I’ve had a lot of personal things going which have led me to thinking about commitment quite a bit lately. And with the seasons changing and Spring coming on, it’s a great time to think about what our commitments are. With a handy Google search I found that ‘Commitment’ is defined as: 1. The act of committing or the state of being committed 2. An agreement or pledge to do something in the future. Some of its synonyms are: attachment, fidelity, devotion, faithfulness, loyalty, and steadfastness.
Let’s start here. For the next year, I’ve committed to being an Apprentice here at Cricket Creek Farm. It’s long days and hard work and I don’t get paid much, but it’s something that I’m willing and even excited to do. I’m committed. I’m here and I’ll be here. I’m committed to learning as much as I can while I’m here. I’m committed to doing the best job I can do: to do my best to contribute to the success of the farm, to support the land, the animals, my body and my soul.
As a farm, we’re committed to sustainability, to treating our animals with respect and care, to being a part of the community. Did you know we have weekly potlucks that are open to the public? We encourage you to come and share food with us, bring something to share (and your plate/bowl and silverware!) and enjoy an evening on the farm. They are every Thursday night at 7 pm in case you want to come and join us. It’s one way we want to be a part of the community and that we invite you to be a part of the farm.
Another way we invite you to be a part of Cricket Creek Farm is through our CSA. If you don’t know what a CSA is, it stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It’s a way for you to be a consistent customer to us throughout a whole season. You pay in advance for your ‘share’ of what we produce and pick it up weekly throughout the season. It is a season long commitment. The CSA is a great model for us in that it helps to us to cover the costs of running the farm and gives us a good stream of income before the product gets to you. And the fun part is you get to come to the farm and see us every week! If you’d like to commit to being a part of our CSA, the next season starts in May. We’re looking to expand our CSA and we would love to have you as one of our members!
I know that being a CSA member is a big commitment. Some of you may not be quite up for that level of commitment. That’s ok! There are so many other ways that you can support Cricket Creek Farm. How about shopping in our farm store?! Our farm store is open 7 days a week from 7am to 7pm. If you already shop in our farm store, how about telling your friends and family about it?! (I know, you may want to keep it a secret, it is pretty fantastic! But really, help us out and tell your friends and family about how great it is.) Maybe you live just a little too far away to shop in our farm store, that’s ok too. We understand. Come see us at a Farmer’s Market! We are currently going to the following Winter Farmer’s Markets: Troy (Saturdays 9-1), Northampton (Saturdays 9-2), and Bennington (First and Third Saturdays 10-1). As we move later into the Spring, we’ll be going to some other markets as well, so keep your eyes and ears open and come see us and buy some cheese!
Now and in the future I hope that in some way, shape, or form you will commit to supporting Cricket Creek Farm. What am I saying, you’ve already committed to receiving our newsletter! But what will your next level of commitment be? It’s a personal decision but I encourage you to be a part of growing Cricket Creek Farm in whatever way feels right to you. We’re excited to welcome you!
Shirley Sylvester says that the best part of “living on this farm is being out and about. I know every inch of this farm. I have walked all over these hills. I have walked all over these fields.” Shirley moved to Cricket Cricket Creek Farm from town with her husband John and their toddler son in May of 1953. They were looking for a place to rent in the country to raise their children. They have made it home ever since.
How does anybody end up and stay in a place? During my couple of years living and working at Cricket Creek Farm, which I’ll tell ya has felt like a lifetime and a moment all at once, I have often thought about this. It is easy to end up in a place by happenchance, by need, and by desire, but it is harder to stay put. In a time of rapid fire everything, from information to money to raw materials to bullets, I think it’s become increasingly difficult for people to create deep emotional attachments to places and less likely for people to be restrained by the practical and physical circumstances of places. In essence, it’s become harder to make a home.
So maybe you can understand why, coming from how I see and think about things, I am so enthralled by the lives of Shirley and John Sylvester who are my upstairs neighbors in the white house behind the willow tree at Cricket Creek Farm. I cherish the infrequent but incredibly satisfying conversations I have with Shirley and John, but it is their muffled voices, the hum of Shirley’s vacuum cleaner, the tap of John’s hands and feet to the rhythms of life, and Shirley’s sprightly step as she goes to feed the farm cats every morning that brings me to a feeling of really being home.
For most of the Sylvesters’ time at Cricket Creek, the farm was owned by Norris Phelps. With the help of several other families, the Phelps family raised a Holstein herd and their forage and feed at Cricket Creek until 2000, the year before the Sabot family purchased the farm. Shirley says it was a great place to bring children up, “It was a resort” for them to play and learn in.
During a visit upstairs the other day I asked John what his favorite part of being on the farm has been. He responded in his ever youthful expressions, “Working in the shop, working with the tools.” Even though John has not been in and around the workshop lately, which is in the middle of the farm parking lot, the legacy of his impeccability shines through our currently more chaotic habits. His organization and attention to detail is beyond impressive. Shirley said the shop was “as neat and tidy as your dining room.” Often when I have looked for some odd or end that I know must be hiding in some corner of that old shop and I come across some little box labeled in a very distinguished handwriting I feel as though I have traveled through somebody else’s brain. It is quite astounding and humbling to pause and think about a man, decades, and the sheer amount of headaches that he has relieved in that space. John has slowed down in recent years, but his memory for the details of his farmwork are as sharp as he kept his tools. He worked more than full time on the farm, as well as serving as a town policeman six days a week.
In the evening, during the corn harvest, after everybody else had gone home John would stay and repair the corn chopper -whatever it took- rivets, welds, sharpening- you name it. Asking him why he did it John simply said, “it needed to get done!”
In addition to being integral to the operation and overall sustainability of the farm, Shirley and John had careers off the farm in Williamstown. For 25 years Shirley worked at Corner House Publishers on Green River Road. John was a Williamstown policeman from the middle 50’s through 1980. Shirley got home when their children, Jonathan and Stacy, were done with the school day. John left for his shift at 3 in the afternoon and worked late into the evening. But the Sylvesters always sat down for dinner together. To be able to eat with his family John would leave the car radio on and the window open so he could hear if he got a call. Needless to say, he didn’t always get the last bite.
When Shirley, who grew up in Bennington, and John, on Green River Road a few miles away, moved to the house on the shoulder of the Taconic hills they found a place that brought life and joy to them. They “love the whole farm,” as Shirley puts it. When I asked Shirley what she thinks about the current iteration of Cricket Creek Farm, she said “My hat goes off to Topher….He deserves a gold star. And his mother too. They are very brave.” Like Shirley, I am so comforted that the farm remains is in the hands of such grounded and caring people.
A couple weeks back, the crew here had the opportunity to sit down with cheesemaker and monger Paul Lawler, now a CFF apprentice alumni, before he departed for Cranberry Creek Farm in the Poconos to make what will prove to be some stellar goat’s milk cheese. Paul presented us first with a well-prepared lesson on proper tasting, which was equally well-appreciated, especially on my behalf, since the steepest learning curve I’ve brought with me to Cricket Creek is probably that of developing the proficient and polished palate fitting of a cheesemaker. And after guiding the group through the fundamentals of tasting with our eyes, hands, noses, and yes, ultimately our mouths, Paul presented us with a carefully composed tasting plate and the opportunity to put our newly-learned lessons to use.
For starters, Paul set out two milks and informed us that we would taste a pasteurized whole milk from a well-known local, “conventional” dairy as well as our own, raw whole milk. He didn’t tell us which was which and I was nervous that my dumb tongue (and nose) would embarrass me. I was even more anxious after tasting the first milk, because I didn’t like it. There wasn’t much to say about it, at least not much that was positive. I was worried that, when actually asked to consider milk, I wouldn’t discern much. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the milks, that I might misidentify them, that, at best, I would have to confess to not liking milk as much as I had previously professed, and at worst, that I might like another milk, a pasteurized milk, and have to admit this to my farming and cheesemaking coworkers.
I timidly picked up and sipped the second milk. I was astonished. I thought that I might have trouble distinguishing the two, but I almost didn’t believe the incredible difference that I tasted. The second was substantial and had a sweetness to it. It felt filling, but also left me wanting more. It was nothing like the white water I had gulped down prior. Without a doubt, I had biases about milk, but this was a blind taste test and the afternoon’s lessons had left me with a beginner’s mind: open, eager, and without preconceptions. In fact, I think that allowed me to be bowled over (“Wow, this is SO good”) rather than blasé (of course it’s good, I could have told you that”). More than any other point during the afternoon’s lesson, tasting exercises , and the tasting itself, I was confident articulating what I had tasted and announcing that the second milk was our milk, Cricket Creek Farm milk. It may have been the only time I was on point all afternoon.
The vast qualitative difference between our milk and the other milk made me wonder why anyone would drink anything akin to the pasteurized milk that started our tasting. Accessibility is certainly an issue-for a lot of folks, it’s not easy to get good milk. But then I remembered that many Americans aren’t drinking milk anymore, period. According to a December article in the Wall Street Journal, “Per Capita U.S. milk consumption…has fallen almost 30% since 1975” and 2012 saw the biggest year-over year decline in 37 years, with Americans drinking on average 3.3% less milk than in 2011. That means that Americans drank an average of 20.2 gallons of milk last year, an amount I think I have consumed in the month I’ve been on the farm and one that is less than half of the 44 gallons of soda per capita Americans drank last year. The Journal posits that such a decline is more pronounced in “an age of vitamin waters and energy drinks” and I suppose that’s true to a certain extent. Likewise, so too is Gawker’s quip (in the article that sent me to the WSJ) that Americans consider themselves “too good” to drink milk, even if Gawker assertion was made tongue-in-cheek.
If most Americans only have experience with and exposure to poor quality milk, if that’s all they know and that’s all that’s readily available, why would they drink it? If flavored, sweetened, and “energized” waters abound, why would folks choose a bland and watery milk (which is really milk robbed of all its enduring and endearing qualities)? Most folks are too good for the milk that is cooked at ultra-high temperatures to be trucked across the country and sold at gas stations, not because they are haughty, but because deep down, most folks know that it’s not that good and want something better. Good milk has substance, good milk is sweet (though not sickly so), and good milk is sustaining (in a way that no energy drink could ever be). I consider myself very fortunate to have good milk so close at hand and as much as I appreciate it now, I’m looking forward to drinking and discovering more as I develop my palate here at Cricket Creek.
Last week I was pleased to see an article in the New York Times Magazine questioning the conventional medical interpretation of the relationship between saturated fat, cholesterol, and heart disease. For the past few years I have been trying to educate myself on these and other nutritional issues, in order to help deal with my own food intolerances and preferences. Underlying my reading has been my own critical analysis of the relationship between the medical, pharmaceutical & agribusiness industries and government agencies such as the FDA and the USDA. We know that the revolving door between the agribusiness and the pharmaceutical industries with the government is too profound to ignore, and it has given me a skeptical lens through which to interpret and understand many common understandings, conceptions, and “givens” in the mainstream health system.
In the alternative health community, understanding about saturated fats from grass-fed animals, and the relationship between cholesterol and heart disease has been growing and spreading in new directions away from the mainstream. There are now countless books and articles written by doctors, nutritionists and researchers who openly denounce the conventional medical wisdom about these issues because of the health implications they are seeing from processed foods and polyunsaturated fats such as vegetable oils (canola, corn, etc), shortening, margarine, soy products, etc.
Piecemeal, the mainstream media has been picking up on this dialogue and hesitantly sharing it. Last week there was an article in the New York Times Magazine, “Eat Your Heart Out” that opened up some of these questions. The short article honestly stated that many answers are still unknown, but many previous assumptions are being questioned. The article ends with a very indecisive line, referencing a statement by Philip C. Calder, a professor of nutritional immunology at the University of Southampton, in England, “But the truth is, at this point, we don’t truly understand how it all works. Calder said the new analysis might prompt some people to recommend lowering the use of vegetable oils, substituting animal fats instead, but that he wasn’t ready to come to that conclusion.”
I find this refreshing and intriguing. Where will this go, I wonder?
Thanks for putting your thinking cap on with me!
Cycles abound in physical systems. Holistic farm management embraces these cycles, identifying as many ways as possible that some output of a farm process ― say, manure as the output of a farm animal’s metabolism ― may in turn be appropriated as an input of another farm process ― say, fertilizer for the growth of crops or forage. Each particular farm process is a single strand that weaves into the intricate and complex ecosystem to which we belong as well. But how precisely do we humans, with our particular metabolic and nutritive input requirements, fit into this ecosystem? Can we direct our strands, so to speak, to constitute some optimal position within this yarn in terms of both ecological sustainability and human nutrition?
I think that we can. And it was this belief that, in part, inspired me to volunteer in Cricket Creek Farm’s creamery from early this past November through late January. This post is the first in what I intend to be a mini-series investigating how the outputs of a farm ecosystem such as Cricket Creek play important nutritive roles in supporting vibrant health. We’ll discuss the nutritional qualities of butter, meats and raw milk and from pastured cows, of aged, full-fat, raw milk cheeses (like Maggie’s Round and Tobasi!), and of eggs from pastured hens. (Though since there are *way* too many deep and extensive discussions out there to discuss in a series of short blog posts, much of my work here will be to point you in those interesting directions.) On the docket for today? An overview of an historically little- discussed vitamin that is quickly gaining attention: vitamin K2.
You may very well be familiar with the form of vitamin K known as Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone).
It’s found in dandelion greens, spinach, kale and other leafy, green vegetables. The second form,
vitamin K2―which is in fact a group of related compounds known as menaquinones―differs in
many respects from vitamin K1. For instance, vitamin K2 is found naturally in animal fats ―including dairy― and organ meats from animals raised on pastures of quickly growing grass as well as in egg yolks (but not whites) and certain fermented products such as natto (a Japanese fermented soybean breakfast food) and aged cheeses. Another interesting difference: studies suggest that increasing our daily intake of vitamin K2―from food or supplements―can reduce our risk for coronary heart disease, osteoperosis and some types of cancer, while vitamin K1 does not appear to have the same effect  (Stephan Guyenet discusses  here .
The reason, research suggests, is that while vitamin K1 is preferentially used by the liver to facilitate coagulation (vitamin K, discovered by Danish scientist Henrik Dam, was first discussed in a German journal and so named for the German koagulation), vitamin K2 is preferentially used by other tissues (including vascular tissue) to direct proper calcium deposition. The latter, in turn, has been connected with the health benefits described above . Both of these functions are performed by certain vitamin-K dependent proteins (also known as Gla proteins), which require vitamin K in order to become activated. In particular, vitamin K2 activates two proteins―osteocalcin and matrix Gla protein (MGP)―that play essential roles in the body’s regulation of calcium metabolism. Osteocalcin guides calcium (and phosphorus) to be incorporated into new
bone and teeth tissue. In other words, osteocalcin directs calcium to the sites and processes where it is needed for robust, healthful function. MGP complements osteocalcin by preventing the calcification of soft tissues―that is, by keeping calcium from depositing in sites where it is not only unneeded but also undesirable, such as arteries.
Though vitamin K2 did not receive much attention in the mainstream medical research community
until relatively recently (its discoverer, Henrik Dam, and those who conducted early research on it
believed the difference between the two naturally occuring forms of vitamin K to be minimal), it was
studied extensively by Dr. Weston A. Price, albeit under the moniker “Activator X” since Price could not identify its chemical structure. Price discovered that he could treat a number of dental maladies with a combination of cod liver oil rich in vitamin A and D and butter oil rich in vitamin K2 (see Stephan Guyenet’s discussion here. Chris Masterjohn’s narrative is unfortunately offline – I’ll link to it as soon as it’s back). In fact, as Chris Masterjohn discusses here, vitamins A and D interact synergistically with vitamin K2. So to get the full benefits of the beautifully yellow (indicative of higher nutritional content!) butter that Suzy talks about a few posts down, you’ll want to make sure that you are actively getting enough vitamin K2 in your diet.
Humans, it turns out, cannot effectively synthesize vitamin K2 from vitamin K1. On the other hand,
ruminants supplied with healthy amounts of green grass can effect this synthesis, which is why butter (more so than milk, evidently) and meats from pastured cows are good sources of vitamin K2. Vitamin K1, from which the cows synthesize vitamin K2, is abundant in the membrane of chloroplasts of plants, hence the relevance of green pasture! Dr. Price himself came to the same conclusion concerning the essential role that the quality of the animals’ fodder plays in the nutritional quality of the food after analyzing over 20,000 samples of butter from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (Rhéaume- Bleue 2011 p.53). Certain strains of bacteria are also capable of producing vitamin K2 through fermentation, which is why fermented cheeses also contain healthful amounts of vitamin K2. Egg yolks (but not whites!) are also good sources of vitamin K2 so long as the hens are raised on pasture. For instance, the table of vitamin K2 concentrations Dr. Kate Rhéaume-Bleue provides in her 2011 book on vitamin K2 shows that egg yolks from the Netherlands contains twice as much vitamin K2 as those from the US (Rhéaume-Bleue 2011 p.67).
Hopefully I’ve provided enough to wet your appetite and incite you, the reader, to embark on some
research of your own. I’ve included a couple of sources for further reading towards the bottom of
this post. Keep your eyes peeled – you’ll probably be hearing about this vitamin in the near future, if you haven’t already. But most importantly, keep in mind our original query: how do human nutritive requirements integrate into an ecologically conscious diversified farm operation? We see that, in the case of vitamin K2, working with natural processes ― from the essential role that green pastures (not grain!) play in the nutritional quality of our farm products to the nutrient synergy of the fat soluble vitamins A, D and K2 (all available from a single source given access to green pastures) ― is the key to maintaining vitality and health.
Are the MK-4 and MK-7 forms of vitamin K2 equivalent?(I highly recommend this article
as a follow up, since different food sources such as eggs, cheese and natto will yield different forms of vitamin K2 ― though it’s worth pointing out that, as far as I can tell, each form can contribute to health in the manner described above. MK-4, however, seems to be preferentially utilized by the body).
Rhéaume-Bleue, Kate. Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little-Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life. Wiley: 2011.
This is about my family, but mostly about the Dinner Table.
See, my family, the one I grew up with, is small.
Well, I guess it’s big, but I only knew a few folks: Mom and Dad and Seth,
Dinner time, for most of growin’ up, Mom and Dad and Seth and I ate dinner together
with no TV.
It was when I got to see Dad ‘cause he worked the night shift at the post office
and I had gymnastics and Hebrew school and we were never home together.
I didn’t always like dinner, but we always ate together.
Later, I moved away and went to school and traveled and traveled.
I met folks and we ate together:
I had Thanksgiving in my dorm room and in my bedroom in France.
Oh!, and the Thanksgiving I killed the turkey…
(My friends still talk about that.)
I shared fruit with circus kids on the roof of a cook truck.
(They were on stilts, of course.)
I ate smoked salmon on Troublesome Creek in Alaska with folks who ain’t
showered in a month.
(Even though we were workin’ hard, we swore nothing tasted better!)
…I didn’t always have a proper Dinner Table, but we always made due.
And when I came home the other night, the house smelled like ham.
I used to not eat meat, but ham!
Everyone made a little something for the meal.
Everyone said a little something between bites of food.
Everyone was a part of something:
They were family, my family, the only family I know, ‘cause that’s where family
is, at the Dinner Table.
Farewell to all you Cricket Creek cheese lovers out there! Without your support for this farm and it’s peculiarly delicious cheeses I would’ve never had this lovely and amazing dairy to be training ground. I feel loads wiser then when I came here thanks to the incredible quality milk-as-medium that the Sabots, Mathew and Suzy gave me everyday to work with. I’m thrilled to pass on the making of Tobasi and affinage of 600 of my little orange buddys to Jenna Miller.