched my ethical beliefs.

While I’m waiting for my turn at the Rare Earth Farm's booth at the NC State Farmer’s market, I rave to other customers about my experience at their farm. When my husband and I have out-of-town visitors with young children, I recommend a trip to Vollmer farms. For pictures of beautiful historic barns, I pull out the ones I took at Meadow Lane Farm.

I am grateful to the volunteers at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CSFA), and farmers for the wonderful gifts I gained in attending the 2014 CFSA Eastern Triangle Farm tour. My heart goes out to the farmers, Carolina Farm Stewardship staff, volunteers and sponsors that had prepared for this year's exciting event only to be thwarted by bird flu concerns.


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Protect the Quality of our Pork: Say no to the Property Protection Act

Author: Ciranna Bird

Check out my video to learn how the agricultural-gag will affect you!

If your browser doesn't support this video element, you can watch this video on YouTube.


Do you eat pork chops, ribs, bacon, salami, bologna, or hot dogs? Most likely your pork comes from North Carolina, which is a top producer of pigs in the United States. A Property Protection Act, known by its opponents as the Agriculture-Gag (Ag-Gag) law will be effective January 2016. This law will allow companies to stifle the exposure of illegal animal abuse, and food safety issues at their hog raising facilities within North Carolina.


Who benefits from the Property Protection Act? Owners or operators of premises within North Carolina benefit at the expense of the well-being of their employees and customers.


How does the General Assembly of North Carolina House Bill 405 Property Protection Act work? The act states that court system[s] may allow [business owners who sue their employees] to collect damages up to $5,000 per day from [their] employees who enter nonpublic areas of the premises and do one of the actions listed below:

  1. Capture/remove employer's data, records, or any other documents, without authorization, and uses the information to breach the person's duty of loyalty to the employer.
  2. Record images or sound, without authorization, and uses the recording to breach the person’s duty of loyalty to the employer.
  3. Knowingly or intentionally places an unattended camera or electronic surveillance device within the nonpublic areas of an employer’s premise.

At first glance, this law seems a reasonable way to prevent businesses from getting trade secrets on their competitors. But that’s not what this law was intended for. It’s to deter whistleblowers like the two examples listed below, from providing evidence of illegal or inhumane actions occurring in their employers’ facilities.

  1. A Pacific Gas and Electric ex-employee provided a company memo to Erin Brokovich. This document proved the company had been aware of the toxic Chromium 6 leaking into the ground water of Hinkley, California. This key evidence forced the company to pay "the largest toxic tort injury settlement in US history to more than 600 Hinkley residents.”
  2. The 2010 undercover video at Smithfield Foods, by the US Humane Society, educates consumers about the inhumane conditions of gestation crates. The Undercover video at Smithfield Foods was a turning point for consumers and has led toward movement to phase out the use of gestation crates.

Protect the quality of your pork and demand your right to know what goes on in the production of your meat! There is hope; a similar ag-gag bill in Idaho was just deemed a violation of the first amendment and the Equal Protection Clause.


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The strawberry season begins today, May 29, at the Collard Patch

Author: Ciranna Bird
Collard Patch strawberries

It’s time to walk among the rows of strawberry plants at the Collard Patch to pick as many glossy, dark red strawberries as you wish. This patch is full of cultivar Fragaria x ananassa ‘Chandler’ strawberries, which are large, firm berries with an exceptional flavor profile. These strawberries are best eaten or frozen within a few days of being picked.


Collard Patch - strawberry sign

As soon as you see this article, get into your car and drive to 7012 Pulley Town Rd. - Wake Forest, N.C. because the strawberry season which usually lasts 6-7 weeks in North Carolina, started a little later this year due to the cold weather. Once the temperature hits 92 degrees Fahrenheit, the plants will start shutting down and you will have missed out on tasty strawberries for the year.

Why go to the Collard Patch for your strawberries?

This is your chance to meet Hal Gurley, a true local of North Carolina in the Triangle area. There are a lot of people who have moved from the north and the south to Wake Forest, but Hal is not one of them. He was born within eyesight of where he lives today.

Hal has noticed that the knowledge and interest in picking food tends to be with the elder generation. During one conversation, he tells me that he has customers picking the Purple Hull Pinkeye Cowpeas that are in their 80’s. Unfortunately, one just got a pace maker and can no longer pick. It’s a shame their kids aren’t picking the produce. He says, “They like to eat, don’t they? They pull themselves up to the table, don’t they?”

Hal speaks from experience. At the age of six, Hal drove an International Harvester Farmall tractor through the fields of his family’s tobacco farm. By the age of 12 years old he was priming/breaking off the lower leaves of the tobacco plants according to their ripeness. Hal was raised to pull his own weight and enjoys seeing children helping their parents.

Perhaps this strawberry season will be a time to see young children (who are at the best height for these 8 inch tall strawberry plants) picking fruit side by side with their parents.

Collard Patch - strawberry plant

As, Wendy Perry wrote in the March 2015 issue of Our State © Down Home in North Carolina magazine “If you’re the kind of person who wants to go a step further than a farmers market… to eat something fresh from the good soil it grew in, you want to find Hal Gurley and his collard patch in Wake Forest.”


Five Fun facts about Hal:

Hal Gurley -buttercrunch lettuce
  1. His favorite band is Blackberry Smoke.
  2. At the age of 44 years old, he married Betty-Ann.
  3. He adopted an outdoor cat named Moonbeam that had been abandoned by his neighbors.
  4. When referring to farming he says “This is my hunting, fishing, and golfing all rolled into one. This is what I likes to do.”
  5. He loves roasted garlic and says “The difference between roasted garlic and raw garlic is like the difference between chocolate cake and pickles.”

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Five Tips for Milking a Cow (That I wish I knew)

Author: Ciranna Bird

Before I stepped off the bus at the entrance of the 2013 North Carolina State Fair, I knew I wanted to visit the milking booth. I had seen the activity listed on the North Carolina State Fair website, and thought it would be the perfect way to embrace the farm-based culture of my new home state.

Here are five tips I wish I had known before I milked my first cow.

Milking Booth Sign
  1. Borrow a child to legitimize the reason why you, as an adult, are waiting in line to milk a cow.
  2. Expect the cows to be bony.
  3. Avoid asking the eye-rolling question, “Why are the dairy cows pregnant?”
  4. Do not be alarmed; cow teats do not respond when you squeeze them.
  5. Ignorance was bliss; learning about the quality of dairy cows’ lives is unsettling.

1. Borrow a child.

I noticed something strange when I entered the Exhibition Hall.

children at the milking booth

To my surprise the line for cow milking was filled with children. Could I be the only adult unaccompanied by a child who wanted to milk a dairy cow? Perhaps not everyone at the fair had as little exposure to dairy cows as I did. I had grown up in a small suburb in New Jersey known for its woods, man-made lakes and easy commute to New York City. My ten years of living in a Boston, Massachusetts neighborhood, where I relied on the subway systems and buses to travel to graduate school and work, did not provide many cow sightings either.

Putting aside any twinges of self-consciousness, I began to observe the scenery. In front of me was a stall filled with six black-and-white marked dairy cows and North Carolina State University students, wearing jeans and red T-shirts. The student volunteers were scurrying around with pitchforks hastily picking up recently dropped cow patties, while the children in front of me giggled at each bodily function they observed.


2. Dairy cows are bony.

The cows were facing the wall and I was able to notice how bony their hindquarters were. Their backbones were higher than the rest of their back, and the top of their hips almost looked square. It appeared that each cow was hanging from their backbone like it was a curtain rod. I wondered, are they being given enough food?

I was reassured that these cows were well-fed. Holstein and Jersey dairy cows tend to be thin when they are lactating (secreting milk). These breeds are able to produce large volumes of milk, unlike Angus beef cattle which have been bred to store energy reserves in their fat and muscles.

milking booth signs

The name of each cow, their due date and daily amount of milk was hand-written on small signs. Bobbi Jo secretes fifty-five pounds of milk a day, while Amelia secretes sixty pounds of milk. This information didn’t mean much to me because as a consumer, I buy my milk by the volume (pints and gallons).

milk in a reservoir

When I got home, I conducted an internet search and found the USDA Agricultural Handbook Weights Measures, and Conversion Factors for Agricultural Commodities and their Products. I used the handbook's milk conversion factor to calculate that sixty pounds of unprocessed milk is equivalent to seven gallons of unprocessed milk.


3. Why are the dairy cows pregnant?

The information on the hand-written signs indicated that two cows had an "open" due date, while the remaining four cows in the milking exhibit had a definitive due date. What an interesting coincidence that the majority of cows in the exhibit were pregnant, I thought to myself.

When it was my turn to enter the pen, I asked the exhibit volunteer, “Why are so many of the cows pregnant?” The college volunteer, said that “cows only produce milk after they have produced a calf”. My ears burned a little, and I was thankful she hadn’t rolled her eyes at me. I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten that female cows produced milk to feed their calves, not to provide the milk for my smoked mozzarella cheese, and chocolate Lactaid ice cream.

Dairy cows are impregnated when they are 14 months old and typically have their first calf by the age of two. Pregnancy lasts 285 days which is a few weeks longer than the nine month pregnancy term women have. After they have calved their first cow they begin lactating large volumes of milk. The authors of the Dairy Moos August 2013 blog article, says that U.S. cow produces an average of 8 gallons of milk a day, while a baby calf only needs two gallons of milk a day.

To ensure dairy cows lactate a continual supply of milk, they are impregnated two months after they give birth. These months in between pregnancy are referred to as "open months" and allow the cow a dry period to rejuvenate her mammary glands. If I was pregnant every year of my life while secreting 400% of the milk needed for a newborn, I would be bony too.


4. Do not be alarmed; cow teats do not respond when squeezed.

After squirting a dollop of antimicrobial gel into my hands, the volunteer led me to the left side of a cow. The right side of ‘my’ cow was already being milked by another fair participant. The teats, which are equivalent to nipples in humans, were cylindrically shaped. The volunteer said “Gently grasp the teats with your thumbs and forefingers. Use an even pressure while sliding your fingers down the length of the teat.” I followed her instructions and successfully added milk to the designated bucket.

calf-cow bonding time

As a woman, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the cow’s teats and my own nipples. Although both are velvety-soft, the cow’s teats didn’t have areolas. The teats on 'my' cow did not stiffen or change in color when I grasped them. Weird.


As my scientific observations waned, I realized squeezing cow teats felt too personal. I hadn’t even seen this particular cow’s face and here I was grasping on a body part which was intended for bonding between her and her babies. I stopped milking, and used the rest of my allotted time to pet ‘my’ cow.

As I walked out of the pen, I felt elated. I had petted a cow, I mean milked a cow. With another squirt of hand sanitizer, I walked to the bleachers to sit down for the Southwest Farmers Mobile Dairy Classroom presentation.

The twenty-minute Dairy Classroom involved a human presenter, a Jersey cow named Marybeth, and an unnamed helper who applied Betadine before attaching the milking pump to Marybeth’s four teats.

Dairy Classroom with Marybeth

The demonstration was enjoyable until the following question was asked “What happens to a female dairy cow once she stops producing the expected volume of milk a day?” The presenter said, “She begins to work at McDonalds.” I was horrified and at the same time wondered to myself if a dairy cow tastes different than a non-dairy cow.


5. Ignorance over the welfare of dairy cows was bliss.

At the age of four or five, dairy cows are sold to market. According to the Illini Dairy Net Market Cows: A Potential Profit Center article, over 1 billion pounds of meat taken from culled dairy cows became ground beef, tenderloins, rib eyes, and strip loins in 1998.

The USDA Dairy 2007 Reference Guide, says that the top four reasons why dairy cows are sold to markets, stockyards, and slaughter plants are because they:

  • Are not producing enough milk [to offset the cost of their feed and care]
  • Have [chronic] udder or clinical mastitis
  • Are lame [suffer severe foot or leg problems]
  • Have fertility problems

Mastitis is an inflammation of the udder or uterus which can be caused by bacterial infections. The DairyCo Organization says that clinical symptoms may include a “swollen, hot, hard, red, and painful” udder as well as secretion of watery milk that “may have flakes, clots or pus. Because the inflammation is treated with an infusion of antibiotics, the bacterial-laden milk flushed from the cow is kept out of the human food supply. According to the Lactation Biology website, this milk containing antibiotics is either discarded or fed to calves.

Female calves, heifers, are fed a liquid diet via a bucket or bottle because they have been separated from their mothers within the first 24 hours of their life. In fact, fifty-six percent of 2,519 dairy operations surveyed “removed newborn heifer calves immediately after calving”. These heifers, raised as replacement dairy cows, were fed colostrum, and a combination of waste milk (35%), whole saleable milk (14%), milk replacer (19%), and milk replacer containing antibiotics (49%).

The future for male calves, does not include becoming pregnant for ten out of twelve months each year while simultaneously lactating 69 pounds of milk every day. Instead, if they aren’t needed to become a bull stud and veal prices are too low then they receive the fate described in the 2003 Guardian newspaper article entitled Dairy Monsters written by Ann Karpf. She wrote that "…most are killed within a couple of weeks for baby food or pies, to make rennet, or sent to rendering plants to be turned into tallow or grease, or in other countries, animal feed.”

Unsettled by reality

It has taken me a year to accept that the peaceful life of dairy cows I had envisioned, was just an illusion.

For the first few months after the milking event, I was in denial. I thought, surely, if the situation was so dire for dairy cows, someone would have told me. Then I got angry. How could I have lived so many years consuming products that are derived from an unsustainable system?

  • I blamed the USDA’s food pyramid for encouraging me to eat yogurt, cheese, chocolate, and ice cream. If they hadn’t told me in school that dairy was one of the five essential food groups, I wouldn’t equate dairy with wholesome nutrition.
  • I blamed the dairy brands for using images of cartoon cows, and picturesque farms. The pictures gave me the wrong impression.
  • I blamed myself for not being interested in the well-being of cows until now. How could I have been so apathetic?

After I burned off some of my anger, I considered becoming a vegan. If I abstained from eating yogurt, ice cream, chocolate, eggnog, and smoked mozzarella, then perhaps I wouldn’t have to feel responsible for dairy cows’ poor quality of life. However, I quickly recognized my "all or nothing" thinking had some faulty logic. How would depriving myself of delicious food help the thousands of cows currently living in dairy operations?

Moving beyond acceptance

I caught a glimpse of hard-working dairy farmers in Emily Chaplin’s Cows of Iredell County photo essay, published in the June 2014 Our State® North Carolina magazine. Unlike my limited exposure to cows, these families have spent generations caring for their cows. Perhaps I will interview a local dairy farmer to gain their insight on how to promote a sustainable dairy industry, while reducing the relentless pressure on dairy cows to lactate pounds and pounds of milk.

As I struggle, to find constructive ways to improve the quality of life for dairy cows, I am planning my trip to this year's North Carolina State Fair, which begins on October 16, 2014.

What activities do I want to see? How can I arrive more prepared than I was last year?


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An unexpected purchase

Author: Ciranna Bird
a green masterpiece

Today is my seventh day in North Carolina. Everything is new, the roads are unfamiliar, and my sense of adventure is high. I’ve obtained addresses to local farms from the Visit Raleigh website in hopes of picking out the perfect pumpkins.

My GPS guides me along back roads until it says my destination, the “Collard Patch”, is on the left. However, I’m not so convinced that I have arrived, because all I see is a house with an unpaved driveway that leads to an independent garage made out of cinder block. I cautiously pull into the driveway hoping that I'm not trespassing on someone's land. There is no one in sight. As I begin to turn my car around one, of the garage doors begins to open. When I pause my car, a man slowly approaches the passenger side of my car. He appears to be in his mid-forties to mid-fifties and is wearing pants, a ball cap, and a long tan T-shirt that looks soft from years of washing. He has a small trim mustache, hair that reaches his collarbone, and square-shaped eyeglasses. He introduces himself as Hal, assures me that this is the Collard Patch and that his farm stand is open.

Hal, Collard Patch owner

I ask if he has any pumpkins for sale. His southern accent and long reply reminds me that I am no longer in Massachusetts. He says, “They [pumpkins] are everywhere, and by the time Halloween arrives everyone has their pumpkins, and people don’t cook pumpkins around here, so then he is stuck with a bunch of pumpkins.” Instead of orange squash, he grows collard greens, cabbage, and sweet potatoes.


I decide that the least I can do is make a small purchase, because Hal has taken the time out of his day to provide instructions to a farm down the road that may sell pumpkins. I turn the engine off, get out of my car, and walk toward his garage with a half-hearted interest in a cabbage or a few sweet potatoes. To my surprise, there are no cabbages on his tables. Instead, he offers to bring me into the field and directs me to the passenger side of a golf cart. After I climb in, we take off into the farmland.

golf cart, broccoli field

As an untrusting person, who has watched too many Criminal Mind shows including the two-part pig farm episode, I begin to question my street smarts. Why have I left my car? And how far are we going? And would anyone even know I’ve disappeared since I’m new to Raleigh?

Putting aside my self-doubts, I begin enjoying the trip. I'm a passenger on a golf cart riding through rows of collard greens (the leaves are massive). This is fun! Along the way, Hal provides a steady stream of information on how to prepare and cook collard greens, his experience eating roasted garlic for the first time in his life, and about the broccoli, onion and strawberry crops that will be ready soon. His enthusiasm for growing, cooking, and eating fresh food is infectious.

We get out of the golf cart, when we arrive at the rows of cabbage. In response to his question about which plant I want, I point to a very small one. He assures me that I would like a larger cabbage because I could cook half of it and use the rest for coleslaw.

cabbage field

He uses a Swiss army knife to slice the cabbage off its stalk and hands me the plant. It’s heavy and the green leaves are beautiful. I feel like I’ve won a prize and picture myself wearing a sash like a beauty pageant winner.

On the return trip through the fields, I ask him how long he has been a farmer. He tells me he used to work in electronics, while growing collards part-time. When his job and his co-workers' jobs went overseas, he decided to become a full-time farmer. He credits his success to the encouragement of his wife, and his mama (Maw-muh), who is his number-one supporter.

After paying a minimal amount of money, I pull out of Hal's unpaved driveway and leave the Collard Patch feeling content and that the world is a great place to be.


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