Showing posts with label food safety. Show all posts
Showing posts with label food safety. Show all posts

Friday, 19 August 2011

The 2011 Dirty Dozen

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I garden, first because I love doing it and then second, because it's the most certain and cost-effective way to know there are no chemicals in the food we eat. But my high-desert climate - short hot dry summers, long freezing cold winters, 10 inches average annual precipitation (as snow only) - means growing my own food is an iffy proposition at best.

So I grow when and what I can, preserve or store any extra, and then buy the rest of my produce. Sadly, organic produce here is usually way more expensive - that is, when it's available at all. When grocery money is tight, I'll buy organic for the "Dirty Dozen", and shop for regular produce if it has a thick non-edible skin or peel, or is one of the "Clean 15."

Apples, celery, and strawberries top the list of the most pesticide-laden produce. Earlier this year, I wrote about my trials in growing and preserving cilantro. I now feel my efforts justified. In researching the latest list of contaminated food, I found cilantro has the highest percentage of unapproved pesticides recorded on any item included in the Shopper's Guide since the Environmental Working Group started tracking the data in 1995.

2011 "Dirty Dozen" (buy these organic, or try to grow your own)
1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Nectarines
7. Grapes
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Blueberries
11. Lettuce
12. Kale/collard greens

Food prices are definitely on the rise. If price is an obstacle, buying these from the regular bins can cut costs without compromising on quality.
2011 "Clean 15" (least contaminated)
1. Onions
2. Sweet corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocado
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplant
9. Cantaloupe
10. Kiwifruit
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushrooms

Still, the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Reduce your exposure as much as possible, but eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all. Download a pdf of the above lists here. Then, do what you can, when you can.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

House Cow FAQs

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Also posted on Home Grown

It's been over a year since we first got a house cow, and we've learned a lot along the way. Here are some of the most common questions people ask us, and our replies. We are rather unconventional in the way we manage our home dairy, and I encourage cow owners to seek out information most suitable to their animal before following our example.

How do you tame a cow from a commercial dairy?

This was harder than I expected. Lucy was very frightened and stressed about being away from her herd. At first we had to use fences and ropes to get her to co-operate because it was important that a) we fully milked her at least once a day and b) the calf we also brought home (not hers) got milk. After the initial rough days, Lucy would lead on a halter (the show type with a small chain under the chin). From there we brushed her, spoke kindly to her and got her used to a routine - dry food with minerals and molasses, same time of day, same people around, same calls and commands... Within months Lucy would come when called and take herself into the milking shed at least some of the time. She didn't kick or otherwise carry on for us.

Where do you get the foster calves from?

Our foster calves are calves from a nearby dairy which are excess to their needs. In commercial dairies, male calves are often killed at birth, or they are raised to sell for veal. Some female calves are not kept as replacement heifers because they might be the wrong bloodline or colour, or they aren't a strong animal. If a dairy runs about 200 cows who each 'work' for several years, and each cow has a calf per annum (the usual way in commercial dairying), and half these calves are female - the dairy can't use 100 replacement heifers each year. And so there are often perfectly lovely little heifer calves available for a low cost in dairying regions. And that is how we got Honey and Poppy! We use the term 'foster calf' to describe a calf raised on its own mother for a couple of weeks, who then comes to our farm to drink milk from Lucy until weaning age.

Do you really milk by hand?

Yes! I got a quick lesson from a friend who hand-milks, and a few tips from others who have milked by hand in the past, and within a couple of days had mastered the art! I find milking by hand is relaxing for the cow and I, and it ensures that no damage is done to the udder or teats during milking. Also, milking machinery isn't cheap!

Does owning a cow take a lot of time?

When I'm milking, or monitoring foster calves closely, the cows take me about an hour to an hour and a half each day. That is to feed, water, clean, milk, check the animals over, move them to other paddocks, and so on. To some, that may seem like a lot of time, but it is my exercise and 'hobby', and provides our family with milk. When I am not milking or required for so much hands-on work, I only need to check the cattle and their water once each day.

What do you do with the excess milk?

Excess milk has usually gone to foster calves at our place - I only milked out what we could use, and trusted the calves to take care of the rest! Currently, we don't have any calves on Lucy so with excess milk I make yoghurt, kefir, custard, soft cheese and so on. I also give milk to our animals sometimes, who seem to like it and digest it well.

Doesn't milk have to be pastuerised to make it safe?

After reading information from the Weston Price Foundation and Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions, we decided that the benefits of raw milk outweigh any small risk of contamination, for us. Also, because we control the health and hygiene of our cow and home-dairy facilities, we are confident that the raw milk we're drinking is a quality product.

How do you treat health problems in your herd?

We have been blessed to not have many health problems to date in our herd. We follow the advice of Pat Coleby who has excellent resources for farmers regarding minerals and nutritional supplements. We believe that this prevention is worth the investment of time and money. For buffalo fly, worms and ticks, all common pests in our area, we have tried Neem oil, and a specific mix of essential oils as well as supplementing their diet with specific minerals including diatomaceous earth. For behavioural issues we have used homeopathy and herbal treatments. We are not totally against conventional treatments and will use them if the health or comfort of our animals are at stake.

I hope this interests those of you curious about having a house cow, or looking into having your own cow sometime. I highly recommend the following resources:

Weston A Price
Sally Fallon- Nourishing Traditions
Keeping a Family Cow Forums
Natural Cattle Care by Pat Coleby
The Healthy House Cow by Patricia van den Berg
The Home Creamery by Kathy Farrell-Kingsly

Monday, 4 October 2010

Please don't can like Grandma

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Canning and home preserving in general is making a huge comeback. And many times we turn to the past for guidance. Or better yet, Grandma is still alive and happy to gift you with her canning supplies that were so important to her in the day. Here is where it gets touchy.

1940's - 1950's era aluminum food mill.

Grandma wants to pass the torch, which many times can be wonderful. And while you can heed the warnings about old canning time tables and methods, you can use newer guidelines for longer processing times and safer methods without hurting her feelings, not using her favorite food mill may spark a little resentment. Many times Grandma wants to know that you are using her tools that meant to so much to her in a earlier era. Some relics are best delegated to display only. For instance anything made from aluminum that will come in contact with your foods, such as pots and pans, food mills, and funnels. Especially high acid foods like applesauce, fruits and fruit butters, and tomato products, which just so happen to be the most popular foods that people can.

High acid foods will react with the aluminum and impart a metallic taste to your food, and maybe some discoloration. You have to figure since you can taste it in your food, you're ingesting it and since aluminum has been linked to many diseases from Alzheimer's to cancer it best not to use it. Look for non-reactive tools for your canning efforts.

You can still honor Grandma by accepting her advice, and displaying her antiques, and buying yourself some new preserving gear that will last your lifetime. Stainless steel is a wonderful substitute, and will last a long time and become the new heirloom for you to pass on to your family. Happy canning!

Friday, 1 October 2010

Buying Organic

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Ideally, we would produce almost all of our own food, but in reality, we're still buying grocery items and some produce each week to feed our family. There's a whole checklist of criteria when shopping for the family - local, organic, less-packaging, no additives... Never before has something as basic as feeding the family required so much research and thought.

Certified Organic grocery items – food, home and personal care items – do not contain residue of the harmful chemicals that the EPA considers to be carcinogens (60% of all herbicides, 90% of all fungicides and 30% of all insecticide). These chemicals are designed to kill living organisms. In humans, they are implicated in cancers, birth defects, nerve damage and genetic mutations. Not only are our families at risk, but our country’s farmers, their families, their neighbours and all living creatures around farms are also at risk.

Certified Organic products are not only made without the use of synthetic chemicals and irradiation, they are also GMO-free and don’t contain harmful preservatives or artificial ingredients. Children are particularly at risk from these residues, processes and additives because the levels of safety are set at an adult level. A study of young children in New York showed that those who didn’t eat organic food had over 300 different chemicals in their urine. Those who did eat organic had about 12. It’s what’s missing from Certified Organic products that make them good for you.

Our bodies absorb significant amounts of what we put on our skin, in our hair, and brush our teeth with, etc. It is estimated that the average Australian adult is exposed to 126 chemicals through their personal care products, every day. If you are concerned about the chemicals your family are absorbing through their skin, you can reduce the number of products you purchase, opting instead for a few old-fashioned basic options, and you can also seek out Certified Organic products through your supermarket, pharmacy or local health stores. After switching to more natural alternatives for awhile, most people find that the highly scented, chemical-laden products no longer appeal to them.

Australia’s organic industry is regulated the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS). Professional Certification bodies are responsible for certifying products as organic or biodynamic. Look for the certification logos on organic grocery items to know that growers and producers have fulfilled the stringent certification requirements. Imported products will also carry Certified Organic logos recognised by their own country and approved by AQIS.

It is legal in Australia for products to carry a brand name or description “Organic” without actually being a certified product or even in any way more natural or less harmful than other products on the shelf. In the case of a bottle of shampoo, for one example, a tiny percentage of its ingredients may be botanically derived, yet the label can legally imply that the shampoo inside is “natural, organic, herbal, botanical”. The only way to tell if you’re eating or using a certified organic product is to a) grow or make it yourself from 100% Organic ingredients or b) look for the AQIS-approved logo on the packaging. There is a push for truth within labelling, and it is expected that the use of the term “Organic” will be more limited on Australian products in the future.

Buying organic is also a blessing for the environment. Industrial farming uses more fossil fuel than organic farming because the energy required to produce artificial fertilisers and other chemicals outweighs that used in tilling, cultivating, harvesting crops and transporting and refrigerating products. Organic farming prevents soil erosion, promotes biodiversity and keeps water clean. In practice, it nourishes the soil, which nourishes the plants and animals that nourish our bodies. Simple.

A lot of families would love to buy Certified Organic, but believe that the cost is prohibitive. Buying organic allows us to support a true economy. Conventional grocery prices don’t reflect hidden costs borne by taxpayers, including federal subsidies. Other hidden costs include pesticide regulation and testing, hazardous waste disposal and clean-up, and environmental damage. Isn’t it easier to spend our dollars doing things the right way, and avoid those hidden costs?

Our family also finds that a lot of organic food is more nutrient-dense and therefore we eat less of it. One example is a 375g pack of Organic Wholemeal Spelt Pasta. Our children enjoy this pasta because it actually has substance and flavour, and in our large family, this small packet goes a lot further than a 500g packet of white wheat pasta from the supermarket. It is true that I will pay more than twice as much for the organic product, but for me, the numerous benefits outweigh the extra cost.
There are various lists suggesting the items to buy organic, here is one example of six important food products from a large Australian supplier Organic Oz:

1. Apples
2. Bread
3. Carrots
4. Baby food
5. Dairy food
6. Rice

Of course there are the other issues of food miles, additives, packaging and so on. How important is it to you that your food and other grocery products are Organic? Do you find labeling confusing? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts and experiences.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Going Meatless - What's Your Reason?

by Kate
Living A Frugal Life

There's a lot of talk on green-themed blogs about vegetarianism and reducing meat consumption. People come to this topic out of many different concerns - health, ethics, environmental degradation, and frugality, among others. All of them are valid motivations. Nonetheless, diet is a very personal topic, and it can be a very divisive one as well. I've yet to meet anyone who enjoys being lectured about their dietary choices, their financial affairs, or someone else's religious convictions.

But a meatless meal seems to be fairly free of contention, so long as we don't get on a soapbox and assert that our own reasons for eating less or no meat are The Right and Proper Worldview. As I mentioned, I believe there are many good reasons to abstain from meat consumption at least for some meals. It doesn't matter to me very much why people eat less meat. I'm happy to discuss any good reason for doing so, as long as it doesn't put people off the idea altogether. So let's talk about some of those reasons.

I found that having a large garden and keeping laying hens naturally steers me away from preparing meat-centric meals. With a lot of effort invested in growing vegetables and producing our own eggs, you can be sure it's a high priority for me to use up those ingredients. Preparing meals centered on vegetables and eggs naturally crowds out some opportunities for meat-based meals. In this case, reduced meat consumption is an unintended consequence of taking more responsibility for our own food production. It's an unintended consequence we hardly notice, and don't mind at all. Eggs supply plenty of protein, so we're never at risk of running low on that nutrient. We eat better because we enjoy the superior quality of our homegrown food, not because we're dutifully giving up something we enjoy in order to settle for "health food."

Out of both a desire to save money, as well as a sense of respect for the taking of animals' lives, I think it's important also to stretch meat as far as it will go. Meat can be an accent and a contributing ingredient just as well as it can dominate a dinner plate. No part of an animal need be wasted. Making stock from animal bones give you a "second helping" of the meat that would otherwise be lost. A vegetable soup made with meat-based broth but no other meat is sort of veggie, but also sort of meaty. We get that bonus animal protein without the need to raise, feed, and kill another animal. Consuming the (unjustly) less celebrated bits of an animal, such as the organs, tongue, cheeks, tails, etc, not only stretches a budget, but it also precludes the travesty of killing an animal only to consume a few select parts.

It's also costing the planet too much to produce the quantity of meat that the current human population chooses to consume. If there were only 500 million humans spread around the world, we could probably eat all the meat we wanted with few repercussions to the planet. That simply isn't the case with nearly 7 billion of us. Not only are we despoiling the environment through the incredible concentrations of manure concomitant with factory farms, but the grain that goes to feed industrially raised animals, bought and sold as it is on the global market, literally deprives the poorest of our human family the ability to feed their children. There is indeed enough food at the moment to feed all the people on this planet, but not if we feed a huge proportion of that food to animals (or worse yet, our cars).

Then there's the human health angle. Those of us in over-developed societies eat too much industrial meat for our own good. We're suffering from excessive levels of heart disease, colon cancer, obesity, and any number of other diet-related diseases. Almost all meat sold in the US comes from animals on industrial feedlots fed genetically modified corn, which raises a whole host of other insufficiently understood human health concerns. Not to mention, GMO crops are doused with incredibly high levels of pesticides which critically threaten honey bees. Honey bees provide crucial pollination for one out of every three bites of food the human race consumes. Pigs and cattle are routinely pumped full of sub-therapeutic antibiotics. (In other words, they are all given antibiotics routinely, just to keep them alive in disgusting conditions, rather than on an individual basis if a single animal happens to get sick.) This gives rise to alarming strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Eating a hamburger every other day may mean that there's no effective treatment for the pneumonia your grandmother comes down with. It may mean that the life-threatening food poisoning your toddler contracts after eating ground beef can't be treated with any antibiotic we now possess. Industrial meat undermines not only human health, but also our medicine.

I've been reminded by the Meatless Monday Challenge that it takes a relatively small change in the diets of millions of people to add up to huge knock-on effects on a global scale. If every US resident who now eats meat went meatless once per week for a year, it would result in a savings of 12 billion gallons of gasoline and 13 trillion gallons of fresh water, while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution. The idea of going without meat one day per week is hardly radical or new. Indeed, it was for all intents and purposes the law in Europe for many centuries. The Catholic church now holds Catholics to meatless Fridays only for six weeks out of the year. For many centuries Catholics were required both to fast and to abstain from eating meat on Fridays year-round, and on many other holy days. And for much of European history, what the Catholic church dictated had all the force of state law. The Orthodox churches likewise required periods of dietary restraint of their adherents. Though there were variations to this rule by region and era, no person in Christendom was a stranger to fasting or meatless meals. If you're of European descent, your ancestors lived this way for many generations. Would it be a true hardship for us to do the same?

Don't get me wrong - I don't ever envision myself as a vegetarian, and I'm not asking anyone to become one. I believe that animal protein is something that Homo sapiens sapiens evolved to consume. Healthy, natural meat is good for us. There have been human cultures that subsisted almost 100% on animal flesh and animal products. While I very much respect the ethical choices of vegetarians and vegans, I have no personal qualms about killing animals for consumption, and have done it myself. (Raising them in unspeakable conditions, treating them cruelly, and the callous wasting of any part of their bodies are the things I can't stomach.) As Sharon Astyk pointed out recently, there is no such thing as a bloodless human diet which is also sustainable. Without animal manures, or massive inputs from petroleum-based fertilizers, no soil on this planet can indefinitely support grain or vegetable cropping. We are all responsible, whatever our dietary choices, for the deaths of other creatures. Yet there are still ways to mitigate the harm we must do to keep ourselves alive.

How do I resolve these issues? My personal choice for the time being is to buy meat only from local producers who keep their animals on pasture, treat them humanely, never use hormones, and only use antibiotics when an animal actually needs veterinary treatment. In this way I can and actually do know the people who raise my food, and I know they give a damn about what they sell to their customers. I pay a fair price for this meat, which is significantly more than I would pay for industrial meat purchased at the supermarket. This means my money stays in my community and supports practices I believe in, and that meat makes up a smaller portion of our diet than it would have ten years ago. I waste no part of any meat we buy, even to the point of burying the bones in my garden to add nutrients to our soil. On the rare occasions I eat out, I usually opt for a vegetarian meal unless I happen to know that the meat comes from a local ethical farm. When we do eat out, I prefer to patronize restaurants that carry such meats, and I make a point of ordering them. Eventually I would like to take more responsibility for the meat we consume by hunting and/or raising meat rabbits.

I'm curious to hear from all of you about your approach to eating meat, or not eating it. What are your dietary choices, and how did you come to them? Have you changed your diet in response to concerns about food safety, frugality, ethics, or for other reasons? Are you currently in the process of changing your diet? If so, what challenges are you facing? Please share in the comments.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Extra-virgin olive oil: Why pay more

by Francesca


Our neighbor, an elderly farmer, speaks lovingly about the olive oil he makes from his trees. He likes to call it “a fresh-squeezed fruit juice,” because it’s the only vegetable oil that comes from a fruit, and not from a seed or a nut. This fresh-squeezed fruit juice has been a key ingredient in the Mediterranean Diet since the late Bronze Age.

Olive oil contains a remarkable range of nutrients and has many healthful properties. In fact, recent medical research has shown it to be beneficial against conditions ranging from coronary heart disease to Alzheimers to colon cancer. But only one kind of olive oil has these characteristics: extra-virgin olive oil, the highest grade, which is made from fresh, healthy fruit that’s been expertly harvested, pressed, extracted and bottled.

picked olives

Harvesting olives is a lengthy and labor-intensive job that in our part of Italy begins this time of year, in the cold days of late November and December. Although there are mechanical ways to pick olives, much of the work is by hand, and it’s hard. To produce one liter of oil you need over 5 kilos of olives, sometimes more. Olives must be picked when they reach just the right level of ripeness, and milled within hours, before the olives start to decompose.

With all this labor to pay for, making extra-virgin olive oil is pricey. Even in an oil-producing region like ours, a bottle of extra-virgin bought in a store can’t cost less than about €10 ($14).

olive nets
olives on nets

In fact, lots of olive oil is sold in stores at half that price, or less. Most of it is labeled “olive oil.” This is an inferior grade to extra-virgin, made from over-ripe olives that have fallen from the trees and collected in nets on the ground, where they’ve started to decompose. The oil extracted from these olives can’t legally be sold as food, only as fuel (it’s called lampante, or “lamp-oil”). So it’s taken to a refinery, where it’s industrially treated, then mixed with a dash of extra-virgin olive oil, and sold as “olive oil”.

Then there’s “pomace olive oil,” which, despite its name, isn’t olive oil at all. It's extracted with solvents from the crushed olive pits, skins and flesh left over from the milling process. Not only does it have almost none of extra-virgin oil’s health benefits, but it also often contains toxic substances. It’s to be avoided at all costs!

You should definitely pay a little more for extra-virgin olive oil: in olive oil, even more than in most other foods, you get what you pay for. (You can read a more detailed discussion of olive oil production, trade and fraud here.)


We live in a prime olive growing area, and my family is the proud owner of an olive grove consisting of … well, only one olive tree! We’ve been putting off the idea of an olive grove until we have our own land. But we’re lucky enough to know the best local producers, and we buy our extra-virgin olive oil, made from the local Taggiasca variety, which has a delicate fruity taste, directly from them – buying from a known source is the best way to make sure you’re getting quality oil. Also, as part of our efforts to forage whatever we can eat from the wild (like the chestnuts I posted about earlier), each November we head out to pick some olives from the old, overgrown, abandoned olive trees that grow on hillsides around our house. I put them in brine for several months to cure them. Meantime, we dream of the day when we’ll produce our own extra-virgin olive oil.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Planning for Canning

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
(disclaimer: the following is all totally based on actual life experiences)
I'm not sure if it's the economy, or our current pace of life, but there seems to be a definite upswing in folks, especially younger generations, wanting to slow down to a simpler lifestyle with a do-it-yourself attitude. Once started on this track, the idea of canning and preserving your own food eventually comes up. I can't deny it - it's definitely an attractive proposition, but be forewarned: once started upon, it's a slippery slope.

Jams and jellies are the gateway drug. Maybe you spotted some fruit that could be gleaned from a tree in your neighborhood, maybe a colorful display at the Farmers Market drew you in. Whatever the source, you just have to try your hand at it. And no denying it - the results can be beautiful: sparkling jars full of jewel-toned goodness; the smug satisfaction of seeing them all lined up with pretty little labels; the warm contented feeling of a hunter/gatherer providing for your family. It's hard-wired into our DNA.

And it was so easy. You want to do more. Apples! Applesauce is easy! Soon, you'll move on to pickles (amazing how many things I've seen pickled). You start scouring garage sales for jars, haunting the second-hand shops for a pot big enough to use as waterbath canner or even, the Holy Grail of canning, a pressure canner. Everyone on your gift list (and even those that didn't know they were on your list) is going to get the fruits of your labor, your own home-canned goods, wrapped up in pretty fabric or tucked into decorated baskets. Now, don't get me wrong - that's not a bad thing (especially if you can get the recipients trained to return the empty jars).

But please, stop and think. Just how much processed sugar, salt, and vinegar do you and your loved ones really, actually, eat each year? If your canned goods aren't being used and replenished on a regular basis, you're just wasting both cupboard and jar space. I just checked - I still have a jar of peach jam made in 1998. We just don't eat that much jam. We have a friend that keeps bees - Aries would much rather put honey on his toast. I have another friend that makes the best strawberry freezer jam, and I'm on her gift list (and, I always give her one of my jars, right on the spot - I know how important that is). I've quit (pretty much, anyway - it's sooo hard to go completely cold turkey) making jams and jellies.

This suggestion is for those only thinking about canning too. Start tracking how much of anything you really do use in a year; and canners, how much is left over at the start of the next year's harvest (make a spreadsheet, start a journal, put hashmarks on a list taped inside your cupboard door - whatever works for you). You might not have to make every thing, every year. If spring frosts or blight kills off your harvest three years out of four, you might have to can enough to last for four years whenever you get the chance. Note too, the size of anything best suited to your family's use. If you only use a half-pint of applesauce at a time, filling up quart jars just because they were a good buy at a yard sale is crazy. Knowing, then making a plan, means you can optimize your jar space, storage space, and garden space.

Something else to think about: not only how you're going to store it (some preserved items I still need to keep refrigerated), but also how you're going to use your end product. Only high-acid items - fruits, pickles (made with commercial vinegar - homemade vinegars may not be acidic enough), and tomatoes (and with some varieties now being bred to be low-acid, I always add lemon juice to each jar, just to be safe) are safely preserved in a boiling water bath, and safe to eat cold. All other vegetables, and meats, must be pressure-canned, and then once opened brought to a full, rolling boil for a minimum of 10 minutes (20 minutes for spinach and corn) before tasting. I do have a few jars of green beans, but we much prefer the taste and texture of frozen. The canned ones turn to mush as a side dish - they're only used in winter soups, and I won't bother with canning them anymore.

Canning can be a wonderful and useful skill to have, but please, use it responsibly. I know. I've been there. My name is Sadge - I'm a canning addict.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Food safety at home

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

There is plenty of food safety issues that have been in the news lately, so I won't go into all that, but I do want to share how we handle food safety on our farmstead and in our kitchen. My husband has a compromised immune system so good habits are important.

We raise most of our food, and maintain our own watershed, so we are the "they" that has to keep things safe for ourselves. We consume raw dairy products, drink spring water, eat foodstuffs prepared with raw eggs, and graze in the garden freely. All are things that are frowned upon in modern day society. And, unfortunately modern day industrial food practices can be unsafe, even with all the laws and procedures that must be followed. First, everyone has to be on board, when productivity is the only factor, quality may go down. After all, if the milk is contaminated, it can be pasteurized right? Well, I suppose, if you want a simple answer to a complicated question. The milker will never see the person who drinks the milk, and neither will the farmer. But on a smallholding, the farmer and consumer are one and the same.

On our farm we follow rules I learned as child and I am passing on to my child, and anyone who works with us. It begins at the beginning, of course. A hen's goal in life is to lay an egg that will hatch into chick, for that to happen, she needs clean surroundings, and a clean place to lay her gift. If left to her own devices, she would seek out the safest, cleanest place she could for her nest. If I confine her for her safety, or for my convenience, I must provide her with good food, clean feeders and waterers and a clean nest box to lay her eggs in.

It would do me no good to deny the hen these simple things, because ultimately I need to keep my own "chick" safe. Gathering eggs can be fun or drudgery and it can be dangerous if the nest boxes aren't kept clean. When I gather eggs, I am gathering eggs, I don't stop and pick a salad for dinner on the way back to the house. I put the eggs away, wash up and then go back out and pick greens. Mostly it is just a little thinking, and a lot of hand washing on my part. But, after awhile it becomes habit. The same with milking, when I go to milk, I do not stop and pet the barn cats or let them in the milk bucket, I do my milk chores and get the milk to the house to process it as soon as I'm done milking. Stall cleaning, and general barn chores are a different ball of wax.

Ditto with the feed and water, it must be kept clean to keep the stock healthy and the stock handlers healthy too. It is also a good idea to not let your chickens roost on your hay or water troughs that your ruminants use. However, it is OK for your chickens to scratch through manure, just not the other way around. Birds follow herbivores.

We follow the same principles in the barn. Pitchforks for the hay are only used for hay or spreading clean bedding. Never for mucking out stalls. Think of these pitchforks as the utensils for the stock, they must be kept clean. We always have them stored in a bale of straw or hay, never on the ground. Parasites can be spread by using a manure fork for a hay fork.

Pitchforks and shovels for mucking out are never near the hay, and can be stored touching the ground. If someone new is helping us out, we make sure we go over these simple rules and explain the differences in the tools, and the how's and why's of using these tools.

The same goes for our wheelbarrows. We have separate wheelbarrows for mucking and wheelbarrows that are just used for bringing in vegetables from the garden. The uses are not interchangeable.

This is the food wheelbarrow pictured with the spading fork. Everyone knows not to just grab the nearest wheelbarrow or fork to do a job.

Since we do use composted animal manure/bedding for our fertilizer program, we follow the same guidelines while spreading compost.

Our compost is aged at least a year, and if spread by hand we use our manure forks and wheelbarrows. Spreading fresh manure is usually not recommended, but if you do use it, plan for at least 90 days from application to harvest of edible crops.

Most of all, keeping things clean in the first place is the easiest. But if you want to wash your vegetables, food grade hydrogen peroxide is easy to use. In some areas you can purchase a 3% solution or if not, you can mix it yourself. I purchase 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide from Azure Standard and keep it on hand, mostly for washing salad greens. To make a 3% solution from 35% hydrogen peroxide, mix 1 ounce of hydrogen peroxide to 11 ounces of water. Use 1/4 cup of this dilution to a sink full of water to wash your vegetables in.

Most of all we want to enjoy the fruits of our labors and working together. By setting a few rules that we can all follow, we can enjoy our work and the rewards it brings us!