ARE THERE SOME CRACKS IN OUR FOOD SYSTEM?
I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a few weeks now. Mainly to see how things start to pan out as we come out of lockdown and we start to see a little normality again, or the ‘new normal’. How has the lockdown affected society? Will there be positive changes? I’ve been one of the fortunate ones when it comes to lockdown, my life day to day has changed very little. Animals still need feeding, as do humans. And we’ve been feeding a few more humans than normal lately. Although the catering side of our business disappeared overnight, we have been supplying a lot more food direct to the public at home via our website, which is great! I’m interested to know, is this a buying habit that might be here to stay? Have consumers lost confidence in the globalised supermarket food system? We would love to keep supplying you with food if you’ve recently found Grassfruits.
Covid-19 and our food system
The Covid-19 crisis has cost lives, livelihoods, jeopardised food security, crashed markets and forced an ever-increasing wedge between the rich and the poor of society, while state dependency has increased to never before seen levels. There is no doubt the covid-19 crisis has bought great hardship to many families.
It has been tough for parts of the food system too. Milk has been dumped down the drain, potato fields ploughed in and chicken, destined for outfits such as KFC and Nando’s, have all struggled to find a home in the retail sector. This has undoubtably exposed our appetite for lattes to go, fries with everything and our love of fried chicken shops. It’s also showing we can probably get by with a little less of this. All the while, Polish meat pops up in supermarkets and meat processing plants have had to turn down due to staff shortages. Although, small and local food economies appear to have thrived. I know our local abattoir has seen an increase in volume, which is great. Local small family run slaughterhouses are in decline and we need to do all we can to support them.
Bringing health into focus
Yet, could there be some positives to be taken from this? Has the virus prompted a renewed interest in health and building immunity? The breakdown of our worldwide food system has exposed the inefficiency of a globalised system and has focused people’s attention on a more local food system. People’s slower pace of life during the lockdown appears to have enabled more time to think about food choices and consider supporting local business. The impression I’m getting from people is that they’re enjoying these transactions more. They may involve a little more planning, or a few extra stops on the shopping trip, which inevitably take more time. But also include meaningful conversations with someone who has either grown their food or has a close relationship with those who have, and a transaction with someone who really values your custom.
It would also appear that people can function quite well working from home. And it also looks like people are enjoying having a little more time on their hands. Surly this can only be good for people’s wellbeing. Perhaps working from home more is a healthier balance, meaning less commuting, more time at home, more time with family and to do the things one enjoys. Also, I wonder if there are many company bosses thinking, “why are we paying for these expensive offices when everyone is working perfectly well at home?” Maybe there are some more imaginative uses we can come up with for these buildings too.
A change in priorities post Covid
I think what the pandemic has proven is that society can change its habits really quite rapidly if forced to do so. When everyone’s priorities are brought into focus on the same matter, and that matter is health - everyone’s health, not just yourself but your whole family, your friends and the greater community. With people’s newfound focus on health, perhaps this is an opportunity to reconsider priorities. It strikes me that society places so much value in material things, such as the increasing prices of iphones, whereas our food faces increasing challenges with supermarket prices and continues to have its costs driven down. Perhaps society can readjust its priorities and where society places value with regard to food.
So what could our future look like? We’ve been presented with an extraordinary opportunity. We have the opportunity to shape our future, and the future of our next generation. There is no doubt that there will be hardship coming out of this crisis for quite some time to come; I don’t believe we’ve seen the start of the level of unemployment we might see just yet. If we’re to develop a more secure food chain this chain needs to become shorter… a lot shorter. This probably means more small farms integrated in a local economy. If we’re to transition to a more ecologically focused agricultural system this likely means a more skilled labour-intensive food system, and a relearning of land-based skills. We may lose jobs in some sectors, but could we perhaps see more jobs created in agriculture?
I feel we might be starting to see a glimpse of a localised seasonal food system here in York. For those of you not familiar with Food Circle York, please check them out. Food Circle brings together farmer, growers, bakers, cooks, chefs and you the public. If you feel a change in the way you buy your food is due, consider supporting your local food economy. It’s a far more pleasant experience!
Food Circle York at Tang Hall Community Centre:
Saturdays - 12-2pm
Uses for pork shoulder
So what can I do with pork shoulder? You might be asking. The answer is... quite a lot really. Pork shoulder is an incredibly versatile cut of meat; there are a number of ways we can prepare it. One of the most common being pulled pork, much loved by the Americans and their BBQ pitmasters.
Pork shoulder was long considered a cheaper cut of meat, it’s quite fatty, tough, and contains a lot of connective tissue, often ending up in sausages or burgers due to its great fat to lean ratio. Pork shoulder can be broken down into a few other cuts, the most popular being the Pork shoulder on the bone, similar to what the Americans would call the Boston Butt, favoured for making pulled pork. The hand of pork is the lower part of the shoulder. Less favoured but still very tasty.
For those more adventurous cooks who are may be venturing into some smoking and curing, the shoulder of a pig has endless potential. Salami, chorizo or may be coppa. A whole muscle salami made from a muscle in the upper part of the shoulder running from neck to the fourth fifth rib. Home made charcuterie is certain to impress at a dinner party.
The shoulder muscles of the pig are the powerhouses that go into the pigs amazing ability to disturb soil. These muscles work over time for our pigs here at Grassfruits, rooting around in the woods playing their natural roll as ecosystem rebooters. The fact these muscles have worked so hard means that with very, very slow cooking the meat will fall apart in to amazingly tender shreds and stay super moist. Ready for your favourite BBQ sauce.
Because our pigs live outdoors in a natural environment the taste of the meat is far superior to anything you will find in the supermarket. Pigs naturally dig to find their food. Whether that’s in the soil for worms, roots and bugs, or in fallen rotting logs for other tasty insects. A recent observation we have made may show that our pigs are rooting through rotting lots and eating the fungi in the logs. All adding to flavour and keeping our pigs super healthy.
We use traditional breeds of pigs such as the British Saddleback and Gloucestershire Old Spot. These breeds put on a bit more fat than more commercial pig giving them a much richer taste.
How to cook pork shoulder
Personally I like pork shoulder slow roasted in the oven for 6 - 7 hours with super crispy crackling server with some roast potatoes and homemade gravy.
How to get the perfect crackling. I find I get best results with LOTS of salt. Make sure your meat has been brought to room temperature before cooking. Turn your oven up to max. While this is pre heating rub plenty of salt into your scored piece of pork shoulder, making sure to get into all the cracks. Once you’ve done with drizzle with a little olive oil and a few cracks of black pepper. Cool on max for around 20 minutes or until the skin has buffed you nicely. They turn down to about 160 degrees centigrade and cook for a further 5 hours or until super tender.
If you’d like to have some pork shoulder adventures of your own follow the link below. The potential uses are limitless.
Is a vegan diet good for the planet?
I hope you’ve all enjoyed the festive period,
With Christmas and new year now behind us, it feels a good time to reflect on 2019 and feel proud of what we’ve achieved, yet also look forward to 2020 and get excited about what further projects I’d like to embark on. It’s also been a time to re-evaluate where Grassfruits fits with the current dietary choices, and the growing concern for the environment - a key ongoing focus for Grassfruits.
I hope amongst your New Year's resolutions you’re planning to eat more pasture-raised meats in 2020. Veganuary is now upon us and you may be considering an animal-product-free start to the year. This being said, I urge you to weigh up the impacts of these decisions. I’ve put a few points together for you to consider when thinking about a dietary change in 2020. These are some of my opinions and concerns surrounding veganism and the environment. Although I'm an advocate for a diet including pasture-raised meats, I’m pleased veganism has encouraged many to think a little about where their meat is coming from and the production systems used to get meat on their plate.
Many people opt for a plant based diet for animal welfare reasons. You don’t have to search for very long these days to find some rather brutal slaughterhouse footage; the internet is well saturated with these videos. These are often filmed in countries with poor animal welfare standards and in industrial cutting plants, which show poor slaughter practices. Although I believe that large scale plants can still offer high welfare and slaughter standards, I still feel that small operations are best. However, the industrialisation of our food system and the increasing demand for cheap meat puts even higher levels of pressure on these plants, often resulting in standards slipping and mistakes being made. Industrialised meat production comes at the expense of animal welfare, or more precisely at the expense of animals instinctive behaviours, which can benefit our environment. In pasture-based animal production systems, instinctive behaviours are centre to the whole system. Cattle to graze, chickens to scratch and peck, and pigs to root, roam and wallow. Please get to know your farmer, ask them questions or better still go and see them. Contact Us
Are pasture raised meats good for the planet?
More than ever before, and rightly so, people are becoming concerned with their carbon footprint and how we can minimise our impact on the planet. This is another reason people are turning to a vegan diet. Is this the right choice for our planet though? We certainly need to cut out our intake of industrial-raised meats. In my opinion, supporting pasture-raised farmers could potentially help our planet more than switching to a vegan diet. Through the use of holistic management practices, animals can be used as a tool to accelerate the photosynthetic process, disrupt the soil and fertilise the soil with their urine and poop as they go. Put simply, the soil feed the grasses, the grasses feed the animals and the animals feed the soil which feed the grasses. This is all part of the birth, life, death, decay process. Holistically managed livestock build top soil while producing food. Top soil is becoming very scarce, we should be doing all we can to build it.
Some of my biggest concerns don't necessarily lie with veganism itself, but more the big businesses that have come about as a result of the growing popularity of this ‘ism’. Companies, such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, have developed their own plant-based alternatives to the beef burger. Ingredients of which are as follows; pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, rice protein and other natural flavors, including apple extract and beet juice extract (for colour). Ingredients for Impossible Foods burger include: water, soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, sunflower oil, potato protein, soy leghemoglobin (a group of protein found in animals and plants) and other natural flavors, according to their websites.
Ingredients to a 100% Grass Fed Beef Burger are as follows… Grass-fed beef mince, onion, salt and pepper. I think I need not explain myself any further. Should we not be looking to eat a more whole foods based diet, be it vegan or otherwise? These meat alternatives that are popping up left, right and centre are incredibly highly processed.
Many meat and dairy alternatives are largely comprised of industrially-grown mono crops. As can clearly be seen above. I often come under fire on this point as many will say that the large majority of these crops are fed to livestock anyway. Correct, and a large percentage of which are fed to herbivores - animals that don’t have the biological make up to digest these foods in the first place. Herbivores, cattle and sheep eat grasses! They have a stomach called a rumen which enables them to digest grasses which we cannot, and turn sunlight energy stored in the grass into proteins. Pigs and chickens on the other hand are monogastric animals and are also omnivores, enabling them to eat a more varied diet, therefore grain being a more suitable choice for pigs and chickens.
I think the point I’m trying to make is that we need to stop blaming the cow, or the meateater, or the vegan, and take a look at system change. The cows will carry on farting and burping anyway, and if we all stop eating beef tomorrow they're still going to be there… still farting and burping, along with the vegans… telling you they’re vegan.
Industrial agriculture, whether it be producing livestock feed or human food is still responsible for 80% of world tropical deforestation and 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The UN estimates we have 60 years worth of topsoil left. Without topsoil our food system will collapse! Veganism is not going to solve these problems. There needs to be an overwhelming paradigm shift in world farming practices. One which builds topsoil, restores natural ecosystems and protects our food system for future generations. Soil needs to be built every time we grow a crop, every time we harvest a cow, every time we pick a tomato, topsoil must be built!
The UK market for meat-free foods is now reported to be worth £740m. Officially 350,000 people in the UK signed up to take part in veganuary, with many more unofficially taking part, and millions more worldwide. If people were to get as excited about Regenerative Agriculture as Veganuary, I think we might be onto something. Our food-production systems should be in harmony with nature, no matter what we’re producing. And our dietary choices should not come with a cost to our topsoils, our health and the environment.
Thanks. All the best for 2020
Ethical Animal Farming
What is ethical farming?
The word ethical relates to what one believes to be morally right or wrong. For some, killing animals for our own dietary needs is completely immoral and so they choose to follow a vegan diet. However, for those who have a more carnivorous nature, the boundaries are a little more blurred. For some of us, it can be difficult to eradicate meat entirely from our diets — it might be necessary for optimum health, a matter of culture, or simply that we enjoy the taste. What we can do however is ensure that when we are selecting meat, we are doing so with an ethical mindset.
I’ve been working in and around farming for my entire life, having grown up on a farm and now as the proud owner of Grassfruits - a small farm and online farm shop based in the north of the UK. It is my passion to share the importance of ethical farming in relation to animal welfare, human health and the effects on our planet.
So, what is ethical farming? Ethical farming is farming which enables the animals to express their natural behaviours, eat a diet suited to their anatomy and be given the respect of a stress-free final day. Whilst no-one likes to think of this part of the process, it is something that can be done as humanely as possible. For me, it is incredibly important that our animals travel as short a distance as possible to slaughter. We are incredibly lucky to have a small family run abattoir only two miles from our farm, which means that the animals spend very little or no time at all in distress as opposed to the slaughter-house images we are all too familiar with. This is not common and, with small abattoirs closing at an unprecedented rate, the local food economy is becoming more and more difficult for small farms and landowners.
Aside from the end of life process, when it comes to farming, there are countless other ethical issues to bear in mind; from pesticides such as glyphosate to farrowing crates and caged hens, mono-cropped fields, and the distance food needs to travel to our plates and its subsequent impact on our planet.
Let’s take agrochemicals for example. Should we be using Glyphosate on ethical farms? This is currently a hot topic as the agrochemical giant Monsanto - the owner of Roundup — a glyphosate-based weed killer — has recently been ordered to pay out $2bn in damages to an American couple. A jury found Roundup to be responsible for causing their cancer. This is the third case of its kind where Monsanto has been held liable for illness caused by glyphosate. So, the use of glyphosate on food that we eat… ethically right or wrong? Some would argue the farmer is more at risk of harm than the consumer. It’s damaging to our watercourses, our wildlife and our soils, however, would we have enough food without it? Questionable. Is it ethical not to use it? It depends on what side of the fence you stand on. At Grassfruits we definitely stand on the ‘lets ban the stuff’ side of the fence as we prefer to use more holistic methods of pest reduction.
Ethically farmed meat
Coming back to the original moral dilemma, do I think it’s ethical to kill a chicken and eat it? Yes. However, to rear them by the millions just so we can have an endless supply to satisfy our insatiable appetite for fried chicken on our way home on a Saturday night… probably not. When it comes to livestock we enter a slightly different territory, one that involves death — the intentional killing of an animal so that we can eat. But, as pointed out earlier, we can do this in an ethical way. While walking down the freezer aisle in Aldi this week, I noticed the frozen chicken section. Intrigued to know where these chickens had come from I had a rummage around; chicken breast fillets produced and packed in Poland, chicken breast strips produced and packed in Thailand... Do we really need to eat chicken that regularly that we’re bringing it in from halfway around the World to satisfy our cravings?
Personally, I feel ethically farmed meat has a place in our fridges. But, as people become more detached from where their animal protein comes from, what is regarded by the public to be ethically right in farming is becoming more blurred, or should I say hidden. Our consumerism is driving the mass production of meat. Chickens are being imported from Thailand because we demand that. I regularly witness members of the public browse our stand at a farmers market to hear them whisper to their friend or partner “£18 for a chicken! You could get four from Asda for that price!”. Does that person need four chickens from Asda though? Should we instead be paying more for meat and eating a little less? Then there would be no need for us to ship chicken from Thailand so that we can enjoy poor quality mass-produced chicken six or seven times a week, and instead, we can enjoy quality, tasty, locally produced meat that we know has come from an ethical UK farm.
There are farms out there — Grassfruits included — that try to tread as lightly on our planet as possible, but unfortunately, this currently comes at a price. However, can we afford not to pay this price? We’re hearing more and more about how our mass consumerism is affecting the planet, so lets all vow to do our bit to be more ethically-minded when choosing meat in the future — search for ‘ethically farmed meat near me’ to find a local farm to where you live, or head to our store page to view our locally sourced, ethically-raised pork and chicken. We also stock grass-fed beef from a local farm, who shares a similar vision to us, as part of our mixed meat boxes.
Pasture raised vs organic chicken
What you need to know about pasture raised vs organic. What’s the difference, why it’s important for you and your health, and how it helps our environment.
What does pasture raised mean?
Pasture raised means always on grass 24/7. Our pasture raised chickens live outside on grass 24 hours a day from the moment they leave the brooder. Pasture raised means clean, fresh air, sunshine, fresh grass, bugs, flies, and worms EVERY SINGLE DAY.
So, what is pasture raised chicken? Let’s start this right at the beginning of the process. Our chicks arrive on the farm at 1 day old. They are safely tucked into a brooder (a brooder is a heated environment that mimics the warmth of a mother hen) where they live for around 18 to 24 days, or until they have developed the ability to regulate their own body temperature. Once nicely feathered out, we then move the chickens out onto the pasture. They live in small groups of between 50 to 75 birds and are moved every single day to a fresh, untouched area of grass using our portable chicken shelters. Keeping the birds in small groups helps to reduce the risk of pathogen activity (disease). The grass acts as bedding for the birds so we don’t have to import bedding for them, lessening our carbon footprint - we aren't using fossil fuel to till, drill, harvest and deliver the crop we might use as bedding. Not to mention the bags and bags of fossil fuel derived fertiliser, herbicide, pesticide or fungicide that may be used to assist the crop along the way.
Is pasture raised the same as organic?
A question I’m often asked at farmers markets is, “is pasture raised the same as organic chicken?”
The organic label has done fantastic things for our food and farming system in the UK, and worldwide. However, it has become exactly that... a label. The UK organic market is now worth £2.2 billion, a large proportion of which goes through the supermarkets. Although supermarkets are incredibly convenient, they aren’t contributing a great deal to combating the ever-increasing topic of global warming. And when it comes to animal production, organic primarily describes diet, and everything else is either not mentioned at all or is a secondary consideration. The organic label encourages people to meet a standard to get a label, but there is no encouragement to go any further. No obligation to build topsoil, increase organic matter or help to reverse global warming through carbon sequestering farming methods. This is not, however, to say that all organic production is the same.
For our pasture raised chickens, we use certified organic feed and adhere to organic principles, as well as our own standards and principles. While we are not certified organic (a paid-for entitlement that larger companies can afford to pay for), we believe profoundly in the high quality of our farming and we’re proud to say we’re 100% pasture raised, and believe this to be a stronger statement than the ‘organic’ label.
Why is pasture raised better?
One of the main benefits of pasture raised chicken is the health of the animals. Our chickens are moved to a fresh environment every day, away from the previous day's manure - this helps us to eliminate ever having to use antibiotics. Secondly, the chickens are able to forage for some real animal protein. Insects, worms, flies, even the odd mouse. Contrary to popular belief, chickens are actually omnivores, not vegetarians - drop a dead mouse into a chicken coop and see what happens. Thirdly, they can eat as much grass as they like, not to mention breathe fresh air and feel the sun on their backs. All contributing to the living conditions of our chickens.
The result of this is higher quality meat. More and more research is showing that animals raised on a pasture-based system yield meat that is lower in total fats and calories. Produce meat that is higher in good fats such as Omega 3’s, more concentrated with antioxidants such as vitamin E, C, and beta-carotene, and with higher levels of disease-fighting substances like CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) thought to help prevent cancer. Not to mention the improved taste.
Is pasture raised better for the environment?
To answer this we need to take a step back and look at our farming system more holistically. There’s a lot more to this than just rearing a chicken for our Sunday dinner! Ultimately this comes down to the manure, which is an incredibly valuable asset to the farm, and the environment. While moving our chickens every day we are depositing their manure exactly where it is required on the farm - on the soil. Chicken manure is high in nitrogen, perfect for growing grass and building topsoil. We don’t use large diesel powered machinery to empty sheds and move manure from point A to point B, we use the power of one man to move the chickens each day. The more manure that’s added to the soil, the more grass we can grow, and the more topsoil we can build, ultimately pulling more carbon out of the atmosphere by way of photosynthesis.
Many free-range organic chicken operations may use static polytunnels to house their chickens in overnight and open them up on a daily basis to allow the chickens to have access to the outdoors. The chickens tend not to venture much farther than 75 feet from their shelter for fear of predation from above (birds of prey, a natural fear). This, therefore, means that the chicken’s manure is concentrated in one area of the field, depleting this 75-foot area of any nutritious vegetation, and over nitrifying it with their manure.
Where to buy pasture raised chicken?
Whenever you can, my advice will always be to go and visit your local farmer. There’s no better certification than self-certification. Go visit the farm, ask questions, see the animals, and make the decision for yourself. This is our preferred way to operate — we have an open door policy on the farm — so anyone, including you, can come and visit us at any time. Why not give me a call now, and let’s pencil in a time - 01904 373024.
That said, I know this isn’t always an option for everyone. But, worry not! If you’re not able to visit the farm, we can bring that farm-fresh, pasture raised quality direct to your door. We deliver our pasture raised chicken Next Day to anywhere in the UK in a temperature controlled recyclable box, with reusable ice-packs that keep your order perfectly chilled for farm-to-door.
There are countless different production methods for the food we all eat. I encourage you all to meet the farmers who produce the food you eat and certify them for yourself.
Thanks for reading,
KNOW YOUR FARMER, KNOW YOUR FOOD.