Posted on Wed, January 21, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
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by Gabrielle Redner, Slow Food USA intern
Walking in to Slow Food New York Citys Slow U” event last Wednesday evening (“Local Pastured Meats, Good for You, Good for the Planet”) was like entering a dream classroom. There were a couple rows of seats and tables facing a presentation area, but our desks were equipped with four glasses of Long-Island wine, and three pork and beef hors doeuvres. The food was prepared by chef Caroline Fidanza of Diner restaurant in Williamsburg. I wish all my classes were so yummy!
The lecture was about local, grassfed meat, and our teachers, Jennifer Small of Flying Pigs Farm and Dan Gibson of Grazin Angus Acres, gave us the run-down of a life in the day of a Black Angus Steer, and a rare-breed pig, respectively.
Dans steer eat grass, and only grass. It is a lot of work to feed cows something that most of us walk on and never really think about. Dan spends all summer gathering and wrapping the grass so his cows can still go gaga over greens in the winter, but the cows give him an invaluable gift in return: poop. Yes, thats right, and it is a gift for his chickens as well. Fly larvae hatch in this cow poop, and the chickens eat the larvae before leaving behind an even better gift: more poop. The chicken poop is the magic fertilizer, extremely rich in nitrogen, that keeps the grass growing, the cows happy, and the meat delicious and nutritious. It is this joint effort between the farmers, cows, chicken and flies that keeps the cycle going. As Dan said, its not rocket science, its just hard work and a lot of fun!
Jen was a grad student who decided to save a farm by buying it. Some years later, she and her husband Michael Yezzi bought three pigs. Now, they raise Large Blacks, Gloucestershire Old Spots, and Tamworths, all rare breed pigs that eat grass and many other things, too. Pigs, unlike the monovore cows, are omnivores. Along with some corn and soy, they eat whatever they can scavenge in the pasture. In the summer, they hang out and in the shade and pose for pictures like the ones we saw. When Jen said she lets her pigs dig into the ground (instead of ringing their noses to prevent it), I couldnt help thinking that her pigs are like the teenagers with the coolest, most laid-back parents in town. If you had seen how happy those piggies were in the photos, you would probably want to be one. Maybe.
Q&A time came, and someone asked if the farmers were affected by the economy. They both said no. Their meat is expensive due to work, food, the slaughterhouse and the high fat to meat ratio (for the pigs), but people are still buying. Maybe some stopped, but others who are choosing to prepare a nice meal at home rather than go out to dinner appear to be making up the difference.
Some of the coolest things I learned at Slow U:
1) Head-cheese is delicious. Pigs carry some very tasty stuff in their noggins.
2) Farmers love when we give them love at the farmers market. Even if they havent had a vacation for years, thats what keeps them in the business. To market we must go!
photo by Cecily Upton