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Archive for September, 2010

We need a little help around here.  Because I have a full time (and then some) off farm job, the chores start to pile up.  The list is getting quite long.  Brittan works like a maniac during the day trying to compensate, and does an awesome job, but the backlog continues to grow.  Unfortunately, we don’t have enough income to hire someone full time.

Fortunately for us, Brittan’s youngest brother is available as our guinea pig.  Jon live is Arkansas, but is coming out in October for 2 weeks to see if farm work is for him.  After the trial run, we’ll all review together and see if it’s worth his while to move here and work/learn for a longer period of time.

Jon is an easygoing young man and not afraid of physical labor.  He will get a feel for what we do, have a place to stay and get a few extra bucks in his pocket.  It will give us the help we need and learn how to manage and develop internships as well as having some family time.  From a distance is feels like a win.  Stay tuned.

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Do you like Tilapia?  Millions of Americans do.  It has become one of the most widely consumed fish in the world.  It is tasty, inexpensive, easily raised and prolific.  It also has a long history of popularity and maybe even played a miraculous role in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.

Some legends call Tilapia, “St. Peter’s fish” and identify it with the fish containing a coin in its mouth that Peter caught in the Lake of Galilee at Jesus instruction.  It is even possible Tilapia was the fish Jesus used to feed the 5,000 (both stories are told in Matthew’s Gospel in the New Testament).

Regardless of the alleged connection to Jesus, Tilapia is found and enjoyed all over the world.  They are so invasive that they are considered pests in some places.  Just ask any fresh water fisherman in Florida.

In recent years, cheap Asian Tilapia has flooded the U.S. market, causing U.S. producers to respond by ‘kicking up’ their own production.  The results may be bad for all of us.

The first problem created is in the feed used by many producers around the world.  You guessed it, corn.  Corn is not bad for Tilapia, per se, but neither is it a natural food.  Tilapia are true omnivores, like chickens and pigs, and will eat anything.  Corn is a cheap food source that helps the little fish grow large, quickly.

In the wild, Tilapia would eat a varied diet that included the fry of herbivorous fish, and many weeds, algae and plants.   The green veggies would raise the omega 3s, which are not high in Tilapia at the best of times, and moderate the omega 6s, which are bad for our cholesterol.  Corn reverses the balance of the omega fatty acids, just like in chickens and eggs.  So instead of being heart friendly, they can become heart clogging.

The second problem has to do with hormone treatments.  For generations, it has been widely known that breeding the male of one species of Tilapia to female of another variety would result in mostly male offspring.  Males are desirable because they grow faster and bigger and because mixed populations can result in over population very quickly.

Sometime in the last 15 or 20 years, we learned that to fortify the feed with 17 alpha-methyl testosterone and bypass the cross breeding and ‘sexing’.  17 alpha-methyl testosterone is exactly what it sounds like, a male growth hormone.  It has been used for decades to treat people with hormone deficiencies.  It has been used just as long by body builders, but I digress.

17 alpha-methyl testosterone causes gender reversal in female Tilapia.  It’s hormonal effect on humans who eat the fish is unknown and probably harmless.  But, 17 alpha-methyl testosterone can be toxic to the human liver.  Germany, for example, has banned it because of liver toxicity.

I find this rather disconcerting.  We have been implored for years to, ‘eat more fish’.  Now we learn that, depending on what fish we eat, we may be loading up on mercury or omega 6s or growth hormones.

Some would cry out for more regulations.  But as a Christian, conservative, libertarian, capitalist I would rather see the consumer take responsibility.  We vote with our dollars and our forks.  That’s one of the reasons East of Eden Farms was born.  We’re taking back our food chain.

In the spring of 2011, we are going to be adding Tilapia to the food we raise here in the burb.  We’re not buying it at the supermarket ever again.  Here’s where you come in.  Would you, or people you know buy locally raised Tilapia?  Would you pay more than the supermarket prices knowing that its more expensive to raise fish (or any other edible animal)  in a humane, drug free, corn free environment?  We’d really like your input on this.  We’re going to do it for ourselves regardless of market interest, but market desire will determine how much we raise.

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emerging chestnut

Last night I posted on Facebook (as did B) that we were enjoying some freshly roasted chestnuts.  This morning, my email was loaded with questions about chestnuts.  So, here’s a very condensed primer.

Chestnuts are related to the oak tree.  The wood and leaves are similar in look and texture.  While there is an American variety, most of the ‘native’ American stock was killed off by a disease in the early 20th century.  The majority of chestnuts we have now are descended from stock imported from Europe.  Greece is the traditional source for the popularity of chestnuts in the western world.

Chestnuts look similar to their cousins, the horse chestnut (or Buckeye).  Knowing the distinctions can be the

Horse Chestnut - not for dining on

difference in a tasty treat and a trip to the emergency ward.  Here’s a picture of a buckeye as comparison.

Because they are higher in starch than most other nuts, chestnuts have a variety of additional uses.  In parts of Asia and Japan, they are prepared as a potato substitute or ground into a flour as a kind of bread.  Apparently, some place have nicknamed them, “bread nuts”.  I think they have a touch of sweetness to them.

I am informed that roasting them is important, because they are loaded with tannic acid and you could get pretty sick if you ate many of them raw.  Just a note for your safety.

Roasted in Shell

B did the research on roasting them and says it’s crucial to pierce the shell (kind of soft) with a knife by cutting an X in it (so it won’t explode), soaking them for an hour in salt water, then roasting @ 425 degrees for about 25 – 30 minutes or so.

After they cool just enough to handle, simply pop them out of the shell and inner husk and enjoy.  They are excellent oven roasted and even better, “on an open fire” where they get that fire roasted smokiness.

That’s the story, dare I say it, ‘in a nutshell.’  We will have a few pounds available for sale in the near future.  Our tree is LOADED.

Shelled and Ready

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We moved 25 laying hens to new, more spacious digs this evening.  It’s a taller chicken tractor, designed like a hoop house where they have more roosting space.  In a couple days we will separate another 20 or so hens from the broiler box and start another layer tractor.  We want to keep the generations apart.  It makes a little extra work now, but will make it easier to remember which batch is past it’s peak and ready for the crock pot.  We will turn over half our laying population each year.

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Weigh in on this one if you like.  I am not happy about the development.  It has convinced me to pursue aquaponics where I can raise my own fish naturally, without hormones or chemicals.  Time to get going on it.  Read the Frankenfish article here.

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Yesterday, as we were moving the hen pen, Brittan discovered a big surprise.  Actually, it was a very little surprise.  One of our girls had laid an egg for us.  It was quite small, not much bigger than a quail egg, but perfectly formed.  We were so excited.

I have been saying it would be well into October before we got any eggs.  B has been convinced that September would be the month, so she got to enjoy an ‘I told you so’ moment.  Of course, it’s not like those are rare, but she gloated for a while just the same.

I am including a photo with a regular sized egg from a local farm for comparison.  You can see the color and shape are the same, but our egg is tiny.  Some people call them ‘pullet eggs’.  All hens pretty much drop some small ones to begin with.  Soon, the girls will be filling our fridge with plenty of tasty, omega 3 filled golden goodness.

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I try and avoid politics in this space as much as possible, leaving that to my “Paridigm Shift” page.  Once in a while, though, something jumps up and demands attention.  An article I read this morning is one such case.  It even has a local flavor.  There are no good words to describe the silliness of a local Government charging a local farmer with growing ‘too many vegetables’.  It’s a much better idea to restrict growing edibles locally and ship them halfway around the world, right?  Oh, my life.

You can read the whole article HERE.

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