Drought, Hen Liberation and Moonglo Seasonal Debut
It's dry here. It's dry throughtout much of the Midwest. The severity and scale of this year's drought is the talk of the news these days, both local and national. Most of the focus of discussion is centered on the drought's impact on cash grains-corn and soybeans. Indeed, many farmers in Illinois are already tilling in corn fields condemned as a total or near-total crop failure. Most of these farmers are protected by federal crop insurance, so while their losses are devastating, they wil receive some income. However, there are numerous farm stories with serious drought-related calamities that aren't making the headlines. Hot, dry winds are scorching vegetables. Farmers growing vegetables with little to no irrigation have crop failures without any economic safety net. What few fruits survived the spring freeze are either ripening too fast (and lacking in flavor) or have been bleached by extreme temperatures. For our farm, it's all about the forages. Our pastures have stopped growing. As such, our goats' main food source right now is second-cutting alfalfa hay that normally would be reserved for their nourishment next spring. Our alfalfa is re-growing very slowly, and is so drought and heat stressed that it is flowering within a couple of weeks after cutting. Most farmers who raise alfalfa hay know to cut their alfalfa just before it flowers to maximize its nutritional value. With so little growth and flowers, it's a hard pill to swallow when we think about the feed value of this hay for our lactating goats. AND.. it's not just our alfalfa fields that are in jeopardy. Most of the other alfalfa fields in our region and most of Illinois and neighboring states are in the same conditions as ours. The need for rain is profound and far reaching.
Bastille Day for our new hens
As I mentioned in my earlier news blast this week, we purchased 21 barred (NO, our hens are NOT the Shakespearean "bard" variety, but rather barred as in striped) rock hens from a fellow farmer last week, and we were advised to keep them in the new coop for three days so they would get acclimated to their new home and start laying eggs in our nest boxes. Well, they stoically accepted their fate, and we tried to lessen their discomfort and heat stress by blowing a fan on them. Yesterday morning was chicken liberation day. We opened to the chicken coop door, and, within minutes, they poured onto their new green foraging ground.
Immediately, they started tearing off what few blades of grass there are and scratching the bare earth patches for bugs and stray flakes of grain. They seem thoroughly content with their new digs. Two have already figured out how to escape underneath the chicken coop to even greener "pastures."
Cheese News and Farmers' Markets
Many of you have been waiting patiently for the arrival of the spring batches of Moonglo, our raw goat milk tomme washed in a bath of Moonglo pear tea and ripening cultures. I am happy to report that after almost four months, the first spring batch is finally ready. It has its wonderful goat tang, a nice creamy texture and lots of complex flavor tones that linger on your palate. It is a great cheese to enjoy in this heat with a slice of heirloom tomato and a shred of fresh basil drizzled with olive oil. It's also great with some quince jam if you have it.
We'll have plenty for you to taste and buy at the three famers' markets we're attending this weekend: Urbana, Green City Market (both on Saturday) and Chicago's Logan Square (SUNDAY from 10 AM to 3PM).
In addition to Moonglo, we'll be bringing lots of other great cheeses:
- Fresh chevre (of course)
- Fresh goat milk ricotta
- Sheep milk feta
- An assortment of bloomy rind cheeses featuring some really ripe and gooey Angel Food, Black Sheep, Krotovina, Ewe Bloom and limited quantities of Little Bloom on the Prairie.
- Roxanne--now just because we have Moonglo doesn't mean you should stop buying the Roxanne-it holds its own
- Last of the Caprino Romano--try grating it on some grilled meats or grilled summer squash
Urbana Market Goers can cool down with some goat milk gelato and local fruit sorbetto:
- Stracciatella (chocolate ganache chip)
- Vanilla Chevre
- Thai Basil (made with our own thai basil leaves infused in the base)
- Margot's Mint
- Rhubarb Swirl
- Milleur Orchard Peach Sorbetto (it tastes as good as a ripe peach)
- Strawberry Sorbetto
- Cucumber-lime-mint Sorbetto
Despite the severity of the weather, there's a lot of great local food to be had right now, and for this we are thankful.