Farmer Interview - Jody Osmund - Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm

We're back! Sorry for the lack of posts in the last few weeks, we've been dealing with some unforeseen circumstances in our household. Nevertheless, we're working on getting back on track, and we have a special treat for you! Below is the first part of a two part interview with Jody Osmund of Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm. Jody wears a lot of hats when it comes to advocating for sustainable local food in our region. This first part will cover his farm specifically, and in part two you will hear him talk about his work with Band of Farmers, the Chicagoland CSA coalition.  Jody Osmund

  1. In a paragraph or two, please introduce yourself and tell us about how you became a farmer (what did you do before farming, how did you make the transition, how did your family adjust, etc.).

I grew up on a diverse grain and livestock farm - cattle and hogs, oats, wheat, hay, corn, and soybeans. My mom kept a flock of 150 laying hens and egg sales supplemented the grocery budget.  I was mostly involved in taking care of the animals, and I spent a lot of time helping in the ¼ acre family garden.

This background, however, was not a straight line to me becoming a farmer.  I graduated from high school in the middle of the farm crisis of the late 1980’s. Farming as a career looked pretty bleak, so I went off to college and a professional career.

Fast forward a decade and a half…  On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was at an apple orchard in the northwest suburbs with our almost 3 year old son for a daycare field trip.  We rode a hayrack, picked apples, drank cider, and ate apple cinnamon donuts.

On the bus ride back to the daycare, we went from the peace and joy of agricultural idyll to a reality of fear and uncertainty.  The events of September 11th were a turning point for our family. We re-evaluated our life direction and priorities. Like a lot of people, we yearned for something more simple, more tangible, more real. (My career at Allstate in e-commerce software testing and my wife Beth's professional skills training position at Arthur Anderson both seemed pretty abstract.)

When the Enron scandal caused Arthur Andersen to collapse and family land (and farmhouse) came available in 2002, it was an easy decision to move to the farm. Our suburban friends thought we were crazy – they probably still do – but were supportive nonetheless. One of our friends gifted us (thanks Vickie!) Eliot Coleman’s book, The New Organic Grower which became a much used reference and the chapter on marketing inspired us to jump into Community Supported Agriculture.

  1. Tell us about your farm, where it is located, how big it is, and what you produce there.

Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm is a few miles north and east of Ottawa, IL. The total acreage is about 90 acres, but over half of that is taken up by woodlands, wetlands, and riparian habitat. We have about 40 acres of the arable land in pasture (mixed grasses, legume, and forbs) where we raise cattle, pigs, meat chickens, layer hens, and a small flock of Navajo Churro sheep.

  1. If we were to visit your farm, what would we find distinctive or unique about it? What makes Cedar Valley shine?

We’re really proud of our farm’s biodiversity.

This diversity extends well beyond the livestock (Duroc and Hampshire hogs, Angus cattle, 8 breeds of laying hens, and Navajo Churro Sheep). Our farm hosts a number raptor species (Bald Eagles, Red Tail Hawks, Kestrels, owls), water fowl (ducks, geese, Sandpipers, and Great Blue Herons), song-birds, predators (fox, coyote, racoons, opossum, mink), herbivores (deer, rabbits, beaver, voles, gophers, squirrels), along with countless insects (including a lot of native pollinators and butterflies, some feral honeybees, and dragon flies), and incredibly active living soil. It’s much different than the sea of corn and soybeans on the farms that surround it.

The Stream

The most distinctive feature of the farm is the creek that runs through it. It is the highlight of our farm tours, provides a peaceful picnic spot, cools us in the hot summer, and occasionally provides a meal of fish for the table.

  1. Why did you decide to run a meat CSA out of your farm, as opposed to other options like vegetable farming, or selling meat wholesale to restaurants?

Actually, Cedar Valley Sustainable (CVSF) started out as a vegetable CSA in 2003. We started on 2.5 acres and increased to a maximum of 5.5 acres. We added livestock over time, started the first meat CSA  in Illinois (while serving a 70 member vegetable CSA) in 2007, and fully transitioned to meat and eggs in 2008.

  1. How did you decide to raise beef, pork, and chicken? Which did you start with and how have you scaled up production over the years?

The first animal we brought to the farm was a dairy cow. Next we added a flock of laying hens. Meat birds followed, along with more cattle and then hogs. We raise all meat chickens and eggs for our CSA on our farm, but not all of the beef and pork. Over the years we’ve developed relationships with neighbors who breed incredibly high quality pork and beef that supplement our production.

Animals

These relationships extend the scope and breadth of our work toward more sustainable farming, writ large. They also give us flexibility and elasticity to deal with the ebbs and flow of CSA membership and farmers market demands.

When we started working with pork breeders  Mark and Kristen Boe of La Pryor Farms, they were considering getting out of the pig business (commodity pork prices were very low and they were losing about $40/per pig they sold to Tyson). We helped them develop a profitable farm-to-restaurant business for their hogs and they have since started their own beef herd. They make weekly trips into the city supplying top restaurants and artisan butcher shops with their pork and beef.

Pigs

I love seeing new pig and cattle paddocks when I pick up market pigs at the Boe’s farm. They’ve moved to a more pasture-based growing since they started working with us. WIN!

  1. What’s the most gratifying part of owning and running your own farm?

Sure, I get to do physical work outside every day and produce really delicious food, but the most gratifying part of our job is the relationships – customers, CSA members, fellow farmers, food advocates/activists, friends, family, and community that are nurtured by our farm. The image of the independent farmer, alone on the prairie is an unsustainable myth of “modern” agriculture.

A farm dinner in full swing

True resilience and sustainability are supported by an inter-locking bulwark of interdependent relationships. Adding strength and branches to that weave is what Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm is all about.

Many thanks to Jody for sharing about his and Beth's lives as the farmers at Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm. Keep an eye out for a second post from him about his work with Band of Farmers - The Chicagoland CSA Coalition. We will also be preparing a post for CVSF's blog that we are very excited about, so be sure to follow us on Facebook for all the updates! 

Are there posts you would like to see from Sustainably Queer? We've got ideas for miles, but we'd love to hear from our readers first! Please let us know in the comments, on our Facebook Page, or join us in the Sustainably Queer group for more lively conversation! 

Earth Day Equals Beef Stock

Happy Earth Day! I think it's a rule somewhere that if you have a blog about sustainability and green living you HAVE to post on Earth Day. Oh, it's not? Well, it should be. We went back and forth about what to post today - recipes? An in-depth look at sustainable shampoo options? An entire entry about how excited we were that our community garden opened today only to find out that the plot they assigned us doesn't exist? (Don't fret, they're working on a fix!) And then, it hit us... A couple of weeks ago we were in Madison visiting some friends and we went to Tornado Steakhouse for dinner. They have local, grass fed beef and all sorts of seasonal fruits and vegetables. We were excited! We ordered the 18oz. prime rib special to share, but somewhere along the line there was a mix-up, so while we did split the salad, we each got our own prime rib entree. That's 18oz. of prime rib PER PERSON. We both did our best, but definitely ended up taking a lot home. We ate what we could, but were left with some really fatty ends that we didn't want to throw away or give to the pets, so we decided to make beef stock.

A quart of homemade beef stock.
A quart of homemade beef stock.

Listen up, y'all, this is the part that may change some of your lives (I mean, it certainly changed ours once we figured it out). We try our best not to waste any of the food we bring into our home. That means eating what's edible and then making use of what is often seen as inedible. We keep three gallon-size freezer bags in our freezer at all times. One is for meat/bones, one is for veggie scraps, and one is for worm food (which we'll get into in a later post). Whenever we get a rotisserie chicken or some sort of meat, we put the skin, bones, and a little meat in the meat/bones bag. All of our veggie scraps go into the veggie scrap bag. We also save the rinds from hard cheeses and throw those into our stocks as well. When the veggie bag is full, we make stock. If we happen to have meat/bones, we'll make meat stock, but we eat way more veggies than meat, so sometimes we'll just make veggie stock. If you don't make stock at home, you should try. It's incredibly easy and is always SO MUCH BETTER than store-bought stock.

So, back to our beef stock. We didn't have any bones, so the stock wasn't quite as flavorful as it normally is, but it was delicious. Unfortunately, once we made it it sat in our fridge for a bit because we don't normally cook with beef broth. I was at the market trying to figure out what food to make for the week when I remembered the beef broth. I knew we had onion, celery, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and rice in the pantry, so I decided to make a soup. I picked up some ground beef (I wanted to do chunks, but the ground was the most humane available - grass fed, pastured - so I went with that option) and headed home. A little browned ground beef, sauteed mire poix, and chopped potatoes went into the crock pot, was covered with beef stock, and cooked on low for about six hours. Then we stirred some rice in and let it sit on warm overnight. YOU GUYS. THIS SOUP. I CAN'T. It was perfect for that weird snowstorm we had on Friday. Gotta love spring snowstorms.

Check out our recipes after the jump! Also, we still have 1.5 quarts of stock left. What are your favorite recipes that use beef stock? Let us know in the comments!

Basic Stock

We usually use a 5-quart crock pot for this, but have made it in a stock pot on the stove as well. We don't usually measure what we put in, we just eyeball it and let 'er go.

Veggie scraps

Chicken carcass or other meat/bone combo (optional)

Hard cheese rind (optional)

Water to cover

Vinegar (if using bones)

Put the scraps, meat/bones, and cheese rind into the crock pot. The crock pot should be about 3/4 full, loosely packed.

Fill with water until it's about 0.5-1 inches below the rim of the crock pot.

If you're using bones, add a couple glugs (2-4 Tbsp) of vinegar (we use apple cider vinegar) and let it sit for about an hour. This helps draw out the minerals and will help the stock to gel.

Turn the crockpot on low and let it cook overnight. Your stock should simmer, but never boil, so make sure you keep an eye on it, especially if you're cooking it on the stove.

Strain out the solids and pour into jars.

Let cool before storing in the fridge or freezer.

We usually end up with 3.5-4 quarts.

Beef and Vegetable Stew

1 lb grass-fed, pastured ground beef

6 red potatoes, cubed

3 carrots, chopped

1 onion, large diced

6-8 celery ribs, sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 quarts beef stock

1 cup rice

dash Sage

dash Rosemary

Salt

Pepper

2 pats Butter

Melt 1 pat butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the diced onions and sauté until translucent. Add the ground beef, sage, rosemary, and a pinch of salt and cook through, stirring every once in a while.

When the beef is cooked, transfer the beef and onion mixture to the crock pot. Put the pan back on the stove, melt the other pat of butter, add the celery and carrots and cook until slightly softened.

Add these to the crock pot as well. Add the potatoes to the crock pot and cover everything with the 2 quarts of beef stock.

Cook on low for 5-6 hours. Add 1 cup of rice, switch the crock pot to warm, and let sit for another few hours (or overnight).

The rice will absorb a lot of the cooking liquid and it will turn from a soup into more of a stew.

If you want more of a soupy consistency, feel free to leave out the rice. Sprinkle with sea salt (we like Sel Gris) before serving.