Rettland Farm

Rettland Farm

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Husbandry, not Industry

Like my new catchphrase?

It just kind of stumbled into my head while I was making a point in a e-discussion group that I participate in.

It sums up, in three words, how I think modern, progressive farms should be run.

Husbandry. Not Industry.

As in--using knowledge and experience to care for animals, not electronics and shiny metal.

As in--treating farms like biological systems, not factories churning out widgets and doodads.

As in--making use of an animal's natural tendencies, instead of forcing them to change their behavior to fit a production model.

As in--understanding that there is a difference between a professional farmer, and a low paid "technician" with no stake in any part of the operation, other than a menial paycheck for his menial labor.

As in--realizing that at some point in food production, scale and quality become inversely proportional.

As in--believing that "food security" is defined by more than abundance and low price.

Husbandry. Not Industry.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Food as a Priority

Recently, I had a pretty nice article in our local newspaper, about our harvest of Thanksgiving turkeys, and some unique opportunities it offered to us and to the buyers of those turkeys.

The article was published on the papers webpage, and most of the comments posted about the article were extremely positive, and supportive of me and what I try to do for a living. There was, however, one naysayer who thought that the price that I charged for the turkeys was a little high, to put it lightly.

Let me say this right now: I don't give a damn about this guy, or his opinion of me. I live by Abe Lincoln's admonition about not being able to please all the people all the time, and that philosophy serves me well. In my mind, if I produce food that only one person in this whole wide world appreciates, then my life and my life's work has purpose. Period. I'm not running for Homecoming King, and popularity has never appeared on any list of my goals. Ever.

But as a result of this heckler, I've been thinking again about the stereotype that people who seek good food for themselves and their families are painted with: Elitists. Food snobs. Tree huggers. The Haves, not the Have-Nots.

I think the labels are bullshit.

I think that the desire and the willingness to seek out and pay for decent, honest, wholesome food boils down to nothing more than priorities.

People who buy from me, and other farmers like me, place a value in the role that food plays in their lives, beyond simply providing protein, fat, and carbohydrates in order to maintain their existence. They value the relationship and interaction that can be had with people who grow their food, or prepare it in a restaurant kitchen. They recognize the fact that, through their purchase and careful preparation of food, they can influence issues ranging from family cohesion to environmental protection, from foreign policy to public health. And they recognize that their influence can be positive.

Others don't hold food or it's producers in such high esteem. To them, every dollar spent on food is one that takes away from their entertainment budget, or their cigarette money, or the weekly bar tab, or the new car that they buy every two years, or the NFL channel, or whatever other IMPORTANT things exist in their lives, besides food. So therefore, food expense is something to be minimized, to be reduced to as close to zero as possible, and by default, food itself becomes a sterile, meaningless necessity, and those that are involved in food production are no longer professionals or artisans, but instead technicians or laborers.

I proudly consider myself a member of the first group, and I feel nothing but pity for those who are members of the second.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

First Annual Turkey Day

Another post where I'll let the pictures do most of the talking.

As a brief background, I started raising turkeys in July. They were sold on a pre-ordered basis, and as part of the deal, I offered to let people come out and take part in the harvest of their Thanksgiving turkey. Sort of a hard core twist to the "pick your own pumpkin" or "choose your own Christmas tree" idea.

In reality, I wanted to offer people the chance to see one more step that their food must take from farm to table, to completely close the circle. I wanted it to be an educational opportunity for adults and children alike, and I wanted to recreate some of the experiences I had as a child at similar community butchering days.

In the end, the butchering day was everything I wanted it to be, and more. We had LOTS of interest from the turkey buyers, and they came with a lot of really valid questions about my small scale butchering techniques, and how they compared with large scale slaughterhouses. Many of these folks rolled up their sleeves and stepped in to harvest and clean THEIR turkey, and that gave me satisfaction that I can't put into words.

Thanks to all who participated for making this a great experience. The wheels are already turning for next year...

A handsome turkey. Oh yeah, and the bird about to be butchered...

Turkeys, 2010 edition.

Making the selection.

My butchering facility. Notice the window with the scenic view, and ample spectator room...

Turkey, knife, right hand, blue sky. Just thought it was a cool picture.

A customer, hands-on in the process. Awesome.

Finished product, just chillin'.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Autumn Splendor Sausage

So, it's back to the future here at Rettland Farm.

No, I'm not talking about a visit by Ol' Doc or Marty McFly, or the arrival of Flux Capacitors by UPS or Stainless Steel Doloreans in the barnyard.

I'm talking about the latest addition to the Rettland Farm Original Sausage line, called "Autumn Splendor." This apparent new kid on the block is actually the grandaddy of them all. A little over a year ago, when I started exploring the idea of producing original sausages using our own meats as a way of showcasing the "taste" of Rettland Farm, I knew that the sausages had to be unique in concept and flavor. So, I started to experiment with different ingredients that were unique to the season at the time, which happened to be autumn.

The result of hours (and I mean hours) of messing around in the kitchen more than a year ago, before I ever produced a sausage for retail sale, yielded the basic recipe for the sausage we rolled out today, affectionately called "Autumn Splendor." But poor little Autumn Splendor had to wait a whole year, while the rest of the RF line hit the streets.

So why wait a whole year to release this sausage for public enjoyment? Well, for a couple of reasons, the first being seasonality. The ingredients are very much FALL ingredients. I wanted to use fresh fruit in season, not fruit from cold storage and ABSOLUTELY not fruit imported from some foreign country, essentially driving another nail in the coffin of American fruitgrowers. In Adams County, PA, fruit is harvested in the fall.

In addition, the sausage has a sort of FALL taste to it--it's just not something you'd want to eat watching fireworks on July 4th, or something you'd whip up for your sweetie on Valentine's Day. It's just...autumnal.

What are these magical FALL ingredients? Besides the ever present, ever reliable Rettland Farm Pork, I used some pretty awesome Adams County Bosc Pears, the kind that have rich mahogany colored skins, so fresh that a few of them still have a leaf or two attached to the stems. Next comes dried cranberries, which obviously didn't come from Adams County, but I happen to like them very much, and what they added to the sausage overcame any pangs of guilt I felt for not using super local ingredients.

After that, we've got a few spices thrown in that will remind you of apple pies, and the smells around grandma's house on Thanksgiving.

One other thing--this sausage is packaged and labelled as a "Breakfast" sausage. It's been stuffed into smaller diameter casings, making it possible to cook the sausage in less time. But, Autumn Splendor will work in lots of different scenarios, so don't be afraid to try. And as usual, if you come up with a really cool way to use the sausage, I'd love to hear about it in the comment section.

Autumn Splendor is available exclusively at the Carriage House Market, 117 Frederick St. Rear, Hanover, PA. Please make plans now to stop in and get some, because it will only be available for a limited time, for reasons you probably understand by now.

Happy Autumn!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I Need You to Pencil in a Date

Got your social calendar handy? Could you get it that way?

I need you to mark a date for me. October 5. 6:00 pm. Hanover PA. What, you may ask, is happening then and there?

It's the annual Sheppard Mansion Harvest Dinner. If you've never been, it is this fantastic gathering of Sheppard Mansion patrons and some of the local farmers that supply the restaurant with their wares that end up as amazing food on the Mansion tables. We all mix and mingle, we spend the evening with old friends (Hi, Beldens!) and make some great new ones.

Still haven't called, huh? Well, then read on, friend. Just for you, I've compiled the...

Top 5 Reasons you should attend the 2010 Harvest Dinner at Sheppard Mansion!:

Number 5. Vino: This meal is going to be 6 courses, and EVERY COURSE HAS A WINE PAIRING! Oh yeah, lots of wine. But the actual consumption isn't the whole story folks. Here's the best part: The wines will be presented by a professional sommelier, so when you stroll in to work the next day, you can be in your Hotshot Wine Connoisseur mode. You can say things like "Well Nancy, at the Harvest Dinner last night, we had the most delightful Napa Pinot Noir from Erba Mountainside. It carried nutty tones and a citrus finish, which was the result of a combination of the drought in Napa in 2004, and the sea breezes coming off the Pacific. It was a masterpiece." Even if Ol' Nancy has a clue about wines, you're still going to sound AWESOME!

Number 4. Food: By now, you know that I'm a Chef Andy Groupie (T Shirts pending), so you won't be surprised when I tell you that the food that comes out of that kitchen will blow your mind. As I mentioned, we're looking at 6 courses, which can be seen here, and your tastebuds will discover things they never knew existed. Combine a discussion of Chef Andy's thought processes with a little background on the raw materials that go into the dish from the producers, and you'll be looking at dinner with a whole new perspective.

3. The Carriage House Market: I've kept pretty quiet about this until now, but there is going to be a very cool sneak peak before the actual dinner kicks off. This will be the first look at the Carriage House Market, located right there on the Mansion grounds. This market is the answer to all of you who longingly, impatiently, fervently wait for 6 long months through the winter until the farmers markets open again in the spring. Guess what: NOT THIS YEAR! The Carriage House Market is going to be open 4 days a week to feature all of the products that you've come to know and love from local producers, plus a whole bunch of other Food related goodies.

Number 2. Haiku: I heard a rumor that Chef Andy will personally present each course in the form of Japanese poetry known as Haiku. But this is a small town, and you know how rumors are...

Finally, the #1 reason you should attend the Sheppard Mansion 2010 Harvest Dinner: The Wager.

Chef Andy and I have a friendly little wager going. You see, he bet me that I couldn't get 10 reservations for the Harvest Dinner. I emphatically assured him that I could. So here's the bet: If 10 people call the Sheppard Mansion and make a reservation for the 2010 Harvest Dinner, and mention that they are with "Team Ramsburg", Chef Andy buys me a fifth of Johnny Walker Black Scotch. If I don't reach the 10 res. mark, I buy Little a bottle of Woodford Reserve Bourbon. Now here's what's in it for you--that bottle of Scotch? I'm gonna share it with the rest of Team Ramsburg. If Little wins...well, I just can't make any know how he is with his Bourbon...

Sign up now folks! Don't make me start calling you out by name, which I WILL do! Get the Details Here! See you there!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hog Heaven

I'll let the pictures do most of the talking this time. I started grazing a group of pigs in a standing cornfield this week, and the results have been amazing, more than I ever expected. This exceedingly simple method of feeding these incredibly adaptable creatures has proven to be very rewarding, for both farmer and beast.

Do the pigs from which your pork is derived live this well?

Cornfield, Pre-Pig Pillage

The pigs, just tearing into a new strip of corn. A little spooky, if you didn't know the pigs...

The pigs arrange themselves by pecking order--the boss pigs get their choice of feeding locations. This guy must be low man on the totem pole.

The pigs grab the stalk, and snap it off to get the ear...

...Because the ears are the first to go, cob and all.

Berkshire X Tamworth Crossbred pigs. The mud is their cooling mechanism--I purposely provide wallows for them to keep themselves cool in. An overheated pig is a dead pig.

The corn leaves are also highly desirable to the pigs, as long as they are still green.

'Nuther pig.

If you look very closely, you can see a very thin orange wire horizontally across the picture--this is electrified, and it is usually all that's necessary to keep the pigs where they are supposed to be. (Unless it's Labor Day, at about 8:00 pm, and you are a half hour away at a picnic--yep, except for then...)

Finally, this is what the corn looks like after the pigs have had access to it for 24 hours. Maybe not quite as clean as harvesting with a machine, but orders of magnitude more efficient.
So, hope you enjoyed a little glimpse into a day in the life of a pig at Rettland Farm. If you ever need a little therapy, come on out and just sit and watch them in person--you'd be amazed at how good you feel afterwards.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dead Canaries

So, I've managed to keep quiet about the outbreak of salmonellosis associated with eggs. At least, until now.

No, I'm not going to beat the drum for small, independent egg producers like yours truly, though I know we produce a superior product in both taste and quality. I'm not going to jump up on the soapbox and howl about how something like this would never happen on a small farm, because it could. Is it likely? No. But possible? Yep. Anyone who claims otherwise is very seriously tempting fate.

No, I'm disgusted by other details that have come to light.

I am completely awestruck by the number of eggs potentially infected with Salmonella--500 MILLION. Can you imagine?? If you took those eggs and laid them end to end, they would stretch 15,782 MILES. Mind boggling, right? But here's the real kick in the pants:

All of those eggs came from two farms.

Which brings me to the point. Through consolidation of farms and food processors, the base of our food production system has become perilously narrow. As the numbers of farms, and more importantly farmers, has dwindled, so has the diversity and stability of the food supply. When a bacterial infection on TWO FARMS leads to thousands of sick people over a range of thousands of miles, it exposes ugly vulnerabilities in the system. We literally have too many eggs in one basket, pun intended.

We ended up here because we demanded cheap food. The titans of industry were happy to oblige, and found ways to put a dozen eggs in the grocery case for a buck or less. But those ways involved creating massive egg operations with millions of birds producing a mediocre product in both taste and quality; automated management systems; questionable animal husbandry practices; and low paid "technicians" to monitor it all.

And eggs are just the latest food on the Grocery List of Shame to have their safety called into question. Spinach, alfalfa sprouts, peanuts, tomatoes, peppers...all have had their own moments under the Cruel Spotlight of Infamy in recent memory. They all share a common denominator though--massive operations that either can't effectively monitor their product quality because of the sheer size of the operation, or won't monitor it because of the effect on profitability.

These food scares amount to a whole stack of dead canaries in the proverbial coal mine, folks. They should be serving as a warning of the dangers of a vertically integrated, centralized food production and distribution system controlled by corporate, profit-centered bohemoths. Sadly though, our poor dead canaries are too often forgotten, once the evening news moves on to other tragedies, and the allure of 89 cent a dozen eggs proves too hard to resist.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Thinkin' about Thanksgiving...In July?

Yes, I know it's a little early for most people to be thinking about Thanksgiving, but I am. The reason I'm thinking two whole seasons ahead comes down to this: The Turkey. The whole centerpiece of the Thanksgiving tradition, right? And I'm thinking that I'd like to raise a small flock of really special turkeys for the holiday this year.

Methods: These turkeys will be large white turkeys, raised on pasture with methods similar to those used for our pastured broilers. They will have access to plenty of pasture and the associated treats (bugs, etc), and will be supplemented with whole grains and roasted oilseeds.

Harvesting: I am thinking that I want to butcher these turkeys right here on the farm. And I really like the idea of having some of you experience that with me.

(First, some background: I grew up in the midst of an Amish community, and one Amish farm was literally my second home. I have a whole childhood of memories with those folks, but one that stands out is Butchering Day. This was the day that the whole Amish community (and us) came together to do the butchering before winter set in. This was usually beef and pigs, but I'd like to recreate those days with turkeys.)

So, towards that end, I propose we have a Turkey Butch'rin Day. It will only be open to those who are buying turkeys. I'd like Butch'rin Day to serve first and foremost as an educational opportunity for you, and your children if you have them and you think they would appreciate it. (I'm not out to cause nightmares or lifelong vegetarianism, though!) The primary focus that day will be the task of turning live turkeys into food, but I can think of a whole bunch of other "perks" that you, as a participant in Butch'rin Day, will enjoy, like those Amish neighbors did all those years ago--Food, Family, and Fellowship. All that in one afternoon--does that interest you?

Other Perks?: I'm thinking about a how-to class on turkey cookery, including what the heck to do with all those leftovers, to be done in early November or so. I'll work on fleshing that out. I've also been given some really great ideas by a loyal customer about some other perks, that will make for a great experience all around.

I'm also planning on raising a few extra turkeys, and donating them to local food banks for Thanksgiving. I feel very strongly that access to good food shouldn't limited by income level, and this will be one small way of helping with that problem. All of the turkeys will be donated in the names of Rettland Farm, plus the names of all of the members of the "Turkey Club".

Cost: I would estimate the cost of the dressed turkey at this point to be in the $70 range, give or take. The amount will vary depending on the number of turkeys I produce, the breed of turkeys, their final weights, etc. This is only a guess! Please understand that I'm new to the turkey game, so I need to research some of the costs associated with raising them.

In summary: So what does that $70 buy you? Lets review. It buys you a delicious, pastured, antibiotic free turkey that will be butchered absolutely stress free on the farm on which it was raised. It buys you members only access to an educational experience with friends and family on Butch'rin Day. It buys you some tips on how to cook your bird, and serve it to your family on Thanksgiving, and the days thereafter. And it buys you the satisfaction of sharing with others less fortunate, on a day when we realize how fortunate we all are.

So what do you think? Are you interested in being a member of the "Rettland Farm Turkey Club"? If so, shoot me a quick email ( BY JULY 15 to become a part of what is shaping up to be a really cool event.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Somber Quote

So, maybe this isn't the most chipper quote for America's birthday. After all, July 4th is supposed to be about really bitchin fireworks, and drinking lots of beer, and having a day off work to recover from it, right? Sacrifice? The costs of Independence? What the hell do they have to do with July 4th?

However, since I'm spending like the 20th consecutive day watching my pastures and my crops literally french fry for the lack of rain, and since I'm feeling just a shade grumpy about it, maybe letting some cynicism leak through my usually impenetrable veneer is okay after all. I guess if you find this quote a little too somber, and it puts a buzzkill on your 4th celebrations, then please accept my apologies in advance.

This came through a farmer discussion list that I subscribe to.

[The farmer] needs, like the working man, the reality- not the illusion -
of economic security. Until a good deal more than half the population acquires
that security which is based upon thrift, self-reliance, and the earth itself,
we shall never know security as a nation. We shall go on having fantastic
depressions, distorted and exaggerated by our own follies, whether of high
pressure, installment-plan selling, or of fantastic, moon-eyed economic
juggling. And each depression will be followed by more and more destructive
taxations, as the whole economic structure of the nation grows weaker and
weaker, and sinks to a European, and finally to an Asiatic standard of

--Louis Bromfield, "Pleasant Valley" 1945

Friday, June 11, 2010

Blissful Barbecue Sausage

Time for another new Rettland Farm Original Sausage! Are you sure you're ready for it?.

What is It?:
The latest sausage in the RFO line is called "Blissful Barbecue".

Now, I need to explain "Blissful" as it's used here. No, I don't guarantee that consuming this sausage will instantly transport you to a lounge chair on a beach surrounded with blue water, with a cold alcoholic beverage in your hand, and with attractive members of the opposite gender alternately fanning you with those big old tropical leaves and feeding you peeled grapes. If I could guarantee that, friends and neighbors, I wouldn't be here...I'd be eating this sausage.

No, "Blissful" here means that this sausage is nice and mild, just flirting with the spicy side of barbecue-ness. I didn't want (and don't like) a sausage that is so damn hot that it burns the hair off your toes, so I took it easy on the heat. Just enough to accent the pork and to give some street cred as actual "barbecue".

Oh yeah, and another little detail to round out the whole barbecue theme? It's smoked. With real Hickory. Yeah, I thought that would appeal to you.

The ingredient list is a little longer for the Blissful Barbecue sausage, but I think I can still sleep at night. There are no "modified this or thats", no "artificial flavorings", nothing that sounds like it's from your kids Chemistry set. And the sausage is also Nitrate Free, if that's a concern for you.

Just Pork, Water, Kosher Salt, Sugar, Chili Powder, and a handful of herbs and spices. That's it.

How to Cook It:

You HAVE to grill this one! Over lump charcoal if you can swing it timewise, or over gas if you can't.

And yes, YOU STILL HAVE TO COOK IT FULLY TO A SAFE TEMP!! This sausage is not fully cooked, even though it's smoked. So cook thoroughly! Attentively sear the sausages on both sides, and finish them over indirect heat. I'd recommend cooking them to at least 175 degrees, checked with a instant read thermometer stuck in the end of the sausage.

My choice for some background music while your cooking Blissful Barbecue sausages? I'd go with something twangy or bluesy, like some old school country. I'd recommend Willie Nelson's "Whiskey River", or Hank Williams Jr's "Outlaw Women", or something along those lines. (I'm adding a song selection to my cooking recommendations now--I think you can tell a lot about someone by their musical tastes! Plus, music fulfills the last of the five senses when you're cooking and eating, and just completes the experience.)

How to Eat It:

Okay folks, I need help in this department. All of you cooks out there, professional and otherwise, need to tell me the best way to eat this sausage. Please! My old standby of the bun, cheese, mustard routine is starting to get a little monotonous, so send me suggestions!

Besides my old standby, I think that this sausage would also work very well as a pizza topping, as long as the pizza sauce was a little more sweet and a little less spicy, like Tommy's in Gettysburg. On that note, whaddya say Tommy's? Wanna give it a try??

How to Get It:

Come see us at The Farmers' Markets at the Outlet Shoppes at Gettysburg, on Fridays and Saturdays, 9:30 am til 2 pm. Also come see us at our newest market stand, at the North Market Farmers Market in downtown Frederick, MD. That market runs from 3pm til 7pm on Wednesdays.

As usual, I'd love to hear your feedback. You can let me know your opinion either here in the comment section, or privately at


Friday, May 14, 2010

A Call to Action

I know it's summer, and I know you're busy. I just need a minute of your time...

I came across this post written by one of the co-owners of T&E Meats in Harrisonburg VA. I sort of follow this slaughterhouse (do you know anyone else who's a butcher groupie?), and so when I saw it referenced in the story, I had to take the time to read it. I hope you will too.

Please take the time to read this blog post and submit your comments to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Don't let USDA regulate the meat industry with a one size fits all regulation. Your ability to access affordable, locally raised meat may depend on it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Herb and Onion Sausage

Ready for the next Rettland Farm Original Sausage?

Thought so.

What is It?:
I call this sausage "Herb and Onion". And it just screams summertime...

That wasn't really my intention at first, to come up with a sausage for summer use. It just turned out that way. During the development phase, the combined aroma of the herbs and the onions just put me in a summer state of mind.

My choices for herbs this time around were a little off the beaten path. Sage always seems to be the go-to herb for pork sausages, so I decided to skip it. Ditto on the thyme. Are those two omissions committing some kind of culinary sacrilege? Probably. But I think the end result still turned out Okay in the taste department.

As before, the herbs came from the folks at Alloway Creek Gardens and Herb Farm.

Other ingredients? Water, Kosher Salt, Onion, and Black Pepper. That's it.

How to Cook It:

Grill baby, grill!

Use whatever you're comfortable with, gas or charcoal. My personal preference would be lump charcoal, or gas if time or lump availability is an issue. I'm not a huge fan of charcoal briquettes, but they'll do in a pinch.

Whatever your fuel, get a good sear on both sides over medium heat. If you get in a big hurry and try to push these guys too fast, you'll split the casing. While they'll still be delicious that way, you may lose some street cred as a backyard grillmaster. Just relax, imbibe some carbonated barley water, listen to music that lifts your spirits (tonight it was Chris LeDoux for me--miss you Chris!) and take pleasure in the anticipation of eating this sausage.

After you sear both sides, move them off direct heat and let them cook slowly. I cook them to at least 175 degrees, and yes I use a thermometer. Unless you're a professional cook, you should too. Just be sure to stick the probe into the end of the sausage, not through the casing. Don't want to lose all that delectable moisture by punching a hole in it.

How to Eat It:

Yeah, you guessed right--these unpretentious little beauties are another for the old bun, mustard and cheese routine. Will we ever get to a sausage that I don't think is best served this way? Maybe. I'll be sure to let you know if it happens.

For variety, try them with pasta, or even with your eggs and toast in the morning. It would work there too.

Have a serving suggestion? Share it in the comment section, please.

How to Get It:

The Farmers' Markets open May 8 in Gettysburg, and that is prime time for you to stock up on the Herb and Onion sausage. (Details on the markets will follow very shortly.)

As usual, I'd love to hear your feedback. You can let me know your opinion either here in the comment section, or privately at

Welcome to summer!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Don't Take My Word for It...

Regarding the Easter Hams from my hogs...

Everyone was in agreement-that was the finest ham ever!

Just the right smoke, outstanding texture and flavor...baked at a 350
oven for 4 hours-PERFECTION!

(T)here is a batch of ham and green beans in the making with the left
overs, love the bone for stock!

Thank you for providing such outstanding meats, we are fortunate to have
such a farm right in our Adams County back yard!!!"

--J.F., Fairfield, PA

Though I appreciate the kudos (very much), I have to give lots of the credit
to Chas. Nell's Meats who did the curing and smoking; and especially
to the pig, for being so damn delicious. I'm just the guy who made
the introductions.

By the way, I also have a couple left...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Open Minds, Please

Maybe it's because I have kids, and the fact that their generation will lead statistically shorter lives than mine, as a result of their diet, is absolutely harrowing to me.

Maybe it's my ongoing frustration with the current commodity based food system, and it's governmental enablers, that automatically makes me cheer for someone who tries to change it.

Maybe it's because I think it's a big step forward to have someone criticizing "Big Food" in primetime on a major network, even though "Big Food" was happily featured on the commercials during the shows.

Maybe it's because I've heard about health care ad nauseum in the past year, and the largest contributor to the future costs of said healthcare will be obesity. (Aside: In light of that little factoid, wouldn't it have been wise to address the food system as part of health care reform? Not according to our fearless leaders...or their puppetmasters)

Whatever the reason, I think Jamie Oliver deserves some appreciation, some attention, and maybe just an ounce of respect, for tackling America's obesity epidemic.

Yeah, I'm talking to you, lunch ladies of Huntington, WV. He's not going to put you out of a job, or cut your pay. If anything, his way might give you all opportunities to show your real culinary skills, beyond opening boxes and adding water. Quit being so damn stubborn and self concious.

And you too, DJ Whatever-your-name-is. The whole "I have a God given right to eat crap if I want to" tough guy routine looks fake--if anybody is pandering to their audience for ratings here, it's you. Oliver isn't making you look dumb--you're doing it to yourself.

So, thanks J.O. You wouldn't have been my pick to deliver this message, but I sure am glad you're delivering it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Extreme Makeover, Rettland Edition

"We're a-movin' on up! (Movin' on up!)
To the top! (Movin' on up!)
Of a De-Luxe apaht-ment, in the sky-hy-hy!"

Yup, that's what my broilers are singing this week. Yes, I know it's hard to believe that my chickens are singing the theme songs of sitcoms from thirty years ago, but when they caught a glimpse of their new digs, they just couldn't help but channel old George and Weezy...

For two years now, I've been raising pastured broilers in what has become the "standard" housing model for pastured poultry, most commonly known as a "Salatin Style" pen, named after the Godfather of pastured poultry, Joel Salatin. And as much as I admire the beautiful simplicity of Joel's portable pens, I saw room for some improvements. So I redesigned it a little. Ok, I redesigned it a lot. But you're still the man, Joel!

Raisin' the Roof...

I needed to add height to the Salatin pen (which are only about 2 feet high), for a few reasons. Most important was air circulation. During the summer heat, especially when the birds were fully grown, the air inside seemed stale and stagnant. Since the goal here is to provide a better environment than a typical confinement house, I needed to improve air flow.
Another issue with the low height occurred when it was time to catch the birds on slaughter day. Picture me, army crawling inside the pen, among 100 freaked out chickens, at 6 am, on dew covered grass, trying to catch birds. Yeah, not a day at the beach for me, but even worse--it was VERY stressful on the birds. It seemed really dumb to spend 8 weeks trying to keep stress to negligible levels in these birds, and then blowing it by having them go completely nuts during the last hour of their lives.

So, I went with the hoop house idea that I saw on the web, and outfitted it for broilers. The almost-6 foot ceiling allows me to walk in almost upright (which the chickens are used to by slaughter day since I walk in every day before that to feed them) and calmly corral the birds in a corner. To solve the ventilation issue, the high ceiling, coupled with the open end and sides, draws fresh air into the house by a sort of natural chimney effect.

Unsafe at any Speed...

The other big issue was moving the old pen. The problem was that occasionally a chicken wouldn't move along fast enough, and would get pinched between the pen and the ground. I couldn't always see to be sure that the birds were out of the way, again as a result of the low height.

Well, the "Rettland Pen" is high enough off the ground that a slowpoke chicken won't get mushed by the pen--it will just pass over him. Rubber skirts keep the chickens in and the predators out while the pen is stationary, but floats over the lazy chicken while the pen's in motion. Even though the chicken is now out, and needs to be caught, at least he's not hurt.

Wet Weather Equipped

Lastly, I needed to be able to deal with wet weather, since Pennsylvania's new climate seems to include at least 2 monsoon seasons per year. When we have so much rain that the ground is saturated, the results are disastrous for the chickens. In the Salatin pen, they have nowhere to go. My choices at that point are to either let them wallow in the mud, or catch all of them and move them indoors somewhere. I usually opt for the latter. You can imagine how that goes...and the language involved.

So I added a perch that can fold down in wet weather, so the birds have somewhere to get out of the mud. When the ground is dry, it folds up out of the way, so the birds can graze as usual.

Time will tell if the "Rettland Pen" is a vast improvement over the Salatin Pen. I'm sure there will be bugs that need to be worked out, but this guy seems to be satisfied. For now.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Making a Break from GMOs

Over the winter, I reached the conclusion that it's time for me to change the way I feed animals on my farm. Since I started raising critters for direct sale, I've maintained diets for pigs and chickens that were free from antibiotics and other growth stimulants. I've even replaced commercial worming medicines with all natural, organic clays that, as far as I can tell, do as good or better at keeping pigs worm-free than the toxic commercial stuff.
However, since I've depended on purchased grains for at least some of my animals' feed rations, I haven't been able to say with certainty that my products are raised without the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). And over the past year or so, that has really started to bug me...
What are GMOs?
In agriculture, GMOs are plants that have had their DNA modified by adding genes from other plants (or animals) into the plant's DNA to give it a trait that makes it resistant to herbicides or insect pests.
These transgenic crops have been in commercial use since the early 90s, and they have taken over the market so swiftly and completely that it is hard to find seed for things like corn, soybeans, cotton, even sugar beets, that aren't transgenic seed. So even if the farmer is uncomfortable with the idea of GMOs, he doesn't have a whole lot of alternatives to using them, if he wants to grow those affected crops.
What's my problem with GMOs?
I have lots of problems with GMOs. The one that worries me most, and the reason for my decision to go GMO free, is the safety issue. The manufacturers of transgenic seeds have gone through the motions and received approval to market them from the federal government, but that's absolutely no consolation to me. (An interesting aside--Europe and many countries in Asia ban the use and sale of GMO crops. Why not the US?) Even if their approval wasn't a result of more corporate-government hand holding, the amount of time spent researching the effects of GMOs was far too short to be conclusive.
The true effects of GMOs on the environment and ecosystem, on the health of livestock, and most importantly, on the health of humans, won't become known for decades. Like so very many things going on today, the truth will only become obvious when viewed through the lens of history. And I'm no longer willing to sit around and wait for that revelation.
So, as of yesterday, I began phasing out the use of GMOs in the diets of my animals. I started by planting oats, which I will use to replace some of the corn in my current ration. It will take me almost a year to become GMO free, since I will have to grow literally all of the feed my animals consume myself. I will need to formulate new diets that use things like oats, and also wheat, rye, barley, and GMO free soybeans for the pigs and chickens. This may mean that it takes longer to grow the animals to their usual slaughter weights, and it will definitely cost more to do so.
But it's the right thing to do, for them and those of us who eat them.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rettland Farm Original Kielbasa

Time for the big debut!

I'm thrilled to announce that the first Rettland Farm Original sausage is on the market.

What is It?:

The first sausage developed exclusively by Rettland Farm to showcase our Berkshire pork is a Fresh Kielbasa.

Kielbasa typically features garlic and marjoram, and ours is no exception. What is different, though, is that I spent a lot of time trying to get the garlic right. I hate garlic that overpowers everything, and I want the meat to stand out in the sausage, not the seasoning. I used Organic garlic, and prepared it in a such a way to take the bite out of it, so the garlic flavor is there without having it waft through your sinuses and ooze through your pores all day long.

The marjoram was purchased from a small herb farm about 3 miles from here, Alloway Creek Gardens and Herb Farm.

Other ingredients? Water, Kosher Salt, Onion, and Black Pepper. That's it.

How to Cook It:

I think that most sausage really benefits from being fried in a pan or grilled, to put a nice, caramel color on the outside, and to give a nice "crunch" to the casing. Since we are a long way from grilling season, let's focus on the pan fry.

I'd strongly recommend adding a fat to the pan before adding the sausage , to keep the sausage from scorching. My fat of choice to cook sausages is butter . It browns nicer, and more importantly, tastes better than vegetable oils on the sausage.

Once the pan and butter are hot over medium high heat, I add the sausage and immediately cut the heat to medium. After getting a good sear on the casing after a minute or two, I flip it and cut the heat again, to medium low. After the second side is seared, I reduce the heat to low, and leave it there for the duration. Usually one last flip is all that is necessary to finish the job.

I cook the sausages to an internal temperature of at least 175 degrees. Don't worry--it won't be all dried out at this temperature, like a commercial sausage would be. It will still be moist, tender, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Trust me.

How to Eat It:

I think these sausages are great on a bun, with a slice of good cheese (not the individually wrapped oil-infused garbage, but REAL cheese) and some good old French's mustard. Fancy? No. Incredibly tasty? Yeah, pretty much.

For a larger meal, I think the sausage sauteed with onions and served with pierogies would be really great. And really Polish.

Once you have a chance to try the kielbasa, please share your serving suggestions in the comment section. I think it would be great to hear how other people are enjoying their sausage.

How to Get It:

Until the Farmers' Markets open in May, the best way to get this sausage is to get in through the Member's Club, our monthly home delivery service. If you're not receiving our monthly email newsletter, send me an email at to be put on the list.

So there you have it--the first installment in the line of Rettland Farm Original Sausages. Once you get your hands on some, I'd love to hear your feedback, either here in the comment section, or privately at Your honest opinions will help me put the absolute best product out there, for the eating pleasure of all.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Rettland Farm Sausage--The Beginning

This post signals the beginning of something new and exciting at Rettland Farm.

Those who have been regular readers may remember my interest in terroir--the concept of food or drink tasting a certain way as a result of the environment in which it was raised. Historically, terroir has been associated with wine, but recently it has been applied to broader categories of food by "food people".

In past posts, I've wondered about what influence pasture has on the taste of meats that we produce. While we're still developing and defining the effect on pork, I think it's safe to say that there is a noticeable influence of green grass (and all the other associated goodies) on our eggs and pastured broiler chickens.

But I wanted to take the concept of terroir further. I wanted a product that could, through terroir, sort of define the "Taste of Rettland Farm." This product would be firmly based on our meat products, but would also include other food ingredients besides meat.

So, the result of all this brainstorming, mulling and wishing is this:


In the very near future, I will be rolling out the first (of hopefully many) original sausages that will include our pork (and maybe chicken) and also other simple, all-natural ingredients. These sausages will serve as a kind of taste compilation of all things "Rettland", stuffed into a casing. There will be breakfast sausages, dinner sausages, grilling sausages--you name it. We'll have a sausage for every occasion. And since pork can now be considered a health food, you'll be able to eat a sausage daily...

The sausages will be hugely influenced by seasonality and the origin of the ingredients. In other words, the sausages containing springtime ingredients won't be available in November, and you can bet that there won't be many ingredients grown outside of Pennsylvania. There will also be some influence by holidays or other local events or celebrations.

The Rettland Farm Sausages will all have several things in common though:

1. The meat that we use in the sausages will be of the highest quality, and will include some of the best cuts of meat from the animal. Unlike commercial sausage, Rettland Farm sausage is a premium product, not just something to do with the leftovers.

2. All of the ingredients in our sausages will be used in a state as close to their natural state as possible. Aside from some grinding and perhaps some occasional heating, I don't expect or want a whole lot of processing.

3. There won't be many ingredients in the sausage. Some meat (usually pork), some salt, and maybe some herbs or other seasoning ingredients. Most importantly, none of the ingredients will sound like something you worked with in your college chemistry lab--that's a promise.

4. On a related note, my ultimate objective is to showcase the meat. This means that the seasoning ingredients will only be used to that end. I hope to have the supporting ingredients be just that--complementing and not overpowering the meat. Subtlety will always be the goal.

5. All of the manufacturing of the sausages will be done in a USDA and Pa Department of Agriculture inspected facility. Our good friends at Charles Nell Meats in Littlestown are going to be key partners in this venture by manufacturing the sausage for me to their own strict quality and safety specifications.

So that's the basics on the sausage. In the coming weeks, I'll feature each new addition to the sausage line right here on the blog, and I'll include some discussion on the ingredients and their origin, and the thought process behind the theme.

Check back often! This is going to be great!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Fascinating Report on Dietary Fat

I stumbled upon this incredibly interesting report on the myths of a low saturated fat (what you find in animal products) diet, and the scarier facts about diets high in polyunsaturated fats (the stuff you are SUPPOSED to eat.)

The moral of the story? Eat more Rettland Farm pork. It's good for you! And the second moral of the story? Don't believe anything that is supposed to be taken as gospel.

Seriously, though. Check it out. It's a little lengthy, but it is truly worth the read.

Friday, January 22, 2010

We Need a New Word

I took a road trip today to pay a visit to a prospective client. We had a great discussion about our respective businesses, and I came away really charged about the "food" movement, especially in the mid-Atlantic region.

On my way home, I recounted to myself parts of our conversation, particularly the part about our shared frustration over the overuse and corruption of "buzzwords" in the "local food" movement.

The new client (hey, I'm optimistic) related to me that it was especially hard for her to sort out the real deal of sustainable, local, humanely produced food--from those opportunists who put the right words and a pastoral logo on a box of shit so they can charge a few extra bucks for it.

I gave her my somewhat standard answer, that the best way to keep out the posers is to do what she and I were doing at that very moment: sitting down, face to face, and talking. We build trust, we build relationships, and we (well, me, as the farmer) start to display our integrity by sharing our philosphies and practices. You can't bullshit people when they ask you directly what your pigs eat, or what the procedure for slaughtering the animal is--you either know it or you don't.

We can take it one step further, and the client can come visit the farm, and see with their own eyes whether the farm is really genuine, or just a slick marketing campaign.

But every industry has buzzwords, so what's the new buzzword for this kind of business? How do we sum up what we do in a word or two, and yet keep the wannabes from usurping it for their own nefarious causes?

I've used the phrase "Real Food" in the past, but I'm not sure about that. I also came up with "Verifiable Food," but that sounds way too stuffy and sterile.

As I cruised up the road this afternoon, though, I came up with a few that had a nice ring to them...

How about "Authentic Food?" "Give-a-damn Food?" Or maybe "Food Done Right?"

Are any of these winners? Any other suggestions?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Layin' Hen Blues

The original intent of this blog was for me to talk about what I'm doing and the thought processes that I go through in the course of producing food on the farm. As I looked back over my 2009 posts, I realized that I didn't do much of that at all. Not surprising, if you know me. I'm not really into talking about me.

Add to that the fact that when I did post, I felt obligated to defend the world against vegans and rogue Texas History professors (did that twice), and I didn't really talk about the farm that much at all. So, I'll work on that. Starting today.

We have produced eggs from free range hens for about two years. If you've never had an egg that came from a chicken that ate lots of green grass and insects, then you haven't lived, friend. They are superb. I really like them, my family likes them, and most importantly, my customers like them. I actually had a customer tell me once that she dreamed about my eggs. Yeah, they're that good.

The problem is, this year has not been a good year to be an egg laying chicken on this farm. To put it briefly, we have become a Four Star Dining Mecca for every damn predatory species within a mile (or more) of this place. We had a major chicken slaughter in the early summer, and we have never really gotten our production back since then.

I hatched my own chicks and raised them.

I bought some really beautiful black hens from another small farmer.

And yet, every week, our head counts continue to decline, to the point that I have the fewest number of layers on the farm that I've ever had.

I have taken steps to protect the birds, but it's been difficult, and largely ineffective. I have (until recently) insisted that the hens be allowed free roam outside during daylight hours. This stubborn, but well intentioned position has resulted in big losses during daylight hours in the last few weeks, to the point that I'm now keeping the hens inside. I hate to do it (and rest assured, it is only temporary), but it's less cruel to leave them in a spacious, well bedded henhouse than to allow them to die a horrible death in the jaws of a cunning, greedy predator.

So, we have to change a few things. I need to change my management style with the hens. I am going to have to move from the laissez-faire approach that has given the birds minimal safety but maximum freedom; to a more hands-on, managed system that allows me to provide them with the protection they need, while still allowing them access to green grass, sunshine, fresh air, and bugs.

I have always said, "If I have to raise chickens indoors, then I won't raise chickens", and that maxim is still true. But I have a few ideas that I'm going to try that will still give the birds great lives, and keep most of them off the menu at the Fox Cafe.

I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Who's YOUR Farmer?

So, Who's YOUR Farmer?

(That's how these T-Shirts are supposed to sound. Yes, I had multiple discussions with the printers, signed off on multiple proofs, and only after I took the finished product home, did I realize that I should've emphasized "YOUR"! On the shirts, it sounds more like "Who's your DADDY?!" than "What person do you entrust to produce food for you and your family?" Even a simple underlined "your" would have done the trick. Sorry. I'll know next time.)
Anyway, Who's YOUR Farmer?

Hopefully, if you're reading this blog with any regularity, the answer is an exhuberant, enthusiastic, "YOU are, Rettland Farm!"

The idea for this tagline comes from my belief that we all need a Farmer or two in our circle of people we rely on. We have our doctors, an accountant, maybe a lawyer, a mechanic, an insurance agent (if we actually care about quality service, and not just dirt cheap premiums, eh CBR? :) ).

Why not a farmer?

I would guess that 95% or more of Americans have no idea what country their food is grown in, much less the name of the guy (or gal) who's growing it. I think that should change.

I think that we should all have a few of the people that grow our food stored in our cell phones. If not that, then written on the door jamb by our home phone, or on the fridge, or in our email address book, or somewhere that denotes the importance of that person to our households.

But we can't stop with just posting the number. We need to use it.

We need to call our Farmers, even if it's just to chat. We should stop by the farmers' market just to maintain that relationship and that connection that we have both worked so hard to develop. We should fire off an email to see what's new on the farm, and how our future pork chops (or peaches, or brussels sprouts) are doing.

This person provides the third most important ingredient in your life and the lives of your family. Should that person be a nameless, faceless, stranger?

Who's YOUR Farmer?