I trust my farmers. I trust them deeply, else I would not eat the food that I do (and I feed my family with this food, so this is terribly important to me, that I can look a farmer in the eye, go to his or her farm, observe how the animals live).
When I started eating in the manner advocated by Weston A. Price, Sally Fallon, and Nourishing Traditions, some years ago, I had no idea that I would have such gratifying relationships with our local farmers. Over time, they have become Friends Who Happen to Raise Our Food. I believe this is what happens when there is no separation in the form of a grocery store or other middle man. Every week we go to the farmers market. That is beginning of the story. What happens from there depends on the day. We might have intense conversation over whether the cheese is better with or without the rind. About how hot the Big Bomb peppers are. About the best way to prepare beef heart. That may seem obvious, talking about the food.
Soon, though, something else started to happen. If we missed a week, we were greeted with loving concern ("Is everything all right? We missed you..."), there were questions back and forth about kids, about health concerns, about the weather and the economy. We were becoming part of a rich community. Now we hear about sweethearts and weddings, the loss of another farmer's chickens, the immigration troubles of a relative. We exchange hugs, phone numbers, recipes.
And because I trust my farmers, I generally trust their recipes. Tonight I tried something a bit out of my comfort zone, recommended by Fred and Joanne Hatfield of Kol Simcha Farm. Fred and Joanne raise lamb, chickens for eggs and vegetables. They are always ready with a wonderful recipe and the ingredients to prepare it, so when they suggested making a lamb stew Fred remembered fondly from his fishing days, we had to try it. I wasn't too sure about the combination of lamb, cabbage and peppercorns, and I had no idea this dish is a national icon in Norway, but I am game to do almost anything once.
Only, when I went to make dinner, I had misplaced the recipe that Joanne had tucked into my bag of lamb shanks and cabbage. A bit of googling turned up multiple recipes for faarikaal the national dish of Norway. (Do we have a national dish? Do I really want to know what that might be?) I remembered a few details (such as a copious amount of peppercorns--I used two tablespoons, and I think Joanne recommended four!) and set out to recreate what our friends had enthusiastically described. A simple braise, faarikaal can be pared down to four ingredients; lamb, cabbage, peppercorns, salt. Easy! And GAPS friendly too! I added some onion and carrot to those four things, filled one of my big Dutch ovens halfway with water and a bit of broth, and set the whole thing in the oven for three or four hours. That's it, nothing difficult. I had four shanks and used 1/2 of a medium cabbage and 3 carrots. The rest is done by eye and taste (meaning that you don't need a recipe with exact proportions, just trust it will work out).
As it happens, I had to go out in the early evening, and by the time I got home, the whole boat was filled with the aroma of faarikaal, warm and inviting. It was so late and I was so hungry that I just served the stew with no accompaniments other than some tart red kraut (yeah, more cabbage, but the tart was perfect with the rich meat and broth. I think lingonberries are a traditional accompaniment, for just that reason). I know you want pictures, but I was way too famished to stop and take any (there are a few at the above link).
So yummy and warming. Just like our friendships with our farmers. It's easy to say that we would be lost without farms and farmers. That must be clear to most anyone who thinks about it for a few minutes. But do most Americans know what has happened to the family farm? Do they know that most of the country's food comes from places that look very little like the pretty little farms in our children's picture books (or on the greenwashed packages in places like Whole Foods)? There's a reason they are called "factory" farms, with a heavy emphasis on the factory part.
This has been weighing heavily on my mind since Michael Schmidt began his hunger strike 33 days ago. Here is a farmer who has spent his life fighting for food freedom, for our right to eat real food, free from government interference, and who has won the loyalty of many around the world for his impeccable integrity. Unfortunately, the government of Canada, where he lives and farms, does not see it that way. He has been raided, harassed, and brought close to ruin more than once by government agencies that don't really care whether he is doing a service to families that choose--freely--to buy his milk. Rules is rules, according to them, never mind that the rules are bizarre, really serving to squelch real competition on the market.
Raw milk politics may seem marginal to many, but this is bigger than raw milk--it is about the freedom to choose Real Food. No one tells me I can't buy raw oysters (for now). I don't have to lie and claim they are cat food (though Mr. Chippy does love his oysters!) No one demands that fish or meat be sold cooked only. Why must we treat people like idiots or babies and force them to buy cooked milk only? Because, for some reason, the milk industry is actually feeling threatened by the presence of cow shares and milk coops. They will claim it is because people have been sickened by raw milk, but if you spend a while on realmilk.com you will see that more people have contracted illnesses from things like lunch meats, produce, and other products of Big Agriculture. I retain the right to eat what I feel nourishes me and my family. And I will go down fighting for your right to do so as well.
Which is why Michael Schmidt is fasting. His demand: a meeting with the premier of Ontario to discuss these matters face to face, with no intermediaries. The premier, Dalton McGuinty, has yet to even say whether he will meet with Schmidt. The demand is not to change policy, just to have a meeting, a conversation. Are we so frightened as a society that we can't honor a request for dialog? I have a hard time believing that a politician could let another man die on his watch, rather than man up and have a discussion with him, no matter how much they might disagree.
There is so much more I could say, but it is late and I am beginning to ramble. Lots of wonderful bloggers have written sensitive analyses of what is happening. If I have time tomorrow I will compile a list (for now, go to the FaceBook page that is serving as a clearing house for support and information: http://www.facebook.com/groups/supportmichaelschmidt/ ) I hope that I am being clear though: we have to fight for our freedoms, in whatever way we can. Most of us can not risk our lives with a hunger strike, but might sign a petition, talk to someone, write a letter, attend a rally, or just go buy some raw milk--or oysters, for that matter--just go find some real food and support the farmer who is selling it.
And remember, those farmers, who work such long days to bring us our food...they could be your friends. Start a conversation. Who knows where it might lead?