As was evident with last year’s wildly popular inaugural farmers’ market in Bethany Beach, people want to connect with the growers of their food. For them, Delaware just got even smaller.
While a surge in demand for organic products grows, many people are getting even more convinced that local food is just as good — if not better. As definitions of words like “organic” and “natural” (which are not synonymous with each other) start to blur, and everyone from WalMart to Whole Foods begins carrying products, terms like “locavore,” “free range” and “grass-fed” are coming to the forefront with more substantial meaning.
Though it is notable that “big business” is starting to realize both the environmental and monetary advantages to going “green” by offering certain catch-phrase products, there is still no comparison to meeting face-to-face the person who grows, raises or makes your food.
Breakfast: Organic free range eggs and Lunch: Organic free-range chicken
The Farm, located in Georgetown, off of Route 9 west, is home to many a happy free-range and organic hen and broiler.
About five years ago, Carolyn Donald and her husband decided to buy some acreage with the hopes of having an organic farm. The process is a long one, as one of the rules to be organic is the farm must be chemical-free for three years.
“It took two or three years just to get the land ready,” said Donald. “The chickens kind of came along unexpectedly. We weren’t sure what we were going to do. We had no idea!”
They have 25 acres of wooded area and 15 tillable acres. They wanted to have an entire ecosystem for the chickens, and it took time to get the soils back in balance.
Donald, an artist, and her husband, owner of Delaware Rental, bought the farm with the hopes of “letting it evolve.”
“We’re business people. We want to run it like a business,” they said.
According to the USDA, “Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.
“Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.”
In addition to being organic, chickens on The Farm are free range — something that is becoming more and more popular with shoppers, according to Susan Ryan of Good Earth Market in Ocean View. Instead of being confined to a broiler house, or in the case of laying hens, to small laying boxes, the chickens are allowed to roam on open land.
Donald said it is a delicate balance to operate her business, because she has a huge demand in the summer and a “good” demand in winter, but right now they have about 250 birds.
“To be certified organic, there can be no genetically modified organisms (GMOs), no chemicals — and it’s so heavily regulated. There’s an immense cost, labor, paperwork and time. My cost is double the cost of grain,” Donald noted, at a time when grain prices are squeezing farmers both organic and conventional. “And we’re certainly not getting rich. But, it’s worth it. If I wanted to quit today, my customers wouldn’t let me.”
The advantages of free-range chickens are that, because of their diet of grains, grasses, insects and other naturally occurring organisms, they are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, the “good fats” that, according to sources cited on www.eatwildcom, can reduce people’s risk of everything from cancer to high blood pressure. Donald said that chickens fed with corn are higher in saturated fat, and her hens lay eggs that have 50 percent less cholesterol and a third more Omega 3s.
According to Ryan, who carries eggs from The Farm, Donald’s eggs are the No. 1 selling grocery item at the store.
“They are not even in any other category of eggs. You can’t touch the quality of those eggs. They are a great local product,” said Ryan.
The Farm’s free-range eggs are available retail at Good Earth Market on Route 26 in Clarksville, as well as Hickman’s Meat Market, 4307 Route 1; Lloyds Food Rite, 611 Savannah Road in Lewes, Rainbow Earth Foods, 220 Rehoboth Avenue, and Delaware and Ocean City Organics in West Ocean City. Interested shoppers should call about the availability of broilers.
For more information about The Farm, call (302) 854-9260 or go online to www.delawareorganics.com.
Dinner: 100 percent grass fed cow – free from hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and chemicals
Carlton Jones walked in for lunch, tired from his work in the fields with his steers in “Management Intensive Grazing.” The grazing practice means that every day from now until next winter, he will move the temporary fencing around the cattle so that each day they have a fresh pasture to graze.
“If I live until June, I’ll be 70!” he said, sitting down for a much-needed break.
While Carlton caught his breath, his wife, Jody, explained that it is not exactly a fast process getting grass-fed cattle ready for market.
“The hardest thing is you have to educate the people who are so used to going to the grocery store and getting their meat now,” she said, snapping her fingers. “It takes two years before you can go to market. And we spent a lot of money on fencing for pastures with no money coming in. But people are willing to wait. If we have something, they come and get it. And if we don’t, they say, ‘Put me on your list.’”
After talking about getting cows years ago, farmers Carlton and Jody Jones of C&J Farms on Woodland Ferry Road outside Seaford finally got started by buying nine. They had grown conventional vegetables and grain on their 200-acre farm, but weren’t making any progress because they didn’t have enough acreage to produce the volume needed to stay competitive.
After reading “You Can Farm” by Joel Salatin, Carlton decided they would give the grass-fed cattle a try.
“I’m more excited and happier now,” he said. “I always did say spraying the chemicals was the worst job on the farm.”
“You feel good,” added Jody. “You feel good that you are helping people with children who worry about their health.”
Before getting their original nine cows, Carlton used to background steer in the fall and fed them the conventional grain-and-hay diet before giving them back in the spring.
“The thing that got me was, when I got there, if I hadn’t implanted them with the growth hormone, they said they would do it there. And it’s a time-release thing, and then they just stand there and eat,” Carlton explained.
“I’ve done it wrong. Now I know how to do it right,” he said.
After reading “You Can Farm,” he read “Pasture Perfect” by Jo Robinson, founder of www.eatwild.com, which talks about the disadvantages of animals raised in feedlots and fattened on corn, as well as the advantages of grass-fed animals — to the animals themselves, the farmers and the environment.
“There’s not much in there I didn’t already know, but it’s different when you see it written out in black and white,” concluded Carlton.
“There’s no shots or hormones or steroids,” said Carlton. “It’s as nature intended. The good Lord didn’t put that big wide mouth on a cow to eat corn.”
Carlton likes to say they save money by using solar energy, because they use the sun to grow the grass the cows eat.
“We get that for nothing, until they can figure out away to charge us for it!” he said.
“We won’t get rich, but there’s more to life than money. I might go broke,” Carlton added with a laugh, “but I’ll say it was my contribution to humanity!”
Just like with the free-range chickens, grass-fed beef has reported advantages in the area of Omega 3 fatty acids. Feedlot beef that has been fed nothing but corn loses the Omega 3 fat and is higher in Omega 6 — considered a more unhealthy fat. Since they started eating it themselves, both Carlton and Jody have seen a decline in their cholesterol levels.
“Her doctor said ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but keep doing it,’” said Carlton.
Carlton stressed that theirs is not an organic farm — mainly because to get certified entails a lot of paperwork, something he doesn’t have the patience for — but the cattle is 100 percent grass-fed and they use no pesticides, chemicals, growth hormones or antibiotics.
Because the animals are grass-fed and are in their natural habitat, the environmental impact from runoff from the tons of manure created by the thousands of animals crammed in a traditional feedlot is eliminated. Also, because they are left outside, there is less chance for them to be sick and therefore no need for antibiotics.
“Some people think it’s cruel to leave them out there all winter,” said Jody. “But, they like it. They grow their thicker coat, like all animals.”
Carlton pointed out that they will use the hay bales as wind-breakers and they have had no problems with sickness.
Jody went on to tell a story about when one of their heifers was about to give birth and she was watching with her binoculars to make sure everything went well and all were OK.
“I was watching, and she laid down and got up and laid down and got up, and then, as I was watching, the others slowly moved toward her — and I know how it sounds, but I saw it happen — and then the others surrounded her, and four or five minutes went by and I couldn’t see her. I could just see the others surrounding her, and then they slowly went back where they came from, and I could see that she had had the calf. It was like they were all there to support her — as nature intended.”
The love and care that start with what these cows eat and their quality of life in being able to move about in the pasture doesn’t end at slaughter time. Even when taking steers to Dover to the abattoir, Carlton takes two animals, so they will have company and not be overly stressed before slaughter.
“So they’ll stay calm,” explained Jody.
Customers can get a 30-pound sample pack of steaks, roast and hamburger from C&J Farm, along with some more abundant options. Their meat is USDA inspected in Dover and then vacuum-wrapped and sent back down to the farm, where customers can pick it up.
“I like to think of myself as a Christian,” concluded Carlton. “We are doing it as nature intended. Doing it as we should be doing it. You can’t take it to the bank, but it is self-satisfying!”
Products are sold directly from the farm, by appointment. For more information and pricing, call C&J Farms at (302) 629-8194 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dessert: Clean and green cookies and candy
What started as simply a way for Kelly and Mark Leishear to make treats for their own daughter has turned into the Milton business Bella’s Cookies. They are tried-and-true clean and green, from the ingredients in the cookies to the wrappers they come in.
“All our packaging is recyclable,” said Mark Leishear. They also use steam to clean their machines for rolling out dough and use an organic, plant-based cleaner in the 900-square-foot bakery behind their house. The walls are made from a special insulated foam. The fluorescent lighting holds special energy-efficient bulbs, and they are equipped with Energy Star appliances.
“We like to practice what we preach, and with the building I tried to go as energy-efficient as I could with the money I had at the time,” said Mark.
Mark is a vegetarian and Kelly is a vegan, so the idea for the cookies is an extension of practices they were already familiar with in their family. After seeing what was available to her daughter at school in the way of snacks, Kelly thought of making her own, to feel better about what Bella was eating.
“We started, and people would taste them and want more, and it kind of grew from there,” she said.
This idea of “clean and green” extends to the cookies — all ingredients are natural and organic.
“There are certain ingredients we feel strongly about being organic,” the couple said, such as flours, sweeteners, oils, etc., and other ingredients they are comfortable using all-natural but not necessarily organic, such as chocolate, sea salt, baking powder, etc. They use no trans-fats, no hydrogenated oils, no artificial colors or flavors, no preservatives, no refined sugars and no high-fructose or even any corn syrup at all.
They also have sugar-free cookies, vegan cookies and gluten-free cookies available.
“We’re meeting the demand,” said Mark. “Any more and we’d have to expand. As it is, we can produce 5,000 to 6,000 cookies a week.”
Something exciting for the future for them is that Bella’s Cookies will be available at Delmarva Shorebirds minor-league baseball games starting opening-day Thursday night, April 3.
Kelly started her adult life thinking she would be a naturopathic physician and was a ballet dancer at one time as well.
“This is a nice mixture of the art and science,” she said of the cookie-making.
She has to find just the right recipe to make it healthy and taste good, and there can be days, like any baker, where most creations end up in the trash, but then there are days where she’ll find it — like when she perfected her sugar-free cookie or the vegan apple-snickerdoodle made with tofu.
For the most part, the Leishears are having fun balancing work and family life.
“When it stops being fun, I’ll stop,” said Kelly.
Mark, the marketing force behind the company, likes to get out there to have face-time with people at farmer’s markets.
“It gives you face-time with people. People like to see who they are buying things from face to face,” he said.
Just recently, so as not to leave son Liam out, the family introduced Verdi Good, a new candy line of caramels, truffles, toffee, fudge and peanut brittle with organic sugar, organic brown rice syrup and exceptional chocolate.
In the future, they are hoping to forge relationships with the Ocean Conservatory and with the National Wildlife Federation, to donate a portion of the proceeds from Bella’s Cookies and Verdi Good, respectively. They would also like to get more active in the schools and want to give back by giving bonds to kids who think of ways they can contribute to the environment such as starting recycling at their school.
“We’d really like to represent our company, to get kids educated and interested. When I die, I want to be remembered for doing something good,” said Kelly.
Bella’s Cookies are available locally at Good Earth Market in Clarksville, Good For You Natural Market on Route 9, Beebe Hospital, Java Beach, Capriotti’s, Salisbury University and Harvest Market in Hockessin. For more information, visit www.bellascookies.com online.
All three of these companies — all small, local, young and starting from the ground up — are within about a 30- to 40-mile drive to the Ocean View area. Many have heard of each other and do business with each other, which is the backbone of the local farming and eating operation — support.
Driving that distance may seem far to go at first and it might appear backward environmentally to burn all that gas for transit, but consumers may want to consider that, according to reports, a typical ingredient the average North American eats has traveled at least 1,500 miles, to which an 80-mile round trip looks like a drop in the bucket.
Each of these local businesses also supports green living inside and out, as well as respect the environment within the human body, by getting back to basics with food, which is something that is hard to put a value on.
In our own backyard: natural and organic grocery and organic farm
The Farm’s free range eggs and Bella’s Cookies are available at Good Earth Market in Ocean View, as well as many other local commodities. According to owner Susan Ryan, they carry local honey, local beeswax candles, local soap, local jams and jellies from blue-ribbon winner Kristina Scardlark, local pepper relish, and, in season, they grown their own heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, lettuces and herbs.
Also, by summer, they will carry an organic locally-produced goat cheese. They also carry three lines of local greeting cards and Nadina’s Cremes.
“We also just brought in Michelle’s Granola from a small company in Maryland,” said Ryan. “We have a nice lineup of local products. If someone has a good product that they can produce enough of, we’re all over it.”
Ryan also reiterated the success of the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market — something that shows that high-quality local food is in demand and appreciated.
“The Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market was an overwhelming success. It was amazing how many people wanted to support the local farmer,” she said. “As soon as it opened, people would just swarm you.”
Good Earth Market is also looking to green their outside by installing solar panels and a wind turbine.
“Our house has solar panels and geothermal and we are close to being off the grid, but we are looking to make investments at the market and have been meeting with a company,” Ryan noted.
Good Earth has postponed their Sustainable Living Festival until April of 2009 but will be holding a tribute to Earth Day on April 19 from 2 to 4 p.m., with an organic food tasting and a green living information session, which will be free and open to the public.
Local companies participating in this year’s Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market include Bennett Orchards, Blueberry Farm, Chapel’s Country Creamery, Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms, East View Farm, Eggs of a Feather, Greenbranch Organic Farm, Good Earth Market and Organic Farm, Hudson Farm, Hudson Produce, Johnson’s Country Market, Kogler’s Old World Breads, Lavender Fields, Magee Farms and Parsons Farm Produce.
To continue with a personal journey through getting back to basics with food, consider reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan (www.michaelpollan.com); “Full Moon Feast/Food and the Hunger for Connection” by Jessica Prentice (www.widefoodways.com) and “The 100-Mile Diet” by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon (www.100milediet .org).