Thursday, March 31, 2011

Building Chicken Coops at Tillers International

Jack Gesmundo, Bruce Kroeze, Steve Nitsch, Betty Hawkins, Janet DeZwaan, Bill Brislen, Barbara Jenness and Jim Hott
photo by Lori Evesque

See video below.

Drills were buzzing and hammers were swinging recently as three teams of participants built their very own chicken coop at the Don and Hilda Meyer Woodshop of Tillers International in Scotts.

This was the first of several classes Tillers will hold this year to teach area residents about raising, processing and cooking chickens. 

“This is so awesome,” exclaimed Barbara Jenness as her husband, Jim Hott, completed nailing on the steel roof of her coop.  “I just love it.”

Jenness and Hott own a goat dairy in Byron Center and wanted to add chickens so they could have their own farm fresh eggs. 

Dick Roosenberg assists Betty Hawkins (L) and Janet DeZwann (R)
photo by Lori Evesque 
“It would take a long time for me to learn this many things [about construction] if I were just to read about it,” said Betty Hawkins of Kalamazoo.  She wanted to know how to use carpenter’s tools as much as she hopes to raise chickens sometime in the future.  Besides, she read about how much fun chickens are and that home-raised eggs are healthy.   

The chicken coop is a two-story 68"x42"x64" mansion complete with an enclosed grazing area beneath the living space with a ramp for the chickens to enter at night in order to keep them safe from predators.  It also has a nesting box where the chickens lay their eggs and an opening slot where the eggs may be gathered.  The coop holds up to six chickens. 

“The design is a work in progress,” said Dick Roosenberg, executive director of Tillers.

Roosenberg worked with Jack Gesmundo, president of the Tillers Board; Robert Burdick, Tillers construction coordinator; and volunteer Bill Brislen to build a test coop with a rounded roofline.  They subsequently decided participants would instead build a coop with a gambrel roof that provides more space at the top.  The four men were also on hand throughout the weekend to assist participants at each step.

Students learned how to assemble the vast array of parts for the coop, which had been pre-cut due to time and space constraints in the woodshop, the need for precise cutting and the uncertainty over the skill level of participants. 

Participants were also treated to a delicious lunch in the stone mill house that has kitchen and dining room facilities as well as Tillers offices.

Raising chickens is part of a nationwide trend regarding food safety and the desire to eat locally produced items. 

“There is an interest by urban, suburban and rural people in knowing where their food comes from,” said Lori Evesque, education coordinator at Tillers.  “We have learned that growing our own fruits and vegetables is one way to know this.  The next logical step is to find a local farmer who raises chickens for meat or eggs and treats the birds in an ethical manner.  For some people, the best way to do this is to raise them themselves.”

Several municipalities have already cleared the way for keeping chickens in residential areas, said local attorney Suzanne Klein of Beck, Bowser, Chalmers, Klein, Shinar, VanWagoner, PLLC.  These include Kalamazoo, Portage, Parchment, Oshtemo Township and Texas Township.  Residents should check with their municipality for specific guidelines on ordinances.

Monday, March 28, 2011

News: South Haven Promotes Agricultural Sustainability

                                                                                      Gazette file

South Haven is going back to its agricultural roots as a means of revitalizing its local economy.

Local leaders in business, agriculture, education, health, government, restaurants, non-profit organizations and interested citizens will meet on Thursday, March 31 at 6 p.m. at Lake Michigan College-South Haven Campus for a collaborative forum titled “Grow Local, Market Local, Eat Local.”

The objective of the forum is to identify the area’s agricultural assets and to find ways of cultivating new small businesses focused on agricultural products, packaging, distribution and second tier products.  This network is especially focused on the area’s small, local farmers who are not presently organized.

Scott Wall, 47, president and founder of New Age/Landmark, Inc., is the mover and shaker behind the forum.  He is also a farmer at Castle House Farms in South Haven who raises organic chicken, lamb, pork and eggs in a cooperative farm venture with Tracey Davis and her family. 

New Age/Landmark (NA/L) began in 1998 in Benton Harbor as a mobile laboratory testing service for environmentally-impacted facilities having to do with petroleum, hazardous waste remediation, brownfield redevelopment, Superfund investigations, and military sites and projects.  Five years ago NA/L began a construction project on a water treatment facility in Libya, one of its many worldwide ventures. 

Two years ago the company moved to South Haven where most of its 22 employees live. 

Recently, the company decided to pursue agricultural testing services because farmers were sending soil, water, plant and compost samples to Ohio.  New Age/Landmark also discovered that the community needed various agricultural developments like food storage, second tier processing facilities, and an entrepreneurial incubation process for new business.

The forum is also a response to the burgeoning local food movement taking place around the country.

“If there ever was a movement that people could get behind, this is it,” said Davis, vice-president of New Age/Landmark Inc.

Among the forum’s speakers are Chris Flood, nutritionist at the Shoreline Wellness Center, Bruce McIntosh of McIntosh Orchards & Wine Cellars and Diann Tosh, food services director for the South Haven Public Schools.

Other organizers of the event are Lake Michigan College-South Haven Campus, the City of South Haven, South Haven Charter Township and the South Haven Area Chamber of Commerce.

The South Haven area has a rich, 150-year-old agricultural history as the Southwest Michigan Fruit Belt, the largest non-citrus fruit producing region in North America.  It includes the legacy of Liberty Hyde Bailey, America’s father of horticulture and founder of the Michigan Pomological Society (later named Michigan Horticultural Society).  He was born in South Haven.

Much of the region’s agricultural heritage was abandoned in favor of the more lucrative and high-paying, job-producing automobile industry.  However, as manufacturing has declined in the area and throughout Michigan, area leaders are returning to their agricultural legacy.

For more information or to participate, call the South Haven Area Chamber of Commerce at 269.637.5171, e-mail or visit the Chamber’s website at

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Politics: Thanks Geraldine!

Geraldine Ferraro died today.  She was 75.

I shook her hand in Seneca Falls, NY, in 1991 when she appeared at a local bar.  She was campaigning for the New York U.S. Senate seat against the Republican incumbent, Alfonse M. D'Amato.

"Our polls show that we can win against D'Amato," she said.

But her campaign was short-circuited after she lost the Democratic primary to Robert Abrams, who lost the general election.

Kurt and I just happened to be in Seneca Falls at the time, a place I wanted to visit for its historical significance.  I had just completed a 7-week stint at Middlebury College's Spanish immersion program and we decided to take a short vacation out East afterward.  Kurt flew to Burlington, Vermont, where I picked him up and then we toured the state a bit and later visited the Armstrongs who were living in Boston at the time.

Seneca Falls the site where the American women's movement got its start in 1848.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton was among local leaders who held the convention on July 19–20.  Participants wrote the Declaration of Sentiments as a foundational document in the American woman's suffrage movement.  It was the first time that women and men gathered together to demand the right for women to vote.

To watch Ferraro in 1984 as the first woman to be nominated for executive office, as a vice presidential candidate, was a thrilling sight even though it was only on television.

"America is a land where dreams can come true for all of us," she said.

But the image that sticks in my mind most was to see a woman delegate all teared-up as Ferraro gave her nomination acceptance speech.  It was a magical moment in our history!

It was particularly magical for me, too, because as a 10-year-old watching the 1960 presidential election of John F. Kennedy, I had aspired to a career in politics.  Then, to see Ferraro, not only a woman, but an Italian woman (like me!), take on the challenge of running for vice president was an amazing realization that anything was possible.  Unfortunately, she and her running mate, Walter Mondale, were crushed by Ronald Reagan who got a second term.

Well, I did enter politics at the local level for three glorious years.  I worked for some campaigns, raised money for the party, became chair of the Kalamazoo County Democrats, and even ran for office as a candidate for county treasurer.  I did pretty well in my run for the treasurer's office by receiving 48 percent of the vote.  Pretty good for a relatively unknown candidate.

Of course, there were numerous women who entered politics since Ferraro at the local, state, and national levels.  The most prominent includes Hilary Clinton who not only became a senator from New York, but a candidate for president. 

Thanks, Geraldine for your leadership and example.  May we get more women like you in government.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Farm Journal: Kiss Me, Kate!

With her mother's permission, Kate the Kalf eventually came close to check me out and to let me pet her soft, furry body.
 A portion of this article on Kate appeared in the Kalamazoo Gazette on Saturday, March 19.

“Beware of the Ides of March” says a soothsayer to Julius Caesar in Shakespeare's play of the same name.   

This quotation rang true at Windshadow Farm yesterday, only it was a happy event rather than the very bad one it was for Caesar.

The day started out like any other routine morning at Windshadow Farm where Ron took care of the goats and Suzanne walked around the barn to greet the animals.  When she approached the buffs pen, she couldn't believe her eyes.  There, in the middle of the herd was a little calf with its mother, M-131, next to it.

She calmly walked over to Ron and said in a soft voice:  “There's a calf.”

Ron was busy giving the baby goats' their breakfast of mothers' milk.  When the babies suckle on their multi-nipple milk bucket (called a lamb bar), they make a lot of noise.  Ron thought he heard Suzanne say “there's a cat,” so he didn't think anything of it.

Kate nonchalantly takes in her new surroundings with M-131 on alert.
Then Mike Sullins, who was working on the milk parlor at the time, suddenly shouted:  "Ron, one of the buffalo just dropped one."  Such man-talk got him moving quickly to the buffs' pen.  Then, when Ron saw the calf, Mike noted that he was in shock.

Ron knew some of the buffs were pregnant because the vet had just pregnancy checked them.  However, they weren't supposed to be due until June or July, so this was indeed a surprise.  

"Water buffalo are different from cows," he said stoically.  

Perhaps they are a little more deceptive, too.  Nevertheless, when they are as big as these girls are, it's difficult to see whether or not they are carrying an extra load.

Little Kate easily took to feeding very well and filled her belly with life- giving colostrum from M-131.  Colostrum is the first milk the mother gives after birth.  It contains high amounts of fat, nutrients and most importantly, the antibodies that protect the newborn from infectious disease.

Ron milked M-131 in an open stall since the buffs' dairy parlor is not yet completed.  Kate stood next to Ron during the milking, which calmed M-131 and allowed Ron to be "trusted."  This trust is imperative, especially when you're working with a 1,250-pound mamma-buff.  She is producing a lot of milk, so it will be stored frozen and used for feeding calves in the future.

Ron also has 200 pounds of "BuffGro," a special milk extender/replacer formulated for dairy water buffalo that he ordered from Grober Nutrition in Ontario Canada . (Grober specializes in milk replacers for domestic and  exotic animals.)  Water buffalo milk is unique in that it has a butter fat content ranging from 9-12 percent and 20-24 percent milk solids.  Some producers can temporarily substitute lamb or kid replacer, but a specifically formulated replacer is best.  We need to have the replacer on hand in case we can't get enough milk to feed the new calves.

Today was the first opportunity I had to go to the farm to see this little 80-pound bundle of joy.  She was casually and nonchalantly resting next to the wall with her mother nearby watching over it.  All the other buffs had been cleared out of the pen so they had their privacy and space.

The little girl is a bit goonie-looking with her long ears that are out of proportion to her face.  She has big circles around her eyes and she cranes her neck upward to look at what's in front of her.  The big girls do this, too.  She has long legs and from time to time makes a jolting dash.  Sometimes she looks like a deer.  Sometimes like a puppy.  But as all babies, she is adorable.

I tried to coax her to come close to the railing so I could pet her.  I was curious to see what she felt like.  After a couple tries, she did come.  She is soft and furry, just like the goats.  And very sweet.

Suzanne named the calf Kate, after her own mother, who died in December. 

Seven Baby Brothers Adopted
Seven bros (six sired by Tiger and one by Sundance) will be petting goats at Boulder Ridge, so we will be able to see them when they're fully grown. I would have liked to keep the brown one, one of the first ones born but city neighborhoods haven't approved keeping goats yet.
Today was a big day in the kid pen, too.  Seven of the 13 boys were adopted by Dave Hoekstra for his new venture, the Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park.  The park opens in May and is located in Alto, near Grand Rapids.  It will feature a petting zoo and the boys will surely be a main attraction.

Dave also has an animal-moving business and he is the man who moved the Kleins' animals to the new farm last October. 

Truth is, these goats are indeed very lucky boys to have this chance to go with Dave.  Children will love them at the petting zoo and when they're not “working,” they will play, eat, and sleep.  What a life!  However, in order to prepare them for this new life, they had to be castrated.
Dave and Ron load the carriers

Because male goats are so randy, malodorous (especially during breeding season), and difficult to manage, if they are kept, they are castrated for easier handling—and so they won't inadvertently breed.

Castration is a fairly simple, painless and sterile process that takes only two seconds to perform.

For example, Dave sat down on a chair and held the kid's legs firmly while their backs rested on his lap.  This allowed Ron easy access to the goats' testicles, which he snipped off with a special disposable surgical scalpel.  Each kid yelled with all his might but this reaction was more about discomfort at being held rather than the cut.  None of the boys cried afterward, nor did they seem hurt or concerned.

After the operation Dave put them in a carrier and then loaded the carriers on the back of his pick-up truck.  They looked a little bewildered about what was happening.  So much has already occurred in their brief two weeks of life.

Male goats are usually used for meat although one or two in a litter might be selected to be breeders. 

Sometimes the boys are kept as pets like Dude was last year.  Wethers (castrated male goats) are very gentle and not aggressive.

Sometimes they may serve as "indicator wethers" where they help the farmer determine if the does are in heat or not.  Lil Man was castrated for this purpose two years ago.  In this case, the farmer uses a Ritchey nipper or an emasculatome to permit some small level of testosterone to remain.

The Sullins Kids
The Sullens Kids near the lamb bar.
The other six boy-goats will be adopted by the Sullins family as part of Jessica's and Tempest's 4-H project.  Jessica often comes to the farm to help Ron with various chores.  They will raise the boys with the help of her brother, Michael, who wanted a pet goat.  Before the boy-goats leave the farm, however, they, too, will be castrated.

Michael knew immediately that he'd named his goat, the black one with the pointed ears, Smokey.  Tempest is still undecided about hers and Jessica is still generating ideas for names for the other four boys.   

Ron has mentioned that the Jessica, Tempest and Michael are very good with all of the animals and that Michael calls himself  "buffalo boy." 

This is an exciting adventure for the Sullins family—and again, a lucky break for these boy-goats.

Big Time Pen Cleaning
"Buffalo Boy" helps clean the goat pen.
With all the action of birthing goats, the goat pen needed some cleaning.  That's what Jessica and her mother, Tina, and I worked on today with some help from Mike's backhoe.
Michael helped a little, too, when he wasn't inspecting his father's construction work in the milk parlor.  Farm kids learn the value of work at a young age and everybody works!

Jessica and Tina fill the backhoe with rich and juicy compost.
 It is difficult cleaning the goat pen because it has been divided into several sections including the birthing stall, three kids' stalls, and the feeding area.  So there are lots of nooks and crannies to get around. 

On the other hand, the buff pen has a bigger area with bigger chunks of manure to pick up.

Barn cleaning is a dirty job but it has to be done on a regular basis because it helps to control parasites and infectious disease.  Ron spends about three hours a day doing it, so when we volunteers come around, he greatly appreciates our help.  Besides, manure is the stuff that makes the garden grow--and the food taste good.  (I have to keep reminding myself of this fact.)

The goat area is completely cleaned twice a week and the buffalo area daily.

Mike takes out the compost.  Note the front wheels of the backhoe.
We'll be getting some new equipment to speed the process, namely a manure bucket for the tractor that will allow taking bigger bites ("ugh") of the manure pack. 

But cleaning the barn on this farm is nothing like cleaning the barn at Dancing Turtle Farm where the stench from the goat and buff droppings was quite pungent and wet.  The floor of this new barn remains remarkably dry due to the air flow and it was designed for easier scraping. 

Misadventure Strikes the Rookie Again
One of three kid pens where the seven bros resided.
Before the Sullins arrived, I cleaned out the kids' pen where the seven brothers resided.  I felt a little like a hotel chamber maid after guests leave their room. One group out and clean the room for the next one.

Typically, Ron puts straw in the kid pen with kitty litter under it to absorb the wetness. This stuff can be included with the rest of the compost because it is made out of clay.  However, you must be careful the goats don't eat it because it could make them very sick.  This fact led to another misadventure in my life as a rookie farmer and goatherder. 

In order to do all this cleaning, I put all the goats outside the barn into the dry lot so they could feed and sun themselves.  I closed the barn door but didn't know enough to lock it.  While I was away for lunch in the house (Suzanne has been a gem to provide us with some delicious food when we're working), those clever and determined girls got back into the barn.  And were they having fun!  Ha, they had gotten away with something!

Fortunately, I had moved all the tools out of the pen and locked the gates that open to the rest of the barn.  If I hadn't, the goats would have gotten into the grain, the construction area, the buff pen and everywhere.  This would have been very dangerous for them.  

The goats love grain and if they had gotten into it, they would have eaten way too much (they do not have a satiation reflex), filled their rumens, and become very sick.

So this was another lesson in Farm Gates 101.  It's been a long time since I've made a gate mistake.

Playing with the Kids
Before I get to work for the day, I usually say hello to the animals.  With the new kids around, this is a particular pleasure.  Here I am pictured with some doelings.  Just ain't nothing like having new kids on the farm (except when they poop inside your jacket as one of them did today).

As a bonus for the doelings (but without a photographer to capture it) I got down on my hands and knees and let the kids climb all over me.  They loved it and I did, too.  After all, that's what aunties are for!

We still haven't named the girl kids and it will be difficult since so many of them look alike.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Farm Journal: Mon Dieu, We Have a Buffalo Calf!

First day of life

An article on Kate appeared in the Kalamazoo Gazette on Saturday, March 19.

Meet Kate, the newest addition to Windshadow Farm and the daughter of M-131.

She was born on the Ides of March.

Suzanne was at the water buffalo side of the barn looking over the animals when she suddenly noticed a calf in the middle of them all.

We were expecting buff births around June and July so this was a big, big surprise.

Mother and child seem to be doing well and the other buffs are accepting the new bundle of joy.  I will go to the farm tomorrow, take more photos and find out more about who this new Kate the Buff Calf is.

Life is truly like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you're going to get!
First day of life:  mother and child -- buffalo-style

Sunday, March 13, 2011

First Sunday of Lent: The Fight Against Evil

This article is based on my documentation of the trip to the Cyangugu Diocese in southwestern Rwanda where Fr. Kenneth Schmidt and his associate Sharon Froom, a therapist, provided trauma recovery training workshop to priests and human service professionals ministering to survivors of the 1994 genocide.  To view the blog of the trip, see Trauma Recovery Associates in Rwanda

Evil has never been an easy for me to comprehend.

I have been loved by my family, secure in my community, well-educated, never without work or the ability to sustain myself, and not been exposed to personal violence.  Compared to most women in the world, I am privileged, fortunate and seemingly shielded from evil.

Then, I visited Rwanda, a small country of 8 million people in the heart of Africa, a place that for some reason had evil descend upon it in 1994.  One million people were killed in 100 days after a century of hate, resentment and violent retribution. 

The killing began on April 6, three days after Easter Sunday, and lasted until mid-July.

Thirteen years before, apparitions of the Blessed Mother—her first and only apparitions on the African continent—foretold the genocide to children in Kibeho, a small town in southwestern Rwanda.  This area turned out to be one of the worst places of slaughter as Hutu militia fighters literally hacked multitudes of Tutsi people to death with machetes.

As a self-sufficient individual, which is what our American culture teaches us to be, faith in God’s grace has not been easy for me either.  Then I met Rwandan priests, teachers, nurses and social workers who actually view their work and their country as a light to the world, given its sordid history.  These courageous and faith-filled men and women are among the leaders who are attempting to bring justice to the perpetrators of the genocide and healing to the survivors. 

Rwanda is a country where 100 percent of its population lives with constant memories of that terrible time. 

For example, deep pain, guilt, embarrassment for surviving and the urge for retaliation remain in the hearts of many people. 

Children share the same classroom with those whose parents were killed or those whose parents are in prison on suspicion for genocide crimes.  Violence breaks out often and schools are not always safe so children can’t learn and teachers can’t teach.

Every village in Rwanda had instances of genocide so people suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, headaches, stomachaches and other psychosomatic symptoms.  Families and neighbors of mixed ethnic backgrounds still have hard feelings.

Mass migrations have taken place since 1959 when Tutsi refugees spilled into the neighboring countries of Burundi, Congo, Uganda and Tanzania because Hutu regimes preached hate and discrimination.  President Paul Kagame, who led the rebel army against the Hutu government in 1994 and subsequently quelled the genocide, was among those Tutsi families who escaped to Uganda. 

Since the Tutsi takeover of government, 3 million Hutu have left the country, some still lusting after Tutsi blood.  This massive population dislocation is as unsettling for Rwandans as it is for their neighbors who are forced to host refugees they don’t want. 

Rwanda also remains one of the poorest, most densely-populated countries in the world.

How a situation—and a history—so horrendous and so destructive to the human spirit can be healed seems an insurmountable undertaking.  And yet, it is happening in Rwanda. 

"There is no other place for people to go," a social worker told me.  "We must get along." 

The Kagame government desperately wants this to happen as it continues to stabilize the country through policy and economic development. 

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has become a major player in taking on the emotional and spiritual reconciliation of genocide survivors and perpetrators in this predominantly Catholic country.  That is why Bishop Jean Damascène Bimenyimana recently assigned Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga, a parish priest well known for his healing work, to full-time leadership in establishing the Center for the Secret of Peace in Cyangugu.  (Fr. Ubald says the secret of peace is forgiveness and reconciliation.)

Fr. Ubald, 53, is a lively, energetic, tireless, can-do and charismatic man who has been likened to Martin Luther King, Jr.  He can’t walk down the street without people stopping him to talk and he constantly receives cell phone calls from parishioners as well as friends and acquaintances in Europe and America asking him to pray for them.

One reason why Fr. Ubald is so effective is that during the genocide he lost 80 members of his own family, 45,000 members of his parish and barely escaped the terror himself.  He has made healing his country’s wounds his passion and the focus of his ministry.

Fr. Charles Ntabyera, 34, saw his father carried off by the killers.  He became separated from his mother and siblings when they escaped the country.  At age 17 he suddenly found himself alone in that dangerous world. 

And yet, his call to the priesthood came from his father’s prayer that one of his sons become a priest.  During Mass, Fr. Charles consistently and fervently proclaimed that “the love of Jesus Christ helps us conquer the world of evil.  Let us always be turned to Jesus and fight to overcome evil in the world.”

Lent is a time to focus on our sinfulness and the fact that Jesus’ life and death were meant not only to save us from evil but to overcome evil with love, compassion and healing. 

This truth is often be obfuscated by our tendency to focus on our political, economic, social and cultural differences.  When we do this we are giving in to the forces of evil that if taken to the extreme could lead us to a bloody outcome like it did in Rwanda.  This already happened once in our history, during the Civil War when 625,000 died.

Rwanda is a powerful and an inspiring example of what it takes to overcome evil:  people who are engaged in a daily struggle together as a community and as the Church.

The strife in our world today is incredibly difficult at every level, but let us get through the evils it instigates as men and women of love, compassion and healing rather than as proponents of violence, hate and retribution.

Farm Journal: More Photos and News on the Class of 2011

Here I am with Mattie, a two-year-old first-time Mama who had a very large buckling.
So far, Windshadow Farm & Dairy has 27 kids, that's 15 doelings and 12 bucklings--with four more does to deliver!

It's been a tremendous year for new life!

And, there's nothing like a new kid.  Its fur is soft like a cat's.  (In fact, at birth they are about 10 pounds, the size of a cat.)

They love to suck on your finger and lick your face just like human babies.

They are cuddly, have a zest for life, and are fun to watch as they get their "sea legs" and soon learn to leap capriciously.  (After all, the astrological sign of Capricorn is a goat.)

One thing I like about being an "auntie" to the kids is that I have time to play with them, which is one important part of their development.

When the new grass begins to sprout, there will be time to take them on "little pasture walks."  This activity signals that they are ready to graze because their rumens are open for business.  For now, they are feeding on mothers' milk.  For more info on the goat's digestive system, see the explanation below.  It is taken from a 4-H project in New York.

The most outstanding things about the kids is their curiosity and playfulness.  They can be quite a handful, especially when there are so many of them!  But that's a challenge I'm ready to take on.

For example, I spent some time in the kid pen today, which is in the barn.  I helped Suzanne feed the kids and later got inside the pen to play with them.  They jump all over and on top of me and make me laugh.  Goats are rock climbers so I'm their substitute pile of rocks at this early stage of their lives.  This is a big sacrifice, as you can imagine.

For the first week of life they stay inside the Kleins' house, depending on the weather.  Then they are put in the barn's kid pen where they are introduced to straw bedding, a heat lamp and a milking set-up that has several nipples on it for self-feeding.  (Photos to come.  My battery died before I could take pictures of the set-up.  Mon dieu!)

The boy-kid on the left, son of Chantelle who delivered this morning around 3:30, has unusual coloring with a brown top and a white bottom.  He is a son of Sundance from Evergreen Lane Farm & Creamery, Tom and Cathy Halinsky's place in Fennville.

A precocious and impish doeling is on the lookout for whatever comes:  milk, time on the floor, scampering around with the other kids, or human cuddling.  Kids stand on four legs within a couple hours of their birth and they bleat with cute, but demanding little voices.  For their first week of life, they stay in Ron and Suzanne's house in big cardboard boxes with torn-up newsprint on the bottom. 

This big kid is anxious to leave its first home and get out to the barn--whatever that is.  The silver-colored kids with a black stripe on their backs are the kin of Tiger, a magnificent-looking French Alpine buck.  (French Alpines have long pointed ears, however, when bred with Lamancha goats, the dominant trait is the short ear.)

If I can hold two kids, can I hold three?  Why not try?  "Resistance is futile."

The kid in the middle is one of Tiger's offspring.  Notice the long pointed ears. 

The Goat's Digestive System

                KID SYSTEM                           ADULT SYSTEM
1- rumen, 2 - reticulum, 3 - omasum, 4 - abomasum 

When a goat kid is born, its rumen, reticulum and omasum are very tiny and not useful.  The goat kid depends on a liquid, milk, not roughage for its feed source.  When the kid swallows milk, the milk goes directly to the abomasum through the esophageal groove. Everytime the kid swallows, a flap of skin at the entrance to the rumen folds over to form a grove that bypasses the rumen and sends the milk straight to the abomasum to be digested by stomach acid.  As the kid gets older,  he starts trying to consume roughage.  The rumen becomes active and starts to enlarge.  Its population of micro-organisms increases. The reticulum and omasum also respond to the changes in diet by getting bigger.  By the time the kid is an adult goat, roughage is his main source of food and his rumen is far larger than his abomasum.  READ MORE

Windshadow Update
Ron and Suzanne are working harder than ever these days to keep up with all the work needed on the farm but they are gratified at this year's successful breeding.

Ron and Mike are still building the new milk parlor in the barn, which will be great demand now that the does are back in production.  Ron is currently milking the goats by hand but eventually he will have a new milking machine, which will cut down the time it takes to milk considerably.  It also will help relieve the muscles in his hands and arms.  It takes a lot of strength to milk goats.  And, since so many of the goats are newbies at milking, they also need to be trained to jump up on the milk stand, stand tall, and cooperate during milking.  More on the new milking machine when it arrives.

Cheese plant under construction last fall
It will be a little while before the cheese making begins, however, because the milk is now being used for the new kids.  The cheese plant is nearly complete with just the final paneling, plumbing and electrical work to do.  The new air handling system is working very well (it has filtered air with balanced air pressure to the interior rooms).  The interior rooms were warm even during the coldest part of winter!

The cheese plant exterior walls are made of SIPs (structure insulated panels) with an R-value of 46, while the interior walls are also SIPs with an R value of 35.  The ceiling is rated at a value of ~R60, which means the entire plant is well insulated!  All of these provisions control the interior environment for making, drying, aging and packaging the cheese. After Ron and Suzanne obtain a Grade A dairy license, production can begin, which they believe will be later this year.

Because the water buffalo are an integral part of the cheese they will be making, they need to have babies, too.  A couple weeks ago the water buffalo were pregnancy checked and the vet believes that calves will be coming in June-July.  Their birth weight ranges from 95-140 pounds, which is going to be interesting given that we are used to 10-pound goats at birth.  I hope they all come out straight! 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Food’s Impact on Re-Building New Orleans

In an odd sort of way, Hurricane Katrina helped to make New Orleans an incredible laboratory not only for understanding the role and importance of a city’s food system but for recognizing the importance of food as an essential tool for community building.

Two thousand homes were lost in the storm and over 66,000 lots were left vacant or blighted (compared to 19,000 before Katrina).  There were no grocery stores, food vendors or gardens.  Fishers were lost, their boats wrecked and farmers had no crops, said Poppy Tooker, culinary activist, local food preservationist, founder of Slow Food New Orleans and a Times-Picayune “Hero of the Storm.” 

The city looked as though it had been through a nuclear explosion.  Everything was brown and gray and there was no green to be seen.  But a few restaurants remained open.

That was a beacon of hope,” she said at the 14th Annual Community Food Security Coalition Conference held in New Orleans recently.

The food distribution system had collapsed, she said, however, it provided the opportunity to start all over again with a clean slate.

A month after the storm Tooker talked with regional farmers and vendors about supplying fresh food to restaurant chefs rather than rely only on national food distributors.  

Gradually, little cafes opened.  Some chefs used coolers for refrigerators.  CafĂ© registers put the farmer’s name on an envelope in order to pay for their food products. 

Then, grocery stores began to re-open but the struggle to find quality products continued.  For instance, when Tooker looked for butter and could only find margarine, she “burst into tears.”

Poppy Tooker
Slow Food USA wanted to help and by 2006, through the fundraising efforts of Tooker, the Terra Madre Relief Fund was established to assist Louisiana food communities hit by Hurricane Katrina.  Now that fund has evolved to lend a hand to farmers and food artisans struck by natural disasters on the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

Evacuees and food
Many evacuees, who were scattered all over the country, swore they would never return to New Orleans after they saw Katrina’s destruction on television.  However, some found that food comforted them in their homesickness.

Pam Broom and her family lived in Chicago for 18 months and sorely missed their native cuisine.  They’d get together with other evacuees and tell stories of home around a delicious Orleanian meal. 

Food had other effects.  Broom said she once saw a man with a basket full of green peppers and suddenly became extremely happy.  Green peppers along with celery and onions are part of the “trinity,” the base of New Orleans cooking. 

Broom began gardening in Chicago through Growing Power, an urban garden program started by MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” recipient Will Allen.  One day as she harvested collard greens in an icy rain, she discovered that she really loved this work—but had had enough of Midwestern winters.  She decided to go home.

“Flying into New Orleans is like no other place in the world,” said Broom. “It’s full of mangled landscapes of wetlands and swamp, but I feel excited and blessed.  It’s a spirit that grabs you and holds you.” 

Broom is now executive director of the Women and Agriculture Network, a group of New Orleans organizations that strategically think and plan for food justice in urban areas. 

Lolis Eric Elie and his family evacuated to Baton Rouge, a mere 80 miles from New Orleans.  But it was obvious from the start that they weren’t in the same culture.

“There is an unquenchable human spirit and joie de vivre in New Orleans,” said Elie.

The former Times-Picayune columnist turned filmmaker (he wrote Treme, the HBO series about post-Katrina New Orleans) reflected on eating red beans and rice away from home.  The dish is a city tradition tied to Monday, laundry day, when people prepared it and let it simmer all day while they worked.

“[It] was affirming because it meant that all had not been lost,” he said.  “Through food, a part of the Orleanian culture could still be maintained.  There is a kind of security you get from food beyond having your stomach full.  Having a food tradition is part and parcel of one’s culture.”

Grassroots organizing
Since the storm new groups have been forming to address many of the city’s food—and health—needs.  For example, the New Orleans Food and Farm Network. (NOFFN) organizes projects and events that help citizens get fresh and healthy food through education, public policy, maps that locate farmers markets and local food vendors and by celebrating and addressing local food needs and resources at the neighborhood level.

NOFFN also latched on to the burgeoning urban gardens movement to teach people how to grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables on vacant land in neighborhoods that lost houses due to the storm.  Local government has responded to provide incentives for people to develop this vacant land for gardens, green spaces and beautification projects, although there is still a great need for soil building and composting.

Broom also recognized that urban agriculture has the capacity to develop a viable workforce by reaching out to groups like the underserved, at-risk youth and prisoners. 

Training them to grow food is far better than just giving them handouts, she said. 

It is interesting to note that most of these efforts to re-establish a local food system have come from grassroots people.

“City government lacks much understanding let alone does it have any policy on urban farms and farmers markets,” said Elie.  “The State of Louisiana recently set up a food policy initiative but there are lots of problems with it, some of which existed before Katrina.”

But things are changing as NOFFN “envision[s] a vital community that values its agricultural and culinary heritage,” according to its website. 

The oral history of a culture is important and food is quite connected to it. 

“It is part of discovering and understanding one’s identity but it is also a matter of food security where you not only prevent starvation but feel secure through food,” said Elie.

He added that several organizations are currently doing some “cultural excavation” through seed saving, writing community cookbooks, returning to the oral history of what the elders ate and how that has changed, learning about food-related diseases.

Among these efforts is Poppy Tooker’s book, The Crescent City Farmers Market Cookbook that not only incorporates renowned Orleanian chefs’ recipes, but tells the story of the rise and decline of the city’s markets, which date back to 1718. 

The book features the Crescent City Farmers Market, founded by the Twomey Center for Peace Through Justice at Loyola University New Orleans in 1995 after an absence of public markets for nearly 50 years. 

The market is an outgrowth and a reflection of the core mission of, which seeks “to cultivate public markets for the public good, utilize local resources to bolster authentic local traditions and to improve social, health, environmental and financial through trust and respect,” according to its website.

The Crescent City Farmers Market prides itself on making an annual $9 million economic impact on the city, however, it deems the social transactions among friends, shoppers, farmers, fishers and vendors as critical to the market’s success.

For example, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving after Katrina when the market re-opened, people who couldn’t previously find each other, all met at the market, said Tooker. 

“It was a real community builder,” she said.

The market’s co-founder and executive director Richard McCarthy regards the importance of community especially critical today as “the promises of life long careers, financial stability, and civic engagement” fade.  

In 2004, the White Boot Brigade, a project of Market Umbrella was formed to protect the livelihoods of wild harvest fishers in the Greater New Orleans’ coastal waters from the onslaught of farm-raised seafood imports and natural and industrial disasters.  After Katrina, they donned the white boots of their trade and knocked on the doors of New York and California restaurants to promote their boutique catch. 

One other significant outcome in the post-Katrina re-organization of New Orleans is the new partnership between the people and local government around food, something that didn’t exist before, said Broom.

For example, the city’s Food Policy Council, which began in spring 2007, a year later approached the New Orleans City Council with recommendations on strategies aimed at improving the local food system.

The Council also started a summer program that provided 800 meals per day.  Currently, the city is breaking ground for a 6,000 square foot community kitchen where 2 million meals will be served per year, said Broom. 

New Orleans illustrates the resilience and imagination of its people in response to extraordinary disaster, virtual abandonment by government and the wariness by some Americans in seeing the city re-built.  New Orleans also represents an example of what can happen when friends and neighbors see the need not only to help each other but to preserve their culture.  In this case the driving force of community was—and still is—centered around food. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Food: Kurry Guru

Mukta Joshi is the Kurry Guru of Kalamazoo

As you enter a little, gray brick building on a quiet side street off a busy Portage Road, your nose is filled with the scent of exotic spices wafting in the air mixed with the luscious smell of onions and garlic. 

This is the home of Kurry Guru, a catering and ready-to-eat meals business that also offers classes for people interested in Indian food. 

The buffet table is empty now but it won’t be for long once participants learn how to cook a curry meal of gobhi gajar matar masala (cauliflower, carrots and peas), paneer makhani (a mild non-melting cheese with creamy blended vegetables), a desert drink called lassi (blended yogurt, mango and mint leaves) and a side of papad (a crisp flatbread) served with chutney (fresh and pickled vegetable and spice mix).

The kitchen glistens with its steel tables and storage racks full of rice, lentils, onions, potatoes, spices, olive oil, ghee and plastic carryout containers.  But the “altar” of this space is the gas stove with its many frying pans and spatulas waiting to prepare an uncommonly delicious meal.

Participants attending today’s class are here for a number of reasons:  curiosity, a desire to cook something different and a way to build onto their collection of vegetarian meals.  One woman is planning a trip to India and wants to know more about the food.  Another wants to complement her yoga practice by eating Indian food.

Mukta and her husband, Himanshu Pant, teach classes together.
But first, Mukta Joshi and her husband, Himanshu Pant, graciously invite participants to sit around a small coffee table in order to explain the history of curry, its role in Indian culture and cuisine and the health benefits of the spices used to make it.   

Pant has been cooking since he was seven but Joshi really learned to cook when she came to the United States 11 years ago.  She missed home-cooked Indian food and realized that the only way to get it was if she made it.  As she prepared various dishes, friends recognized her talent and encouraged her.  Last year she decided to start Kurry Guru in the Can-Do Kitchen. 

“My good friends who are chefs in the food industry inspired me and really pushed me hard that I should be doing it,” said Joshi.  “And this is how it all started.”

As a special feature of the business, Joshi and Pant work together as a team to provide cooking classes.  Pant’s job as a computer IT specialist makes him very busy but he enjoys talking about Indian food so much that he and Joshi plan classes around his schedule.  In this way couple can do something together that they greatly appreciate:  cook Indian food and teach others how to do it as well. 

Yvette Noble, Lillie Wolff, Steve Kamerling and Rita Klavinski 
The class begins with a brief but thorough interactive discussion of the cuisine.  Then Joshi ushers participants to the kitchen. 

She first prepares the lassi, a refreshing drink, served in a stainless steel cup with different-colored straws.  It goes down smoothly with a firm, full flavor and texture and is an instant hit with everyone.

Pant warms up some papad in the microwave, breaks it apart and offers it to the participants.

“Please eat while we cook,” he says as he continues a discussion about different Indian breads.

Then it is time to make the two different curries. 

Like a Food Channel chef, Joshi has already cut up the onions, tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots, peas, garlic green chilies, ginger and cilantro and put them into small bowls.  As she empties the ingredients one by one into the pan, she explains why each step is important.  But the magic of the dish is the spices, which have been freshly ground for the greatest flavor.

Joshi also shares shopping tips for the ingredients while participants share some of their experiences with Indian cuisine. 

gobhi gajar matar masala, rice, and paneer makhani 
After the curries are finished, Joshi lays out a spread on the buffet table. 

Food is served on stainless steel dinner plates, as it is done in India, and Joshi shows participants how to mix the rice and the curry.  Although forks are used in this class, she points out that Indian people eat with their hands by making a cone out of a small piece of bread and scooping up the food to their mouths.

The class samples gobhi gajar matar masala and paneer makhani

Joshi and Pant again ask participants to sit around the coffee table, this time to sample the sumptuous meal.  Their verdict is a unanimous A+ for presentation, texture, flavor and all-around goodness.

“What I liked about the class was that it was well organized, small sized,” said Steve Kamerling of Kalamazoo.  “It had good handouts with basic recipes and was taught by people with good communication skills who grew up eating this food. I especially liked being in the kitchen watching and smelling the recipes develop.”

“I took the class because I have enjoyed Indian food for a long time and wanted to know how to make authentic dishes at home,” said Yvette Noble of Kalamazoo.  “I have cooked the recipes we made during the class at home and was surprised how easy it was to do.”


Classes are held on one Saturday per month.  The next scheduled class is on “Breadmaking” and will be held on Saturday, March 12 from 10-12:30 p.m.  Cost is $45.  Registration is limited to five participants.  Check Facebook for future classes:

Kurry Guru’s ready-to-eat gourmet Indian vegetarian foods and snacks are available at Bronson Hospital Cafeteria (601 E. John St.), Harding’s Friendly Market (3750 W. Centre, Portage), Natural Health Center (4610 West Main), People’s Food Co-Op (436 S. Burdick), Sawall Health Foods (2965 Oakland Dr.).  Meals are made with fresh vegetables, 100 percent extra virgin olive oil and all natural wholesome ingredients without flavor enhancers or preservatives.

For more information about Kurry Guru, call 269-978-8035, or

See a video on Kurry Guru

Short History of Indian Cuisine

India is a big country and its geography can impact food differences as close as 100 kilometers (62 miles).  Every region and state in India has  its own culinary history and cuisine. Generally, however, southern Indian food tends to be spicier than northern food thanks to more generous doses of chili pepper.  And, because the north is so far from the ocean, seafood doesn’t play as central a role as it does in the south.  Southerners prefer steamed rice while northerners eat more roti, a bread made with stoneground wheat flour.  Also, the north has more fried foods like samosas, a triangular pastry stuff with a savory filling that may include spiced potatoes, onions, peas, coriander, and lentils, or ground chicken or lamb. 

The five key spices to Indian cooking are turmeric, coriander, cardamom, chili pepper and the “magical” spice:  garam masala, which is actually a combination of cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, black cumin, coriander, bay leaves and black peppercorns. 

“Buying whole spices rather than powder makes them fresher and tastier,” says Joshi, “especially if you use them within six months.”

Curry was really a British invention concocted by those who had served in India (when it was part of the empire).  They missed the country’s fine cuisine when they returned home to England. 

The basic curry is a rich gravy of onion, diced tomatoes, ginger, garlic and spices.  However, what differentiates one curry from another is what you put into it.  Northern Indians generally use cream, yogurt, and cashew paste while southern Indians add curry leaves and coconut milk or grated coconut  minus the yogurt. 

Indians regularly eat curry or another dish, dahl, which is a thick stew of dried lentils, peas or beans that have been stripped of their outer hulls and split, said Pant. Indians are mostly vegetarian as they follow the Hindu religion, which teaches non violence.

Indians began using spices 3,000 years ago and have acquired a bounty of them over the centuries through trade with the Chinese and Persians.  During European colonialism, the Portuguese made their mark on the cuisine in Goa with meat dishes like vindaloo, a fiery-hot, mustard-laced dish. Traditionally, vindaloo is made with pork, but there are many variations prepared with chicken or lamb.  The Portuguese have also contributed to dishes with coconut, vinegar and chili powder.

Turmeric has special significance for India as it is used in most of the Indian cooking.  According to recent medical studies, it has high medicinal value for anti-inflammatory conditions, colitis, cancer and even as a preventive for Alzheimer’s disease.  As a child, Joshi’s mother used to give her a glass of raw milk with a pinch of turmeric for her good health.  Many Indian people still take a daily dose of turmeric in this way.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

From Motown to Grow-Town!

A bucketful of vegetables from Romanowski Farm Park, Detroit

by Ashley Atkinson, Michigan Citizen

Here’s a little known statistic: More than one-in-50 Detroiters will be engaged in growing their own food in family, school, community and/or market gardens across the city this year. Although our landscape is covered in ice and snow now, very soon Detroit will be overflowing with productive patches of green, filled with heirloom tomatoes, snap peas, collard greens and vines ripe with the fruits of summer, lovingly tended by the capable hands of our citizenry. With over 16,000 residents involved in the Garden Resource Program (GRP) alone, Detroiters are leading the country with efforts to transform vacant land into productive gardens and farms; rebuilding local networks of food producers, distributors, processors, and consumers, while building community and stability in our neighborhoods.

These are promising numbers for those like Sam Newsome from Brotherly Love Community Garden who routinely says, “We’re turning Motown into Grow-town!” Sam and others believe Detroit is poised to become the first post-industrial city in America to regain control of its food system. Not only do we have engaged and knowledgeable residents, we have the land and natural resources at our fingertips. A recent study published by Michigan State University found that Detroiters can produce 75 percent of our vegetable needs and nearly 50 percent of our fruit needs for 900,000 people on just 2,000 acres, a fraction of the vacant land currently available in the city.

Now is the perfect time to join the thousands of residents growing a food secure Detroit! One of the important goals the Detroit Food Policy Council is tasked with is to help Detroit realize its potential by promoting a policy environment that facilitates the transformation of vacant into productive gardens and farms. Join the conversation by attending the first annual Powering Up the Local Food System Summit hosted by the Detroit Food Policy Council May 19 and 20 at the Eastern Market. For more information contact

Here are a few other ways you can get involved:

1) Start a vegetable garden. Residents of Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park can join the Garden Resource Program and receive seeds, transplants, and other garden resources for a nominal fee by contacting Lindsay Turpin at The Greening of Detroit, 313.285.1249

2) Cultivate a green thumb. Attend one of the gardening, farming, cooking or preserving workshops offered by the many community-based organizations working to promote food security in Detroit. For schedules and more information visit

3) Buy Local. Buy Grown in Detroit. Support local farmers and gardeners selling at farmers markets and restaurants. To find a farmers’ market near you visit

Ashley Atkinson is Secretary of the Detroit Food Policy Council and Director of Urban Agriculture and Openspace at The Greening of Detroit.