I’m 8 today, according to Purina
If I was a medium breed dog, that is. Today is my birthday, and I’m doing something that I have done on many birthdays before. I’m canning. My dogs are sleeping at my feet, (they are 15 and 49)waiting for a bit of apricot to fly off the cutting board, and it’s raining. If it wasn’t raining I would be doing something in the hay field. This rain is welcome though, it means more pasture, and that’s what I want to see. The garden is getting watered, and the seeds I planted last night are being watered in, so that they will promptly grow. Nature is always better at watering than me.
No special day planned, as usual. I was born during the county fair, and spent a good portion of my childhood at the fair after that. First, as the Child Care project for my sisters, yep, I was a topless model at the tender age of 1. Then as a fierce competitor for 9 years in 4-H myself. I miss the fair, our county no longer has a fair, and to be in 4-H we would have to travel too far. So, something I cherished while I was growing up will not be a part of my daughters life. We lived and breathed 4-H around here, my Mom was leader, for girl stuff, and she was the leader for the Tractor Club too! I loved watching my sister sew her projects, and couldn’t wait to be a part of that. One of us always placed high enough to go to the State Fair. That trip was always special too, my cousins lived near the State Fair, and had a market garden with a produce stand. Very interesting stuff to a little market gardener wannabe.
A visit to the cousins house was always made more interesting because they were such serious canners. The big old Craftsman farmhouse where they lived had a detached Craftsman canning kitchen. And, something was always being processed when we were there. Smells of vinegar, and spices mixed with the heady smell of peaches always come to mind. It was cool, and inviting in that canning kitchen, and a welcome respite from the boring freeway trip there. They called their farm SHADY MAPLE FARM because the predominate shade trees in the yard, were maples. If I win the lottery, I will build myself a canning kitchen just like that one. It featured a center island, with ample storage and bins beneath. Miles of counter space lined the walls, with overhead glass door cabinets. Two sinks, two stoves, stools for helpers and lots of plug-ins. OMG what am I saying, if I win the lottery, I’ll make my kitchen like that in my house! Of course, this is my rose-colored version of this kitchen, but as a canner, I think I’m remembering it right.
I have been canning a lot this last two weeks, because while my garden is late, the fruit that I buy to can, has been pretty much on time. As I sorted through all those cherries, and have been chopping apricots, I have been thinking food is too cheap. That sentence really doesn’t make sense, but being a farmer and a person who raises a big portion of their own food, I realize I’m guilty of looking for cheap food too. I’m a product of being raised in the last 51 8 years with cheap food policies. I don’t want to pay more, because I’m cheap frugal, but really those organic cherries I got for $1.00 a pound should have cost $10.00 a pound. The cost it takes to get them to the picking and marketing stage is enormous. That doesn’t even count the time and expense I have in each quart I canned.
From time to time, we have a meat customer who thinks we charge too much. Of course, they always complain after they have the meat. They remember that big steer all fat and sassy, and they look in their boxes of meat and say what happened to it, where did it all go? I myself being around home butchering, and knowing the insides of cattle quite well, I always think, Wow, that’s a lot of meat! It never looks like there is any meat on a carcass to me. Some of these customers have a few acres of grass, they decide they are going to get some steers themselves, by cracky, and they will show us.
Our prices are high, if you want e. coli go to Wal-Mart, or Winco, but if you want to eat steak tartare, come to me, or someone like me.
The scenario is something like this, They write out a check for $750.00 for their half of beef, which is cut, wrapped to their specification and frozen for convenience. They grumble about the price. Their two acres is looking more and more like they need some 4 legged lawn mowers. Off they go, they are going to get those steers! Pretty soon, the phone calls or emails start. Do you have any calves to sell? NO. Where can I get some? They ask about another cattle guy down the road, what do we think? Well, his cows have pink eye so bad they rub their eyeballs out on his fence posts, but gee I haven’t seen it for myself, that’s just what he has told us… . Well, what about the auction? Sure, do you have a stock trailer and a pickup? No. Can we borrow yours? NO.
So, it is quiet for a few weeks, and then the calls start again. Do we need a different fence than the one for our horses? Our pasture has dried up, should we get hay? We buy hay for the horses, but we don’t want to do that for these steers, we’re just going to butcher them anyway. It’s OK to feed the pasture ornament, but not the food. They still don’t realize they are paying me to watch over that calf for the previous two years, feed him right and keep him safe and healthy. Every day for two years. Farmers have a huge investment in money, time and potential anguish if an animal gets sick. I have invested the last three years in my dream cow, and she is beautiful but unsafe. It tears out my heart to eat her, but I will, because I have to do the right thing. We can’t afford to put her down and bury her, and why would I, she’s not sick. I also don’t want to send her to the auction and risk some poor novice getting her and getting hurt. And on the other side of the auction coin, it is a terrible place, we’ve had our differences, Jetta and I, but I would rather eat her, than think of her being mishandled for one minute.
So as they finally realize we are working hard for very little pay, do they ever think they should pay more? No, they just go back to Wal-Mart and buy steaks one package at a time, and never look back.
So what is the answer? Joel Salatin says you want your customers to be 10′s. The 1′s are too hard to convince and are just looking for a good deal, the 6-9 bunch is pretty good. We have had some of all tiers. Our 10′s have become friends to us and the farm, and really in my book they are really 15′s. I don’t worry about the 1′s anymore.
But, I hate it when I’m a 1. But I still want that deal. If I spend less on food I can keep buying inexpensive books at Abebooks, or when the Fiesta is on sale at Macy’s I can get one more piece to add the heap. I justify my frivolous purchases just as good as the WalMart shopper.
By growing as much of our food as I can, I realize I just can’t put a dollar figure on all the work it takes to get it to our mouths. We have dear friends with a berry farm, the picture in the post about our anniversary showing the rubber tired wagon is at their farm. We used to go there and give wagon rides for them when they hosted the John Deere club. They are total conventional farmers, and they believe if they take berries to the cannery, and pick up a 5 gallon bucket of someone elses berries on the way out, they have saved themselves some work. There is no difference to them. But to me there is. I picked 16 lbs of shell peas the other day. My daughter shelled them and we weighed them again, 4 3/4 lbs. Blanched and ready for the freezer, it ended up being 6 1/2 pints. That is just 6 meals in the winter with peas. Believe me, when I say we guard those. I love peas, I could eat a pint for a snack. But, I don’t because when I think of all time we have into those 6 little jars, it makes me reserve them for something special. Like oh darn, Daddy’s going to wagon class again, lets have peas. He doesn’t like them, and then we can have them to ourselves. And, because my daughter has kept those pea rows weeded, and now she has shelled the first batch, she guards them too. So I guess one pea pod at a time I want to make her into a 10, because it is no fun being a 1.
Ready for the freezer. I use my old rings and lids for these.
I was going to give my top frugal canning tips in this post, and I got all ranty and rambly again and it didn’t seem like it fit too good. I promise I’ll work on it tonight after I open my presents! Usually, I guess my presents and ruin everybody’s day, but they are getting sneaky and I’m not sure what I’m getting…