Hello out there, TapRooters! Today Justine, Chris and I had a pretty neat experience: making our very first sausages out of TapRoot pigs! For months now Justine has been on a quest for the perfect sausages for the meat shares. While all have been delicious, her dream has been to find a sausages without fillers—often bread crumbs, soy or milk products—just meat and spices. We got to make that dream come true this summery Monday afternoon under the tutelage of the beautiful, talented, and fun Jessi Gillis, the owner of Highland Drive Storehouse in Halifax.
Jessi started out by trimming down the pork legs and shoulders we'd brought from the farm, removing bones and chopping up the meat, while we prepared the other ingredients and such for the sausages. We decided on a general herb sausage and an apple sage sausage for our two flavours.
After the meat was cut into hunks we put it through a meat grinder twice: once on its own, and once with the fresh herbs, onions, salt and pepper, apples, and white wine. Jessi uses only fresh ingredients at her sausages (and her burgers, bacon, skewers, steaks, and other meaty delights), which accounts for some amazing flavours.
Next came the tricky part: passing the ground sausage meat through a device (I forgot to ask what it was called... a "Sausage Stuffer", perhaps?) and into the natural casing used at Highland Dr, twisting it into sausages as we went. This is a tough process to do gracefully, and as you can imagine there was plenty of giggling and frustration over air bubbles, overstuffed and occasionally bursting sausages, and well, you know... sausage jokes.
Overall, we transformed twenty pounds of pork into two coolers of sausages that you will likely be seeing in the meat shares in the coming weeks. Even for someone who is not always perfectly comfortable around meat (I was a vegetarian for seven years), it was really exciting to be in such a lovely workspace, transforming well-loved animals into well-loved creations for the dinner table. Thanks so much to Jessi for taking time out of her day off to talk to us, teach us, and show us around her wonderful shop and kitchen.
It's been a while since I've given an update on project Mush-Mush so here we go. It seemed to have worked :p. The bags produced a couple pounds of mushrooms which is what I expected. The Pink Oyster mushrooms are growing well and I'm close to my second flush being harvested, their first being on Friday. Originally I had them indoors but the regular Oysters where not developing caps so I moved them outside and they did well. The warm weather over the weekend really boosted their growth.
I'm looking into taking this experiment into full production. I'm a little worried however because my spawn making is not going as well as planned. Out of 20 quarts 17 got infected. So I'm going to have to do something about that. Ideally I'd have a laminar flow hood but that's not feasible here at the farm and I cannot afford to keep buying spawn so we will see how this whole project unfolds.
This was an exciting week for us in terms of interacting with our members! Monday was the Farm tour and rained out picnic, where a brave few got to see what was going on at the farm and meet the people and animals of TapRoot. See photo to the right, of me helping a young CSA member hold his first hen!
Also on Monday, former member and general TapRoot enthusiast Krista Butler was interviewed on Global TV about her meal prep boxes that she is currently working on, using organic produce from TapRoot. (Here's the interview if you want to learn more about her new venture!)
Then on Wednesday, member Wendy McCallum spoke at the Wolfville Farmer's Market about publishing her new cookbook, "Real Food for Real Families". Patricia, Valarie and I attended as the TapRoot cheering section! Wendy's cookbook is fantastic, and offers real food alternatives to many processed choices. It is separated by meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, salad & sides, dips & sauces, snacks & treats), full of beautiful photos and recipes that are gluten-free, dairy-free, et cetera are clearly identified.
It's so great to be involved and aware of all the connections that our members are making out there in the world. We love hearing about these sorts of things, so let us know what you're up to!
Among the many apprentice adventures we've been having around the farm lately—doing deliveries, learning to drive forklifts and tractors, picking parsley and strawberries, hiking in Blomidon Park on our days off—we were lucky enough on Friday to make a visit with Trish and the kids to Valley Mushrooms in Waterville. The generous and knowledgeable Leonard North took some time out of his busy day to show us around, walking us through the steps and equipment it takes to produce several thousand pounds of mushrooms every week (year round) in the Maritimes.
In his eight tunnels, Leonard has his various types of mushrooms growing in 5-8 week rotations in bags of pasteurized compost. The compost is made up of straw, chicken manure, and gypsum. It's pasteurized in special buildings by its own biological heat (up to 165˚C without any added energy!) before it is bagged and mixed with mushroom spawn. For those of you who have been following Chris's experiments with mushrooms here at the farm, you'll already know that mushroom spawn is a grain substrate (at Valley Mushrooms, millet) mixed with bits of mushroom mycelium that act as the 'seed' for the mushroom. These bags of compost and spawn are kept in insulated tunnels at controlled temperatures and carbon dioxide levels appropriate for their growth and fruiting (some of which have smart thermostats that Leonard can control with his phone! There's an app for everything).
As Chris has experienced, mushrooms are very easy to contaminate, because they thrive in similar conditions to molds. We had to be careful about what we touched when we moved around the facility, and close the doors of the tunnels quickly to keep the mushroom flies out!
Though I'm not a mushroom scholar like Chris, it was really neat to see a totally different kind of farming from what I am used to. With almost everything inside and as precisely controlled and regulated as possible, it felt like I was walking around a laboratory or a space station more than an ordinary vegetable farm. But Leonard's sustainable mushroom practices aren't that different from any other ecologically-conscious farm: there are no pesticides used, the harvesting is done by hand, the waste is minimized through recycling (he sells his used mushroom compost to gardeners, farmers, and landscapers), and almost everything is operated within the local economy of the Maritimes. And Leonard knows his mushrooms—he has a masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania and has studied both agriculture and pathology.
But one of my favourite parts of the trip? Bob, Leonard's sweet and cuddly cat, who is even more enthusiastic about mushrooms than we are! (here he is devouring a tasty button mushroom)
That's all for now! Thanks again for having us, Leonard!