Ensuring Access To Real Food With Food Rebel, Charlotte Smith

This episode isn’t just for farmers. It’s for anyone who depends on farmers to provide food for their families! Today we have Charlotte Smith with Part 2 of our interview. She is going to talk about the impact of raw milk on her family’s health. She is also going to discuss what type of cow’s milk is easiest to digest, how to ensure your access to real food, and much more. What are you waiting for? Get listening!

Don’t miss Part 1 of this interview, Female Farmers Can Make a Viable Living

Charlotte Smith on her farm

Charlotte Smith was named a food rebel, pioneer and visionary by PBS’s Food Forward TV, and a “Pioneering Leader in Raw Milk Production” by Mark McAfee, CEO Organic Pastures Dairy, and Food Tank named her one of the 25 “World’s Most Influential Women in Food and Ag” Charlotte Smith has created a sustainable farm-to-consumer business selling premium meats, poultry, eggs and milk. After witnessing one too many small business owners close up shop after being run ragged and still not being able to pay the bills with their sales, she founded 3 Cow Marketing to help others transform their marketing skills and begin to live the life they always dreamed of.

You can follow Charlotte through 3 Cow Marketing,  Champoeg CreameryFacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Other links mentioned in this episode:

Why Access to Raw Milk is Important

ADRIENNE HEW: Tell me about raw milk, how you got into it and how it’s changed your health in your life.

CHARLOTTE SMITH:  Sure, my kids are 23, 20, and almost 10. So my 23 and 20 year olds when they turned 6 they developed eczema. My daughter had eczema for six years and as a mother; any mother of sick children, you’ll do anything to help your kids feel better. It was really awful and debilitating, it was all over her face. It was painful and red all the time. My son had bloody, scabby hands all the time. Itching. It was all over his body. So over that six years people would recommend all sorts of things; have you tried this herb or this salve and this cream and this vitamin, and I tried everything like any good mother would do. You’d run out and buy it and nothing worked. Well, someone mentioned that a doctor in California, which was Dr. Thomas Cowen, had been recommending, or people had been using, raw milk to heal their kids’ eczema. Well, I never heard of raw milk until 12 years ago, I didn’t even know. It was like, really? They don’t boil it? Well, that’s weird. It was very hard to find in Oregon as they have this weird law that you can have 3 cows or fewer which makes it horrendously expensive to produce.

AH: Oh of course, well that’s why they do it-we’ll let you do it, but it’s going to cost you.

CS:  So there are hardly any raw milk producers still today, and they go out of business very quickly because they don’t price it at a point to pay their bills, so they’re out of business very quickly. I found this place, it’s kind of underground, and I had no expectations because in six years nothing else had worked with my kids. I brought home this raw milk and I think we had a glass a day. It’s dinner time, “Everyone you have to have a glass of this milk.” And 2 weeks later my son came out and showed me the backs of his hands and they were just pure smooth skin. The bloody scabbing that he’d had for his three years of eczema was totally gone within two weeks.

AH: Wow.

CS:  So I looked over the rest of his body: all of his eczema patches were completely gone, they’ve never come back. My daughter had it for longer. Hers started subsiding right away and it took about 6 months to go away completely and it didn’t come back. So then we just kept drinking it. That was the first thing. I didn’t think much about it until a year later I looked back over the year. I thought up until that point, the mother of a 12 and a 9 year old, I was used to my kids having at least one or two ear infections during the winter and one round of antibiotics. That was normal, and that was really good as many of their classmates would have three or four rounds of antibiotics in the winter so I thought… 

AH: You thought you were ahead of the game, right.

CS: I did, and we were eating the standard American diet. I thought, aren’t we healthy. I looked back and thought; no one had got sick, no one had antibiotics, it was just crazy. That was the only thing we changed that first year.

AH: That’s what I was going to ask you, did Tom tell you to do something else because that’s just insane.

CS: That’s all we changed because I was a busy mom of these two kids busy in school and I didn’t have time to even read or research it. I found my thing that cured their eczema and that was it. That’s all we changed. At that point we hadn’t even taken any of the bad food out. We were still eating a lot of processed foods. So really all we did was the addition of raw milk.

AH: That’s crazy, I love that! Dairy haters, I’m calling you out on this one. The people who are like, “Dairy’s so bad for you, it doesn’t do anything, it’s just mucus, blah, blah, blah,” but yeah.

CS: Right.

AH: It’s not the milk, it’s what we did to milk.

CS: Yeah, pasteurized.

AH: Antibiotics and all the other jazz.

milk box

CS: It’s the number one most allergenic food in America-pasteurized milk. People are using raw milk to combat their allergies. That’s the other thing, I used to have terrible hay fever. Six months out of the year I was on over-the-counter allergy medicine just to leave the house and I could not spend much time in a grass field, even on the medication. Well, my allergies went away completely in the first two years. 

So then after that I got more involved in the Weston Price Foundation, found a source for grass-fed beef, and over those first few years we gradually started learning how to bring in higher quality foods and stop cooking with bad oils and started cooking with coconut oil. Now we cook with all our own pastured pork lard. So it was a gradual process but the initial feeling was so quick and so just big and complete. It was amazing.

So then, like I said earlier, we lost our raw milk source. Three times our farmers went out of business because it’s very, very, very expensive and also very hard on family life. So then I thought, I grew up in the country, I worked on the farm all my life until I went to college, I could have a milk cow. So that’s when I started taking the business side of it and I spent a year researching it before I brought home my first dairy cow. I had customers built up and everything. When I brought home my first dairy cow we had a waiting list from the very start. It was really just sharing my story of my kids’ healing and how healthy we were and people got on board and were excited. Mom’s groups and all that, it was just my network of people first and then it expanded huge over the years. But even at the time I thought, we were paying probably $12.00 a gallon for raw milk. I thought for sure we’re going to bring in all this money bringing a cow home. I can tell you this; it is still cheaper to go buy raw milk than to have your own dairy cow. Not just because it is very expensive, but also the price you pay for family life and all that.

AH: Right, I’m not going to say who this person is, but someone in my family thinks that I waste entirely too much time and money on my milk and my meat and everything. This person easily goes to Whole Foods once a week and drops six hundred bucks and then eats out most of the week.

Controversies Surrounding Meat

CS: Yeah, and Whole Foods is just fancy processed food, it’s just expensive crap. All the meat is from out of the country. With our labelling laws here in Oregon, most people don’t realize I can bring meat from anywhere in the world to my farm and as long as I package it on my farm I can say it’s from my farm.

AH: I had an Amish farmer tell me something very similar; he went over to, it was one running Terminal Square, in Philadelphia they have a market. So he was in there one day and he sees this Amish man who has his label about Amish meat. And he goes, “Oh, I’m in that town, where is your farm located? I don’t know that farm.” And goes, “Oh, well, I don’t actually raise it there, I import it from Fiji and then leave it on my farm for 24 hours, slap a label on it, and I can say it’s from Amish Country.”

CS: Yeah, I instantly think, wow, and I’m going to let myself into this category; we Americans are so stupid. We allow this go on, we know this on some level but we allow this to go on. It drives me nuts going to restaurants. In the Portland area there’s this slaughterhouse called Carlton Farms and it’s a slaughterhouse and they’ve done a magnificent job of marketing. They’ve painted a green pasture on the side of their delivery truck and put some cows out there. So all these restaurants think they’re buying this farm fresh meat raised in Carlton, but most all of it, 90% is from outside the country. They bring it here, package it, and put their label on it. So I hate when a waiter will say, “Oh yeah, that’s our $75 fillet mignon tonight from Carleton Farms” that came from Japan or Mexico.

And there’s no grass in Mexico. So did we just come to trust that the government? Well, the government allows this, therefore it must be raised on that green pasture down the street, otherwise the police would shut them down. Well, no.

AH: The other thing about this person in my family spends three to four times a month at the doctor’s with the kids with all kinds of infections and this and that constantly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen these kids without antibiotics being force-fed into them. It’s crazy.

CS: Right, the quality of life, and their fertility when they get into their 20s and 30s and their children are going to be born with autism, and it’s just going to get worse and worse.

AH: And I’m thinking to myself, you can’t just pony up twenty minutes a night to just get something on the table but you can sit in the doctor’s office for hours on end and then traipse over the drugstore and spend a bunch of time in there. I think my life is a little more streamlined. It may not be easy all the time but we don’t have to go to the doctor.

CS: Yeah, and often people don’t make that shift until it’s much more serious, until they finally get a disease that’s debilitating and it’s no longer just to the doctor’s office and then finally they decide to change their nutrition.

Running a Sustainable Milk Farm

AH: Yeah, like play catch-up at the end. This is something that’s interesting, you mentioned Sally Fallon, you know she has a farm now. When I visited her farm she said, because her husband was a farmer in New Zealand, she said to me that when they decided to buy the farm he told her that he would only do a farm if they only milked once a day in the morning and skipped the afternoon milking because they get 80% of the milk with half the work and more butterfat and half the work. Do you find that to be true with your farming and have you heard that before?

CS: I’m a dairy farmer, I know raw milk inside and out and those are nice numbers that he could throw around, but it’s not that at all. Once a day milking is wonderful if you can afford it because you can schedule it for any time of day. You can have your once-a-day milking be at noon, therefore you can have breakfast and dinner with your family again, so it’s very nice for family life. But no, you don’t get 80% of the milk, there’s no way, you don’t even get 50% of the milk milking once a day. And it’s also not half the cost either, 

AH: She just means half the time because you’re only milking once, so you don’t have to be out there twice.

CS: That sounds good in theory but I would never tell a dairy farmer those numbers. You’re going to get less than half. We’ve done that on our farm and the cows still take up the same amount of ground; we move to fresh pasture every single day so they’re still using the same amount of pasture, and you probably get about a third of the milk. Just think of a woman and when you stimulate her mammary glands, the more you stimulate them nursing her baby, the more milk she produces. And then when you cut back on nursing your baby your body adjusts and produces less milk. What I went through, my last year of nursing, because my kids nursed till they were older, well not that old, 2 1/2, not like 12.

AH: There was an April Fool’s joke about that. I was reading it the other day, I was like, 15 years old – what is she, nuts?!

CS: Yeah, right, so the last six months of nursing I nursed them before bed and gradually over time my milk production decreased. I know this is very intimate and personal, but a lot of mothers are the ones doing the farming and the marketing and listening to these podcasts and they can relate. So it’s against common sense to even think that you could get 80% of the production. It’s against nature, it goes against everything. So maybe the first week you switch to once a day you’ll get high production because those cows are still adjusting, their bodies are still producing milk for twice a day. But six weeks later, eight weeks later, you’re going to drop from five gallons a day to one gallon a day. I know this because of my own experience, but also working with hundreds of dairy farmers. So no, that it’s not the answer to a sustainable dairy farm.

AH: Okay.

CS: We did that for a year and then I did my taxes again and I was like, holy cow, I can’t. Because I have to be profitable in order to be in business. I couldn’t sustain that. We went back to milking twice a day.

AH: Okay good, that’s one of those things, one of those factoids somebody throws at you and it doesn’t really play out. It sounds good in theory but there’s always more than meets the eye.

CS: If you’re making your money on your farm doing grass-fed beef and you want to have a milk cow in the back yard and feed your family and leave the calf on it and raise one calf a year and milk it once a day, it’s perfect for that. It’s perfect for one or two gallons a day. But if you’re trying to have a raw milk dairy with a business, no, it’s not really feasible.

AH: Okay that makes a lot of sense. So what kind of breeds are you advocating for when it comes to dairy cows? We know that the Holstein was designed, built, bred, whatever, for quantity more so than butterfat. What are your favorite breeds and why?

CS: Again, going back to knowing that those farmers don’t make it past the two year mark, and going back to your chicken analogy, often people get into it with very idealistic dreams. They’ve read about these certain breeds. I have a student in our course who drives from Oregon to Missouri to pick up their specific breed of dairy cow. Well, that’s not sustainable. Every time you need a cow you can’t drive five or six states and sustain that for a long time. You could be really idealistic but if you’re trying to have a sustainable dairy farm you need to find something that’s close by. We milk Jerseys and Brown Swiss and I think nothing can beat the Jersey milk, but the reason I milk Jerseys is because one of my girlfriends, we grew up together, she’s a third generation dairy farmer, she lives a mile from my house and I can buy my Jerseys from them. And I can tell you this, too; working in the health area of raw milk and being a raw milk producer and seeing my customers heal is if all you can find is a Holstein cow to get raw milk from, go ahead and get it. I see people heal from raw milk from Holstein cows just as quickly and completely as raw milk from Jerseys. 

You may also be interested in How to Get Your Hens Laying Again

AH: As long as they’re being fed the right way.

CS: Fed the right way but also, when a Holstein on a conventional dairy is fed twenty-five pounds of grain a day so they’re producing this enormous amount of milk. When you graze them on grass like we do – I don’t have a Holstein, but if I did it would just eat like my Jersey cow and it would give me the same four or five gallons a day and it would have a very thick cream line. A big Jersey on a conventional dairy is going to produce something that looks like skim milk because the more quantity of milk a cow produces the less fat is in the quantity. The less milk they produce, the more fat. So you can have a Holstein that produces just as good-and I see this in the healing of the people-the quality is the same. But again, you have these people who want to get started and are very idealistic. Even customers, we have people who say we only want to drink milk from this breed of cow and it’s like, you’ll heal from any of them.

The Differences Between A1 and A2 Milk

AH: This actually brings up a really good question in my mind. A2 vs. A1 milk, do you get caught up in that?

CS: No, I don’t and here’s why. I read the book, so what they say is that A1 cows have been modernized, like the Holsteins have been modernized so they’re missing one of their chromosomes is missing or altered so that their milk is different than that of an old breed such as a Jersey or Guernsey or Brown Swiss, or any of those older breeds. So therefore you’re going to have a bigger reaction to milk from Holstein vs. milk from these older breeds. There’s a genetic test you can do. Take a hair sample and sample that But again, I see just as many people healing from illness, from the raw milk from Holstein cows as the raw milk from Jersey cows. I have evidence to show that the quality’s the same. Because it’s trendy, Holstein dairy testing their cows, sending it in for this test and sure enough 50% of Holstein cows are A2 as well.

AH: Ha!

CS: So I don’t see that that has much foundation to it. We milk older breeds, we milk the Jersey and the Old Swiss so there’s a very high likelihood that our cows are A2 but I don’t test them. If all you have access to is milk from a Holstein, go for it. You are going to heal.

Why the Cream Line Differs Over the Year

CS: My problem is that since I moved to Hawaii I can’t get a good cream line on my milk. It has cream, but when I used to buy from the Amish I used to get this really thick cream and it would easily be a third to a half a gallon of milk would be cream. And here, people are telling me that they’re feeding almost exclusively grass or exclusively grass. I think they’re stealing the cream, because I’m not getting that much cream off the top and it’s watery when I do.

CS: There’s a lot of that, but is it legal in Hawaii? You’re drinking raw milk, right?

AH: Um, it’s not legal.

CS: We won’t go into where you’re getting it. Are they milking a Jersey or a Holstein or do you know?

AH: I believe the one is a Holstein mix and the other one’s supposed to be a Jersey.

CS: Do you get it in the half gallon jars?

AH: Like the Mason jars.

CS: And it has two inches of cream or less than that?

AH: Less than that.

CS: You might talk to them about it. If they only have a couple of cows the earlier in the lactation the cow is, the less cream they give per volume they give. When our cows just calf, our cream line goes down and everyone knows that. Hey, she’s just had a calf, there’s nothing I can do about it, but then you make up for it. Right now we have a cow at the end of lactation and some of her jars of milk are half cream. I’m not going to charge you extra for that, remember that when she has a calf. But if you’re finding it’s consistently the same year round, then I’d guess that the cream may be going elsewhere.

Hand milking a cow

AH: I know the one was also doing some butter but the other one, he’s not fessing up.

CS: This is where that whole relationship with that farmer comes in. You have to be able to look your farmer in the eye and trust them. Would you sit down to dinner with them and trust everything they say? We’ve been at the butcher. We haul our chickens to a USDA butcher over here and we’ll be standing next to another farmer and they’ll say, “Are yours organic?” And we’ll say, “We do non-GMO, what about yours?” “Oh yeah, we’re organic. “Well, we tell our customers that but they don’t know the difference.” There is a lot of that going on in the farming world. So again you have to be super ethical. You have to find someone who’s very ethical and is in complete alignment with their practices and their values, and that can be hard to find in any field, let alone farming.

AH: Yeah, and actually, before I moved here, a friend of mine, her nephew who suffered from a ton of allergies and then made massive changes, he was living on a farm down here and that’s when he started drinking raw milk. He said that the farmer, the owner of the farm, would take the cream off and say “farmer’s rights” and basically, screw the customer. So unfortunately, there are some.

CS: Yeah, that can be fine if you tell your customer.

AH: And then there are the freaks like me who just want the cream. For most purposes I could care less about the actual milk. I just want cream. I want a nice creamy mashed potato or whatever, or homemade sour cream mac and cheese with lots of good fresh cream and eggs in there. Oh my goodness, it’s just so good.

CS: We’ve had extra cream lately and I made crème brûlée over the weekend. And we didn’t have guests over or anything so we ate crème brûlée every day for about five days, it was just out of this world.

Truth in Labeling

AH: I can think of worse things! So tell me about some of these labels because I think this is something that really stumps a lot of people. Organic. Natural. Grass-fed. Pastured. What do we have to look out for when it comes to these labels? I’m always telling people don’t get too hung up on organic. Sort of what you said about the guy that said they don’t know the difference anyway, but also because it doesn’t always mean what people think it means.

CS: Yes, I just wrote that blog last week about it and it was probably one of my most popular blog posts this year. A lot of our customers, and I’m writing the blog posts to my ideal customers; women, 30s and 40s shopping for their families and we’ve been duped again into thinking that organic is the ultimate. It’s not. There are levels to each one. Organic can be better in some cases, pastured can be better, grass fed. Now it’s usually beef when they say grass fed. Grass-finished beef is the ultimate. But there’s no legal definition to either pastured or grass-fed. We irrigate our pastures, they’re two feet high of fast-growing lush grass most of the year and that’s what our cows are fed and finished on. Our beef cows. It makes it unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It makes a difference in the flavor and the nutritional value. So that’s grass-fed. 

And our neighbor who has her cow on a little lot and feeds it hay twelve months of the year because the pasture is so over-used there’s no grass anymore, it’s just a dirt lot. She can also call her beef cow grass-fed. We do farm tours once a month in the summer so that our customers can get out on the pasture and see what a grass-fed actually looks like and is eating because it’s not what you think it is. And the way we do our beef, we’re in the minority. Most grass-fed cows are eating hay most of the time and grass very little of the time. This is just our own personal standards; we’re the only ones who hold ourselves to those standards. 

Now pastured; there’s no legal definition. So you can have a dirt lot and call your animal pastured even though you and I think pastured is tall green grass. Well as long as it’s a dirt lot you can call it pastured and there’s not a blade of grass in sight. So it comes back to you can’t only just know your farmer, you have to go to your farmer’s farm. That’s why I had this dream of these farms scattered all throughout the US where their customers can visit them regularly and see the grass and all that. It holds their farmer to a higher standard, too.

AH: I love your relationship building. You talked about that at the beginning. Now you’re telling me you invite people actually to your farm to see what it’s like. It’s so important to be able to walk on a farm. I remember when I was in New Jersey, I met this woman. She was really snarky with me-we were talking about milk and she’s like, “I get a milk delivery from blah blah,” and I said, “I like to go out and know my farmer and see the farm and have the kids experience it and pet the goat.” And she snapped at me, “I know my farmer!” And goes off on this crazy tirade and I’m thinking to myself, you’re whacko lady. But I think it’s important. I don’t think she’s ever seen the guy’s farm. She knows the guy because he drops it off, but she never seen where he’s raising this stuff.

CS: Oh yeah, I’ve had people call me because they’re on our raw milk wait list and they can’t get it yet. So they’ll say, “Oh, I went to this other farm and I just had to talk to someone because, have you been there? It’s so awful. There are flies and this and that”. And you only get that through visiting the farm. 

Labelling can do so much if you put a label on your product; eggs or chicken or whatever. And it’s a grass pasture with an animal on it; people think that’s what you have. They think you have this grass meadow with a few animals out there and no flies and no dirt. The only way to know different is to visit the farm so I think that’s really super important. And again, trust that your farmer’s telling you the truth and not showing you their farm and getting their products from a CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operations)or something like that.

AH: One thing that I have found is that very few will actually lie to my face, but they will be more likely try to paint me as dumb for wanting certain things. So if I say, “Is this organically raised?” “Oh well, you got to spray stuff or it just doesn’t grow.” And it’s like, BS, you’re freaking lying to me. Exactly, you’re not doing it right if you got to spray stuff, you’ve got problems buddy. 

CS: Can I circle back to one thing, I want to make one point. When you asked about the organic vs. grass-fed. The one thing I try to hold at the top of that list should be pastured on green grass. If you have a cow and you have a choice between an organic cow which can be in a feed lot fed organic grain and they’re an organic cow. So you have an organic cow vs. meat from a pastured cow that’s not organic and maybe they used round-up around the fence-line. That is a much more nutritious food for you than the organic one raised on the feed lot. You’re going to have a lot more of the CLAs (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) and the omega-3s and everything in that pastured animal.

AH: Thank you, I think that is a huge point. And again, that is one of the reasons I tell people don’t get too hung up on organic. As you know with chickens, they are omnivores just like pigs, and humans for that matter. So many things will say organic vegetarian feed on their chicken eggs. 

CS: Which means it is raised on concrete; they didn’t touch a patch of dirt with a worm or a bug on it. That’s crazy.

AH: What this also reminds me of, is a farmer that I know of. It’s funny, because the first time I met him, “What made you get into the chicken business?” “I don’t know.” And I’m like, okay, what’s the deal? I just thought I’d buy a couple hundred chickens and I thought it might be a good business. He’s saying that they’re grass-fed and he shows a couple of pictures. This is my farm, and you could tell they guy doesn’t know anything about why he’s doing it, has no background story about nutrition or if he feels he’s being a part of something bigger than himself. So I’m thinking to myself, what’s going on with this guy? I bought a chicken, it was okay. I’m not going to say it was over-priced but considering I wasn’t totally sold on what he was saying, I’m not sure I would do this again. So I’m talking to people and it comes out that somebody else had the idea. And he heard this person saying something. Not only that but I then saw how he’s really raising his chickens and oh yes, they’re grass-fed, but they’re in black tents and tiny little tunnels where they’re not really getting the sunlight and they’re not being moved.

CS: Oh wow, that’s awful, that’s a feed-lot chicken.

AH: Totally, but they’re on grass so they’re quote, “grass-fed” and they’re just getting feed.

CS: He’s doing nothing illegal by telling you that. Not that I want those terms legislated, we need more ethical people.

AH: More transparency. If your farmer doesn’t want you coming to the farm then your farmer’s probably hiding something.

CS: Exactly, if they won’t let you on the farm, there’s a problem.

AH: And I’ve noticed there’s some of them who will say, “Oh the government regulations say that I can’t have anybody come onto the farm because blah blah.”

CS: That’s bs.

The Controversy Around Raw Milk

AH: So tell me before I let you go soon, I’ve really talked your ear off here, but tell me a little bit about the raw milk controversy. We talked a little bit about the fact that it’s not milk, the raw milk that’s bad, it’s the stuff we’ve done to milk that makes it potentially bad. What is the controversy and why?

CS: Well, again, a hundred years ago they started pasteurizing milk because our world was changing. People were moving into the cities, the industrialization of America was happening. They’re working in factories and could no longer get their milk from the farm so they decided to bring the cows to the city. They were concentrated around these swill dairies eating the spent grains. A dairy cow would literally have one calf; she would stay tied to her same stall her whole life. She wouldn’t move until she died in her own pile of feces; they’d milk her to death. 

And people were not yet aware of how disease transferred through foods. They weren’t washing their hands and a person with tuberculosis would milk the cow and make someone else sick. The death rate for children under age 5 was 50% so that was a very dramatic, terrible time and something dramatic had to be done. Pasteurization was very helpful and the death rate for children improved. I’ve heard that called the 18th century solution for an 18th century problem.

We don’t have that problem anymore; we have the technology to make sure raw milk is safe today. The moment it comes out of the cow you can do instant tests on it and get turn arounds very quickly so we no longer have that. But there’s this huge political attack, I call it the poster child for food freedom. Instead of attacking all farm fresh foods they choose one, and that’s raw milk. It’s unfairly attacked.

If you produce milk in the right way you can produce safe raw milk 100% of the time. I know this and I see this and I teach people how to do this. But the problem is we have a lot of new farmers who leave their jobs in the city and they buy their five acres and they bring home their milk cow and they do not educate themselves and they don’t have the marketing skills. They can’t sell their milk; they don’t have it priced right so they’re losing hundreds of dollars a week so they don’t take the precautions necessary. 

We have hundreds of safety precautions we do in our dairy barn to make sure our milk is safe. When you don’t have the financial resources to do that, those are the things that suffer and then you can have an e-coli outbreak or something. We have this reason and need for more experienced farmers. Now that doesn’t happen very often, it rarely happens, people die. They’ll do a recall of a million pounds of ground beef and have seven people dead and that’s all fine. But people don’t die from e-coli from raw milk. We haven’t had a death from raw milk in 30 years or since they’ve been tracking it. The statistics just aren’t there to back that up but it’s still unfairly attacked

AH: Like military style, that’s the scary thing, this is insane, oh my gosh, I can’t even. Like there was the one dairy in California, or sorry, it was the food club that was attacked with just disgusting…

CS: Yes, they’ll do raids. They’ll go in like you saw in the Farmageddon movie. They go in with their militia rifles into family’s homes. They treat you like criminals. I’ve had the health department out here. They’ll do a big a show, pull up in front of my car so I can’t drive away. And they’ll say, “I heard you produce raw milk, I want a sample.” I’m like, really? “Okay, I’m happy to comply.” And anyway, they treat you terribly like you’re guilty of something and it’s awful. It’s just to posture and let you know that they can do you in at any moment. 

We kind of take the brunt. Raw milk takes a big hit for all of food. But, I do have to say, because I think you found me maybe through the Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund. When I started with them 7 or 8 years ago when I first became a member, raw milk was illegal in half the states in America and they’ve worked steadily over the last seven or eight years to the point where I think it’s only illegal in ten states now. We only have ten left so we’re making progress. But even in the states where it’s legal they still try to trash you up.

AH: In Pennsylvania, several of my Amish farmers were taken in at gunpoint with their families. These poor little Amish children who, if they were lucky, got to fourth grade. Can you imagine how that scars a child at such a young age? Particularly a child who doesn’t see regular technology, let alone guns and having their dad hauled off as a criminal for providing a service to people who desperately need this healing food. Really a disgrace.

CS: The most powerful healing food there is. I think it’s no mistake they have attacked the most healing food because of the pro-biotics and enzymes and the healing powers of it.

AH: Big Farmer doesn’t like that. Big Farmer does not like us knowing how to take care of ourselves. It is quite a disgrace and I always say that if the founding fathers thought that food would be under attack in this country that they would have written it into the constitution that it couldn’t be.

CS: Right, of course.

AH: It isn’t the most illogical thing to my mind. I don’t mean to get too controversial, but I’ll put it this way; I can get a permit to get a gun but I can’t get a permit to get my milk. There’s a problem with something that is designed to kill being allowed and something that could potentially, but then again what couldn’t hurt you, something that maybe has a slight potential, but it is not its intention. And it doesn’t hurt anybody but me

CS: And the good it can do is endless. It’s interesting, a year ago we passed the marijuana bill here in Oregon so marijuana is treated just so much better than raw milk, it’s crazy. I’m a criminal because I have milk from a cow, yet everyone can go and buy and smoke marijuana.

AH: Exactly. I don’t deny that there’s probably some healing benefits in cannabis as well.

CS: And it’s legal.

AH: Exactly, but milk, come on, really? Oh, well the government wants to keep you alive, that’s bs okay. Yeah.

CS: Crazy.

Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund: Protecting Farmers Rights to Grow Real Food

AH: Tell us a little bit about what Farm To Consumer Legal Defense is and how can people get involved?

CS: It’s an organization, it’s a non-profit that was modelled after the Homeschool Legal Defense Fund. Small farmers like me, we don’t get subsidies. We’re unfairly attacked. We have these regulations that are unfair and unbalanced put to us. Regulations on food are meant for these huge CAFOs and hundred-thousand acre farms and corporations, not a three cow dairy, yet they demand we try to meet them. It’s a real struggle for farmers when they have legal problems; of course they can’t afford an attorney so the Legal Defense Fund is made up of several attorneys who donate a lot of their time, or get paid very little for the stuff they do get paid for, to defend small farmers. For instance, we had the first raw milk case go to trial last year in Wisconsin and we won! Yeah!

CS: Yes, the first trial, can you believe they put raw milk on trial? I’m on the board, I was elected to the board a couple of years ago and we all donate a lot of time educating the public and then the attorneys give of course, a lot legal advice. It’s very easy to become a member, I think it’s $50 for a regular person and then maybe $125 if you’re a farmer. It is so worth it. Think of what an hour, a cheap attorney would be $250 an hour, that’s a cheap attorney, so I joined seven years ago when I brought my first dairy cow home. And before I got on the board I had probably three or four conversations with them about legal things that were happening that I would have had to go to an attorney and pay for, and that was free, it was covered in my membership. And then if they have to defend you in court it’s often at a reduced rate. 

Raw milk is not the only thing they defend. They work on all sorts of food freedoms. If you’re at the farmer’s market trying to sell your canned peaches and they unfairly attack you, they’ll work with you to challenge those sorts of things. There’s over-spray happening where organic farms are being sprayed by their neighbors and crops are destroyed. They’ve been involved in some of those cases. We’re trying to pass laws to help with slaughtering of animals. It’s really hard to find slaughter houses because of the regulations so they’re trying to work with that. They do endless good and they’re really wonderful people and it’s not that expensive. It’s the cheapest insurance you could ever have.

AH: And as a consumer and advocate, I support the fund as well because like you said, with all the farmers who went out of business right, when you were trying to heal your children. It’s really a no-brainer, it’s just one of those investments in saying, I’m contributing to help my farmer be protected.

CS: Yeah, that’s how I feel. If you eat farm fresh food from a farm, from a farmer’s market, become a member. If you’re just a person eating good food, become a member because you’re supporting those farmers by doing that. You’re helping their insurance policy there.

AH: It’s that “Be the beauty that you want to see in the world,” or whatever that quote is. It just makes sense and I do encourage anybody listening, whatever you can donate, it helps them out. It helps them to do this good work and to ensure that when you need it your food source will still be there.

Catch Charlotte on PBS Food Forward TV

AH: One thing that you mentioned to me that I didn’t realize just before we started was that you are on a series of PBS Food Forward TV, what were you talking about there and how did that go?

CS: it was a wonderful documentary, I think it’s a series of twelve or thirteen, thirty-minute episodes, and they cover a different aspect of food each week. There’s one on foraging mushrooms and they actually go out and forage with the farmer. It’s very hands on; the people were there. The directors came to the farm here and the producers and they filmed the whole process milking my cow and I was involved in the dairy episodes. 

There was my dairy, which is a small micro-dairy and there was the largest raw milk producer in the nation, Mark McAfee, they went to his dairy which is very different, and then I think they went to an ice cream store in San Francisco. It was all about dairy. 

It was fun to watch the series; one of the episodes was on road kill. There’s this whole thing and it’s somewhere back in the hills somewhere where there’s a roadkill festival where they’re eating squirrels and all that. It was just exploring food that people are eating all around the US and the champions in that. 

People that are doing really good in their little niche whatever it is. There was one episode on this woman. There’s a seed library somewhere in Arizona where you can go and get seeds that you can’t get anywhere else in the world. You check them out, you grow them and then you harvest your crop and you give some of your seeds back to the library for the next person. How cool is that? Because most of the seeds now are genetically modified too.

AH: That’s like an uphill battle.

CS: I know it is, but that was very eye-opening. I learned a lot about other foods, things I took for granted and never thought of.

AH: Yeah, next time you hit something on the road, stick it in the back of the truck!

CS: I know.

AH: Road kill, I need to see it happen before. Like I’m not just going to go grab something that’s dead on the side of the road. Here in Hawaii we have a lot of wild pigs so every once in a while you see a wild pig on the side of the road, or a goat or something like that. But yeah, I don’t know when you were killed, I don’t know why you died, you might have just keeled over from something else, I have no idea

CS: It’s not my thing. People think I’m really weird for doing raw milk but I think that’s a lot more tame.

AH: And you also know where it’s coming from. And raw milk, what’s nice about it-you can leave it in your fridge. The milk went bad? Oh, I have cheese!

CS: Oh yeah.

AH: Or sour cream, right. It doesn’t go bad, it just morphs. It just does what it’s supposed to do naturally, which normally we use different agents like rennet or what have you to turn it into whatever we want. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add, Charlotte, before I let you go. Any tips for new farmers, or do you just want to tell people where to find you online?

CS: Sure, our local farm, we have a farm store, we don’t ship our products, but local here between Portland and Salem in Champoegcreamery.com and then for farmers I have my website 3CowMarketing.com and that has all sorts of information. Blog posts regularly, all the information about my courses to help farmers build a profitable farm. 

Probably the best, one of the neatest things I have going on right now is a private Facebook group for farmers called The Profitable Farm With Charlotte Smith and it’s free. That’s just been a real gold mine for farmers because it’s a safe place for them to talk about their practices and their prices without being criticized by other people on Facebook. We’re in there supporting people and if you’re a new or experienced farmer you’ll want to be in that group. It’s amazing the ways people are helping people out. 

We keep it very positive, the other day a lady put up her milk was $9 a gallon and some guy, another farmer, criticized her in the Facebook group. I said, “Whoa, that’s not here; this is the profitable farmer.” Raw milk is so expensive to produce. He argued with me back and forth and I was about to delete him from the group and I finally said, “This is a group where if a woman says she’s charging $100 a gallon for her raw milk, we’re going to say, “you go girl” because all of us who are raw milk farmers know what went into that, and trust me, that $100 is nothing compared to what we sacrifice.” So that’s been a really fun network for farmers all across America mainly, but also around the world.

Access to Real Food and Raw Milk with Charlotte Smith

AH: Right, For sure. You talked earlier about regulations and how they’re designed for the big players of the big commercial dairies for example. What people don’t realize, it’s not even necessarily just the regulation on what you need to do to produce it, it’s the fees just to get the testing and to get the label on your food. They’re charging, this happened in New Jersey with day cares of all things, they were charging the corporate entities that were in the basements of the pharmaceutical companies £30K a year to get some particular certification but the little Mom and Pop deal, the person who’s just watching a six or seven kids in their home after school to make a little extra money, she had to pay the same $30K and it’s quite the same with farmers, right?

CS: It is. One of the biggest ones that stand out is the raw milk. California made raw milk sales legal in stores from Grade-A certified dairies so now you can sell it in the store and be Grade-A certified for how many ever cows as you want if you bought the $200,000 bottling system. So me with 5 or 10 cows would never be able to do that. So basically, sure we made it legal and you gotta do this, so ha-ha, you can’t have a business anyway. 

They really want little guys to disappear. I haven’t even gotten into taxes and workers compensation. I don’t even have a tractor, why is my rate so high? Nobody looks at the little guys whether it’s the government regulations or insurance companies. But you know what? We’re only going to change it by the trailblazers getting out there and doing it, taking the brunt of it. I built all those into my prices and I educate my customers so that they understand that I’m not doing this and we’re getting rich, I have to charge this amount of money so that we cover the costs of this license and this fee and this inspection and this kind of insurance and that is all required. Our customers get it and they understand, and they’re happy to pay for it. And the farmers should pass that on, that’s a cost of doing business so it needs to be reflected in their prices

AH: Absolutely, thank you so much Charlotte for speaking with us today and for giving us such a wealth of information not only on raw milk but on what you can do to help farmers. I’ve been little by little investing more and more of my money into these products with my maybe not so famous, but on the podcast before I’ve talked about my $5 pound broccoli back in the early ’90s and that has now gone to about $1 a pound. But back then, I made up my mind. When I had the extra money, I was going to buy the stuff that I want to see more of, it has moved forward.

You know this is what people are talking about when they say vote with your dollars, folks. You might have to cut out cable TV and sign up for Hulu instead. Figure out where you’re going to make your sacrifices and what’s important to you.

CS: Yep, everybody has a choice for farm fresh foods because if they’re not choosing that, they’re spending their money elsewhere. Even people on lower socio-economic levels, they’re still spending their money, so it’s a matter of choice. Everyone has a choice.

AH: Except in Chicago. From what I understand in that neck of the woods, by the way it is the seat of the American Dietetics Association. They don’t have health food stores and stuff, even Dr. Mercola has to go to Pennsylvania to get his meat.

CS: They should rise up.

AH: That’s the thing, public outcry. We’re gonna have to sadly be marching in the streets to protect our food freedoms and I always say, why do the Monsantos of the world have to use their powers for evil and not good? You’re so smart, you figure out how to do what you do, but make your money without destroying the planet and destroying our health.

CS: Absolutely.

AH:  Charlotte Smith of 3 Cow Marketing and Champoeg Creamery. I can’t say it with a straight face because I know I’m going to screw up. Thank you so much for your time, it was a pleasure having you on the show and we hope to get updates from you in the future. 

CS: Thank you, it was really fun. Thanks for having me.

AH: Bye-bye.

CS: Bye-bye.

Female Farmers Can Make a Viable Living

What are the issues facing American farmers today? What are the needs of today’s female farmers? These are just a few of the questions that will be answered by today’s guest, Charlotte Smith. Charlotte is the owner of  the grass-based farm, Champoeg Creamery, and 3 Cow Marketing.

In part two of this interview, Charlotte talks about the health transformations of her family, and how the US government, big pharma and big agriculture are trying to block the way.

charlotte-Smith with horse

Charlotte Smith was named a food rebel, pioneer and visionary by PBS’s Food Forward TV, and a “Pioneering Leader in Raw Milk Production” by Mark McAfee, CEO Organic Pastures Dairy, and Food Tank named her one of the 25 “World’s Most Influential Women in Food and Ag” Charlotte Smith has created a sustainable farm-to-consumer business selling premium meats, poultry, eggs and milk. After witnessing one too many small business owners close up shop after being run ragged and still not being able to pay the bills with their sales, she founded 3 Cow Marketing to help others transform their marketing skills and begin to live the life they always dreamed of.

You can follow Charlotte through 3 Cow Marketing,  Champoeg CreameryFacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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Other links mentioned in this episode:

ADRIENNE HEW: Aloha and welcome to the Nutrition Heretic podcast, this is Adrienne Hew, The Nutrition Heretic. And today in the studio, I’m saying with air quotes, we’re going to talk about farming, which we do a lot on this show because when somebody truly is committed to their health they realize that their farmer is their best friend. One thing that I noticed years ago when my eldest who is now 13, when she was just turning two, we went to Switzerland and as I have talked about numerous times on this show, when I travel I like to travel in a way that I can connect with people because I want to know the food traditions in the places that I go. If you stay in a hotel you’re eating in restaurants all the time, maybe you stop into a supermarket every once in a while to buy a bottle of water but you don’t really get the full experience so this is kind of a little bit of my obsession, but it’s also just a way that I get to experience the world in a very tactile way and to visit places and really feel a little bit like a local. 

So when Daisy was two we went to Switzerland and we stayed in this small town in the French speaking part – I don’t even remember the exact name of the town to be honest. But it was a very small town and we stayed with a transitional organic farm. The thing that kind of slapped me in the face was that, our accommodations were definitely a little more meager than the people that lived there. They were installing marble counter tops and the house was beautiful but it was just like a really nice livable space. From the years that I have spent shopping at farms in Pennsylvania and now in Hawaii it’s abundantly clear that we are not prioritizing our farmers. Our farmers in the US unfortunately are living below the poverty line a lot of the time. As a matter of fact, one of the first talks I gave was for a farm where the farmer, raising two children, was pulling in $13-14,000 a year, if he was lucky. They barely could run electricity in their house, that’s how little they were making in Pennsylvania and these guys weren’t even Amish. The Amish have a whole other thing going with how much money they can pull in. This really stuck out in my head as one of the injustices in our society. 

For that reason I wanted to invite our guest heretic this week, Charlotte Smith. She is from 3 Cow Marketing and Champoeg Creamery. Where are you based, exactly? In Oregon, correct?

CHARLOTTE SMITH: Sure, I’m in St. Paul, Oregon, which is about thirty minutes south of Portland.

AH: Okay, so if you’re in the Portland area, please stop by her creamery. I can’t even say it twice, and I speak French, I don’t know, Champoeg. I think I want to say Shampooing, which is what they call shampoo. Tell us a little bit about 3 Cow Marketing and what you do there.

How to Price so You Stay in Business

CS: Sure, well 3 Cow Marketing started out as kind of like you talked about in your intro. I think that the current statistic is that 2000 farmers go out of business in America every single week and 80% of farmers are out of business within the first two years. Only 2% of farmers make it to the five-year point, and I’ve been in business seven years and part of that I think is directly related to the fact that I’ve been self-employed for 25 years. 

CS: I brought my marketing things I already understood and my background is in communications, and I built my businesses on relationships so when I started my farm I kind of knew exactly what to do to get customers. I had to build strong relationships with them and treat them really well and keep in touch with them all the time so they didn’t forget me. Then put customer service first and foremost. I inherently knew this because that was my background. So when other farmers who were nearby would start asking me, “Well, how is that you can sell your raw milk, for instance, for twice as much as we can and you’ve got a waiting list all the time and we can hardly sell half of what we produce and we’re only five miles away from your farm?”

CS: So then I would email back and forth and it was on an individual basis and then I had a group to my house. We had raw milk producers come here and I taught them some things all day. Seminar-type things. And then with the online marketing world, I thought, sure, I can reach the famers around me, but this is a message that they all need to hear all across America so I just took what I do and put it into. I wrote it down, and I created videos, and I put it into a course and now I have a wonderful private Facebook group called The Profitable Farm. 

I am trying to change the mind-set of farmers. The rest of the public will follow suit if farmers put themselves in higher esteem. So many of them feel like it’s okay to live at the poverty level and they think, well, we’re farmers so therefore we shouldn’t be able to afford to send our kid to college or they take pride that they drive a 20 year old car that leaves them stranded on the side of the road because that’s what our society has taught them. Since I came from a different world it’s like, no! Why is it that my children should not have the right to go to the college of their choice?

AH: Yes.

CS: Or to graduate with $200,000 debt because they had to get loans all the way through. I should have the same rights as these customers who are driving up to my farm store holding iPhones and lattes and driving BMWs and complaining that our hamburger is not 99 cents a pound, or something.

AH: Yeah, exactly.

CS: So that’s where it started. I had this bigger dream and I worked towards that big dream. My dream is that we will have small farmers scattered all across America serving the two or three hundred families that each small farm serves. Maybe that’s 50% of our food instead of the industrialized model we have now. But that’s only going to happen if we start getting farmers. We have this continuous turnover of farmers which means we never get anyone that’s, you know, only a certain amount of experience and then they’re out of business and they’ve lost tens of thousands of dollars or their whole savings or something when they go out of business. We have this constant influx of newbies who aren’t quite sure what they’re doing.

AH: Absolutely, and this is a huge issue in the marketing world online is that there are the gurus who believe they can train anybody in any industry. Yes, there are some basics as you know, as a marketing person, there are some basics that are universal. But no one who really understands the struggle of people who are very industry-specific particularly in these industries where we are supposed to be considered so selfless, right. I know that as a nutritionist people don’t want to pay me. I had to go to school to get the education, “But it’s just your knowledge, why are you charging for that?” You know, they don’t see it as a tangible thing, they don’t begrudge their doctor who they will go to every week and attest that they are not getting better with their doctor but wait a minute, you’re supposed to help me do it for free, right. Somehow the guy who makes you sick you pay; the person who makes you better should do it for free. Right.

CS: Right. You see the same thing in the food industry. “Why do you charge for milk, you’re milking the cow anyway? Can’t you just help out your neighbors and give it away?” Oh, you have no idea!

AH: Right, exactly, so you want to walk a day in my shoes?

CS: Oh yeah, yeah.

AH: So what is the mental block you see with the farmers themselves? What is it that makes them think that they can’t charge more? Like, oh people will only pay but so much? Or, “but they only charge this in the supermarket.” What is the mental block you find that they have to overcome to get their worth?

Why Marketing for Female Farmers is Different

CS: Well I think it often starts out because we have commoditized food. So they decide to raise their hundred chickens to sell and they realize, wow, these hundred chickens cost me $15 a bird which means I have to charge, $17 a bird to make $2 a bird, which is nothing. Yet the chicken in the store is $5 dollars cheaper so my competition is the store and therefore they’re trying to compete with Walmart and Whole Foods and all that instead. There’s that fear of not getting a customer. 

There’s also confidence. Lots of times I find that in my training, my consulting, my courses, the number one thing they give people is the confidence. They say, “Holy Cow, I can’t believe I was charging $10 a chicken. I’m raising mine to $30 now.” Once they have the confidence that they not only can, but should do that. 

The other I do is a little mind-set shift. That’s a block that often people have. “Who am I to say that my grass-fed beef is so good when they can go to Whole Foods and get supposedly. Who am I to say that?” And I help them to do a 180 on their mind-set. That if you have a product that will make someone’s life better: because we all know how people are using farm fresh foods to get their health back in order. If you’re selling pastured chickens and I have leaky gut, and you’re not doing everything you can to get your chicken in front of me, which means pricing it so that you’ll be in business two years from now, then you’re stealing my health from me.

Once I explain this to farmers; that they’re stealing from their customers or potential customers, that’s kind of a dramatic word, but what I use that to make the point that you’re stealing from them if you don’t do what it takes to get in front them, what that does is it makes them look at it like now they’re obligated to price their products sustainably so they will be in business one and two and five years down the road. Because otherwise they’ll leave all these families hanging that were relying on say, raw milk. A lot of people use raw milk to heal their kids’ eczema, allergies, asthma. Before we ever got our first milk cow, we had three different farmers in those first years; each one went out of business and left my family hanging with what I thought was my kids’ medicine. 

AH: Yeah.

CS: It is the only thing that works. When farmers start to look at it as being their obligation to run an actual business so that they can afford to stay in business, then often that’s all it takes for them to say, “Oh yeah, of course my chickens need to be twice what they are at the store. As a matter of fact, the store isn’t even any competition; it’s like apples to oranges.”

AH: Absolutely.

CS: Two different products, so it’s often just that mind-set and the fear. Once they get over that, gain the confidence, then they’re full steam ahead.

AH: Right. That’s the same thing I do, where people don’t want to pay for it. They’ll pay for anything doesn’t really require their actual actions other than showing up. The last interview I did, I was talking about a woman who was in my Facebook group and she didn’t want to spend the money, “I can’t even afford your book, it’s $15.00, is it going to be worth it?” 

I’m like, “You come in here, and you get information for free all the time. Seriously, lady,” I’m thinking to myself. Then it leaks out that she is going to the chiropractor every week and I’m like, “That’s going to cost you forty-five to fifty bucks a pop.” “Oh well, he makes me a special deal.” I’m like seriously, because the stuff that makes the chiropractor’s, chiropractics actually stick and work is what I do. So you won’t have to be beholden to the chiropractor for the rest of your life. And now I just made a bunch of enemies with chiropractors.

CS: Well you could fill in the blank with any alternative-type person. We get the same thing with probiotic pills. “Why is your milk so expensive?” And when I ask, they say, “We’re taking these probiotic pills that cost $400.00 per month.” “Wait, don’t you know you could stop taking probiotic pills when you drink raw milk?” So yeah, a lot of that is the mind-set shift that has to happen in the public which is slowly happening.

If you enjoyed this episode, you may also enjoy Foraging and Feasting with Dina Falconi

AH: And unfortunately it’s happening when people have one foot in the grave.

CS: Well, that’s it. The whole idea could be preventative health care industry. But they don’t, they wait until they have the heart attack and then they come to you and me both and say, “Okay, I’m ready.”

AH: But you know, that’s the thing. The warning signs are always there, but they always say, “Oh no, that’s not it. That couldn’t be it; it runs in the family.” Every excuse they can come up with to not just take control. And one of the most infuriating things with me is when you talk to people about their health and they say, “Oh well, you know, it can’t be helped. It’s just in the family,” or whatever their excuse is. Or you know, the classic one is, “The government wouldn’t let it happen if it wasn’t good, right?”

CS: Right

AH: So wait a minute, you mean, like the elector in college that we don’t trust; the same people who take the tax money and you don’t trust what they do with the taxes, starting new wars. These same people on every other level you don’t trust them, but what is most personal to your family, to your body, they know better.

CS: Yeah, the good old food pyramid.

AH: Don’t even get me started on that crap.

CS: Right.

AH: We could go on for hours if we talk about food pyramids, or boxes, or steps, or whatever the heck they’re doing these days. It’s just this vicious cycle. There’s a lot of denial out there about what fuels our bodies and the role of food. Because we dump it down to this caloric value which we are finding out more and more is a little bit of a red herring.

Because it doesn’t talk about absorption rates, it doesn’t talk about fiber, you know. We push this whole fiber thing, it’s like, you ever stop to think if you eat too much fiber it might push the food out before you can actually use it. You know your body didn’t get a chance to do that. 

But at 3 Cow Marketing, you specifically are more tailored towards females, correct?

CS: I am, yes. Back to what happened in the last century. The industrialization of food meant that farmers no longer had to work directly with people. A lot of farmers hate people and that was fine because they sell to the big canneries and the processors. But now that we’re having this movement back to direct-to-consumer, farm-to-table, somebody’s got to sell that food. And if you’re a grumpy old farmer, which a lot of them can be, man or woman, you’re not going to have a happy customer base that is loyal to you. Women are so natural at building and maintaining deep relationships.

AH: Gotcha.

CS: And that’s what it’s going to take. In order for me to get someone to drive an hour to my farm once a week for raw milk when they could just pick up some milk at the store. I have to have a really deep relationship with them; where they have so much respect for me and what I do and say, what I believe in, and what we are here on the farm that they’re willing to drive out here and support me. That takes some work, but also it’s something that women are really good at. So I do focus my marketing training on women and because they are super-successful with this. If you’re a grumpy old man, listen: maybe find someone in your community who can take over the building of these deep relationships. I deal with hundreds, thousands of farmers, so I’m not trying to generalize it all you know. Gender differences aren’t exact but I do focus on women because they are naturally really good at this and they have a lot of success with what I teach. And let’s face it, you and me both, in our businesses, we want our clients and customers to have success or we don’t look good.

AH: Right.

CS: So the people who are most successful at what I do and building deep relationships to sell their farm products and build a loyal following are women. And it just works, and we get along. It’s the one place they can talk, “But, oh I feel bad doing this.” We can address that because they’re women’s issues.

AH: Right, right, absolutely. Do you homeschool? I know that’s very big in the farming community. Is part of your training helping people to try to juggle it all?

CS: I run a very busy farm with seven employees and my online marketing company. I actually run two businesses and I don’t homeschool; I’m very busy. I work very long days, and I have a personal assistant and a virtual assistant. I know where my strengths are, and it would not be homeschooling my children. However, my children can teach you how to milk a cow from start to finish, and the proper sanitation procedures, and the biology behind it. So they’re getting this education from working with me on the farm. But no, they go off, well, two of my kids are out of the house, I only have one at home now. So she goes off to school for seven hours a day. And you wouldn’t believe the amount of things I get done in those seven hours. Well, actually you can because you have kids too. I’m all for the helping of women; she just needs to say, “No” more. But no, I don’t really teach how to do it all.

AH: Okay.

Cattle farm

Things Most Farmers are Doing Wrong

CS: My lead magnet on my 3 Cow Marketing website right now is the Eight Traits of Successful Women Farmers. And one of those traits is, “She says ‘no’ swiftly and often”. Because as women we like to please and help people, we say yes too much. So that’s something I would talk about in our private Facebook group. Definitely, pick out one of your top one or two or three things that you’re really good at and do those things and hire the rest done. So yeah, one of my things is the kids go to school.

AH: Right. You know it’s funny because in recent months I’ve been kicking myself in the butt because I am a yes person. And if somebody is stranded and they need a ride or something and they call me up I’m like, oh shoot, if that was me…And I live on an island so it’s even more in your face. So I’m like, yeah oh man, she’s stranded; she needs a ride to the airport or something. And her husband’s not on the island and who else is going to help her? She doesn’t really know anybody else. And that’s one thing that’s interesting. Because I’m in the school system I know more people, but some of my friends, their kids live off-island or whatever, or they don’t have any, or they don’t have a spouse. So when they need somebody, they really need somebody.

CS: Yes.

AH: Yeah, so that’s a huge thing for me going forward. Really learning, “Do you have somebody else you can tap for this one because I have to get my stuff done today.”

CS: How to say no and how to be okay if someone is going to grouch at you behind your back. Well, it’s okay because your obligation is to your children and your family first. And if you don’t have time for them because you’re picking up somebody else’s kid then they suffer.

AH: Yeah, it is definitely a balancing act and it’s something we have to get more comfortable with. Now to speak to what you said before about not wanting to be gender specific, but these traits are embodied more by women vs. men. Don’t feel too bad about that because there is a reason why we have the old adage that behind every great man is a woman, right?

CS: Oh, yes, it’s so true and I see such an opportunity. I say this because there are things on the farm I just can’t do, and the things that I’m lacking. I think most women are lacking the physical strength. For instance, we moved a mile’s worth of irrigation pipe, so 30 foot long aluminum pipe carried across a field. A mile a day during the summer. Well, I can’t do that so I hire a guy. I have a guy who does those things, so yes, the genders are perfectly balanced like God intended but for the men on a farm especially. I think, if you look back 150 years, that’s probably how it was too. The men were doing more of the physical labor and the women were building the relationships that kept the farm going. Embracing what we’re naturally good at.

AH: And sometimes it’s not even necessarily strength, I think it’s also just being cumbersome. There are certain things like my arms; they’re not as long as my husband’s arms. It’s so easy, sometimes you just can’t get a grip on it because your hand’s just too darn small.

CS: Yep, exactly.

AH: There are just certain things that if you can save a step and it can be done a little quicker with him. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it in a pinch if you need to. There’s got to be a division of labor one way or another.

CS: I’m a firm believer in figuring out the highest and best use of your time. Whether you’re a woman farmer or a man or whatever, highest and best use your time. And then get someone else to do the other things that are going to take you two or three times as long. For me it always goes back to taking time away from my family. Am I willing to take two or three times as long to do that one thing so my family pays the price? Or figure out what I’m really good at and focus on that.

AH: Right, and also shifting gears; you know sometimes just moving from, for example, right now; podcasting. In a couple of minutes when we’re done I’ll be straining guavas to make guava syrup but a mental shift has to happen. And sometimes it takes a little, “Okay, I’m in this new space, I need to do this.” So you know, just these few minutes that you would lose laying out the steps of the next process even that is a strain on your time. A lot of people individually doesn’t take long to throw kefir grains in your milk, but when you’re adding that to making a stew and milking a cow or whatever, it adds up.

CS: It does, yeah, and as women and mothers and business owners we do a lot of that. Yeah, that’s my whole day.

AH: Yeah, it’s because, I’m good at it; so why give it to somebody else? I know what I’m doing. But then you end up having everything fall on your lap.

CS: Right, right.

AH: What are some of the challenges other than just the marketing. What are some of the things that you see farmers doing in a, I don’t want to say, a sloppy way, but that they could be doing better. Whether it’s in terms of what they offer, let’s say value-added products, beyond just the regular marketing. Are there other things that you see like,  guys, you should really be doing it a little…or if you do it this way it’ll probably work in your favor better..

CS: Yeah, I think one of the big things that I see there is, they often start with one thing. Like they decide, “I’m going to raise chickens,” so they raise chickens and they sell some and it went mediocre. So they think, “Well I’m going to raise sheep.” Then if they switch to “Well, we’re going to raise this really unique pig breed that’s going out.” And they’re jumping from thing to thing and each time you jump it costs a lot of money. But what I tell farmers, “If you’re not really good at selling the first thing and you don’t. You need to be sold out and have a waiting list two pages long before you move to the second thing because if you can’t sell the first thing and you can’t be successful at the first thing, you’re not going to be successful at the second thing.” So they keep jumping from species to species or whatever it is until finally they go out of business. 

It’s so sad because 80% of them are gone within two years. And we don’t hear about it; the public hears about farmers as oh, it’s a hot new field and a lot of people are going back to the farm and what we don’t hear is the other side of that; how many people are going out of business just as fast. That’s one of the big things, they’re just taking on too much too soon. And, yes, get really good at one thing and then you’ll be really good at the second thing.

AH: Right. I don’t want you to give away all your tricks here, but let’s say somebody goes into the chicken business. Is it a matter of knowing the difference between knowing a single or a dual-breed chicken or triple – they’re the ones that they use for the feathers too, right. So is it diversified? Trying to tap as many markets as you can with one type of chicken? Is it offering the bone broth from the chicken or the ones that don’t turn out too? Let’s say the skin rips or bruises during the butchering and not having a game plan. “What do we do with the chicken for when it doesn’t look good for a nice roast chicken on the table? Are we going to make stock? Are we going to offer chicken sticks? I don’t know, some other thing we can do with it?”

CS: What you just described is perfect because you’re just describing what usually goes on in many farmers’ heads when they first start out. We need to this and this and this and it’s much simpler than that. It’s a matter of, and this is where we start in our training; identifying who is your ideal customer. It goes back to who is your customer and what does she want? We see a lot of people thinking, “Well, I’m going to buy these chickens of this heritage breed because I read in Hobby Farm Magazine that heritage breeds are making a comeback. Well it turns out most Americans want a fat, juicy, plump chicken which is not often a heritage breed. Then they lose a lot of money because they take twice as long to raise. So start even before you start your farm. Start identifying who your customer is and that other problem that often farmers make or have is they think, “Well my customer should want these things,” versus what their customer really wants.

So my customer should want to preserve a heritage breed of hog and therefore should want to buy this specific breed that costs twice as much. They should want that and therefore I’m going raise that. No. You have to go back to what does your customer really want? What your customer really wants is; she’s a busy mom with family and basketball practice and she needs to get a healthy farm-fresh dinner on the table every single night. That means pork chops from any pig that was raised on pasture. Farmers get way too caught up in the specifics that we can geek out with each other. Like, let’s get together and geek out all these crazy breeds and feathers and what we can do with it. But if you want a sustainable business you identify who is your customer and what do they want. And 99% of them want a fat, juicy, plump chicken on the table for dinner. And that’s it. 

AH: Very important. You reminded me when I first started shopping in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and I identified these different farmers and I had this one farm that he raised black Australorp or whatever. He had this little black chicken and it was the most delicious chicken ever. But yes, they were smaller. I don’t think they took a crazy amount of time to get to weight for that particular chicken, but they were smaller and the meat was darker. It had a little layer of yellow fat, mmm; I can taste it right now. I introduced the farmer to a friend of mine and she just starts winging, “It’s not big enough, and my family needs two,” and blah blah. And I’m like, I don’t give a crap, it’s the most delicious chicken. To me, I wanted that flavor. But to her, she was much more average American let’s just say; she wanted big boobs on this chicken.

CS: Yep.

AH: And it wasn’t as important to me.

The Value of Relationships with Customers

CS: Right. And you and I know sustainable and humane and all this and maybe these breeds are better. But let’s face it; we have to make a profit as a farmer or we’re going to not be here in two years. We’re going to be that 80% that’s out of business. So focus on what you can sell to pay your bills and pay the costs. And nothing against those little black chickens, but maybe in order to be here two years for now; because that should be your goal, is to set yourself up to be here two years from now. Then you can experiment. So maybe you get to the point where you’re raising a thousand Cornish Cross chickens for your bigger customer base and you do one hundred of these little black ones for the customers who are more educated. And back to the woman farmer who is building these very loyal deep relationships with people. You’re going to educate them over time. So they may start out wanting the Cornish Cross, but a year from now they may want the more gamey chicken that ran across the fields that is a little bit tougher, but they know the nutrition is better. But they don’t start out that way. You as a farm owner, it’s your responsibility to educate them and get them there. But you’re starting out with kindergarteners so you can’t, you need to do what’s sustainable for you and keep you in business and then start experimenting with the fancier breeds, whatever it might be.

AH: Right, and actually it’s cool to hear you say this because the person I just I interviewed prior to you, she has fibromyalgia and this crazy skin disorder I’ve never heard of, and you name it, she has it. So with my input she starts going to farmer’s markets and one of the things she says in the interview is that she didn’t realize the relationships you build with the farmers. So when she goes to make her bone broth she talks to the farmer and he’s like, “This is the cut you want for this, you want the knuckle with the sinewy skin and all that good stuff that’s going to give you more collagen, and this is what’s going to help heal you.” She was floored that she could get feedback like that, and instructions and ideas, and understand even more through the farmers. So yeah, the farmer is definitely part of your education and is going to be your partner in this whole thing.

CS: Yes. Goodness, yes. I know Dr. Eber told her how to do that.

AH: Oh God, no!

CS: The thing that we then develop as farmers, now that we’ve been in business for seven years is we have seven years of customer healing stories or testimonials about how it changed their life. Whatever reason it might be that people come in our store. They often find us for health reasons because they’ve been going to a traditional doctor for years for whatever it might be and the doctor finally says, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you,” or, “You’re going to be on this medication the rest of their life.” So they start Googling and taking it into their own hands. They end up in our store and then we tell them about six other customers who healed from the same thing by just changing how they eat and they’re blown away. Often there’s a new person in our store, and, a veteran who’s been at our store for years will be there at the same time. And that is just wonderful, they will tell them they were just in their same shoes a year before that and they say, “Yeah when I first started I had this and this and then I made my bone broth and listened to Charlotte, she knows exactly what she’s talking about because it helped my kids do this and this.” And there’s so much, this whole community around farms that you don’t find in any other practitioner-type setting.

AH: Absolutely.

CS: That yes, And they’ll even exchange phone numbers and they’ll text each other and they’ll say, they’ll catch up on their progress, it’s just a beautiful thing

female farmers helping each other

AH: Right, that’s the thing about this woman; she has all this stuff and a month into it she goes, “Oh my God, I feel so wonderful!” She started feeling great but she had actually friended me on Facebook as well as being in my group so I see her personal posts and she’s telling all her friends, “This is the best decision I’ve ever done. This has changed my life like nothing else I have ever done before.” She’s just so excited after sitting on the side lines for two or three years. She is finally coming to grips with what she needs to do. She’s like, “I can’t even see myself going back there, all I have, all I would have to look forward to is more pain again.” Because the one day she had forgotten her water bottle, she’d bought a Lipton Iced Tea and she drank about a third of it and threw the rest away and the next morning she wakes up, she’s in complete pain. “And I just remembered I drank that thing yesterday, so if that isn’t a hint and a half.” And she’s not even doing everything; she’s just doing the basic: get the processed stuff out, that’s all she’s done. And adding the farmer’s markets. Where a lot of people are worried about the amount of money they spend, she’s saying, “Well, my boyfriend has remarked that I’m eating about 40% less than I was eating before,” so it’s pretty much a wash.

CS: The other thing is when we started eating this way twelve years ago, it was nothing for me at the time before real food to go to the grocery store once a week and spend an additional $40.00 on over-the-counter medication; cold medicine and headache medicine and sore throat medicine. After our first year of drinking raw milk in twelve years we spend nothing. We don’t have over the counter medication.

AH: Thank you.

How Big Pharma and Grocery Stores Fit Into the Mix

CS: Yeah, so it’s more than covered our raw milk cost, not to mention never being sick. You know, the amount of energy that you have and your mood, you never have to deal with depression or anxiety, so the cost is not even an issue anymore. I’d pay anything for farm fresh food if we didn’t raise it ourselves because there’s no comparison, but you know, the public just doesn’t get that yet. Slowly, more and more people are turning around. For that woman you were just talking about, it just seems like it’s criminal to me that we can’t get her story out you know, that doctors can’t tell those stories. It just seems criminal that they’re keeping people sick. And I have my own personal friends because I have my wonderful people that believe in what we do and have healed, and then we have friends, neighbors, and high school friends, and college friends that think we’re lunatics or something.

AH: Oh yeah.

CS: They’re sick and taking their all their medications and they would never dream of trying bone broth or farm fresh eggs to heal. It seems criminal to me that doctors aren’t telling them that, “Stop your medications and start your bone broth and you’ll be fine.” But then again, their salaries are paid for by these pharmaceutical companies and things. A real big shift has to happen but it’s sad that only a few people are in the know in America.

AH: Right, right, yeah. And actually you’re reminding me that a friend of mine was telling me, I believe it was in the book, Think and Grow Rich, I don’t if you’ve ever read that, but I think that’s the book that she was saying.  I read it a long time ago and I just don’t remember this but apparently there’s a passage about how the pharmaceutical industry got started purposely. To get people scared of handling anything themselves, in just knowing they have the resources at their fingertips. You’ve got to go to this faceless entity to get everything fixed.

CS: That was all the last century; that was what it was all about, the industrialization of America. When my mom had us kids in the ’60s the doctor told her, “Don’t you dare breastfeed. They make this formula now that’s far better for you.” And so we’re trying to reverse a whole century of brainwashing that occurred. 

AH: Yeah, I’m going to call some people out right now.

CS: Yeah, go for it.

AH: Not directly, but to me, and I’m not the most religious person, I believe I have a spirituality about me but I’m not going to church every Sunday necessarily. But if you’re going to tell me that you believe in God and you believe in a plan and all this stuff, and then you don’t trust anything that He’s put on the planet to nourish your body and you’ve got to go to something in a package that’s completely denatured and chemicalized and that’s your first-line solution, I’ve got a problem with that.

CS: Yeah, good point. Last century they disconnected us from our food source. So anything, any meat you get in a store is from a confined animal speed-lot operation and where not only the animals are treated inhumanely. But if you’ve done much reading on it, the humans, they bring workers from across the border. They truck them over in the middle of the night. They might get their arm severed in these plants and then they take them back and drop them off because that’s the end of their career. And if you shop in a grocery store, that’s what you’re supporting. Slave labor happens in Mexico harvesting, the NVR just did an exposé on this and it took them two years to complete the report and then be able to air it because there was a lot of controversy. If you buy a pepper or a tomato in the grocery store, you’re supporting slave labor. We’re so disconnected people don’t care. They’re like; your tomatoes are $5.00 a pound. Well, I’m going to go to the store and pay $2.00 a pound.” You could say, “You’re supporting slave labor,” and they just laugh it off.

AH: Right.

CS: So you call yourself an ethical, spiritual human being but you’re supporting the most hideous human acts there are.

AH: Right. That’s not even necessarily only the stuff coming out of Mexico, like you said, they truck people over and then they chain them to beds at night in Florida. And you know, they’re picking your dollar-a-pound tomatoes. Something about this system has to change.. You can scoff at what I do and you can say you’re going to vote for whomever, but unless these fundamental changes are going to happen, we’re still going to have the blood avocado. We’re still going to have millions of bees dying to produce your almonds. That you, because you’ve sworn off milk, because milk is the bad guy, now you drink almond milk and now you eat everything with almonds in it and billions of bees die in transit every year going to and from California for your bloody almonds.

CS: Right, right.

AH: I’ve got my little vendetta against the almond industry, if you can tell. But it comes back, the almond industry is going to stay there and be profitable unless people get educated and choose to make different choices.

AH: Right, right. Exactly.

CS: A lot of them are educated yet they still go for the cheaper whatever.

AH: Right, it’s the cheaper thing; it’s the more politically correct thing. I get just as much out of my almonds as you do from your milk or what have you and it’s really? I always say, if you’re going to swear off something, just consider what goes into the alternative and who’s told you about that. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the blood avocado, but that’s the cartel in Mexico that holds families at gunpoint over their avocados.

CS: No, I hadn’t heard of that.

AH: I heard that on NVR too.

CS: It aligns with everything else that’s going on too, so I wouldn’t doubt it for a moment.

AH: The price of limes, a case of limes went from I think $26.00 a case to $90.00 something in the span of a year and these are Mexican limes. Here in Hawaii avocados are dropping on the floor every day, but somehow they still find a reason they have to import them from Mexico.

CS: Yep.

AH: All of these new trends; the avocado oil, the almond this and that, You know what, I shop with my farmer. I know what this person is doing, this is the future I want to support. 

CS: Yes, and yes, and so we’re all slowly getting the word out.

The Top Two Sacrifices Farmers Make and Why They’re Ironic

AH: Exactly, and hopefully, and as this podcast grows in popularity we’ll help you get that out. Going back to the marketing, what are some of the sacrifices, you talked a lot about new farmers and people going out of business. What are some of the sacrifices they may not be prepared for?

CS: Oh, boy. Finances are the biggest one. People think, “Well, Charlotte sells her milk for $12.00 a half gallon so I’m gonna go buy a milk cow and get rich. And little do they realize that that $24.00 gallon raw milk costs $25.00 a gallon to produce you know.

AH: Right.

CS: So financial, that’s the biggest. So what was your question?

AH: The sacrifices that people may not be prepared for.

CS: Okay, so financial is number one probably. The second one is they have no idea of the time that’s going to be involved. A lot of people will sell everything in the city. They made a little money in the, real estate market or something, so they sell. Everyone’s dream of five acres or ten acres and they buy their animals to have a better quality family life. So they can spend more time with the kids and the kids can help on the farm. And then they’re working eighteen-hour days, they’re up in the middle of the night, the husband and wife never see each other. They try to drag the kids out of bed and demand they collect eggs but, slave labor.

AH: Yeah, my kids begged me for chickens and we finally got them and they’re like, “What do you mean I have to get up and feed them?”

CS: Right, like every single day. So all of a sudden they realize they’re never seeing their family. I’m really, really involved in the raw milk business. That’s a big part of our business and the raw milk world in general. Often people think, “Oh a dairy cow, Little House On The Prairie have the milk cow in the back yard.” Well, milking a dairy cow, in raw milk dairy we’re limited by law to three cows so it’s very small. So raw milk dairy is the worst kind of farm life you could have because milking happens at breakfast time and dinner time, seven days a week, 365 days a year. So people often have no idea that it’s the hardest on family life farming that there is, is a dairy cow. So dairy farmers. I often get a call or email that says, “Well, my wife gave me the ultimatum: it’s either me or the dairy cow so I have to go out of business. So if you know anyone who wants a milking machine and 3 cows let me know.” Because you sacrifice your family.

AH: Yeah.

CS: So those are the two: financial and time. So the two reasons people get into farming in the first place is to have more financial freedom and more time are the worst reasons to do it.

AH: Right. I think that could apply to pretty much any business that you’re doing yourself. You watch your boss and you think he’s just in that corner office staring out into space. But in fact the wheels are turning to get everybody to say, “Okay, this is what needs to happen.” I think people overlook that when they decide to go into business. Period.

CS: Yes. Yes. And farming is harder, too, because you’ve got the animals. So you may be in business for yourself, but then you don’t realize you’re going to be up at 1:00 am with a cow that’s got milk fever and 2:00 am with a pig that’s having problems giving birth, or a cow or whatever it is. And then, the financial part it, you know, we raise grass-fed beef, well I have to, I buy all those cows as weanlings and raise them. And you don’t get your money out of them until they’re two to three years old. So then the farmer has you know, $50,000.00 tied up that you don’t get for two years later, and so you never get ahead.

AH: Hmm, yeah, I don’t know why this popped into my head, but it sounds like a story I heard where a guy won the lottery and he chose the annuity. He’s paid off all of his bills and he had nothing in the bank for a year because he paid everything off thinking he was doing the right thing. But he couldn’t touch the rest of the money for then next year.

CS: Right.

AH: He went into huge debt for a year until the next annuity paid out, and I think he and I can totally see where people would do that

Foraging and Feasting With Dina Falconi

Foraging is an ideal way for people to learn about the wild foods around them. Unfortunately, many of us have never been introduced to foraging. Dina Falconi is a foraging expert who offers an enticing and exciting experience in her book, “Foraging & Feasting.” Join us for a sensuous walk where we’ll forage for delicious wild edibles, liberate ourselves from a broken food system, and nourish our souls.

Dina Falconi

Dina welcomes you to identify wild edible plants with instructive, botanical illustrations; harvest & cook them into delicious food with her recipes. To see what’s on  Dina’s menu, follow her through her website, Botanical Art Press, FacebookInstagram, and YouTube.

This post contains affiliate links through which I may receive a small commission.

Other Links In This Episode:

Highlights from today’s episode:

ADRIENNE HEW: Hello and welcome to the Nutrition Heretic Podcast. This is Adrienne Hew, the Nutrition Heretic, talking to you this week about foraging. In light of the direction this country is taking, it’s becoming more and more clear to me that we have to be masters of our own destiny and we clearly cannot rely on governments to do it for us because they stop us every chance they get.

One thing that I’ve been focusing on is here in my local neighborhood; the schools here in Hawaii. We live in probably the most affluent town on the island; however, 70% of our children are on free and reduced lunch. And don’t even get me started on what that free and reduced lunch consists of. However, it really is unnecessary in so many parts of our country, but particularly in Hawaii. Because where other parts of the country foraging often means consuming things you would never find in a supermarket. Here in Hawaii almost everybody has some kind of citrus, avocados, amaranth, well (that’s not necessarily available in the supermarket. It is in Jamaica if that helps), but it’s just really unnecessary.

If I want cinnamon, I go to a local park and pick cinnamon leaves. If I want guava, I go to my back yard or I go to a park. My friend up the street has beautiful oranges and sage and rosemary, and all these things growing in her yard that she is not eating. So she says, “Adrienne, just come by and pick whatever you want, take it.” It’s just so unnecessary for people to be starving, in this state particularly. But throughout the country there are things that you can eat. You are standing on food, believe it or not, and that’s why I wanted to have this week’s guest. Our guest heretic is Dina Falconi, she is the author of Foraging and Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook. It is a gorgeous book, oh my God, Dina, how did you do this? Welcome to the show.

DINA FALCONI: A lot of love and sweat.

AH: Clearly, it is one beautiful book. I honestly cannot remember the last time I saw a book this gorgeous that was about food. I’ve seen similar books about…dragonflies. This is really just a phenomenal concept for a book. Tell me, how did you get into foraging?

Dina’s First Experience With Foraging

DF: I got into foraging via food as medicine. Just being that I’ve been chasing after and following since I was a kid. As a pre-teen eleven-year-old I got very interested in healing through food and that segued into herbal medicine and foraging for your food in medicine.

AH: Okay. Were you suffering with anything in particular? You have a mentor, or at least you did at that time who introduced you to it. Was there something in particular that was bothering you or a family member or was it just the ah-ha moment of, “Oh, this is why we put things in our mouth?”

DF: A friend pointed out my motivation to use food as medicine and that following that path really had to do with control. I was raised in the East Village of New York City in the hectic late ’60s and ’70s into the ’80s and it was a pretty wild and crazy time and also an incredible time for food exploration. That area was rich with diversity of people investigating all these different food themes: macrobiotics, raw foods, the wheat grass craze, as well as ethnic foods were surrounding me. So I was steeped in a very food-focused culture. My mom also loved food. 

But the healing part, the choices to narrow the thinking so that I was navigating and helping myself I think was probably an underlying motivation or unconscious mechanism but at that age I was suffering from headaches that would come and go. They were just intense and it wasn’t a migraine necessarily but it was enough to say, “Hey, I want to do something about this.”

There was a mentor, his name was Mickey Carter and he had cured himself of terminal illness and he was my inspiration. He led me, not too verbally, and not very much with any formality. I would go to him, “So what do you do now, what herbs do you take now?” He gave me my first herb book. He was not well-educated. He was the super of buildings in our neighborhood, but he was so heartful and soulful and for whatever reason he sparked it or he held it, and I followed that. And it continues to grow from so many different angles.

I remember picking the mint at a camp for Mickey because he would always drink his peppermint tea after dinner. I remember at 12 years old I harvested a lot of this wild mint so I could dry it and give it to him. And things like that set the stage a bit for this. I think it’s the empowering part that’s most exciting to me about the foraging and again about the food as medicine. 

We can really help ourselves and we can feed ourselves and the issue of food sovereignty and you speaking to the starvation issue is something that I feel deeply about as well. I feel that part of Foraging and Feasting, the book’s theme is to help people reconnect to all the abundance and all the food they step on every day.

AH: Absolutely. Because of the way you phrased it, it has really got me thinking on this track. We, not you and me, probably not most of our listeners, but people are led to believe that GMOs are going to save the world. We’ve already done episodes on how flawed that thinking is because these crops do not produce more. One of the things that I am often talking about is the fact that we throw away so much food. We’ve also done episodes on how much at the supermarket goes into the trash but here is another way that we can understand that even though they’re throwing the leftover organics, the GMOs, “We gotta grow all this food, but then you’re too poor to afford it”

We’ve got laws here in the US where we can’t feed the homeless. People are going to jail for giving a homeless person a sandwich or something is ridiculous. We know that in India they are literally taking thousands or hundreds of thousands of pounds of lentils and rice and throwing them into the ocean because the untouchables don’t deserve it. So why in the heck we’re going towards GMO when there’s so much just literally being trashed is ridiculous.

Surprising Foods That May be Growing Near You

Here we’re also talking about another thing which is that we’re standing on food. There’s so much that we have had bred out of us in recognizing what is growing wild. I think most people don’t realize the dandelions that grow on their lawn are edible as an example. What are some of the other surprising foods that people might have right now in their back yards and have no clue that that was food and they’ve been working really hard to exterminate it?

DF: Depending on where you are. Right now in the North East where I live there’s not a whole lot out there other than snow with six degrees this morning.

AH: Which, by the way, I’ve used to flush my toilet. My water pipes broke in the winter once in New Jersey so my daughter was like, “We could use snow.” I was like, “Brilliant!” So we filled up the tank with snow.

DF: I’m looking out the window here where I live now in the Mid-Hudson Valley and I can see the pine trees so they’re still there for us if we want to make a pine tea with the needles. You can make a nice fragrant beverage with some vitamin C in it. For surprises now you need to hunt. You need to hunt more than you need to forage, I’d say. You could find rose hips out in the landscape still.

AH: Pine needles, is that like a Native American tradition? Consuming pine needle tea?

DF: I believe it is Native American, probably also European. Wherever the pine grew these people would drink its tea. This is the white pine, the one we have here. And the bark was used, though I have to confess that I’m not a survival eater. I’m really somebody who loves the easy forage. Some people I know are working with bark now and I’m not going to go for that. 

AH: Come on, there’s a limit on everything.

DF: Well, there doesn’t have to be. It’s just because I live where I live. I’m a hybrid person so I pick the best of both worlds. I go to an excellent food co-op so we can purchase our food and it’s not our regional, some of it’s regional but some of it’s shipped in.

Two Herbs That Are Surprisingly Available and Safe to Pick

I’d say in the North East in the winter it isn’t the time you need to be focusing so much on foraging but in Hawaii there is, oh my God. In southern parts of the United States and in other parts of the world; we just happen to be in a harsher winter climate. So the surprises you might find, let’s say, if you’re a little further south, maybe in the Carolinas, you’ll find chickweed, which is another weed most people throw out that they weed out that’s an incredible salad green in the cooler months. That’s something that you could go forage. If it’s warm enough here and the snow melts and the ground melts a little, we’ll have chickweed, that’s the first thing we’ll see. That’s really mild but potent in terms of nutrient content, salad green and really easy to serve. Mix it with some lettuce if you have newbies that you’re feeding, but really I could just get handfuls of that and put vinaigrette on it. It’s the best mesclun. It’s delicious and tender.

Another green that you’re going to come across is garlic mustard. That’s another one that’s available through the winter in milder climates. And that’s the hated. The weed that people are hating these days because it’s invasive and rightfully so perhaps. You need to control it. I wouldn’t say hate it, but it’s an incredibly useful food. All of its parts are eaten. Dig the roots and 

use it as horseradish. Eat the leaves like a salad or make a pesto. Eat the flowers when they come. Eat the seeds if you feel you want to go that far and make mustard out of the wild seeds. So this is invasive, it’s a biannual. An example of what people throw away, they hate it and spit on it and in fact it’s their food medicine, it’s also medicinal. All these plants that are our food and that are wild are often very medicinal too.

You’re speaking to his idea of all the waste and the waste stream and it’s everywhere. It’s almost like you have to change the way you see the world. It’s all right there and the issue of scarcity is more of a political one, and it’s a real one when you live from that world and it’s all you see. It’s a total issue and part of my hope with the Foraging and Feasting theme is to celebrate the hidden. Celebrate the things that are actually already there, you just need to retrain how to see.

The same with what you’re throwing out, with all the waste that we have. I’m very much into making stocks. We do eat a lot of animals but it’s from a grass-fed herd that a friend of mine raises so I’ll use every part of that animal including the sinew that most people will throw away once you’ve eaten the steak. I’ll stash all of that away and then you make this incredible broth. It’s just rethinking. Which is something I really enjoy, it’s not some desperation. It’s both a celebration and for me for whatever reason, my personality appreciates that challenge of how to maximize use and really honor all the parts as much as possible, related to food use.

AH: I don’t forage per say now that I live here. We’ll get into my foraging background. But with the bone broth, it started because I was broke and like you, I loved food so I would turn on Julia Child or whoever was the chef du jour on TV or buy a book and it would say, like get a Chinese cookbook and it would say, “add two tablespoons of chicken stock.” Well where am I going to get chicken stock? I don’t want to use the bullion and so I would save all my bones like you. It didn’t matter if I’d made a curry with it or whatever. I’d save all the bones in a bag and when I had enough I’d simmer them and make a stock then I’d freeze that in cubes. Then when I do my little stir fries and things, I’d throw a little cube of chicken stock in there. So really simple stuff.

How NOT to Poison Yourself

You talked about garlic mustard. I remember when I lived in New Jersey, having these little weeds so to speak, and they were clearly some kind of garlicy-chivey thing. The reason I’m bringing this up is not to talk about me, as much because other people go through this. Where they pick it up and they sniff; smells like some kind of onion. Because it’s not on the store shelf we think, and then of course the government likes to back it up with, “Don’t do that, you don’t know what you’re going to get.” And then you watch movies like Into The Wild, Did you see that movie and how he ate that thing at the end of the movie and then turned the page and it was like I ate the poisonous thing that looked like the food. I think a lot of people are afraid they’re going to eat something that is poisonous. How do we get past that? I think your book is a great place to start, but how do people get over misidentification?

DF: It’s a huge issue and as you say, the literacy. We’ve lost our connection to understanding plants, learning how to use them for food and medicine. So it is re-establishing that language, becoming literate again in plant identification, which was part of our ancestry. We had to do that in order to survive and it’s been cut off in the US for a good three or four generations now. If you go to other countries it’s still intact, there’s a lot of forging. In a lot of Europe, they still hold onto the foraging but here in the US…Yeah, the issue is we’ve been frightened since we don’t know anymore. What we don’t know then frightens us. That’s part of my job as an herbalist is to help people re-engage with nature through plants and understanding how to connect with the plants again through tactile or sense. It’s called organoleptic learning so it’s direct learning through your senses.  You become awakened again to the language of the plant kingdom through just simply looking, smelling, and touching. Tasting is last and not safe always. I wouldn’t say that to a beginner.

So it’s re-establishing your connection to the plant kingdom. It isn’t like you’re going to learn all the plants at once, it takes time. You have to practice the language of foraging, you have to practice this lost art. Then it starts to come right back, it’s pretty exciting and very fast, but it does take practice and you’re not going to go and eat things until you’re 100% sure of identification. I’m with that same story but you don’t have to approach the plants with fear but with just respect and patience because you need to go through the stages of knowing the plant and then once you do then you say, “Ah, here’s my food,” or “Here’s my medicine.” Or, “No, I don’t eat this plant.” So there is some danger in this, but it’s not large. At least in our area, there aren’t many plants that will kill us, maybe three or four. Some might make us feel uncomfortable; mostly it’s just pretty safe. Having said that, don’t go out and eat something you don’t know you can eat with 100% certainty. That’s my job here, to help bridge that world again. Reintroduce. And for me, too, because it’s something I’m constantly developing.

Every year new plants arrive; I need to learn what they are. “Who are you? What do I use you for?” It’s developing the skills of identification and then using cross reference, so you begin to do ethnobotany. To me it’s super exciting. It’s a little nerdy, but it’s one of my passions.

AH: How does somebody go, your book in hand, and they see something and it looks like the picture or the illustration. Is there another text or something they can go to if they’re still not quite sure, or is it just when in doubt, throw it out?

DF: No, not when in doubt throw it out, when in doubt, observe.

AH: Okay, observe the habits of its growth?

DF: The whole thing, observe, like you’re meeting new friends, “Who are you? What do you look like? What do you do?” You’re really spending time and that’s the part that most Americans don’t do.

AH: No, instant gratification. So it’s sort of like going on a date; you don’t want to jump into bed with this thing.

DF: Right. In this case you don’t want to put it in your mouth yet, that’s the difference. Though you can certainly spend time learning about the plant, which is what I do. When a new plant arrives, I don’t know who they are. I’ll spend time watching it grow through the whole season, watch it flower, watch it seed. I might have to watch it for two years because it doesn’t flower in its first year. Because I have some skill there I can start narrowing down who I think it is; what family it belongs to, what genus, so categorizing it in botanical terms which sounds a little far out, meaning difficult. It’s not at all, you’re familiar, and you get to understand patterns in nature, patterns in plants and you put them…Ah I believe that’s in the mustard family but I won’t eat it until I confirm with its identification 100%. Even me, I won’t. I might take the teeniest taste just to get a slight feel for the flavor and then I’m going to spit it entirely out because I don’t want to take that risk but I still want to learn the plant. I’m going to pay attention to it, when in doubt, you really do then want to pay attention more than ever. When you know the plant, alright, I know who you are; I don’t have to pay attention anymore.

So I would say that the Foraging and Feasting book tries very much to give the reader all the clues they need to confirm they’re with that plant. Some of the plant pages track the plant for two or three years because it’s a perennial and you would not see some of it. So it’s cheating for the viewers; me bringing to them something they’d have to see for three years, and then I’m giving them the clues. So you always want to match what you’re seeing; being a plant detective I call it. So the plant pages help you do that well. But then really get involved with your local foragers and foraging groups. That’s a great way to learn. Just go out there, spend time and you learn 10 or 20 plants really quickly and then you’re going to forget them unless you practice. Keep reviewing them. In the Foraging and Feasting book you would then refer back to that book so you could say, “This is who we have here,” and remind yourself why you know it is what it is. It’s a very simple game but with persistence it comes.

AH: Yeah, you had me thinking about a mushroom walk that I did some years ago. It scared the bejesus out of me because they’d turn around, and I guess mushrooms fall into that category of things that we’re more aware can be poisonous, has the potential for being poisonous, and they just kept driving that home.

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Photo by Marie Dashkova on Scopio

DF: Mushrooms are really much more dangerous and that’s the difference in the plant. So differentiate. When you’re foraging for plants, again there are some risks, but mushrooms are the realm of mushrooming is so much more risky. I don’t teach that because of that. I feel more concerned there, a lot more concerned.

AH: I have a friend in New Jersey, she’s from Italy originally, and she would just go out into the woods and come back with a bag full of mushrooms and hand me some, and I’d be like, “Do you know what you’re doing lady?” She’s still walking around, although I haven’t heard from her in a couple of years. I was like, “Let me see you make some eggs and put some mushrooms in it and I’ll observe you for a few minutes before I eat.”

DF: It is a point where people from other cultures, like this Italian friend, or I know other Eastern European friends, Russian friends, they know their mushrooms and they just do it. They go out there, it’s like second nature to them and for us there’s phobia around it. Pointing to that same issue, I feel that mushrooms are more dangerous so I’m not going to be as easy with them.

AH: Absolutely.

Foraging: Being Cheap vs. Food Sovereignty

DF: But foraging the mushroom is still intact in many other parts of the world. So here, us Americans have to catch up what we’ve lost or reconnect the dots that have been disconnected for us. And I think it’s a big part of the food industry piece, food sovereignty.

AH: Oh yes, I really think that they want to scare us so that we depend completely on them and whatever swill they throw at us. We’re compelled to buy because we’ve had all those instincts bred out of us.

DF: Exactly it’s alarming.

AH: It really is disturbing and I think like you, a lot of people came to natural health the same way that you did. My mom was a registered nurse, she grew up in Jamaica so she knew about the power of nature, let’s call it. But also back in the ’60s medicine was very different and even today I find myself much more impressed with books that were produced on health in the ‘60s and ‘70s than most of the stuff that’s come out in recent years. Because back then it wasn’t until the ‘80s where we really started to see this kind of monopoly approach to food and health. So there were a lot more books like yours back in the ‘60s and ‘70s that were this kind of labor of love I want to share with the world, not I want to turn a fast buck. And unfortunately, even with the natural health we get people on these completely skewed diets; this one’s all this and the other one’s all that. When I’ve met a couple of these people, and people I know have met a couple of these people who write these books, and they’re all darned if they could get a story out them that doesn’t involve how much money they’ve made this year. It’s really scary. I’m not naming any names, but you know who I’m talking about. We’ll talk later.

DF: I’m not sure who you’re talking about. I’m not that up on it.

The Importance of Regenerative Harvesting

AH: Oh you’ll know how I’m talking about, don’t worry. Regenerative harvesting, talk to us about what that means to you.

DF: That’s a really beautiful image. Regenerative harvesting is where, for example, I’m going to go out and I’m going to gather food for myself and the act of my gathering that food brings more food. So that instead of a human being an interruptive or destructive force, my actions are regenerative. It’s really simple to go out and pluck, for example, the chickweed I was speaking about. If you harvest that chickweed without pulling it out by its roots and you snip it, you’re giving it a trim so to speak. You’re going to come back to that patch and it’s going to be more lush because you did that. It’s happier because you actually harvested it so you’re regenerating through your actions the life force of the plant. It’s giving more food, I love that image. 

So humans can work within the landscape. I think that truly our role is learning how to work within the landscape and that by feeding ourselves we’re actually creating more abundance through that act rather than destruction which we’re always being told is what we do. Which is what monoculture does and the cathodes of animal raising does, but if you’re mimicking the patterns of nature which is now more permaculture. The talk of permaculture is something that I resonate with a lot, you’re looking for how can your actions actually while benefiting you benefits the ecosystem, benefits the other animals or you provide more food for more humans. It’s a really important concept in my mind to remember that humans can create more rather than mining and destroying which is more what we think of.

AH: That’s an excellent tip as well for the home gardener because we’ve covered regenerative farming from permaculture standpoint but also I study Korean Natural Faming and Master Cho is coming to the island in a couple of weeks so I’m going to be studying with him.

DF: Who?

AH: Master Cho, he’s the developer of the Korean Natural Farming system. Like your mentor, he doesn’t have a college education and he has developed this system of regenerative farming using pretty much kitchen stuff. Things that you’d find in your kitchen; sugar, some herbs, cinnamon, stuff like that. And he has found a way of making the plants stronger and then incorporating these so called weeds as protective of your food crops. 

He’s working on the concept that those little white molds you see on weeds, we cultivate that and basically transfer that to the soil where you’re growing the food that you want to eat. But also he’s not fighting the weeds. He recognizes the weeds as holding moisture in the soil so you have to water a lot less when you keep a certain amount of weeds and our objective is essentially outpace the weeds with our stuff, not completely kill them. So we harvest the best qualities in weeds and transfer them to our food crops so it’s a really really cool system. 

But one of the things he’s well known for is during the Beijing Olympics they needed to feed a lot of pork to a lot of people and they needed to do it close to the stadium so they brought him in to apply his system of raising pigs right there in the middle of Beijing. Nobody could smell them, that’s always the challenge with these different systems. So he applied his system which is essentially lactic acid bacteria which comes off of the milk, yeah, he’s Korean, he uses milk, so don’t even start with me people about how people of different descents don’t consume milk. He uses that lactic acid bacteria.

DF: He’s fermenting the pig poo into usable compost right away or something like that?

AH: To some extent, yeah, because he’s feeding it to them so it’s going right into their digestive tract and they don’t stink.

DF: Oh I see, so he’s using probiotics.

AH: Yep, exactly, and we spray down the bedding with it as well, I have chickens, you’d have no idea I have chickens. My neighbor’s garbage smells stronger than my chickens. Literally. 

DF: As an aside, so you’re spraying milk onto your chicken poop?

AH: Essentially, I can go through the whole process, or you can listen to the episode, it’s basically, think of the whey off of your yogurt, although the way we cultivate it supposedly has more diversity because we use the water used for washing rice to start that fermentation process and then it separates and you use that liquid and you’re just using a tiny, tiny amount, like a homeopathic amount of this liquid. You’re spraying down the coop every so often, you’re putting a little in the chicken’s water, you might spray their food a little bit, and they don’t smell. 

DF: Interesting.

What to Know About Foraging on Public Lands

AH: it’s very, very cool, and their eggs are delicious, by the way. Where are some of the good places people can feel safe about picking? Obviously one of the things you mentioned in your book, in the best-case scenario, we are avoiding the pesticides and herbicides and other ‘cides.

DF: Run-off, and highway run-off.

AH: Exactly, all that nastiness. First of all, are there restrictions on foraging on some public lands? How do you know where it’s safe for you to do this? Hawaii’s a little bit like the Wild West, “Oh, there’s a fence? Let me jump it.” People don’t bother you usually. But in other places it’s not like that. What are the restrictions on use of public lands and how do people start to get comfortable with knowing that nothing was sprayed in this area?

DF: Well, first of all, each public land has its own rules so you’d have to find out. Is it a park, is it a preserve and you’re going to ask the questions to who runs it, are you allowed to forage in there. Public parks in your city, there’s been a lot of mixed stories, yes you can, no you can’t forage so I can’t answer to that for each area. They can have their own thing, but yeah, why not, learn about that, because you have resources like that. 

We have a lot of wild land around us and we can go berry picking, incredible amounts of wild berry picking around here. Maybe they wouldn’t let us, maybe they would; I didn’t ask. So my point is each area will have its own rules and also you’re going to see how obedient you’re going to be, what risk is there. The other thing is, for the kind of foraging that I suggest, is either weeds that really grow near human disturbance so you don’t need to go into pristine wild zones. You can go to an organic farm, it is a great place to forage. You know they’re not treating the soil and they have these areas they haven’t gone to that they haven’t weeded and that’s going to be amazing food. As much as I love the farming the wild weeds that come are really right there along with that. 

Wild garlic butter

You were talking about the Korean Farming techniques and you do want to grow plants, because I like a lot of cultivated plants, too, but right amongst them are your best-eating wild edibles. So why not partner up with some local farms, farmers, organic gardens, and community gardens that are organic, and you’re going to be able to forage amazingly. 

I was going to say it’s not like you have to go to see pristine piece of land that’s far away from humans. Often there isn’t a whole lot to forage in those settings, they’re more homogenous. Often the more activity, the more stuff comes up from the earth. The soil is disturbed and the seeds sprout then. You know the seed banks are in there and disturbance they make things pop up. The disturbance makes a lot of good wild tasty food so often when I do teaching I do private walks on people’s land and they want to learn what they have and we’re going to find the most around the areas where they’re disturbing the soil. And they want to go looking in the woods where hardly any activity occurs and there’s not a whole lot of diversity there. It’s much fewer species and much less for us to eat.

AH: Right, that makes sense. I guess this is similar to what you’re saying. A friend of mine, she works down an hour south of me. She cleans the house for some swanky person who has tons of acreage and she goes in there and she forages for māmaki. I don’t know if you know what that is, it’s a native Hawaiian plant that has a medicinal use of really, just as a general tonic, I’d say. If you look it up it will say things about circulation, it’s good for liver congestion and this and that so it seems like it’s a general tonic. It doesn’t have that much of a flavor to be honest; some people say it has a very strong flavor. I don’t taste it, to me it just cleans up the water, it makes the water taste extra watery.

DF: It refreshes the water.

AH: Yes, it makes it much more refreshing. And she just goes there and she asks them, “Can I just pick?” because wild-crafted is theoretically better, it’s not manipulated to grow in that area, it’s growing there because it’s the strongest, survival of the fittest.

DF: I love wilds, but I’m also happy with something cultivated, I’m happy with all of it.

AH: Yeah, absolutely.

DF: I was gonna add though, to the thinking along the lines of foraging for very common weeds, which is a lot of what I focus on in the Foraging and Feasting book, is to really educate people about the weeds that are going to be everywhere and be very prolific. I just had that thought, just put the words, for the most prolific weeds, those are the ones we really want to get to know and include in our menu regularly, not the ones that are far away or that are endangered or very slow growing perennials.

AH: Or skeptical; you may not be able to identify it right away. Most of us know that we have lambs quarters and dandelions in our yard.

DF: Yeah, not being able to identify it is another issue which has to be addressed, but even if you’re 100% sure, still you might not eat so much of something that grows much more slowly or is less prolific so that’s part of my theme, too, and it’s part of the food sovereignty theme, is that the food that is everywhere grows for everyone. The weeds are everywhere pretty much so it’s reclaiming that. It’s changing our thinking about what a weed is and what is this alien or this stranger. Ah, it’s a friend, it’s a gift. And it’s prolific so that’s another part of my statement around it. 

So when doing a plant walk with somebody, you’re going to meander around where the most disturbance is and there are going to be plants that they’re going to see every day all the time, so we want to get to know those plants. Not to put down the beautiful pristine black holhage or golden field which I do use as an herbal medicine practitioner, but I’m not going to use them in the quantities that I will with lambs quarter in my life, or nettle or straw or burdock or dandelion and these are just things people are always eradicate these things and the idea is to turn that around. Why? So much to offer.

AH: Now this is part two of your book; the recipes. You have found some of the most gorgeous ways to incorporate these foods. What I love is; I complain about his all the time on my show, but I sometimes go to a meal that’s supposed to be healthy; and by healthy, they usually mean somewhere on the vegan scale. And it’s usually incredibly tasteless and incredibly not making my stomach happy. What I love is that you focus on these traditional recipes and things that are very flavorful and almost romantic the way you’ve presented it. Things that come to mind are your fruit ketchup, the urban-fused whipped cream, even the ever-lasting stock pot. These are things that really to me are just so…they are just really soulful. I don’t see that in a lot of so-called healthy cookbooks. 

As a matter of fact, I was saying to somebody, I was duped again. I went to this restaurant to support somebody, it was a vegan restaurant. Okay, I eat vegetables all the time. I go there, I feel sick. Two days later I said to my friend, did you smell anything when you walked into that restaurant. The food didn’t taste horrible, like some of them, they just taste bad. It didn’t taste horrible, but there was no fat, there was no salt, or very little salt. I said to her, “Do remember smelling anything?” Because I had just made something in my kitchen that was vegan which I don’t think in those terms, but when I turned around, everything except for the fish which I made later was vegan. But my friends walked in when I was just making the first part of the meal and they said, “Oh my God, it smells so good in here.” I was like, that’s what was missing in that other meal; there was nothing telling my body to start the digestive process. Start your mouth watering, start releasing some acids to digest this meal, and that’s what was missing from this meal. So when I look at your book and I see these recipes, this is brilliant! You’ve really done a gorgeous job.

DF: Thank you. I appreciate your words because I worked really hard so it feels really good when somebody gets what you’re doing. And you’re right; the idea is to be steeped in the lusciousness of deliciousness that’s also good for you. The recipes reflect the connections to the plant kingdom but it doesn’t stop there. Although the recipes do honor a vegan choice some of the time, the recipes are still designed to be juicy and fully wanted. They’re not prim and proper or puritanical but they are in a sense clean, or that’s not even the right word, but committed to the foods that heal; the foods that are nourishing. I think that the juicy and the tasty go hand in hand with that, so that when you’re deeply satisfied your taste buds are deeply satisfied you also are well-nourished physically. To me they’re part of the same story.

AH: Absolutely. I think that gets missed all too often because people try so hard to be politically correct in their choices or their recipes and there’s usually an element of satiety that gets forgotten. It’s more about the caloric content, filling the belly, having x amount in cups on the plate, not about the deeply nourishing, juicy, sensuous connection to the food. For lack of a better description, your book, although a million times better, sort of reminds me of some of the older, like witch craft books. Do you know what I’m talking about?

DF: Yeah, 

AH: Not in a negative way.

DF: A witchy perspective.

AH: Yeah, it’s got this kind of connection to these herbs and in this very tactile way that we don’t see a lot of anymore. 

DF: Right, because it’s also that the recipes really reflect, hopefully, that the reader will go out and gather with their hands these fragrant, rich with personality plants, and you’re going to put them in dishes that can also be really delicious. The whole experience is you out in nature gathering back into the kitchen and mixing, chemically creating, and then feeding your body the thing that’s going to make it happy. To me, that’s what I have tried to do in my life and that’s what I try to reflect through this book. It’s connecting all those dots. How do you immerse yourself in life, in nature, or in an experience and then bring that into the plate that’s also going to go into your body and feed you deeply. Really make it so that your teeth are strong and your bones are healthy and you have deep dreams or whatever you’re looking for. That you’re fed well. 

That’s part of the fun of this cookbook, you get to play with flavors that are outside of the normal supermarket flavors and also because my commitment to using real, whole ingredients. There’s also that so you’re not putting anything artificial to cover and everything, the expression of the food is of itself so it speaks. So you’re looking for those things that are going to speak clearly in a dish. You’re going to start with that real, beautiful organic grass-fed raw heavy cream. That’s what you’re going to whip and then you’re going to infuse it with lemon balm that you just picked from your wild patch or maybe you planed it, that’s fine too. You get this infused with cream and that’s just delicious and it’s reflecting all of where it just came from. It’s not been pasteurized and homogenized and the herb hasn’t been shipped thousands of miles and basically tastes like sawdust. So you’re celebrating that freshness, hopefully you can. It’s all there for us. That’s what I keep trying to share as well. I don’t want it to feel elitist, is part of the point.

AH: Right, I’m glad that you said that because in a way, in addition to seeming like a witch craft book, it also reminds me a little bit about some of these chefs that are doing the molecular cuisine. In a way some of these ideas seem like they could be that, but they’re not. They could be influenced by that but it’s much more artistic than that without having to bring helium or whatever the frig they use for their recipes.

DF: Nitrogen. This is the peasant’s kitchen; it’s the food that’s available to all, that’s my wish. It isn’t the elitist chemical factory. It’s actually snipping the cords to the food industry. You’re saying no, I’m not going for anything you’ve invented for me to eat. I’m coming back to food that’s in its natural form and I’m going to create, I’m going to concoct, I’m going to empower myself in the kitchen to feed myself. I’m not going to sip the straw back to the food industry labs. There are all these political undertones here.

DF: It’s an act of rebellion; it’s a very strong act. It’s empowering and bringing you back to the point you made at the beginning of this conversation, it really is about giving us our strengths and our freedom. Educating ourselves enough so that we can feed ourselves. That we’re not dealing with issues of starvation.

AH: Right, and I love that because it brings us more hope than what we are normally given when we are so tied to that industry. We lose our freedoms. There’s no other way to say it, right.

DF: Exactly.

How to Use the Recipes and Develop Your Own

AH: One of the things you had me thinking about just now, is I see your recipes as very creative. Many of them do, at least if they don’t actually harken back to another era when ketchup just wasn’t one thing, I’m going to throw this out again. Ketchup wasn’t just this tomato thing; there was mushroom ketchup, fruit ketchup. Where did you start with the blueprint and for those people who want to maybe design some of their own recipes, how do you suggest they get started. Is it like take your macaroni and cheese and add this, or is there a blueprint they can follow to build upon.

DF: My wish in creating the 100 master recipes that are in the Foraging and Feasting book, they’re actually blueprints; they’re master recipes. They’re templates so they’re designed to educate the reader so that they’re fluent in a recipe and that recipe then can then be transformed to their needs, to their likings, to what’s actually available in their neighborhood at the time. You don’t have peaches right now, you don’t have plums; you have bottom olives, you have blueberries, the rotating produce of reality, of what we have access to is honored. That’s the idea with the master recipes so there are 100 master recipes, they are templates for someone to learn the language, the kitchen art language, basically. And then they have variables in them so then you begin to learn what you can move in and out and what has to stay static. So there’s a skeleton and there are parts you can dress slightly differently or I think you know what I mean. And then the other thing with the master recipes is that they give you the freedom once you have the technique. Let’s say you learn how to make a gratin, it’s a very basic, cheesy custard, baked dish. And that gratin then can be made with 100s of different vegetables depending on what comes through the season and other nuances that change.

It’s really the same thing I said about the plant literacy; it’s the same with kitchen literacy. It’s just learning. For me, though, I’m a cookbook collector and I’ve also been cooking since I was eleven because that was my beginning on this journey of whole foods and changing the way that I ate. That theme of food is medicine began back then. I was already in the kitchen at a very young age and that is how you learn, you practice, constantly making food. I’m a cookbook collector so I’m reading and reading about different kinds of food preparation on that and I’ve spent years and years cooking. Then I was hoping that those templates, the master recipes that you’re asking for that help someone learn to cook well. Take that ketchup recipe and you can see the anatomy of the ketchup and you can see what you can plug in and out; that was my hope that it would bring kitchen literacy.

AH: Right and I can see that. I’m glad you’ve elaborated on that element. Another thing I want to draw out for a lot of people, because a lot of our listeners are interested in lacto-fermented foods and you do a lot of that in here.

DF: Sure, I have for many years of my life.

AH: Those also really put another spin on the standards that I think most of us are already familiar with. Your typical pickles and stuff.

DF: It’s pushing the edge, too; it’s pushing the edge so it’s trying to get folks to push the culinary edge, not like in a crazy elite way, but in a practical way, almost. It’s practical to go this way. This is what we have and all of a sudden you’ve got to be creative and it pushes your edge and that’s the idea. Creativity is at the core of this book. How do we become creative human beings? Creating our own reality, creating our own food, or co-creating because often we’re not creating the foods, it grows for us, but then creating the dishes from what nature grows.

AH: I always tell people that my best dishes come when I’m on vacation and I only have about seven or eight ingredients on hand. Basically I’m cooking in some foreign kitchen somewhere and I’m obviously not plugged into my regular availability of ingredients and I’ve come up with some things. Unfortunately, I can never reproduce them because I’m not boiling my pasta in seawater, but necessity is the mother of invention.

DF: The cookbook part though is very concrete in terms of holding your hand through technique, it’s like you get to tour around the food world very safely with a highly skilled outcome. So you’re not just being tossed out into the wind. The creativity arises from the strength that you get, from the understanding that you’ve taken from touring around these master recipes is the image I have. You have the confidence and the basis to then let creativity flow.

Tips on Getting Started with Foraging

AH: Thank you so much for talking with us today, Dina Falconi. What are a couple of tips or parting words that you’d like to leave with people who want to get started with foraging, what to start cooking and tasting, is it just starting in your garden?

DF: If you’re lucky enough to have some foragers in your neighborhood, get together with them; just start attaching yourself to foragers, that’s how you really learn. Get a copy of my book if you want, it’s a great tool. You can have it by your bedside and study the plants on the plant pages and you begin to imprint that and your mind and you will start to recognize them when you see them. So it’s just opening yourself up to the plant kingdom. Observing, going slow, no rush, taking your time. And I always suggest eat a little wild but not prematurely. Try to learn a couple of plants that you can then just constantly just put a little bit into your life, a little food, a little sprinkle on your salads. I would say get creative in the kitchen. Take some time to really cook food. Don’t eat the food that comes from the food industry; eat the food that comes from the earth directly or from a farmer. Go back to that more primitive state of food and then create something with it. I could say a million things but maybe we’ll just end there.

Foraging and Feasting

AH: Oh Dina, thank you so much. Again, her book is Foraging and Feasting: A Field Guide And Wild Food Cookbook. Do you have a website, Dina, where you can send people? 

DF: Yes, it’s BotanicalArtsPress.com 

AH: Fantastic, and you’re book’s available through Amazon?

DF: It’s available through us, we’re actual the publishers. It’s great if they go to our website to buy it, and it is available on Amazon, but it’s through us, through a third party, it’s not through Amazon direct. You don’t get a better deal on Amazon. We give you the best deal….that’s a whole other conversation.

AH: We’ll talk about that later. Okay, thank you so much and please, originally when we were contacting you we wanted to talk about your heavenly hair book, the Earthly Bodies and Heavenly Hair and I wanted to talk to you about that, so maybe we’ll have you back about that one day.

DF: Sure, my pleasure, thank you so much for having me on your show.

AH: No problem, anytime, thank you so much for being with us. 

You may also like to Kate Krukowski Gooding’s 50 Ways to Eat Beaver.

Eating Beaver? Kate Krukowski Gooding’s 50 Ways to Eat it.

Got a game hunter in the family and not sure how to cook the meat he or she brings home? Leave it to Kate Krukowski Gooding to teach you the many ways of eating beaver. In fact, she authored the book, 50 Ways to Eat a Beaver. In this episode, she’ll teach us how to acquire game meats, how to handle them before cooking, and which other meats make a good substitute. Plus, we’ll discuss her other books on cooking wild meat and her appearance on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.

Image of Kate Krukowski

Kate is a self-trained chef and has worked in every capacity of the restaurant business,. Kate holds three degrees and has started five companies that include an Import/Export Business, Cellular Phones, International Championship of A cappella, a non-profit teaching Maine youth how to start and run business as well as her cookbook publishing company.

[This post contains affiliate links through which I may receive a small commission.]

In addition to Black Fly Stew: Wild Maine RecipesSimple Gourmet Lamb with Side Dishes and Wine Pairings50 Ways to Eat a Beaver and Free-Range Fish & Lobster, Kate writes specialty cookbooks for private companies.  You can find Kate at Black Fly Stew and Facebook.

Adrienne Hew: Aloha everybody, this is Adrienne, the Nutrition Heretic, coming from the Big Island of Hawai’i. Today we’re going to talk about wild meat. Years ago, my husband had this friend who used to like to go out hunting and he was really trying to connect with his roots, so he went out and he caught a squirrel. We were playing poker one night and he’s got this squirrel just cooking away on the stove. I asked for a piece and it was tough, stringy, dry and absolutely flavorless because he boiled the heck out of it. No salt, no seasoning, nothing, it was just a hunk of tough, boiled meat. I said this has got to be a learning curve for this kind of meat because we don’t have this anymore, you can’t just go to the store and buy squirrel. There’s no cookbooks about it; we do know that the founding fathers ate some of these wild meats like squirrel, and cock by the way. A few years ago my good marketing friend, Ed, went to a book signing in Maine and he met today’s guest heretic, Kate Krukowski Gooding; she is the author of 50 Ways To Eat A Beaver, and I’d like to say that we are kindred spirits in our sense of humor, at least. Kate, welcome to the show.

Kate Gooding: Thank you, Adrienne. I like your squirrel story, what an introduction.

AH: Yeah, it scared me away from ever trying wild game meats, not that I haven’t had kangaroo. I had the opportunity to eat certain things and they were done really well; different kinds of elk and moose and so on. 

How closely related are the squirrel and beaver when it comes to meat quality?

KG: Not anywhere near, no relation. A squirrel, typically, if it’s cooked, you shouldn’t boil it, it should be braised and it ends up tasting like dark chicken.

AH: Ooh.

KG: It’s delicious, it’s just like dark chicken meat; however, that’s part of the reason I started writing cook books because I got tired of people saying they’d never had a good game meal. It really is on how you prepare the meat as well as how it’s taken care of from when you get it in the woods to the table.

AH: Is there a period of aging or anything like that, that people want to observe? Or is it just a fresh meat?

KG: For beaver and squirrel, the fresher the better. There are some meats that it’s important for it to hang, a lot of red meats. However, that said, for beaver, I usually get it, my brother catches it, traps it, puts it right away in the freezer, unless you’re going to eat it right away. Squirrel, same thing; but moose and elk and caribou and deer, there needs to be a little bit of hanging for the blood to settle out.

AH: Right, I know with chickens we usually want to wait twenty-four hours. 

KG: After they’ve been bled.

AH: There’s nothing like that for beaver or squirrel. Wow, that’s awesome.

KG: The beaver is a red meat whereas a squirrel is a dark white meat.

AH: Okay, so when you first had beaver, tell us a little bit about that story, what was your introduction? It’s in the book.

KG: It’s actually really funny because I had gone trapping with my old boyfriend, Dwayne, from up home in Jackman and unbeknownst to me he said to his mom, why don’t you make some beaver for dinner and when we come back, we’ll have it.

AH: Isn’t that suggestive? Mom, make some beaver for my new girlfriend.

KG: No, that’s why my husband, he’s the one who picked out the name of the book, the old devil entendre. 

AH: It does work, I have to say.

KG: Yes, it does, as yours does. So we came back from trapping and she had made this wonderful barbecued beaver over egg noodles and it was so delicious that I said, I have to taste this meat by itself. I actually haven’t gone back. Beaver and bear are probably my two favourite red meats.

AH: Really, wow. 

KG: It’s such a sweet red meat, and part of it is the bear and the beaver, most of the fat is between the pelt and the muscle so it’s very, very lean. It’s delicious, I love it. When I first met my husband and we were living together and then we got married, it was three years after we got married that I told him I’d had beaver back straps. I wasn’t getting a lot of beaver at the time so I wasn’t sharing them. So he’s like, where did you get these? I said, I’ve been getting them. Beaver back straps are amazing, also; I love all of the parts of the beaver except the tail, I’m not a tail fan.

AH: What’s different about the tail? 

KG: If you like pork rinds and you like the fat in beans, then you will love it. I did make a recipe for it in my cookbook.

AH: I saw that reference but it didn’t dawn on me that that’s what you meant.

KG: I’m not a fan of it.

AH: I just made pork rinds last night, so it might just be up my alley.

KG: Okay, then you might like it. If I’m going to cook the whole beaver then I will braise the whole thing because there’s not a lot of meat around the shoulders and the back. Typically, my brother will trap and just save me the legs and the back straps. The biggest beaver he got for me last year, I have a picture of him, it’s sixty-nine inches long or sixty-eight inches long. It’s a super blanket, it was huge; I forget how much he said it weighed, forty pounds. It was big.

AH: That’s enormous, that’s bigger than me.

KG: They are huge, and they are not an animal you want to upset.

AH: I can imagine.

KG: They’re nasty. If you’re out in a canoe and you’re anywhere near where they’re breeding or preparing for the winter, they will just slap their tails, like you’re in my territory.

How Eating Beaver Compares to Other Meats 

AH: What other meat, I’m kind of obsessed with this part; what other meat would you equate it to? I guess what I’m thinking is that modern Americans, and we’ll go into this later, but because we have these neutral tasting meats as our primary meats; the beef, pork, and chicken, they’re fairly neutral. Going into, like I grew up eating lamb and goat, and first of all, most Americans until recently had never heard of eating goat, but lamb was always like, it’s too gamey, I don’t like the fat, the whatever people have issues with. Where would you say the beaver is in terms of flavor?

KG: It’s not the same flavor as lamb but I’d say it’s a heightened flavor, and because typically we are used to eating pork, chicken, and beef that are farm-raised, the difference in the meat flavors, because of what they are eating and where they are, the grazing, if they’re cattle grazing out on the plains and then finished corn-fed, they’ll be different than ones that are just corn grain fed all of the time. Your animals that are out in the woods, they’re eating all of their fresh leaves and berries and roots and so they are, which is all very flavorful, and the typical animal that we eat is bland food, so we’re used to eating bland meats. 

AH: I’m glad that you brought that up because I have had the opportunity to eat chicken that has been more foraged, as well as pigs that are given more of a variety in their rations. For example, in Northern Italy they eat a lot of chestnuts around November time so you get that infusion into the meat which makes a very different profile of flavor. I don’t know that I’ve had beef that has gotten much more than just grass, but I know that for some several of the other animals we’ve definitely had more variety and you can taste that.

KG: There’s a big difference. I had actually stopped eating red meat for probably thirty years because only if it was game, the difference in the color it was pale, pale red in comparison to wild game meat which is red, rich red. It was just such a difference and I don’t like taken into anything; like why eat it if it isn’t going to taste good? It got to the point where I’m not sure what different hormones that they inject or are fed, but it just didn’t sit well. So people, you will look at the statistics and I don’t know if you understand that Maine is leading the top as far as young farmers in agriculture in the United States.

AH: Really, that’s awesome. I could see a lot of people moving to Maine as refuge, just as they move to Hawaii for refuge.

KG: Exactly, like how life should be, right? And the flavor. We’re part of the CSA where we get chicken every other week, fresh chicken, so we have them throughout the winter. The difference in flavor when I make my stocks, it’s a 100% difference; your organic versus the things you can buy at some stores.

AH: For sure, we’re recording this right after Thanksgiving and people came over on Thanksgiving and were, wow, how did you make that? Fresh ingredients; it’s not that hard to make a good tasting meal when you start out with great ingredients. That’s the backbone of it; you don’t have to mask it over. Actually, that’s one of the things I like about your recipes is that they are recipes that enhance flavor or compliment the flavor. It’s very clear that you’re not trying cover up the flavor of the meat, which I think is really, really important for people to understand.

KG: I will support you 100% because I cannot tell people enough that what you have just said is that it is so important to start with basic, fresh ingredients. Sometimes just using one fresh herb as opposed to dried makes all the difference in the world.

AH: Exactly. I think two flavors in the kitchen that are overlooked because they’re considered too plain are, in desserts it would be vanilla bean, and in regular cooking would be parsley. A little bit of parsley added at the end of any dish, even my salads, people are like, what is that fabulous flavor? It’s parsley, that’s all it is, just a couple of sprigs of parsley chopped up at the end totally changes the profile of any salad.

KG: It’s so funny because the two basics I go for are French long leaf thyme, which is the most flavorful for me, and cardamom.

AH: Ah, I think that those are two good ones, but at that point, you’re not getting complicated, but I’ve had to explain to people what thyme is, not to mention cardamom isn’t even in most people’s vocabulary.

KG: You’re absolutely right because if they’ve grown up with a meat and potato culture, salt and pepper is almost all they’d know.

AH: That’s where the parsley and vanilla come in; those are exotic but they’re also considered plain. People think, what flavor of ice cream, and they’re always surprised if a child says vanilla instead of chocolate or strawberry because vanilla is so, we even use it as kind of a pejorative meaning that something is bland or boring.

Book cover of 50 ways to eat beaver

Why Kate Writes Wild Game Cookbooks

How did you start writing cookbooks?

KG: I had just quit my husband’s company, I had actually turned it around for him financially, and I’m not in the maintenance mode so I started doing some consulting. I was literally up on Mount Desert Island at the time and a friend asked me to write a cookbook for her because she knows I’ve been cooking all my life. I’m totally self-taught, so I started putting some numbers and things together and the bottom line is she wanted me to develop a tabletop cookbook for 100% sales and I said that’s not going to work because you’re going to need national distribution for what you want and I don’t have that networking capability up here on the island. 

So I finished that and I said, I have signed up for this publishing, how to publish a cookbook and I wanted to delve into that a little bit more. You know, I’ve written and created recipes all my life, I can do this. So back in 2006 I just started doing all my research and the hardest thing for me was getting all my recipes together. It was a labor of, I don’t know if I want to call it love or not, but measuring. I broke down recipes but I didn’t always put the measurements in. 

AH: Yeah, when I wrote mine I actually had to consult other cookbooks to get the amounts because I know visually and there are those differences. Even one thing I always talk about is salt. For example, if you’re using Celtic sea salt to Himalayan salt; Himalayan salt I found very difficult to be precise how much flavor I’m going to get out of that salt, sometimes it seems to be under salted, and it seems to go very quickly to over salted. I don’t know what it is with Himalayan salt; I don’t have that problem with French sea salt for some reason.

KG: It’s strong, Himalayan salt is. 

AH: It can be, but then I’ve used it in recipes where I use the same amount I’d have used with another salt and it just, nothing, butkis, it just doesn’t taste like anything.

KG: It depends on what you’re doing with it. I understand.

AH: I’m not sure, but one way or another it just never seems like I’m never at the right amount for what I’m looking, I’m either way over or way under.

KG: That’s frustrating.

AH: It’s very frustrating, but I guess where I was going with this is just that every cookbook is going to be a guideline but it doesn’t necessarily have to be written in stone. So when people are making dishes to use some of their intuition and if they want it a little bit more salt, and keeping in mind that salt, in my opinion, shouldn’t make the food taste salty as much as it should bring out the flavors in the food so I don’t like to taste salt in my food, I just want it to support the flavors that are there.

KG: Enhance.

AH: Right, so I totally feel you on the whole measurement part.

KG: The one thing that I had done right from the beginning, because I self-taught, there are so many things that I assume when cooking, that people know. My husband was testing a recipe for me and my description was to make flat bread. However, you needed to cover it with a damp cloth to allow it to rise. So he calls me in for me to answer a question and I look at this little lump on the side board and I go, what’s that, and he says, that’s the flat bread. It was tightly covered in this damp towel. So what needed to happen, I had to explain that it needs to go in a greased bowl with the damp towel laid on top of it, but that’s a prime example. So I had testers for all of my cookbooks.

AH: Oh good, that’s a very good point. I was actually just talking to my seven-year-old because I teach a cooking class at her school, and every time I talk to the kids I’m like this is what we’re going to do. I explain it to them but for some reason I can never explain it enough, I say slice something, and I get mash. It’s like you show them, but then when people don’t cook I think there’s a misconception that things are very much more difficult in the kitchen. For one, I notice that people tend to man-handle things more if you don’t give them really specific directions.

KG: Have you noticed how they have a difficult time in how to slice properly where they’re not taking off their knuckles?

AH: Yes, there’s that, and there’s also the sawing back and forth, which does not come naturally to a lot of people they think they’re just going to chop it down like it’s a battle axe and then remove it, just separate it from the other part. I have to explain all the time, if you’re carving, particularly, you want to saw back and forth.

KG: And of course if you have a dull knife, that doesn’t help.

AH: Yes, exactly. The whole getting fingers under there, things sliding around, oh no, let’s make a flat surface out of that round thing before we try to cut it anymore. 

Health Benefits of Wild Meats & Precautions to Consider

What are some the health benefits as you see it between the wild meats and the store-bought meats?

KG: The big thing for people to understand is that your wild game is a much better source of protein, minerals such as iron and zinc because of what they eat. They’re out there eating a natural diet; they’re more active than a typical farm animal and all of that between the food they eat and their activity contributes to their lower fat content in the meat. So eating greens in the wild contributes to your pro-inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acid, also higher content of your anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acid, and that’s including fish. Say you go to the store and see two different kinds of salmon; you see a sockeye and a farm-raised. The sockeye will typically be a nice clear, red the whole way through and then your farm-raised you’ll see in between each layer this thick white and that’s the fat.

AH: It’s gelatinous, and not good gelatinous. I don’t even call it fat, it’s grease, it’s not normal, and it’s orange in color. You know that whole story how they’re actually grey, the farm-raised salmon because they’re in cages eating each other’s feces as well as soy and corn pellets. And before they used to feed them shrimp shells before harvest, but now apparently they just feed them dye.

KG: So they don’t, that is news to me. I knew they had finished them with shrimp shells because that color turns their meat.

AH: This was according to one of my butchers from about fifteen years ago that told me this, so I don’t know how accurate his information was, but I have had a few other people in the fishing industry back that up, and say they’re mostly using these dyes.

KG: I will say that I’m curious because a friend of mine caught me a farm-raised salmon that must have gotten out of the pen when they were closing down and it was pink so I don’t know if it was at the end and it had been eating shells or been eating dye, but I’m going to do some research on that. Thank you for that.

AH: That’ll be interesting, too, because I know there was that big break out of all the fish in the Pacific North West a couple months back, but the color, was it pink or was it orange? I wonder how much time it had spent out of the pen.

KG: It wasn’t orange like a sockeye but it wasn’t a lighter pink orange like they usually are, it was a little darker than that, so it maybe had been out for a while. Perhaps the fish had got out of the pen and had been out in the wild for a little bit because the color was really good on that. One of the things people always ask me, too, was about muscles because so many are cultivated now, but the difference between that is they are not penned up. They’re hanging on ropes and there’s stuff going through that they’re able to capture and eat and so the flavor is still good for the cultivated muscles versus ones that you can dig. They’re both really good, however, the cultivated muscles really worked hard to get as natural an environment with these new rope-growing cultivations.

AH: Right. Now with the wild meats, at least in your area, is there any particular precautions that people should take should they get them tested? I’d like to think that these animals are intuitive about what they eat, they know. I have goats and they know when something is going to make them feel sick, they just smell it and hmm, I’m not sure about it.

KG: Yep, same thing with my cat. I just got a moose liver and Edgar loves moose liver; however, it’s not right. I called my brother because it ended up being, the guy that got it for me took it right from the moose and put it in a cooler so what happens is it didn’t allow for it to naturally decrease in temperature so it actually made it mealy. It was fine for some; animals would be eating it, like my step-daughter’s dog loves it, but my cat wouldn’t. So I was testing it because I’m making a moose faux grois so instead of fois grois like forced duck, I make it with moose liver which is really yummy. So you know the color didn’t look right to me, so once you handled game meat and organs for a while then you’ll know. But just to give this a little segue, a lot of people will not, in areas that are more populated, may not even test eating the organs just because they don’t know what could be in the ground or what’s on the pesticides, and things like that they’re eating if it’s close to more people. But I understand the colors of how it is and so I will, depending on where it is, I will take it and eat it or use it for something. It is important to know where it came from, also.

AH: Yes, here in Hawai’i we have a lot of wild animals, particularly boar or pig, and goats and sheep. I’ve only heard this from one person, but this person seems to know a lot of people, if you know what I mean. One of the not so nice things about paradise is that there’s a lot of people who practice cock fighting. What they often do is they will drug them up to fight.

KG: So they’re more adrenalin.

AH: Right, they’re more aggressive and so on, and then afterwards they just throw them out in the wild and supposedly some of the wild pigs get at them. They say that you should test the meat. So far, I know some people who eat local wild meat and they’ve gotten it tested and they’ve never had any problem. Many of them say that you can smell when they’ve gotten into something nasty like drugs, basically, so that’s one of the reasons why I ask that question. I wonder if there were other contaminants or weird local practices you’ve heard about in other parts of the country that may impact the quality of meat. 

KG: There are certain people I know within the wildlife community. If there is something going through, like when I was working out in the woods one year we had the brain disease for the moose and the deer where they were eating feces and it the worms were getting up to their brain and they were running around going crazy, it was just terrible.

AH: Scrapie.

KG: Scrapie, I’m not familiar with that.

AH: Scrapie is sort of like mad cow but in usually it’s the deer they talk about it.

KG: This was a moose they had to put down and I had to move it with my bucket loader, but then you have to be careful and that was in the middle of summer so then the biologists would come to the tagging station and they would assess the animal. That’s always been very helpful, but the first moose that I got looked very healthy and then we went home, because at the [inaudible] shore dinner we usually eat the heart. Well, it was riddled with worms.

AH: Yikes!

KG: This six-year-old, young huge male which was 850 pounds, it had already lost 20% of its weight because it was near the end of rutting season so it would not have survived the winter with its heart like that. I actually felt good because I love when an animal is presented to me that I can take because otherwise it really would have suffered. So that’s another aspect of hunting.

AH: There’s a theory on Scrapie, or in mad cow, and every permutation of that it has a lot to do with high manganese levels. One of the things that was found in the south west, I want to say around Colorado, when they had their big outbreak of twenty years ago was that the salt licks the hunters were putting out to attract the deer was imbalanced in this chemical composition. Because like now, our goats have a Himalayan salt block that they can lick and I put sea water every once in a while in their water to get the actual naturally occurring balance of minerals. I guess there’s one, that Morton Salt or some other, now they’re going to come after me, but you know what I’m saying. Just your run of the mill, not naturally procured salt that might have some variance, maybe not the worms in the heart, but for sure some of the mental imbalances that sometimes happen in these animals. 

KG: Part of what my brother, who’s a wild game hunter and a Maine guide, he always is trying to get people not to feed the wild animals, especially me. We got a lake where we have a nesting area for geese and ducks and so I have to help the little ducklings and that’s another whole story. It’s important, are they getting the balance of food that they need? So you have to be careful.

AH: I think what you’re saying is so important, whether you’re getting it from the wild or from your local butcher or supermarket or wherever, know the people who are handling the food. Even the fact that I was able to engage in a conversation with the guy selling me the salmon, saying, this stuff, they fed it dye, this fish was fed dye. But once you establish that relationship you’re more apt to get those honest answers.

KG: It’s very important, people, if you don’t ask where your food came from.

AH: Then you don’t care.

KG: It’s your responsibility at the other end, I think.

Image of a beaver on water

Flavors Vary in Wild Meat Between Seasons

AH: Yes, totally. So what are some of variabilities from one season to the next, or one year to the next? Why doesn’t it always taste exactly the same? We know that it’s wild, but are there things like a drought year, how is that going to impact?

KG: It will impact the hydration of the animal and what they are able to eat and absorb because then they won’t be able to eat some of the drier foods that they normally would. That’s actually a great example of why meat changes because when there is a drought the fresh green leaves that are typically in abundance will not be there so the meat will change because they’re eating more dried buds and bark. Cambium, things like that would change and make the meat not nuttier, but make it a little bit wilder than if they were eating more of the greens. 

One of the things that’s interesting is that I was talking to someone about this recently because they say, really, how does the beaver taste if it just eats wood? I said, actually, it doesn’t eat wood; it eats the tree bark and all the soft tissue so that cambium layer that’s beneath the bark; on a very young tree, especially, it’s very tender and that’s what they love. You see some trees, really big trees that have been knocked down by a beaver, like on my Facebook page my nephew has his head stuck beneath one, but typically a tree that big will be knocked down to hold water in to an area, but it’s the small trees and the saplings of the willows and beaches and birches that they’re going to be taking down for their food for the winter, to build up their house a little bit. One of the things people don’t understand is that the beaver, their huts are built way down in the water and that’s really protection from predators and people. Their biggest predator is probably wolves, which we don’t really have any in the US, but people are a big predator.

AH: We learned that lesson going on a whale watch here, that humans forget that we are a threat to a lot of wildlife. So that while we may not be actively trying to eat them, raising them or shooting them for food, we’re definitely encroaching on their habitat and that’s reducing their numbers because they don’t have as many places, or they’re just showing up. That’s what’s happening with coyotes, they’re just showing up in the cities, they have nowhere to go.

Going From Wild Meat to Farm Animals

How do we get to a place where we no longer really appreciate, basically talking beaver, squirrel, caribou, maybe not in Canada, but for here, all these wild game meats are, they’re an anomaly, they’re not part of the regular table, you have to know someone who knows someone to get them. How did that come about? When did we make that shift where we’re only going to eat these farm animals?

KG: Again, part of it was the explosive growth in population and the more we work, the less we have time to hunt. I know we were looking at statistics for the Finland wildlife and the number of young girls and boys coming into the hunting experience has some diminished years; however, this past year seems to have gone up a little bit. The more people that take the time that want to hunt and get their food or has been in their culture in generations, I still see that happening. But if it hasn’t been in the culture, it’s through the generations or we’ve grown up in the suburbs and then gone off to college and you’re always in the city, those things are furthest from your mind and then you look at the convenience, and the convenience is the grocery store.

I don’t know what the balance number is right now, but I still see a lot of people that are involved in hunting and fishing and yet I also see a lot of people who aren’t even interested because of, I really think, technology has moved us in the direction of more convenience. We want everything; immediate gratification, more convenience, let’s have it now. If the people are educated enough, though, I do know a lot of people like that, what’s important is they keep shopping the farmers’ market; they put a little planter outside so they have some herbs to add into their food. That little bit will just be parsley, like you talked about, if they had a little thing of parsley and they start adding it into salads, they’re going to go, “Oh my God, I wonder what else I can do?” So that is a snowball effect and so if people get those ideas we just talked about in their head then they get excited because also when you’re excited somebody else is, “Oh my God, this tastes so good, I can’t make it this good,” and it’s as simple as adding a fresh herb or something at the end.

AH: I love what you say about people who have these traditions in their families, and holding onto that and moving it forward, or at least keeping it for future generations and still exploring the snake and beaver and other meats that we don’t think of. Most of us don’t even, we look at a squirrel or beaver and the last thing we think about is eating it unless we’re starving but so many people would rather reach for a bag of Doritos than to eat that. It draws on something that one of my followers has told me, because her husband is a psychotherapist and he works with a lot of people who have cult-like affiliations, one of the things he said was that one of the first things they do to bring you over to their side is to separate you from your native foods and the foods that you enjoy with your family. They’ll prescribe a diet that basically makes you become anti-social. It’s a really, I think that’s a really powerful way of interpreting it and it’s very true. If you look at what we would consider some of the more radical diets or radical religious practices, there’s always something that’s off the table that makes you not able to sit down with other people who aren’t a part of that group.

KG: Interesting perspective.

AH: So I like to hear that there’s people like that. That’s the thing; I grew up in New York City and I moved here only four years ago but to me, growing up when I would hear about people who ate these different meats it always seemed like these people were at the fringes of society, but that’s because of my New York City upbringing. In places even an hour outside of New York, you’re starting to see different landscapes; even the way they make a pizza is different for crying out loud, so you can only imagine what some of those other local things that might still be lurking, especially going into the Native American communities and things.

KG: It actually totally makes sense because you are not subject to hunting a wild game while in New York City.

AH: No, although my parents did once buy a live chicken at a market. I don’t know who slaughtered it but I remember the chicken. It was like one of those deals in the Bronx, they had this big open market, this was back in the ’70s; I don’t think they allow that anymore.

KG: Oh my God, but that’s as good as it gets back then, fresh. 

AH: Exactly, and that’s another really interesting thing going into flavors and how different it is. My family’s from Jamaica and both of my parents, it took them a couple of years before they would eat American chicken. But many of our Jamaican relatives ate chicken all the time when they were in Jamaica, came to the US, can’t stand the stuff because of what they eat.

KG: Right, it’s not wild, they’re not meat. Plus, that’s the first time I had goat was there, and I love it. 

AH: I made goat for my seventy-two-year-old neighbor a couple of years ago, and you can cook goat for me anytime. She had never had goat before and she thought I was off my rocker when I told her what I was making for dinner that night. She had three helpings, so much for the elderly not having a good appetite. 

KG: Or not having their game on and being able to try something new.

AH: I saw what you did there!

KG: I’m glad you caught that. 

AH: She also laughed at me for making a pie crust from scratch until she tasted the pie and then had two or three helpings of that as well. 

KG: but it makes a difference, everything from scratch. And you know what? If you go through my cookbook, 50 Ways To Eat a Beaver, there are some very simple recipes. You can substitute any red meat in there but it’s just a matter of having, I have a lot with dried because a lot of people don’t have fresh herbs in there, but it’s all what you like and what you will add into the recipe to make it yours and to enjoy. 

AH: I think, I’m not criticizing your title by any stretch of the imagination, but I think like you said, people buy our books because of the titles. I get this a little bit where people are like, well I don’t have a cock, all I have is a hen. But with beaver, I think it’s important for people with your book in particular, you can’t get beaver but there are so many things you can substitute. I think, especially for those of us who aren’t in a beaver area, a bountiful beaver area, we need to keep in mind that all of these other red meats will work, and even white meats, right, like pork is not necessarily a red meat.

KG: No, it’s more of a white meat. Pork would end up being too dry unless you’re doing the shanks or the knuckles, then you could use some of the beaver recipes, but pretty much red meat.

What it Was it Like Being on Bizarre Foods?

AH: Gotcha. Tell us a little bit; you were on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmer.

KG: Yes, I was. It was so interesting. These friends of ours who have a Rabelais in Maine, a rare cookbook store. Andrew had gone to school with Samantha, one of the owners, and he was doing a whole segment in Maine surrounding his father’s surprise 80th birthday party so he was trying to figure out things he hadn’t eaten before so she said you’ve got to meet Kate, she’ll eat anything. So they called up and he had not had beaver before.

AH: Which is surprising. That, and the fact he doesn’t like nuts, walnuts or something really innocuous like that.

KG: That and the thousand year buried eggs, she said. He did this whole tour of part of down east and southern Maine and he’d come up and we were looking at places to film. We ended up building a bean hole bean pit in two days; we did bean hole beans and then we used some of my moose, I’d gotten a moose so we had moose steak. I did a campfire beaver chili because we cooked on a campfire, too, right next to the bean hole bean pit and the chili I made was basically all these yummy herbs and onions and beaver and that was it. Then I made, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with black flies in Maine, but they are horrendous in the summer, they eat us.

AH: Oh gosh, I went hiking in the woods in Canada in the summer once; it was like that scene from King Kong with those giant bugs rustling into the ground, it was horrible.

KG: Yeah, they are, and they just get at your neck so I actually caught a bunch of blackflies with this mosquito aider so they were still alive and I was able to make some muffins with them but they were so tiny so they cooked up. And he goes, I can’t use them; I can’t see them. So I did have blackfly muffins also with real blackflies.

AH: Blackfly muffins. Do they taste like blueberries? 

KG: No, there’s no taste in the blackflies, they just cook up to absolutely nothing.

AH: They’re just protein.

KG: Lots of protein. It was great working with him; he was really funny and very eloquent and right on. It was just being able to talk about a meat that is deer to my heart because it’s so good.

AH: That’s awesome.

KG: Yeah, he enjoyed it. It was fun.

AH: That’s fantastic. It’s great, obviously great publicity, but it’s great to be able to share that with a wide audience like that, and to demystify this thing we call beaver. 

KG: Do you know that once they’re out of caribou in Canada, the next meat they go to is beaver?

Image of a beaver on grass

AH: I could see that, I have this cookbook that I bought in Montreal years ago; I collect grandma recipes, I want to know what grandmas did and how they got through things. Castor, or beaver, is features a lot in that book. There’s a lot of not only meats that we don’t think of as meat or food as modern people, but many different kinds of berries. They use a lot of buckwheat up there so it’s a really interesting book from that standpoint because it’s not one that’s trying to, I think in American cookbooks very often we start to get into a trap of substituting the original ingredients for whatever bottled food is readily available. I like the fact that this one really goes to the heart of it and she just sticks to the person who wrote it, sticks to these old recipes the way they were originally compiled, as far as I can tell. Just no mention of anything that’s necessarily easier to get today than it was a hundred years ago. 

KG: That’s good; I like some of the older cookbooks and how they go. Except that a lot I’ve seen also have been more bland or they use the same things through all the different recipes. However, how they prepare it and add different things in to thicken it was also interesting.

AH: I think in that particular cookbook, one of the things that I found interesting, and I saw this a little bit in your book as well, some of what we normally think of as sweet spices being used in savory dishes. So more of the cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, being used in say a pork dish or a beaver dish, for example.

KG: Or the cardamom with the curry which you would probably understand. All the different curries there are from around the world that have different spices in them. They could go from having cinnamon and hot peppers to having just turmeric and ginger.

AH: I was trying to explain to a friend of mine who is Pennsylvania-Dutch and lives in rural Pennsylvania, she said, “Oh, curry; I’ve never had that, what’s it like? I said, think of curry like barbecue; it’s not just one thing; there’s all kinds of barbecue. And the same thing with curry; curry is more of a thing for a stew, it’s not a set combination of ingredients, so approaching it from that perspective really opens up whole worlds for people who don’t like curry.

KG: It also confuses people; what do you mean it’s like barbecue sauce? All the different layers, but then they have to leave it to us who are chefs or cooks.

How to Source Beaver

AH: Is there anything else you would like to add to our conversation today before I let you go?

KG: Well, I think we have pretty much gone through everything that I wanted to talk about that’s important. People are always asking me, and I think it’s very important to understand that you just can’t buy beaver. I would suggest people to ask either a local game warden, or if they know someone that traps, or even a wild game butcher because they know a lot of people who do catch and release with the animals and if they do, then the butcher could be the person to actually take care of the animal for them. It’s important that if you don’t have access to, and you would like to, that there are resources out there.

AH: Yeah, and that’s a big thing here where we encourage people to start talking to the people who are the purveyors of food in your area. You’d be surprised what you find when you just peal back the curtain a little bit. So many people do not fully understand where they live until they start trying to improve their health and eating a little bit closer to nature. Then they suddenly notice signs they didn’t notice, whether it’s for somebody who has a cooler of eggs sitting out on their lawn every day or these little butchers. I know in Canada, again in the Charlevoix area of Quebec there was, the last time I went, several places that specialized in emu meat, for example, and just these local really just wild, well, the emu was not necessarily wild, they were farm raised.

KG: However, it’s a new source of protein that somebody hasn’t tried.

AH: Right, exactly. 

KG: We have the same; in Maine we have these Halal markets because of the influx of different immigrants coming over and that’s where I get fresh lamb, fresh goat, and unfortunately, it’s not fresh, but I have been able to get camel from them.

AH: Oh wow.

Image of a beaver with a title on the lower part on a red background

KG: In the farmers’ market I just cannot stress that enough for people it’s just such an amazing source and if you don’t see something that you want, ask because there are a lot of people that don’t participate in farmers’ markets because they don’t have the time; however, they do have the source.

AH: Absolutely. You seem to have the hook up on beaver. You’ve got your brother and a good friend who catch for you. You’ve got your hook up, but if somebody were to purchase beaver, how much a pound are you looking at? Or do you just buy them by the animal? What’s the deal with that?

KG: No, you can’t sell it.

AH: So you’re just not allowed to sell?

KG: It’s illegal to sell. However, I will trade a cookbook for a beaver or some meat from somebody because they’re getting something that they want and I get what I want.

AH: Okay, so bartering is still allowed.

KG: Yeah. 

AH: Awesome.

KG: Well, that’s until somebody hears this and it’s illegal and then come after me.

AH: Well, we’ll just block that out, we didn’t say anything here.

KG: It’s fine. I’ve been trying to get a python for the past couple of years. So talk about something great for my birthday, my husband a few years ago had found this place in Nevada with all this wild game meat so he got me all this wild game meat for my birthday, I had python, I had iguana, I had llama tongue, I can’t even tell you what else. It was amazing and my friends are like, only you would be excited about this stuff. Yeah!

AH: I mean it’s a little hard core, even for me, but I can totally understand that. A lot of stuff I’d like to try a bite first. 

KG: Just even a little bit. I tried to get these people to let me try some armadillo when I was in Belize. But they’re respectful, and this is what I like. So the iguana and the armadillos were in the fertilization season so they would not kill them; they couldn’t tell which ones the males and female were at the time, at least that’s what they told me. They were just respecting their birthing rights; I understand that, I’ll come back when they’re done. 

AH: Just take your mother away from you. That is incredible. I hope that people listening to this will go and investigate, see what’s available in their area; we don’t have to starve. Now I’m just opening a whole other can of worms because there’s so many of these articles going around, especially places like Spain and San Francisco, that are saying we’re not going to have enough meat, eat this plant that we’re putting into a vial somewhere, and a guy in a lab coat is going to turn it into protein for you. 

KG: Synthetic, synthetic, synthetic.

AH: And they make it sound natural, right. Oh, it’s got algae, it’s just algae. Grown in a petri dish from God knows what else is going on in there.

KG: Oh please, visuals.

AH: Unless you’ve watched the show, Last Man On Earth, there’s no chance of really every one of these wild meats becoming extinct, I think we just need to start appreciating them more. I don’t think the issue is not enough food, I say this repeatedly on the show, it’s not an issue whether or not there’s enough food to feed the seven billion or nine billion that we’re expecting in forty years, but it’s more of let’s not waste and let’s look at other sources that are around us, and in this case rediscover the foods of our ancestors.

KG: Right, all of our greens and other kinds of proteins; the beans, the legumes, are all very healthy and a great compliment to the diet. 

AH: Right, in my lexicon I consider the beans and the nuts, well, beans, starch and nuts fat. I do think that they can support proteins but I don’t like to see it when people rely on them as a protein source because I’ve just seen too many disasters. We’ve had a few guests who say we’ve found a way to make it work but it just seems like it’s a bit playing Russian roulette when people try to rely on those exclusively. 

KG: Right, it’s hard; you see all the iron deficiencies and things.

AH: There’s more than just iron, there’s a lot of deficiencies. When you look historically how people have eaten these foods it’s always with an animal food, there’s always some little piece of pork in there or some fish broth or some animal food, dairy.

KG: Protein.

AH: Right, exactly, so just keeping that in mind. With that said, can you tell me, I know that your website is blackflystew.com you have a Facebook page as well.

KG: Yes, if you just actually type my name in KateKrukowskiGooding, that will come up.

AH: Great, and your books can be purchased on Amazon.com as well as islandcourtpress.com.

KG: Right, if you go to my website the links are there to provide unless you want hand-autographed, and then you just send me an email.

AH: Awesome, that’s fantastic. Well Kate, thank you for spending time with us and educating us on this fabulous meat called beaver. 

KG: And thank you very much for having me, Adrienne.

AH: Oh, but of course. And folks, you don’t want to miss recipes like Mustard Crusted Beaver or Porcini Rubbed Beaver and the Victorious Beaver Loins.

KG: The best. 

AH: Yeah. Thank you so much, and let us know when you have a new book coming out.

KG: I will, thank you, Adrienne.

AH: Fantastic, thanks.

KG: Bye.

AH: Bye.

You may also be interested in The Magnificent Chicken interview.

The Magnificent Chicken: An Interview With Tamara Staples

We’ve enjoyed our time with photographer and author, Tamara Staples. In the second half of our interview, she answers some questions about photography and her future projects.  We’ve talked about her book, The Magnificent Chicken, as well as how she pays homage to these beautiful birds through her photography.  She talks about the process from behind the scenes to when she sees the final result in its published form. Don’t miss the first half of our interview about cock photography.

This post contains affiliate links through which I may receive a small commission.

Tamara Staples round image

Tamara Staples’ work has appeared in such publications as Harper’s MagazineThe New York TimesNew York Magazine, Town and Country, National Geographic and was featured on NPR’s This American Life and CNN.  She’s a fellow of the Rauschenberg Residency (2015) and a two-time recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Grant.

Her in-depth investigation of Pure-Bred Poultry led to the publication of The Fairest Fowl: Portraits of Championship Chickens  and The Magnificent Chicken: Portraits of the Fairest Fowl 

How The Fairest Fowl and The Magnificent Chicken Compare and What They Bring to the Reader

AH: Tell me the difference; like why people would choose one of your books over the other, Fairest Fowl versus The Magnificent Chicken. What do they bring to the viewer?

TS: Well, the Fairest Fowl is my first book that came out in…1999, no?

AH: 2001.

TS: Thank you, 2001…

AH: I remember that. 

TS: It’s hard to think back. The second one came out in 2013, but, yes, 2001. That was the first one that I did which was really exciting. Oddly enough, another chicken book came out three weeks before mine and it stole my thunder. I was not happy about that, but it’s one of those things. No one has ever heard of this topic and then all of a sudden there are two books, which was great. 

Then after the first one came out, I was having a lot of shows. I do a lot of chicken things; selling prints for magazines and I’m sort of an authority on pure-bred poultry. Then I moved to New York during that time and had a child. I was a commercial photographer so I was doing a lot of commercial work, but I really wanted to do another topic and I really missed going to the poultry shows. In the first book I was living in Chicago so my poultry shows were in Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. I really enjoyed going to these poultry shows and meeting those people and just seeing what kind of birds the Midwest was really into.

Then after I had the baby I decided that I really wanted to do more. I felt I really wanted to do more with the chickens. I’ve grown immensely as a photographer. When I started doing The Fairest Fowl I really did not know how to shoot on location. It took forever, I would bring the wrong equipment or I’d borrow a car and I’d break down. This was when I was really trying to figure out how to go on location. 

Then by the second book I was shooting digitally. That was the other thing; in the first book I was shooting with film so I would shoot with one roll. I shot everything with my Hasselblad, which is square and there’s only twelve images on each roll of film. So I shot twelve images of each bird. That’s it. 

AH: Wow. Yeah.

TS: And in the second book I had a digital Hasselblad, so you could just shoot and shoot and shoot. Which I didn’t get that many more, I felt good about that. That was really exciting because now I’m living in New York and I was going to shows in New Jersey and Connecticut and then Boston. 

Just a different group of people and a different group of birds to be able to compare and contrast, and that was just cool. With that, I started taking two assistants with me and I took a van full of equipment, and like twenty different backdrop choices that were different every single time. I went a little bit more to the extreme and I had a really great time. I just loved so much so The Magnificent Chicken is a few of the images from the first book. It’s a more expanded version and it’s a hard cover. That is the difference. 

I wanted to do something entirely different but it’s not quite where we got. In fact, one of the things that I did was I wanted to include portraits of the people, of the breeders, because it was so fascinating what these people did in terms of living their lives for these shows, and they were just such interesting people.

I spent some time travelling around and going to people’s farms and photographing them. Then when I got the book deal for the second book, they were not interested in the people. I was so disappointed so I ended up reaching out to a magazine called Backyard Poultry and for about two years I would write. This was really an interesting challenge. I would write articles about the people and they would feature a section with the portraits that I took, and portraits that I did of their birds, along with the story of how they got into breeding chickens. I would also give tips on their breed or special ways of dealing with problem that bumble foot or whatever it was, like leaky gut or whatever. Leaky gut… I don’t know. That was really fun for me and I got even further into understanding the world of poultry. 

The Magnificent Chicken Book Cover

What Went Through Tamara’s Mind When She Attended Her First Poultry Show With Her Uncle

AH: Right. I find it fascinating because like so many things we take it for granted, right? I’m sure that when you first went to that poultry show with your uncle, that you were probably thinking what the heck? 

TS: Yup.

AH: To so many us, especially we’re about the same age, right? You know once upon a time; an apple was an apple. Right? There were maybe two kinds. 

TS: Right. 

AH: An orange was orange. And a chicken was a chicken. It was just one thing. And to find out that there’s hundreds and hundreds of varieties, I can totally see how somebody, anybody, can get into something like this. Just to illustrate; before I became a nutritionist, I was kind of loosely, just like most people, kind of interested in food. I’m from New York and I would go to China Town for a lot of my shopping. 

Sometimes I would have a friend with me and usually somebody who didn’t give a hoot of what they ate, but they would walk through the Chinese markets with me and they’d be like, is that you know, whatever looks like? Is that what that fish looks like? Is that what that…I didn’t know there were seventeen different types of starch you could use in cooking or whatever, and it really does.

Every time we would go to the Chinese market it was opening up this big world. I mean for myself all the time, but for some of my friends who really had no clue, the variety of food that was available right within their own city, no less, it really opened it up. It became almost like a Sunday afternoon activity like going to the zoo or an aquarium or something to just walk through China Town and identify things. 

I could see where this would be very similar where you take this, what most us think of kind of beknow experience of chicken, right. I’ll just have the chicken. But to realize that it expands to its own culture unto Fascinating paint colors… named after chickens!

Fascinating Paint Colors… Named After Chickens!

TS: I think most people think of your white chicken, right, that you put in the pot. But there’s been a couple of ways that, well for instance, Martha Stewart made chickens very popular through her magazine because she had her own variety of chickens that were pure-bred, of course. 

Then she named some of her paint colors after some of the names of the chickens, which is one my favorite things about the poultry shows. I’m going to read to you a couple of the names because these are so awesome. Like I was telling you about, one of my favorite birds, the Modern Game, here’s one that the color is Lemon Blue Modern Game Bantam Pullet. 

AH: Wow. 

TS: Isn’t that a great name? 

AH: Sure is. 

TS: Old English Creole Bantam Cockerel. Now, the pullet is under a year and the cockerel is under a year as well. 

AH: Right. 

TS: Blue Wheaten Old English Bantam Cock; Golden Sebright Bantam Cockerel; Belgian Bearded D’uccle Milfer Bantam Cock. I mean the names are…Golden Campon Large Fowl Cockerel; Blue Cochen Bantam Pullet; Salmon Feverolle; The Dark Corners; The Silver Dutch; The Partridge Wyandotte; The Silver Duckwing Araucana; Black Wyandotte Dominique. It’s just so fascinating, I just love the names.

AH: The names are almost romantic. 

TS: It really is. 

AH: Yeah. 

TS: But they all have a specific meaning. Like, for instance, the White Lace Red Cornish Large Fowl Cock. I will break it down for you. White Lace, obviously, the lacing is white but it’s a red Cornish, the color of the body is red. And then the Cornish is the breed. And then there’s two types of chickens, or birds, in the poultry show. There’s the large fowl and then there’s the bantam.

AH: Right. 

TS: That is a difference in weight. And then cock, so it gives you the color, the breed, the size, and the sex, and the age of the sex. If it’s a cockerel it’s younger and if it’s a cock it’s an older bird. It’s in a certain order which helps you to identify; there’s a name for that kind of that thing but I can’t think of what it is when you, when there’s specific names…

image of 2 Chickens in a barn yard

The Cock, More Than Just a Bird; Symbolism and Rituals

AH: That’s not nomenclature, is it?

TS: I know, that was the word that I was thinking, too, but maybe that’s not it, I’m not sure, but I think what is really interesting is that the French, and you probably know about this, they’re known for their chicken. That’s their, isn’t it the country bird or something, the cock?

AH: It’s actually the country bird for a lot of countries. 

TS: Oh, I did not know that.

AH: Portugal, I want to say Japan uses it for some stuff, I know the crest of French royalty often had the cock on it. 

TS: I thought it was the national bird. 

AH: It could be, it entirely could be, but I know when I went to Portugal there were cocks everywhere. 

TS: Yes, I’ve seen that, too. 

AH: There you go. 

TS: It’s all over the world. I mean the usage and the different ways in which every culture has incorporated chickens goes back thousands and thousands of years for trade and ritual. But what I was going to say about French cooking is that, and you probably know this, they can even be as specific as using a certain age of a chicken and a certain breed of a chicken for a specific dish. 

AH: Yes, there are definitely, and you get into the castrated cocks. Why am I drawing a blank? 

TS: Capon. 

AH: Capon. But yes, there are some, like the breast chicken is one that’s going to cost you to get a breast chicken. But yeah, they really do get into that and they’re almost mythical after a while. Some of the dishes, how do I try, especially if you don’t live in France, how do I track one of those down?

TS: Even mythical, I mean even beyond food some people use it in ritual, like religious rituals. There’s one ritual and I cannot, I guess it might Israeli, I don’t know, but they are over a newly married couple’s bed, like to wave a chicken over the bed; it brings fertility. I actually read a book called The History of the Chicken, that I did the cover for. Anyway, I’m drawing a blank on eight million different ways, but in truth, through trade and food, and religion, so many uses of the chicken. But I think I found most fascinating about where we are culturally now with the birds. 

AH: It’s so universal. It’s almost like if we wanted to really break human history down, like if you talk about the dog, of course we can also talk about the chicken because the chicken’s been there. It’s so symbolic throughout so many cultures from Ancient Greece to Modern China and Japan, France and all of these different cultures. Yes, there are so many things that you could go back to with that. It’s a very humble animal but I think maybe it’s coming up on getting its due and getting its day in the limelight. We are finally acknowledging the chicken has been with us pretty much forever. 

Picture of Tamara Staples with title on her side on a red background in Pinterest size

Chicken Consumption Versus Other Meats in the USA and Abroad

TS: They really have, and we eat more chicken than any other meat by a long, long stretch. 

AH: I think that’s more particular to the US though, right?

TS: Is that really? 

AH: I do believe so. I do believe it’s the number one meat in America for sure. 

TS: And what do other people eat?

AH: Beef. It depends where it is. Like Europe, I’m going to say probably beef is more common in many countries in Europe. Then again, it kind of depends on where you are, beef, pork. I would say the Germans probably eat more pork. The Italians definitely, well maybe…and again this can’t be universal. I’m also gauging a little bit by looking at cookbooks, especially older cookbooks from around these cultures. 

TS: That makes sense. 

AH: You don’t see a lot of variation on chicken, necessarily, but you see a ton of beef in Italy. A lot of Italian cookbooks, they’ll have pages of beef and rabbit and all these other meats and maybe four chicken recipes. I was like you don’t do anything beyond cacciatore? Really, that’s all you have?

But then you go to Greece and you might start seeing more lamb or fish. I think it does vary depending on where you are. I would say probably with North Africa through Southern Europe. When I say Southern Europe, I’m thinking specifically about places like Greece. You’ll probably see more of the lamb and maybe goat. Then going to the Vulcans, you might see more of the mutton-type stuff. I know the Brits love mutton. But I think, yes, I think the chicken phenomenon, as far as the food that we eat is…I think that’s a little bit…maybe even a lot heavier in the US than it is in other parts of the world. 

The consumption of chicken, it’s not that the other ones don’t eat it, I just think that we eat disproportionally more than other people. It’s probably because…you and I before we got on here…we talked about a little bit of cholesterol. Or I talked a lot, you listened. 

TS: I learned a lot. 

AH: In the 1970s was when they made the big chicken push for everybody to switch over to chicken from beef. That was a big turning point, I think, for our diet in the US. It was in the ’70s when they really started pushing chicken and then they were like that’s not good enough, now it’s got to be boneless, skinless. 

TS: Oh good grief. 

AH: Yes. 

TS: I live for the chicken skin. I do. Nice and crispy.

AH: I know right. Oh my God, it’s so good. But I need to tell you though, when you eat a cock the skin is really, really thin and it reaps very easily. And I’m sure there are many people out there who would agree with me; you don’t want to beat up the cock skin. 

TS: But for flavor, you can’t beat it. 

AH: Oh, it’s true, it’s true. I was joking about Jamaicans, that’s one of the reasons because it’s a flavorful bird; it’s more flavorful than a hen. 

TS: Yes. 

Is Tamara Working on More Chicken Books?

AH: Are you working on any other chicken books?

TS: Not another book. I just did a series of cameo portraits that National Geographic just put up on their website in March and that was really exciting and that was a whole series. I’m up to doing other bodies of work; there will be definitely be chickens in my future. I don’t know how yet, but I do love the people; they’re good people. It’s a truly an American experience to go to the poultry shows. 

AH: Ok, now I want to go to a poultry show. I never thought of doing that. 

TS: You really should. They have them in Hawai’i, I’m sure of it. It’s really something special; it’s an American experience, it really is. I enjoyed the people; I still have life-long friends from that experience. I’ve spent probably fifteen years going to poultry shows, photographing them and being in touch with people and dealing with that. I still show the chickens and they are published everywhere. More importantly, I dream of the day that I’m in a situation where I could own my own chickens. 

AH: Well, that’s going to be kind of tough in New York City. You know who does have chickens? You might even know her; maybe you met her at a show? Isabella Rossellini, out on Long Island. 

TS: Oh, I did not know that. 

AH: I just recently, around the same time that I ran into you, I ran into an article about her, and she has backyard chickens. She talks all about how she loves that. I guess she grew up partially in Europe with some birds. Now in between her Lancôme shoots, or whatever she’s doing, she’s digging in the dirt and getting down and dirty with the chickens. 

What’s in Store for Tamara’s Future

TS: I love that. I feel like my future will definitely be out of the city. I foresee moving to the country and having, I’ve never had a garden. I dream of that with chickens and maybe even some goats. 

AH: Ooh, you’re in for a treat. But you know that’s the thing about modern life, and maybe this is, maybe we’ll bring it to a close so I can let you out of here, but modern life I think for a lot of people, because many of my recent interviews we’ve talked about the increases in suicides recently and anxiety and depression and all of the factors. Because you and I before this interview, we talked about how cholesterol plays a role in those kinds of things and other nutritional deficiencies that could play into that. But when it comes down to it, I think what’s happening also socially is not many of us are not finding a lot of meaning in whatever jobs we’re told we should do because they make good money, because…whatever the excuse is. 

Through an extension of that, through an extension of mistrust of doctors and mistrust of food system, more and more people seem to be turning towards the homestead. Having that little garden, having a couple of chickens, having a goat or a cow, really connecting with something. I don’t want to sound, this is going to sound a little trite but awe-inspiring, really see the action of nature. Maybe start to make sense of some of the things that are going around us. Really add another dimension of things being meaningful again in your life. 

As a mom, I don’t know if this happened to you, but when I first had my daughter I was like, wow this is what it means. Everything went from just me and my husband, and yes, we were having a good time, but there wasn’t a lot of meaning to things, in a way, and when we had our daughter it was like your perception of things totally changes. 

TS: Yes, it does. 

AH: I think that communing with animals and plants; I’m actually a little bit more in awe of plants than I am of animals because that’s another really fascinating experience. When you really understand how plants work and how they respond and how closely their nutrition mirrors human nutrition. I’m not saying because plants are a good source of nutrition, I’m saying when you feed a plant sour things it’s very similar to feeding a pregnant woman something sour, is what I’m talking about. It really has you thinking on another level. 

I do believe that in the future farmers are going to be our big money earners, and rightfully so. I’m talking about small farmers. As people move away, I think people will go back to bartering systems. 

TS: That would be lovely. 

AH: You know; I raise chickens you raise beef, let’s do a trade. I think we’re going to see a lot more of that in the future. I think that we’re going to be forced to be more civilized in that sense. More sharing and caring and really getting down and getting our hands dirty. 

TS: I want to live in that world, please. 

AH: Come to Hawai’i; I got a job for you. 

TS: Wow. That sounds dreamy. 

Paying Homage to the Humble Chicken

AH: Tamara, is there anything that you would like to leave people with to contemplate the next time they’re looking at a plate of chicken? 

TS: Well, just know that a being gave its life for your meal, and that that being had a personality and was quite beautiful, when you eat your chicken. I love the idea of, I think it’s the Chinese who leave part of the animal with the dish so that they can remember. I think we’re so far removed from it, we get our chicken and it’s a lump of white meat. Maybe pluck a chicken or try to take its guts out or just get a whole one and put the foot on the plate just to remember. I don’t know. 

AH: That’s actually the reason when my friend invited me to slaughter fifty cocks I said okay, because I needed to understand from the ground up what the experience was. What the sacrifice was going into that food. 

The other way that I pay homage to these animals, any of them because I eat a lot of protein, I eat a lot of meat; I’ve never been shy about that because my body requires it. Some people can get by with less and I seem to require a heck of a lot more, but I don’t waste any of it. We’re a very, very wasteful society; about thirty percent of our food gets wasted and often people are more willing to sacrifice the meat on the plate and toss that in the trash versus any of the other foods or non-foods that on the plate. Right? 

TS: Right, right. 

AH: So I save all of my bones; I make bone broth out of those and I’ve done this for thirty years now. Before bone broth was a thing, I was like “Oh, this just makes things taste better.” And at the end I was broke but we used as much as we can. Now with my little farmstead it’s like nothing goes to waste because I can turn bones into, for the lack of a better term I’m just going to say fertilizer. It’s not really a fertilizer but I can use it in my garden for various things. 

The charred bones of animals are actually extremely good for toughening the skin of fruit. Thinking of the calcium and giving it that inoculation so that bees won’t sting it, or makes it harder for them to sting it at least. These are things, like I said; all of this stuff comes full circle so you know you can always find a way. 

And by the way, you know that chickens are cannibals. A lot of times I make stock, and now those bones go out and the chickens will pick everything off the bones and then I can use them for my gardening. We’re pretty much zero waste, now if only I could find a way to get stuff without plastic. 

TS: I know right. 

AH: But everything else just goes back into the earth, one way or another. 

TS: Wonderful. 

AH: I wish you luck in finding your happy space and being able to find your garden, whether it’s a community garden or you go out to visit Isabella Rossellini. Tell her that you’re there for a photo shoot that she forgot to put on her calendar. 

I wish you luck and thank you so much for bringing us these beautiful chickens because I’ve seen some of the photographs, it’s phenomenal. It’s more than just a coffee table book, it’s a real education. It’s art, what you do is art and there’s no mistaking that. Thank you so much for your contribution. 

TS: Thank you so much for having me, I really enjoyed our time. 

AH: Same here. Bye. 

You may also enjoy 20 Perfect Gifts For Chickens.

Cock Photography With Tamara Staples

Tamara Staples is a photographer that combines her love of art and cock into picture books. In this episode, Tamara talks about her love for cocks, and how she got that interest in the first place. The show also helps answer questions like “how do you tame a cock for photography?” and “why did you start cock photography?”

Tamara Staples round image

Tamara Staples’ work has appeared in such publications as Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times , New York Magazine, Town and Country, National Geographic and was featured on NPR’s This American Life  and CNN.  She’s a fellow of the Rauschenberg Residency (2015) and a two-time recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Grant.

Her in-depth investigation of Pure-Bred Poultry led to the publication of The Fairest Fowl: Portraits of Championship Chickens  and The Magnificent Chicken: Portraits of the Fairest Fowl

ADRIENNE HEW: Aloha, and welcome to the Nutrition Heretic podcast. This is Adrienne Hew, the Nutrition Heretic coming from sunny Waimea in Hawai’i. We’re coming up on Christmas, guys, and you know what that means; it’s time to get your copy of 50 Ways to Eat Cock. This is my season y’all, this is when people decide that it’s the perfect, perfect time to enjoy a little cock during the holidays. I have found from my Amazon reviews that more than anything, this book seems to do really well, although after the #MeToo movement this could change, but it seems to do really well at office parties, Christmas grab bags and things like that, so just keep it in mind. 

As you guys know, when I wrote the book I didn’t actually own any chickens. Now I do and my neighbors, well I live in a neighborhood now and to keep the neighborhood quiet I had to get rid of my cock; I had to let him go. It was sad because we really liked him, we called him Black Beauty; he was really pretty. He was a wild cock and I think that these wild Hawai’ian chickens are descended from some English, I forgot what the breed was called, but they look a lot like some British old breeds that I think went wild when they got here. 

That brings me today’s guest heretic, Tamara Staples, she’s the photographer for The Fairest Fowl, as well as another book called, The Magnificent Chicken. Welcome to the show, Tamara. I keep wanting to call you “Ta-mar-a” like the tamari. But you’re Tamara, like camera. 

TAMARA STAPLES: Tamara like camera. Thank you so much for having me today, I appreciate it. 

What Got Tamara so Interested in Cocks?

AH: Tell me, what got you so interested in fowl, in cocks?

TS: Well, I came to falling in love with the cock because my favorite uncle is a breeder of chickens and he invited me to go to a poultry show many, many years ago. I’d never been before; I knew he had chickens in his backyard and they were pure-bred. Of course, that was all I knew when I went to the poultry show. I walked into the room and there was this gigantic room, of I don’t know, of five hundred different types and breeds of chickens and I was mesmerized by the variety, the shapes, the colors, the sizes, and it was love at first sight. I was blown away by what I was seeing. I mean I didn’t really know much about the chicken, that anyone even knew about, all these different, this outlet of show poultry, basically. Have you heard?

AH: No, I was going to say I hadn’t really contemplated poultry shows. I knew about places where you could, like markets down in the Bronx where you could buy live chicken to have them slaughtered right there for you, early ’60s or ’70s, but I was unaware of the poultry show, like the dog show or the goat, a 4-H kind of thing. 

The Fascination With American Poultry Shows

TS: It’s fascinating. Most people, I think either they see them at the fairs that they go to in the summer, that’s basically what they know, but actually there’s quite a web of poultry shows all over the country, and many other countries, as well. They’re very popular in Australia, for instance, England and France. It’s just this interesting sub-culture of people who pick their favorite breeds of chickens and they spend their lives in the pursuit in creating the perfect specimen through breeding. 

What Qualities Are Chickens Being Bred For?

AH: How much are chickens being bred today and for what qualities are we looking for, that hasn’t already been done? Hopefully before Christmas I’ll have my coloring book out, but I’m looking at people who are talking about their Australorps and Orpingtons, these heritage breeds. What are some of the newer breeds being bred for?

TS: Well, there’s a variety of breeds that happen. Now, when most of the people are breeding to the Standard of Perfection, which is a book that’s been in publication for, I don’t know, two hundred years, maybe a hundred years ago, when people, they would have shows at Madison Square Garden where the gentleman farmer would come and they would show their birds. 

These breeds are very old; they’re from all over the world and then the newer breeds generally are mixes of two birds. One of my favorites is called The Showgirl, which is actually either cocks or hens, I know, right, but it’s a combination of a silkie and a naked neck. It’s a bizarre looking thing, but this is the thing about these new breeds that are accepted into the Standard of Perfection. There has to be a certain amount of people that are breeding them, they have to be over a certain amount of years that have been bred, and they have to be shown within the system of the poultry shows a certain amount of times. It can take, I don’t know, ten years to have one of the birds admitted to the Standard of Perfection. They’re very picky and they want to make sure that they keep them perfect, if you will. 

AH: Right, right. That almost sounds like getting a new word put into the Oxford Dictionary. It has to be in used for a certain amount of time, to make it to social media, that kind of thing. 

TS: Yes. There was a time when the Poultry Association that made our food and this association were closely linked. I think all of that’s gone out of fashion now since hormones are used to make the chickens grow really fast, like larger breasts. These people who are raising these chickens for show would keep them at a standard so there was always stock to choose from, like the heavy meat producers and the heavy egg layers. Those were the practical reasons that people were keeping them, but also just the showmanship of the birds, and the beauty of the feathers and so forth. 

AH: So, for you as photographer, what do you prefer? Is it the hen or the cock? I’m serious, because we know that the cock, and pretty much as far as I know, every bird it’s the male that has the prettier feathers. 

TS: It’s true. When I began this project I think what surprised me about the chickens was; they were beautiful of course, but I set out to create and to capture, I wanted to capture the personality of the bird. When I photograph them I’m really looking for the bird to give me something; to strut its stuff or to show me a side of it that I wasn’t expecting. 

It would be great, also, if the bird has perfect feathers and a big red comb. But there are all kinds of birds there, some of them are a little bit beat up; maybe they’re molting, or maybe they’re not all enough, or what have you, but I found the cocks are more beautiful because their plumages are more exaggerated. I’ve gotten gorgeous shots of the hens because they’re just more, maybe, you know, have a better personality. 

Chickens With Personality

AH: Right, because cocks, they’re aptly named sometimes; they can be dicks. 

Chicken Photography

TS: Yes, that’s so true, but also it’s about age. It’s interesting that I’ve met a lot of cocks and hens now. Their personalities are really different and just like dogs, certain breeds are known for certain personalities; some are more high strung and some are very docile. 

And then of course with age, if you photograph a pullet, which is a chicken under a year, they may be even more so if they’re in their teenage years. For instance, you may not even be able to keep them on the background because they’re flighty and crazy, wild-eyed. 

Older birds, they’re just going to stand, they stand in front on the background and they look right into the camera; that’s the thing that I never got used to. Even though my camera was ten feet away, when I get home and I looked at the images, their eye is focused right on the lens of the camera. It’s always so surprising to me. 

AH: They were probably trying to figure out whether or not they could eat it. Can that fit in my beak? There’s this one hen who won’t go back in the coop at night and I know she’s going to get eaten by a mongoose sooner or later. But she keeps eating, in the morning we put out the cat’s food, and she just goes, if the cats are not around she’ll eat all of their food and the cats get nothing. She just does not want to go, and it’s not like we don’t have plenty of stuff for her to eat. We have an acre of land, but she always goes for the cat food; she goes for easy. 

TS: Oh wow. What kind of breed is she?

AH: She’s some kind of wild chicken. There are so many wild chickens in Hawai’i. 

TS: I was wondering about that because I know Key West; they’re notorious for having wild chickens. 

AH: Yes, they’re pretty much considered a pest here. To that point, even though we have mongoose which actively attack chickens. They just kill them for the heck of it, they don’t even eat them, they just kill them and then leave them for you to discover the next day. Pesky little things.

TS: Oh, wow. Have you lost some of your chickens to mongoose?

AH: Ironically, no. In our last house we had neighbors whose dogs always seem to find their way into our yard and kill our chickens; since we moved here so far so good. We haven’t had anything and we have two cats so they probably keep the mongoose under control. Actually, there’s a bunch of stray cats, too, that don’t bother the chickens either, but they probably also help with rats and mongoose. 

TS: Wow, it’s wild out there. 

AH: Seriously. It’s a little bit Wild West here; sometimes people go, “Yeah, everything goes in Hawai’i.” 

TS: I live in Brooklyn and I live across the street from a cemetery. Sometimes there’ll be ten or fifteen raccoons going through our garbage. It can be wild in the middle of the city, too. 

AH: Yeah. No, I’m familiar with New York and Brooklyn, although I’ve never lived in Brooklyn, but I’m familiar with some of the wild life that can survive. I hear that there are some coyotes, too, right?

Coyote stalking chickens

TS: I’ve not seen any coyotes. 

AH: You don’t see them, but I hear they’re around. They seem to flock, just kind of living on the verge of cities now all over the country. 

TS: Poor guys.

Some of the Most Beautiful Cocks Around

AH: You said your favorite cock, or chicken, was the silkie mix with the bare necked…

TS: No, that’s one of the new ones; I think that’s a really cool and interesting bird. There are so many, people’s favorites, I can’t tell you that I have a favorite one because I do have a lot of them but I like the Polish. They have that shock of hair that comes out of the top of their heads. 

AH: Yes, the one that looks like Rod Stewart, that one?

TS: Yes. And then on top of that I think it’s so interesting, I guess it’s a gene. I’ve never dabbled in chicken breeding but it’s called a Frizzle. If you breed a Frizzle with another bird, any kind of bird that you have, the feathers will grow from back to front so they’re all curly. And that’s its own thing; a Frizzled Polish is a really interesting bird. 

AH: Right. 

TS: Then there’s the really beautiful Sebrights. Their lace, every single feather is tipped in a different color; it looks like it’s actually sewn on or something, it’s just absolutely beautiful. Then one of my favorite birds is called a Cochin, it’s very popular; you probably know what that is. 

AH: Yes, I do. I believe I do. Definitely I’ve heard of them. I’m trying to picture one right now. 

TS: Their backside is really full. This is a great story. Queen Victoria was gifted a Cochin, and whenever, eighteen whenever she was in power, it became from a Chinese Emperor. It’s a Chinese bird and it took England by storm so much so that people stopped breeding all other birds. 

AH: Oh, wow. 

TS: It was that exciting. And if you think about it, during that time was when the bustle came into fashion. 

AH: Right.

TS: And I’m absolutely sure, I’ve not read anything about it but if you look at a Cochin, their backside is almost as high as their head. It’s all feathers, you don’t see their feet, it’s just like one block of feathers and their butts are big and round. 

AH: That totally makes sense.

TS: Isn’t that hilarious. 

AH: It absolutely makes sense because we do know that throughout the world, especially when we look at some of the native tribes if you want to call, from Papua New Guinea or wherever. A lot of these, a lot of times the males in many of these cultures will paint themselves to mimic birds. 

TS: Wow, yes. 

AH: So it’s not a far leap, especially in an age before the internet and all the distractions that we have now, for people to have mimicked a bird in fashion. You know there’s still probably a lot of fashion that we just don’t even, shoes and all kinds of things.

TS: Well, you know in England also, again back to England because they’re big on their bird stuff; the hats that women wear. 

AH: Yes. Well, the Audubon Society kind of stuff. 

TS: Yes, another one of my favorite birds is the Modern Game. They’re super skinny, they’re very tall, and they have very tall legs. They were originally, the Modern Game, they were bred for fighting because they’re tall and skinny and they do something called dubbing, which is so sad to me, but they cut off their combs. They have a clean head and they cut off their waddles as well. They don’t even look like a chicken. 

AH: Right. 

TS: They just have super tall legs and they have a super long neck. They did this because they didn’t want the birds to bleed, basically, when they’re fighting. But they’re such beautiful, elegant, and weird; they look like dinosaurs. 

AH: Is that the big thing that looks like big bird? And they have the video, it walks out of the…it looks like a person in a bird suit. 

TS: It’s not fluffy. It’s not fluffy. The birds, the feathers are very close to the bird itself and it doesn’t have any feathers. It’s not feather-legged so it has clean feet. They’re very, just elegant. 

AH: About how big are we talking? When you say big, tall… 

TS: A foot. 

AH: The one I’m talking about is like human size. 

TS: Oh my goodness, I’ve not seen that. 

AH: You haven’t seen that? Girl, I need to show you. 

TS: I know, you really do. Can you eat it?

AH: I don’t know about that. I’d be afraid to stick that one in my mouth. 

TS: There is a cock. Oh my gosh. 

AH: It’s disturbingly large and it doesn’t even look like an animal. It literally looks like somebody in their Halloween costume. 

TS: Good grief. In what part of the world is it?

AH: I have no idea; somebody sent me the video. There’s a couple of videos floating around, I will share it with you. 

TS: You really need to. I want to see that. 

AH: It’s wild. 

How Do Chickens and Art Intertwine?  Aka: I’ve Eaten Your People

I’m not sure I even need to ask you what my next question was, which is how do chickens and art intertwine? I think you’re rare in the sense that I think most people would go, “Oh, I’m a photographer; I’m too good to take pictures of chickens. I have to take some other kind of pictures, or at least a chicken when it’s cooked or something like that.” Where do you see the two come together? What do they do have in common?

TS: Well, I guess they’re beautiful and I love the idea of creating a portrait from animals. Now, animal photography is nothing new; William Wegman took it to the extreme level. He’s one of the most famous art photographers known. He uses Weimaraners and they became super famous. He’s done everything with them; they’re in museums. 

I guess I’ve always just been attracted to whatever I’m attracted to. I’m an artist so that’s where that intersection happens. When I first began photographing the birds people made fun of them. They’re like, “Oh, that’s so silly. Chickens; they’re things you eat.” But over time the people who got it saw the humanity. 

For me, maybe the most profound part of photographing these chickens is that we eat them. We eat them and here they are, and this amazing network of people lifting them up and showing their beauty. When I would take one of these gorgeous creatures and put it on my backdrop and light it, and work with it to get it to like to give me some kind of emotion, or whatever you do when you’ are shooting a portrait, all I could think about is, “I’ve eaten your people.” And you’re standing on…yes, seriously…

AH: I hear you. I hear you. I have goats, seriously, I understand it.

TS: I’ve eaten your people and you’re standing on my background giving me your everything. It humbled me, it really humbled me. Then the rest is when people see them and they’re like…One of my favorite stories is someone emailed me and she’s like, “I love to get drunk with my girlfriends and we go through your book and we talk about which chicken we would have sex with.” 

They see these as people; they see the personality. They get it, you know. They get that this one is macho and this one is shy and this one is sexy. They’re really giving you the full spectrum of personality. I’m not a vegetarian; in fact, they serve chicken at the poultry shows. 

AH: Oh, but the poultry shows, those are not necessarily eaten chickens, right? Those are show chickens?

TS: They’re all edible. 

AH: They’re edible technically. 

TS: Do you want to eat a chicken? I mean, I did a CSA for many years and our farmer decided to introduce chickens. I was like, that’s great, we would love to eat chickens from your farm. We got them and they were, they run around freely all day long eating whatever they want and they were the worst cooking chickens I’d ever eaten. Their flesh was hard. 

How 50 Ways to Eat Cock Was Born

AH: Well, that’s why I wrote the book. Honestly, that’s why I wrote the book because my friend, she got the birds from the hatchery as chicks and they were like, at least half them will be hens. Every last one of the fifty was a dude. Every single one of them was a rooster. 

TS: Wow. 

AH: So she’s like, “Adrienne, I don’t know what to do with these. They’re tough, stringy, and dry. I was like, give me a crack at it. 

TS: So, you figured out how to…I’m curious. Tell me. 

AH: Steam; low, slow, water; you don’t want to roast them. You don’t want to fry them unless they are very young. You don’t want to cook them with that kind of direct heat; it’s all about the slow and the low. Now, if it’s an older one it might take a couple of days to get them to lighten up, to be palatable, but for the most part I’ve found out that the average cock or older laying hen will take about an hour and a half. You can steam them. You can, you know Chinese style. You can, any kind of stew. So think of Moroccan tagines. You can even do a paella if you time it right. 

You can do really any kind of old fashioned, actually the first, when my friend told me this the first thing that came to my mind was coq au vin, which is we would cook this cock, in French it’s stewed in wine. The cock-a-leekie in Scotland is pretty popular; most people know about that. It’s just cooked down; it’s like a soup, basically. 

In Jamaica, which is my family background, cock soup, every Jamaican will tell you about. Every Jamaican has a cock soup story, I have no idea why but they all have one; they all have something about it. I tend to talk over myself, I apologize. 

Throughout the animal kingdom, in the farming scenario, the males are always expendable. If you have more than two cocks in a space they will fight each other, unless they have unlimited numbers of hens to choose from. They will fight; they’ll beat the stuffing out of each other. For every fifteen hens you got to have one cock because anybody else, and they’ll fight to the death. They don’t care if they are brothers, they will really go after each other. 

It’s the same thing with bulls and bears and any other kind of animal; they just fight, the males always fight when you have them in a farming situation. I’m borrowing a buck right now to breed my doe and I have to keep him separate from her son because he will kill him. Thinking that even though he is a wether, the son is a wether so he has no balls. But, he will kill him because he knows that he could. In theory he is his competition. 

TS: Right, yes. 

AH: So, anyway I just sent you here, through Skype, the giant chicken video if you want to watch that and give us your reaction. 

TS: Okay, I’m looking at it. Oh, good grief. Oh my gosh. 

AH: It’s a little frightening, isn’t it?

TS: Oh, he’s in Russia. Of course, he’s in Russia. 

AH: Yes, right. And I’ve seen other videos with birds, totally different videos with birds that size. 

TS: That’s a Brahma. 

AH: Is that? Oh, that’s right. I did see, I did look that up at one point, now you’re reminding me. 

TS: Holy cow. That is the biggest…

AH: It doesn’t even look a bird, it looks like somebody in an outfit. 

TS: I wonder what…

AH: Like some kind of Chernobyl chicken. 

TS: That’s insane, that is absolutely insane. Oh my gosh. Yes, that’s definitely a Brahma. Beautiful. 

AH: Can you imagine if you got the one in the studio? Would you…

TS: Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness, I couldn’t get it up on the background. It would be…

AH: You would have to build a new set for that chicken. 

TS: Yes, I really would. I did photograph some chickens while I was at the poultry shows and they’re pretty big, but that’s an incredible chicken. Oh my goodness. 

How to Tame a bird for Cock Photography

AH: So, how do you tame a cock like that for photographing purposes? Like when you want to photograph, because mine are totally wild; they would never let me. Mama hen would never let me near the babies, when they were babies, they chase me down for food but they won’t let me handle them. How do you…go on. 

TS: It’s different when these birds are handled a lot from very early. Some of these people, in the spring they’ll hatch out maybe two hundred birds and then they’ll cull, is what they call, they kill off the ones that aren’t going to be used. Or they’ll just save them and eat them. 

So they’re constantly handled; they’re picked up, they’re looked at, their feather size. They’re looking at their feet to make sure that their feet look good, that their head isn’t…they have to be perfect. Probably one of them is getting handled every single day or more so that is why they are a little bit, and they actually work with them to pose. When they’re on my set they have a long little stick that they can touch the beak and it will hold its head up more. Just tap the back side and it will hold its butt up a little bit more. Some birds, like the silkie for instance, they can’t see. The silkies are the ones that have, they look…

AH: The lamp shape head. 

TS: Yes, they’re covered, their feathers actually have less barbs than any other birds, they look have they have fur. They’re from China and they’re a delicacy, they have all dark skin and dark meat. You see them hanging in Chinatown, I’m sure. 

AH: Yes.

TS: Those poor things, they can’t see at all. You put them on the background and they will just, their heads will go straight to the ground. So what the owner will do, there are lots of different techniques. Like grab its back end and shake it, and it will like sit up a little bit.

Sometimes when a bird is tired, you have to remember that these birds, they have travelled, they’ve been put in a cage, they get stuck in a truck. They drive, I don’t know, depending on how far they come, for some it could be an hour. It could be two hours, it could be four hours, and some people will drive across the country to go to these poultry shows. 

Beautiful Chicken photography, interview with Tamara Staples

So they’ve been in a truck and they get put on a long table with thousands of other birds. They’re spending the night next to a bird they’ve never even met, right? And then they get pulled out and handled by the judge to look at its feathers and feet and head. Like the shapes, it gets measured and all, and weighed and all kinds of stuff. 

Then after it’s been manipulated in all these kinds of ways and it’s in a weird place, they bring it over to my set and stick down the background. So the bird is like, what the heck? You got to think about what this bird has been through. I always feel so bad for it. 

There’s a variety of ways in which to get the bird, one is with the stick to get it to stand up a certain way. Or sometimes I’ll go over and pick the bird up and just rub its head and look at it and talk to it and I’ll put it back. I don’t handle it too much because if I break a feather I don’t want to be blamed for that. 

How Amorous Chickens Behave

There are other ways, like turning the bird upside down and letting it flap its wings to get the energy out and putting it back up. Or another great trick that works, and it works across all species, is to go and get the opposite sex of a bird that that bird does not know and bring it over to the set and wave it in its face. If it’s a male, particularly, it will perk right up. It will start to show itself; like shoulders back, head up high, strutting around. And it works on females too, I’ve seen it both ways, and that’s a wonderful little trick to get the bird to pose. 

AH: You just reminded me of something that surprised me when I had my roosters and the hens. As a novice you notice any difference, but when you look at the stance, the positioning of the wings, and the kind of personalities, like you said, even just visually there is more beyond the comb right, because the females can have a comb and waddle. They stand totally differently. The males, they almost look like they’re wearing little tuxedos. They put their arms down, their wings down to their sides. Whereas the females push back more towards the rear. I found that really fascinating, that there was even that difference between the male and the female. And that it’s not, you know when you talked about him standing more erect, and getting, like showing some interest basically all of a sudden in what’ is going on. That really kind of brought back that image. 

TS: And that’s crazy that it just works across all species. 

AH: It really is fascinating. I was talking about the goat, and our goat, when the buck came in, actually the buck makes this hilarious “getting’ it on” face. 

TS: I would like to see that face. 

AH: It’s on my Facebook page. 

TS: I have to look at it. 

AH: He curls his upper lip when, like he’ll sniff around her rear area, and he’ll flip his upper lip and smile. 

TS: And how does the female take it?

AH: Depends if she really wants anything to do with him. 

TS: Right. 

AH: When she first met him he was trying to get close to her and she just kept standing up on her hind legs, as if to say, “Get away from me, I’m bigger than you.“

TS: My gosh.

AH: After a while they started to buddy up and then she went into heat. Then the two of them were just kind of nuzzling up to one another, it was really cute. She’s not in heat anymore so she’s like, get me away from this guy. Get me away from him. 

TS: Is it like a violent weird thing? I can’t imagine two goats having sex. 

AH: You know what, I’ve never been actually been there for it, to be honest. But his little pink torpedo kind of made an appearance and it wasn’t pretty. 

TS: Well, when chickens, this is the thing, I’ve seen many chickens have sex. 

AH: They’re pretty reapy. 

TS: Very, very…I’m sorry?

AH: They’re reapy, the roosters. 

TS: It is and it’s very fast. It’s that coitus kiss, which is bizarre to me. It’s like they have this one hole that’s for everything. 

AH: Yes. 

TS: It’s really bizarre. 

AH: It’s so true, and the male, they’ll bite the hen on the head and hold it down and she’s like get off of me. And he’s like, okay, I’m done, go. 

TS: Yes, exactly. I’m done with you, next. 

AH: Exactly. And it’s kind of funny to watch them in the wild like that, too. We used to live behind a brew house and they always have barrels of grain out there. There would be this mama hen with her chicks and this rooster would show up all the time and chase her. She would try to find the highest tree she could find just to get away from him. She was like, “Leave me alone. I’m teaching my kids. I’m teaching my kids how to forage for food. Now just leave us the heck alone.”

TS: Maybe someone needs share with him about the #MeToo Movement. 

AH: Yeah. 

You may also enjoy The Magnificent Chicken: An Interview With Tamara Staples.

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How to Get Your Hens Laying Eggs Again

Protein ratio?

Check!

Calcium?

Check!

Enough light?

Check!

Time on pasture?

Check!

Despite doing “all the things”, at one time or another backyard flock owners may notice a precipitous decline in their prime, a suddenly drop in egg production for no particular reason. The eggsperts often like to tell us lay people the most discouraging messages from having chosen the wrong breed to your birds having aged out with their best years (two) behind them.

Before you send your girls to freezer camp, you may want to explore these two egg-boosting strategies I’ve uncovered since getting into backyard chickens. My four-year old flock is still going strong laying fluffy, deep orange eggs to this day! I hope they work for you too.

The idea here isn’t to push your girls into laying eggs forever and ever and ever. Instead, it is focusing on nutritional needs that allow a hen’s body to provide what she’s capable of, given the right set of circumstances.

MORE IS NOT BETTER

The first thing to keep in mind is that more feed does not necessarily mean more eggs. In fact, simply adding feed will likely cause egg-binding — an often fatal side effect of overfeeding. In short, it is when the eggs grow too large inside the bird for her to let it out. Instead, the egg gets bound inside of her body and may kill her, if not properly attended to in time! So please, don’t assume that a lack of feed is the problem.

Mixed flock

While possibly difficult to do with a mixed flock, you want to know just how much feed your particular breed needs to stay in good shape and lay the requisite number of eggs. Personally we feed just shy of this amount because a hungry chicken is easier to control. LOL

My daughter lets the chickens out of their coop (This post contains affiliate links through which I may receive a small commission.) every afternoon, luring them into the chicken tractor with a small scoop of feed. Every so often there are some that go rogue. I think this mainly happens when she leaves the tractor in the same spot for too many days in a row and they know they’ve already cleared all the bugs from that area.

So now that you know what not to do, let’s get on to the meat of this post.

THIS IS THE WAY

1. PARASITES

Parasites were the first cause of no-egg syndrome to come into my consciousness. This doesn’t necessarily mean mites. Any kind of parasite can cause your hens to suddenly stop laying eggs. Luckily, for me it’s been an easy fix.

If your girls don’t get access to a fresh patch of grass every so often, no pasturing time at all, or don’t have good sunlight hitting the coop floor, they may be more prone to parasitic infection than those that do get more elbow room and healing sterilization from the sun.

There are so many foods which you probably have in your home already that will do the job quickly and effectively. You can give them mixed in their feed or spike their water with it. There are also some non-food items you may also have ready access to for various reasons.

  • Papaya seeds — non-GMO only
  • Coconut — fresh, flour, flakes, oil
  • Garlic — a fresh clove or two smashed and infused into their water source or powdered/granulated mixed in their feed works too
  • Pumpkin or other squash seeds or their oils
  • Oregano and peppermint — I keep a patches of oregano and peppermint ground cover to occasionally grab a fistful of for them. A few drops of their essential oils work very well too.
  • Thyme and rosemary — an infusion of one or both of these (or their essential oils) added to their water is very effective.
  • Juniper berries — smashed and infused into water
  • Wormwood — of absinthe fame is a powerful anti-parasitic! I grow this around the borders of my garden beds because it may deter certain pests.
  • Castor oil — be careful as this can easily overwhelm your bird and is not so easy to make sure no one bird overdoses on it unless you dilute it into something like coconut oil
  • Turpentine — don’t panic! Turpentine is simply the gum resin of pine trees. This is my favorite! A dropper full in their water does wonders.
  • Diatomaceous Earth aka DE — good both mixed in feed, in nesting boxes and dust bath
  • Wood ash and sand for a dust bath or in nesting boxes

A tablespoon of cider vinegar per liter of water given once or twice per week is sometimes recommended as a preventive, however, proceed cautiously with this one as it may also inhibit proper calcium absorption needed for shell formation.

There are certainly more things you can give, but these are some of the ones I always have available as well as what comes to mind just now.

2. ORGAN MEATS

Say it with me, “Chickens are omnivores!”

This is why it’s so important that they don’t simply get “vegetarian feed” without access to grass and/or bugs.

About six months ago, my hens stopped laying for no apparent reason other than age as the days were still long enough and they had been regularly getting a mix of anti-parasitics such as the ones mentioned above in addition to good feed that included daily grass time.

As we were deciding whether or not to exchange them with our local chicken provider, I needed to clean out my freezer. About a year prior, a butcher had given me a garbage bag of organ meats, which I had intended to divvy up for them but never got around to it. So I began to slowly thaw it in the back of the fridge, hacking off thawed bits every day or two or three until it was done.

Within 24 hours, we went from 1-2 eggs per day (from 12 hens) to 4-5 eggs per day. Over the next week, the number steadily increased until we were getting about 10 per day for a while. We don’t like to push our birds, but this confirmed to me the importance of providing adequate nutrients at every stage of life not only for humans, but for my animals as well.

the chickens are laying eggs again

Unfortunately we lost two birds since then and currently get from 6-8 each day. They barely slowed down for winter even though many of my farmer friends’ flocks have. To be fair, my property gets quite strong direct sun for 12 hours even in winter as I essentially live in a desert with few trees, while many of them live in lush, rainier, shadier areas.

I want to make sure you realize that I mean specifically organ meats and not just any meat — although that may work for you. I don’t know.

What I do know is that my chickens regularly get cooked and uncooked muscle meat from bone stock or leftovers, if we’ve eaten out or let something go slightly past its prime in the refrigerator. And as I’ve said, they get plenty of bugs each day — worms, slugs, centipedes, millipedes, roly polies, beetles, caterpillars etc. It was specifically giving them kidneys, intestines, heart and other organs that resulted in their surge in productivity.

Since then, we’ve given them some liver that a friend kept in her fridge past what she felt was an acceptable amount of time. There were perhaps some fish entrails at one point.

What I love about this is that by giving the chickens these typically discarded, but most nutritious parts of the animal, we get many of the benefits as if we had eaten them ourselves. At the same time, the girls replenish whatever deficiencies they may suffer. It also makes sure that the animal that died to provide us food is fully being appreciated by being used as completely as possible (at this time). The world would be a different place if went back to a time where waste was minimal.

Do you have a favorite go-to method for getting the egg assembly line back up and running? Let me know below!

Don’t forget to keep your ladies active and entertained, too. Here are 20 gifts for chickens to treat them.

3. CALCIUM

Prior to your girls going on strike, you may notice their eggshells becoming fragile. You may even end up with some shell-less eggs in the nesting box.

Under normal conditions, our eggs need several hard taps on the side of a bowl to make the slightest chink in the shells. However, when calcium is lacking, the normally brown eggs start getting pale — almost white —  over time. Then we notice the shells getting papery thin, practically crumbling from being held too tightly. It is interesting to note that the last time this was a problem was after we had started adding the typical calcium source of oyster shells to their rations.

My older daughter is unenthusiastically in charge of chickens. When I asked her whether or not she had been adding what I have dubbed “Chix Mix” to their water, the problem was clear. She was not. Ah, teenagers! sigh

Chix Mix is a preparation I learned to make in Korean Natural Farming classes. It is made by combining calcium phosphate (made from charred bones soaked in rice vinegar) and water soluble calcium (made from roasted eggshells soaked in rice vinegar). It is added to their drinking water in homeopathic amounts.

Within 2 days of adding it to their water, they slowly started laying again. For added support, I decided to repurpose my “test” goat milk (those first few squirts you take from an animal to make sure there is no mastitis present) by adding that to their water as well.*

Not sure if it is the gradual bolstering provided by the Chix Mix or the combination of it with the milk, but adding a tablespoon or two of fresh goat milk resulted in an immediate increase from 3 to 6 then 8 eggs daily — literally within 5 days. A few months have now passed since this new regimen and they are still going strong! Not bad for a flock of 11.

You may be wondering why we don’t just feed the chickens back their eggshells crushed. We do! But just as eggshell calcium takes a really long time to release for availability to plants, it seems the calcium is equally difficult to access for the hens themselves.

What I love about farming is that it’s a great opportunity to learn about the nature of life itself. Everything has a natural remedy. Sometimes we can see an obvious cause and effect such as boosting calcium for egg formation. Other times there is an intangible synergy that just works although we mortal humans don’t yet have the capacity to understand the how behind it.

CHRISTMAS TREES IN HAWAII?

The Big Island of Hawaii is quite possibly the best place on the planet to live for just about anything locally grown. Even so, Christmas trees in Hawaii are the one commodity that most people will get imported.

For years, I supported a local family that imported trees from Oregon despite the heavy pesticide load of commercially grown trees and environmental burden created by shipping all that distance. If nothing else, I figured that a local family was getting my cash instead of handing it over to a big box store.

Pine Trees in Hawaii

This post contains affiliate links through which I may receive a small commission.

For a few years, there were rumors about a local Christmas tree grower, but the one time I had tried looking it up online, there was no information to be found. This year, however, I accidentally tracked them down when I commended someone for getting their tree early when I spotted it on top of their car in a parking lot.

Where to purchase Christmas Trees in Hawaii

Open from November 1 through the holidays, the Hamakua Christmas Tree Forest grows Portuguese and Arizona cypress trees in the small town of Nīnole a few miles north of Hilo. At the cost of $10 per foot, I personally think it’s a reasonable price to be paid directly to the family growing it all year.

Christmas in Hawaii

Although they’re not systematically poisoned the same way pines on the mainland are, they must receive a periodic treatment for ants. According to the owner, an extermination company is hired to spray only the base of the trees to keep red ants at bay. If you’ve lived in the tropics for any length of time, you know that ants and other pests can be a nightmare.

You can order your tree online, then choose one upon arrival, paying extra if you go significantly above what you’ve already paid for. Some people choose their tree in person first — reserving it by putting an ornament on it and paying in advance, then come back later with their truck and tools.

Pine Trees in Hawaii

If you forget to bring a saw, don’t worry. They have a variety of saws on site which you can borrow.

While fragrant, these trees won’t bring that strong pine smell into your home. If that’s important to you, you can decorate with some pine-scented ornaments.

These trees are not always perfectly shaped, which is a good thing because with the remnants, you can make your own wreaths. Conversely, cut off branches can be rooted in soil and planted so you can start growing your own!

If you’re on the Big Island, next Christmas, be sure to support this local business. Bring the family and make a day of it!

If you’re looking for gifts for your chicks, check out my top 20 gifts for chickens.

20 Perfect Gifts for Chickens

Humans aren’t the only species that loves to receive gifts! Treat your flock like family and keep them well and entertained.  After all, happy chickens are healthy chickens!  If you don’t know what to get, here are 20 gifts for chickens that are sure to delight.

This post contains affiliate links through which I may receive a small commission.

Chicken feeders & Treats

Chickens, like everyone, need plenty of fresh water and nutritious food (and the occasional treat, too).  

Details: create your own chicken nipple waterer system to ensure your girls always have fresh and clean water.

Details: stimulates chickens’ natural foraging, gathering and fighting behavior and also provides a source of entertainment for chickens to vent their emotions

Details: signature mix of certified organic grains, cracked corn, sunflower seeds, mealworms, river shrimp & more. Have a happy flock, healthier chickens AND eggs!

Gifts For Chickens on the Move

Travel in style with your feathered friends.  Take them for a walk dressed up in a bow tie, or for a car ride in a carrier crate.  

Details: Smaller holes on the floor than on the sides. Hand grips on the ends for lifting and carrying. Also works for small animals and game birds.

Details: if your hen is pecked by other chickens, these aprons can protect your hen from being pecked. They protect your hen from the sun and rain, and help cover her shoulders, back and even tail.

Details: Teach your fowls to walk on a leash and find your peace of mind again. Adjust the size to your needs to make sure your chickens are 100% comfy. Three colors of bow ties included.

Chicken Gifts: Coop Accessories

Their coop is their castle, so great gifts for chickens are to help them stay warm, protected, and also have some fun!

Details:  covered with a sun-resistant and waterproof roof that perfectly drains rain, snow or debris. It can be used as a habitat for small pets or can be set up as a planting protection shed for garden plants.

Details: overheating protection design and anti-bite electric cord, this heater has a powerful thermal protection system. Suitable for the chicken coop, dog house, or under your desk at office or home.

Details: an ideal place for your birds to swing, play, climb, and chew. Reduces coop boredom and brings smiles to the people that care for them. Easy to install. Durable, non-toxic, and sanitary

Details: open in the morning & close in the evening automatically by setting the timer or using the easily adjusted (LUX) Light Sensor. Simply press the button if you wish to open & close manually.

Details: built-in sensor when closing to detect when there is an obstruction under the door to prevent injury to chickens. Protects Chickens From Predators.

Details: 7 perching rods can keep your chicks off the wet ground, reduce bacterial infections, and learn to jump faster. The perfect toys for your chicks!

Details: the combination of toys are good gifts for your girls, which are always attracted by crisp sounds and vibrant colors, providing chickens with a fun experience, helping them enhance sensory ability as well as getting rid of loneliness and boredom.

Details: the Peck Stops Here contains a combination of botanical oils that helps deter birds from picking and plucking on wounds and sores. These behaviors, when left unresolved, can lead to pox and other serious issues.

Details: signs bound to bring a giggle or two to your face no matter your mood. Show off your fondness for your growing flock of tiny dinosaurs with our novelty chicken signs.

Gifts for Nesting Hens

Treat nesting hens and their eggs to comfort with these fine products.

Details: Aspen nest pads help to provide cleaner, fresher and more hatchable eggs. They can be used with any size nesting box and are easy to place in the nesting box.

Details: no more will your hens destroy freshly laid eggs. Our ceramic brown eggs are strong and durable, once you replace the real with dummy brown eggs, your chickens will soon stop. 

Details: use in & around the chicken coop by sprinkling a generous amount in the nest boxes, litter & dust bath areas. Wonderful for use in your home or office in a decorative dish or at the base of plants!

Details: the lower cover tray, being tilted, allows the eggs to roll; are kept clean of excrement and are protected. Being covered by a lid, it prevents the chickens from pecking or stepping on the eggs.

Details: No need to manually turn the eggs, automatic incubator has an invisible turner. Incubator holds 9-12 eggs and it can hatch chickens, ducks, fowl, geese, etc.

Looking for gifts? Check out these (Mostly) Practical Gifts For Homesteaders

(Mostly) Practical Gifts for Homesteaders

Christmas is around the corner! Here are a few of my favorite items that you and your loved ones may enjoy too.

This post contains affiliate links through which I may receive a small commission.

Best Gifts for Aspiring Homesteaders

Whether you’re a city gardener or farm an acreage, here are some gifts for homesteaders that will help you, your garden, and the environment.

Gifts for Aspiring Homesteaders

Fun Gifts for Farmers

Who says farmers only wear plaid? Jazz things up a bit with some unique clothing, and don’t forget to wind down at the end of the day, too!

Fun Gifts for Farmers
You may also be interested in reading, My Favorite Cookbook