Shameless Heartland Pandering

It’s been a little more than a week since the Superbowl, and arguably the most-talked about commercial was the one featuring legendary radio broadcaster Paul Harvey’s “So God Made A Farmer” speech for Dodge trucks.

I both liked and disliked the commercial.  I liked it, despite my lack of belief in a higher power, because it evokes intense personal feelings; the things Mr. Harvey says about farmers is very true.  At least, they’re true of my farmers, and all of the small farmers who work outside of industrial agriculture – farmers that are the driving force of the Real Food Movement.  I can’t even begin to express the admiration and respect I have for the people who raise and grow the food my family and I eat every day.  I was practically in tears by the end of the commercial the first time I saw it, even if I don’t believe God has anything to do with these remarkable and devoted people.

Paul Harvey wrote the original speech in 1975 and the recording used in the Dodge commercial is of Mr. Harvey delivering it to the 1978 Future Farmers of America convention. However, the speech itself was based on the definition of a “dirt farmer” published in The Farmer-Stockman, then the Ellensburg Daily Record, in 1940.  Prior to the United States’ entry into World War II, most of the food in this country was grown or raised on small farms and in backyard gardens.

Sadly, this is no longer true, which is why I also disliked the commercial.  So when Beloved found this parody of it, I knew I’d post it.  It’s hilarious and depressing at the same time, but it’s also true.

Which is the saddest thing of all.

Home is Where the Farmer Is

I was born in El Paso, and grew up in Dallas.  I spent the last 4 years of my life in Texas living in the mid-cities area – a collection of suburbs connecting Dallas and Ft. Worth.

I’m a Texan, through and through.  To this day, if someone asks me where I’m from, I’ll tell them, “I live in Podunk, Ohio but I’m from Texas.”

I was 42 when I left Texas and moved to Ohio, and I hated it.  I cannot even begin to describe how incredibly homesick I was.  It didn’t help that I went from a metropolitan area of over 3 million people to a small city of barely 73,000 – heck, the suburb where I lived in Texas was nearly that big.  Worse yet, the only decent ethnic food in the area I now live is Italian – if you want French or Thai or Mexican or Vietnamese or Colombian or Middle Eastern or, gee, anything that isn’t pizza or pasta (well, maybe German), you better learn to cook it yourself, because it pretty much doesn’t exist here.  There are exactly 3 ethnic markets in our area; one Mexican, one Asian, and one Halal – all approximately the size of my walk-in closet (you think I kid).  You have to spend $20 at the Asian market before they’ll take a debit or credit card.

Don’t even get me started on what passes for barbecue here.

Dallas has more shopping malls per capita than any other city in the world…Podunk has one.  The tallest building downtown is a whopping eight stories tall.

The area we moved to is also pretty insular; in Dallas, there are a lot of people from not just all over the country, but from all over the world.  Here, it’s not uncommon for young people to move into a house down the street from their parents when they leave home.  And I’d never been met with so many cold shoulders as I had when we moved to Podunk – it was literally years before we made friends here, beyond our co-workers and a lovely woman I’d actually met online years before.  To this day I get asked, “Why on earth did you move here??”

I guess it just turned out that we weren’t looking in the right places for friends, and it took changing the way we eat to meet them.

They’re called farmers, and they are just the nicest, warmest people. In. The. Whole. World.

We friends with our beef farmer, hog farmer, poultry farmer, vegetable farmer; we’ve made friends with a lovely lady who makes artisan goat cheeses.  We’re friends with our butchers.  We found someone who grows the best damn watermelon in the area, as well as someone who not only grows a dazzling array of winter squashes (and sells them dirt cheap), but raises the tastiest goats you’d ever hope to find.

They all think we’re a little off our rockers.  Which makes them pretty smart, too.

I’ve become quite attached to these people, and while I was becoming attached to them, I became attached to the entire area because you simply can’t separate these people from the land.  And I surprised myself recently with the realization that I don’t dream of moving back to Texas any more; bluebonnet season may be spectacular, but so is autumn in Cuyahoga Valley.  Downtown Oak Cliff may be full of history and character, but so is downtown Wadsworth – and you don’t have to worry about being mugged.  People may not drive with any sense of urgency here, but I never have to worry about the traffic on I-635, either.  A 45-minute trip to have dinner in Dallas used to be nothing; nowadays, a 45-minute trip to Cleveland for dinner calls for an overnight stay.

Somehow in the last couple of years, this became home.  I’d like to stay awhile.

For more Hometown Spins, go visit Gretchen at Second Blooming.  Take her some barbecue from The Salt Lick; she’s homesick.

It Pays To Know Your Farmer

If you’ve been reading here for any amount of time at all, you know that I’m a huge advocate of knowing where your food comes from.  From time to time I think about all the years I shopped at the grocery store, not knowing where what I was buying came from or how it got there (and, in some instances, what was in it), and I’m simply appalled.

We’ve gone to great lengths over the last couple of years to right what I feel was an egregious error, at least on my part – I am, after all, the person who feeds my family.  We’ve visited the farms where our cows, hogs, chickens and (more recently) goats are raised, and have gotten as up-close and personal with the animals as is practical.  We recently joined a CSA co-op that requires we work on the farm for a certain amount of hours.  We talk to the farmers at the markets we attend about how they raise their fruits and vegetables and where their farms are located.  The legitimate small farmers will not only tell you exactly where their farm is, but give you map coordinates to the very field a particular vegetable was grown in, then invite you to stop by and visit.

We’re also concerned about how the animals that provide our food are treated and have been to each and every farm where they are raised – multiple times.  We ask questions about the pasture they roam on and any supplemental feed they receive.  We’ve been to the hen house where the chicken who lay our eggs live, and have watched them run about the farm, and have even seen our Thanksgiving turkey out in the field, getting fattened for our celebratory meal.  In fact, we’ve become reasonably good friends with the farmers that raise our beef, pork, chicken and eggs.  They are marvelous people.

(Interestingly, while I was composing this post, we received this email from our beef farmer, Jon Berger of Green Vista Farm in Wooster, Ohio:

“When you get a chance let me know how the last beef is. You guys know how to cook it and will be objective but I want to always be aware if we have given them adequate finish. The modern beef industry considers fat as the primary quality indicator, which under a grass fed program is not a bad thing even though it will kill you with commodity beef. With corn being their main energy source, fat is not as relatively expensive to produce on a carcass as it is with a grass fed animal. Nevertheless I want to know the parameters under which I need to work with our type of beef and still have a high quality product. Thanks a bunch.”

Indeed, it pays to know your farmer.)

We also care, very much so, how the animals we eat spend the last moments of their lives – how they’re treated at the abattoir, and how they’re killed.  How they’re processed, too, of course.  And if we’ve become reasonably good friends with our farmers, we’ve become even better friends with our butchers.

The Perkins family, who own and operate Whitefeather Meats in Creston, Ohio are some of the friendliest – and most knowledgeable – people we’ve ever met.  They know their business inside and out (and are very generous in sharing their knowledge), so when they invited us to come watch, and allow me to document, the butchering of our most recent side of beef, we jumped at the opportunity.  Not only did we get the opportunity to watch, and give our feedback on, the cutting of the cow we’ve affectionately named “Patty” but were given a tour of their entire facility, from the hanging rooms to the kill floor.  And when we expressed an interest in watching the actual slaughter process, they didn’t hesitate to extend us an invitation – so we’ll be going back soon for that.

It’s taken me three weeks to process half the photos I took that day – I simply have not had the time – and there are quite a few.  Since I’d like feedback from the Perkins as well (and want to send them the photos for their own use), this will be a series of posts, most likely over the next couple of weeks, in which I’ll show and explain how this

Sides of Beef

becomes this

Ground Beef

And everything in between.

Have a lovely weekend, y’all.

Posted in participation of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday