Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Yes, I Link My Own Sausage!

In this tub is the extra meat I trimmed from the front legs of just one pig. This was destined to became ground pork. Much of the ground pork I made into sausage. This year I made four varieties of sausage: Mexican, Cajun, Italian, and Carpathian. I like to come up with clever mixtures of spices! After the meat is trimmed, it needs to be chilled down to a temperature that allows it to grind easily. I put it through the grinder twice to ensure that everything was well-mixed. Then, I mixed the spices in by hand. Some of this I kept as spiced sausage to make into patties. The rest I used to make brats. The sausage mixture was put through a stuffer which fed the ground meat into the casing. I then hand-linked the brats, and chilled them again so that they were easy to cut apart. I was fortunate that I had the assistance of my friend Angie in completing the sausage making! It is a very fun process when you are working with your sister-in-slaughter, laughing & telling stories!

Fresh Pork!

This is exciting for me! Seeing the cuts of meat starting to come together! The cuts still need to be wrapped in freezer paper & chilled, but this is the point where a butcher can begin dreaming of delicious meals! (Kroger, however, had a scary week as someone kept buying out their freezer paper as soon as they restocked!) In this photo, there are two lovely pork shanks on the left in the tub. This is the part just above the ankle. These are wonderful when they are slow-cooked in a crock pot. To the right are several boneless roasts that I trimmed from the shoulders. I particularly enjoying cooking these in the oven. Pork is a delicious meat for adding a variety of flavors!

Pork Cuts

These are the front legs of the hog. So what can you make from the front legs? First I carefully removed the meat from each leg. This process is referred to as "boning out" the meat. I learned how to do this from the first butcher we hired at the slaughterhouse, Rick. Rick was fondly known as "Convict Rick" -- heart of gold, but terrible propensity to spend overnights on the county's expense. Baby Mama drama, child support in arrears, an enjoyment of libations, and a tendency to get into fights . . . not a good combination! Rick, however, was a wonderfully skilled butcher and very patient as he trained me on skills that he had mastered long ago.

Most of our Ethiopian customers at the slaughterhouse chose to purchase adult sheep. To we Americans, these were "cull ewes": the older females that were being removed from herds for some reason. Maybe they were bad mothers, perhaps they had bad attitudes, but they were no longer desirable to the shepherd. To the Ethiopian comunity, these were highly desirable sources of meat! Although the age of the animal meant it had a stronger taste and was not as tender, the Ethiopian style of cooking corrected these impediments to enjoyment. The meat would be removed from the bones, so that the customer ended up with a bag of just meat and a bag of soup bones. The meat was then traditionally slow roasted for a long time with peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic -- whatever flavors were desired. This cooking process served to tenderize the meat and the wonderful spices enriched the flavor of the mutton.

I am incredibly fond of Ethiopian food, and wholeheartedly suggest the Blue Nile Restaurant on High Street in Columbus. It is owned by a lovely family and the food is outstanding! I am blessed that my years at the slaughterhouse brought me new skills, new friends, and new experiences!

Delicious Pork!

I spent three days processing the meat from my pigs into cuts. This is a picture of the primal cuts from the hog, after skinning & evisceration. I chilled the carcasses for 24 hours to help tenderize the meat, and then began cutting and packaging it. Many individuals are surprised when they see a hog carcass in its primal cuts: Pork may be known as the "other white meat", but the meat itself is actually quite red!

As you look at the picture, the front legs are in the far back, then the loin, neck & rib cage, and back legs. In the far right corner is the bandsaw that is used to cut the meat. Running a bandsaw is one of my great pleasures in life! I enjoy the process of breaking down the carcass into delicious cuts! Admittedly, I am much slower on the bandsaw than some butchers, but I have been very fortunate never to cut myself while operating it.

There is an old joke in the meat processing world: Hold up two fingers and ask "What's this?" It's a butcher ordering 4 beers! Slaughterhouse humor helps to alleviate the seriousness of the cycle of life & death colliding with the extreme potential for injury around dangerous equipment . . .

Friday, August 12, 2011

What I Learned from the Slaughterhouse

Here is my equivalent of a glamour shot: hair pulled back under a bandana, big yellow butcher apron covering my clothes, a knife in one hand, and an animal foot in the other!

When I first started working at the slaughterhouse, it took me some time to become used to the process. I have always been on the carnivorous side of the omnivore lifestyle, and I have always held a firm belief in the circle of life. Despite this, it does take an adjustment to be able to handle the reality of working in a slaughterhouse. For the first year that I was there, I observed the kill floor, but did not participate much in the process. Eventually, there was a day that our Christian employee was unexpectedly unable to be at work. We had both Muslim & Christian customers, and our goal was to serve their religious & cultural needs for their food products. Thus, I had to step up and perform the Christian kills to suit the needs of the Ethiopians & Eritreans that were purchasing animals that day.

I had observed the kill completed on an animal hundreds of times by that point, but I do vividly recall doing it myself for the first time. Mohamed held the sheep down to ensure the animal did not struggle, and to keep me safe as well (after all, a 200 pound ewe has the weight advantage on me!) I followed the procedure I had been taught: one stroke of the blade with a sure hand to sever both the carotid and the jugular as quickly as possible. I stepped back from the large sheep, as Mohamed held the animal to allow it to bleed out rapidly. I can remember with clarity standing there with the knife in my hand, and letting the impact sink in. For the first time, I felt that I was really taking ownership of my position at the slaughterhouse. If I was going to be the general manager, if I was going to be an advocate for local meats, if I was going to promote animal agriculture -- then I needed to be a part of EVERY step of the process.

From that day on, I made it my responsibility to learn every step of the process. I was already the "staff expert" on stomach cleaning, but I worked to learn the appropriate skinning process as well. Some things I was skilled at (bandsaw, you are mine!), and other things I struggled with (I can wrestle 120-140 pound lambs out of a pen . . . but I would rather not!) One part I always enjoyed was the evisceration process. I am fascinated by the anatomy of the animal and how each part of the body functions. In the picture above, the pig carcass has been skinned & washed. The next step was to open the mid-section, to remove the stomach, intestines, and internal items.

By working with the inside of the animal, I have learned a great deal about taking care of the outside of the animal. Intestines that split apart when you try to clean them? Parasite overload! That goat needed a good de-wormer. Lungs that are hard & purple? Pneumonia. Livers with hard spots? Possible parasites . . . must trim these off before releasing to the customer. We would even see bizarre things, like the goat that had testicles AND ovaries. The thousands of animals that I opened up taught me numerous lessons to make me a better farmer.

Slaughter isn't glamorous, but it is a part of the process of raising & enjoying food! The more we share with the public about what we do, the better educated they will be to make their own decisions on food. Besides, who doesn't enjoy a good slaughterhouse story?!?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

FCFB Annual Meeting

Last night was the Franklin County Farm Bureau Annual Meeting held at Villa Milano in Westerville. It was a great opportunity to celebrate the achievements of our organization over last year. The following are my comments made to the audience at the conclusion of the meeting.

As we wrap up our 2011 Annual Meeting, it is a true blessing that Franklin County Farm Bureau has experienced so many achievements during our previous policy year. We’ve had a lot of adventures; we’ve had a lot of fun. And it has made for numerous good stories! Those of you that know me – or read my ever-self-promoting farm blog – know that I enjoy a good story! Of course, if you were acquainted with my grandfather, Virgil Harrison, you also know that I get my love of storytelling honestly . . . although my grandfather’s stories were told twice as slow and with far fewer goats than mine contain! I love telling stories primarily because tales of agriculture are so fascinating. Farmers ARE unique! We are unlike any other community in the world! I consider it a unique pleasure to be affiliated with Franklin County Farm Bureau, and a distinct honor to be entrusted with the leadership of this organization. I am humbled by your faith in me and I thank you.

The story behind the success of Franklin County Farm Bureau in the past year is largely driven by those on our board. I always marvel at the diversity of our board members, their dedication to agriculture, and their willingness to work together to promote our organization. This year, several of our board members are moving on from the board. These are members who have contributed a remarkable spirit of leadership to our organization. It is right and fitting to take time to applaud their efforts.

When I first met Glen King, I was charmed by his warmth of spirit and his dedication to animal agriculture. We soon discovered a mutual love of sheep . . . and then distant shared cousins! Glen has given so much to agriculture in Franklin County. He has served FCFB on its policy committee and nominating committee. Glen also has an eye to the future: he is on the vanguard of researching the emerging market for sheep cheese! And I would not be surprised if Glen mastered this over the next few decades – after all, his mother (who recently celebrated her 100th birthday!) was just honored last fall as the FCFB Woman of the Year! Glen gave us quite a scare last spring with his health issues. We will miss him on the board, but look forward to keeping him involved with volunteer activities. I also want to offer a distinct thanks to Rayma King, Glen’s amazing wife. FCFB sincerely appreciates the contributions that both of you have made!

One of the first board members that I got to know well at FCFB was Bill Johnson. Bill was serving as Membership Chair and was spinning a wheel with questions about membership benefits when we met! I was a na├»ve, new member (who had been invited by Neall Weber to attend a Farm Bureau “dinner” – not realizing he had signed me up to work membership). Bill & Denise made me feel incredibly welcome as a volunteer and encouraged me that my efforts were valued. Bill taught me the important lesson that volunteers must always feel appreciated. Bill is resourceful, creative, and a remarkable volunteer! This was illustrated by his efforts to spearhead our “Drive in the Country” Farm Tour last fall. Bill enlisted the farms, arranged volunteer efforts, spearheaded the marketing, and worked the entire day to ensure the success of the event. While we are losing Bill’s leadership on the board, we look forward to future Farm Tours! Save the date of September 18th for the 2011 event . . . be sure to read the flier about it, and contact Bill or Roger Genter to help volunteer!

Have you ever received a fabulous & life-changing door prize? Those of us on this year’s Membership Committee sure did! This was thanks to Jack Orum, who was an amazing leader for our annual membership campaign! Jack did an outstanding job of keeping our 2011 Membership Campaign focused, successful, and fun . . . and we were well-motivated by the possibility of the fabulous & life-changing door prizes! Jack is also an integral part of our Junior Fair Livestock Sale team. This year he worked with Neil Distelhorst & Angela Ottman to support our county 4-Hers by spending $16,250 on ducks, chickens, rabbits, turkeys, a goat, lambs, hogs, and feeder calves. After that long day at the fair, I owe a huge thanks to Jack and to Jill & John Hay for helping me tear down the baby animal display area at 11pm at night . . . this is an adventure I will always remember! I couldn’t have completed that task without Jack, John, and Jill – and I owe them a debt for not mocking me too much as I loaded chicken wire, posters, a table, hay, a heat lamp, Farm Bureau beach balls, etc, etc, and – of course – goats into my SUV. I believe Jack’s final words to me as I pulled out that night were, “Just don’t get pulled over!” Like Glen & Bill, Jack is concluding six years on our county board of trustees. We look forward to keeping him active for future membership campaigns, and we sincerely appreciate all the efforts of Jack & his wife Diana to support FCFB!

Finally, Janet Weber Pfeifer is also retiring from the board this year. Janet & Jack Orum helped to spear-head this year’s ice cream social at the fair. We have so many amazing volunteers that help to coordinate the Country Olympics led by Dwight Beougher and the tee shirt giveaway led by Monica Schemrich. After these activities in a hot livestock barn, the ice cream social was well-appreciated this year! Janet is currently in Florida, and she has decided her commitments there prevent a year-round availability for FCFB. Despite this, we intend to keep her very busy with the scholarship committee and the ice cream social!

These four individuals are outstanding representatives of the FCFB board of trustees! I look forward to our upcoming year as we welcome new board members. Each program year offers new opportunities to create achievements and build memories. And we always have so much fun along the way! In Franklin County, we are blessed with the opportunity to directly reach and educate our consumers on a daily basis. Franklin County is a major metropolitan area, a research community with a land-grant university, and a hub for communications and business. Every day we have the opportunity to come in contact with many individuals . . . and we have the opportunity to educate them about farming!

It is true that other counties have larger and more numerous farm businesses. Franklin County is unique, however. I have heard a well-respected commentator refer to our county as the last stand for agriculture in Ohio. This is absolutely accurate: if we do not effectively share our message with the urban & suburban consumers that surround us, agriculture will suffer a major setback. The wonderful thing is that we can accomplish this so easily! Everyone loves a good story about farming – even farmers! What we do is unique: no other field offers the opportunity to impact every single human. Everyone eats – everyone needs agriculture! We also should embrace the fact that the farm community is small by turning the “novelty” factor into an educational opportunity . . . Americans are interested in farms & food and we can capitalize on this!

I thoroughly enjoy the farm journal that I keep on my blog, and I was fascinated to track the numbers of readers following a post I did on hog slaughter. After feeding out two pigs, I slaughtered them for my family to enjoy. On my blog I put up a picture of me with one of the hogs after it had been bled out. I openly discussed the fact that this could be viewed as a “gross” picture of a dead pig. Then I offered MY perspective that this was the successful end of hours of labor spent feeding & caring for these pigs, and the exciting start to the processing of the park, which would guarantee that my family would eat well this winter. I discussed how I raised the pigs, the slaughter process, and my thoughts on raising my own food. I was amazed that this post tracked 131 American readers, 4 from India and Russia, 3 Germans, 2 from Italy and Ukraine, and one reader each from Australia, Belgium, and China. While I would like to think that it was the glamorous photo of me wearing a big yellow butcher apron that drew them, I believe it was more likely a curiosity about meat processing.

We are incredibly fortunate: we work in a field where we raise food (which everyone eats) and our consumers are extremely curious about what we do! As farmers, we have experiences that amaze individuals who are not blessed with our lifestyle and our community. My friends who work in cubicles and live in apartments have never raised nor butchered a pig . . . but they are very intrigued by the process of doing this and the chance to join me for dinner! With this opportunity to educate, however, comes a great responsibility. We are always farmers. We always represent the farm community. What we say about farming and the manner in which we act impacts the future of agriculture. We must take this responsibility seriously as we engage consumers. Our role as farmers makes us unique, but if we are condescending – toward our consumers or toward our fellow farmers – we will not present agriculture in the fullness of its blessings.

I am very proud to be a member of FCFB! I am extraordinarily proud of our efforts to support the future of agriculture through our scholarships, through our efforts at the county fair, and through the Farm Days event at COSI. I am extremely delighted by our efforts to educate consumers through events like our farm tour, and to promote agriculture through our policy process & engagement with local officials. Our county, like our chosen field, is unique. It is full of blessings and opportunities. Speak up and tell your story!

WHY do you farm? WHY are you a 4-H leader? WHY do you scoop ice cream at our ice cream social? WHY do you offer your limited time to volunteer for FCFB? Tell these stories, reach out to your community, take pride in being a farmer! Our country needs farmers. It needs the farm community. It needs those voices to step forward and speak up for our values. As a community we know that values must be a part of successful policies. Remember: it was farmers & skilled tradesmen that founded America, and these same groups are needed today to protect the future of our amazing country. And remember that the elected volunteers and staff members of FCFB and OFBF work for YOU! Give us your feedback so that we can help you make agriculture, farm bureau, and our country even greater!

In exchange for this feedback, we even offer fabulous & life-changing door prizes! I would like to ask Jack Orum to assist me in drawing the winners from our evaluation forms.

At this point, I will ask for a motion to adjourn our meeting. Second. All in favor of the motion? The motion carries. Thank you for attending our 2011 Annual Meeting! May God bless you and may God bless our great country!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hog Skinning -- or Adventures on the Kill Floor

In a slaughterhouse, the area where an animal is bled out and skinned is known by the very fancy name of "kill floor". Many slaughterhouses that do a large number of hogs will have a unit that dips the hog carcass in scalding hot water. The hairs on the hide can then be scraped off or tumbled off. Some cultures even prefer their goats to be done in this manner. This leaves the skin on, much like a chicken would be prepared.

With my hogs, I chose to skin them. I relied on my student assistant/adopted son Big Al to aid me in removing the skin. We placed the pigs in a "cradle", which holds them elevated on their backs. This allowed us to take the hide off the legs, and reflect the hide off of the stomach region. From there, we raised the pigs up on a hoist to allow us to cut the hide off the back. The next step is hanging the carcass on a "gambrel": a large hanger that holds the animal during evisceration.