An Ode to the Wheel: Designing a Farm Out-Building

Farming is often the art of materials handling. We deal with heavy things (feed, seed, soil amendments, pork) all day, every day, and in the thick of it my back barks like a hungry puppy. To preserve ourselves and ensure a long career in this business, we have to design our systems to minimize wear and tear. I’ve long dreamt of the day we could simply roll heavy things in and out of the back of our truck and trailer with the aid of glorious wheels gliding on smooth concrete.

Shed in progress.jpg

The building is 36’ wide by 24’ feet deep, with one grade height, drive-in door, and two short, pickup truck height loading docks. It’s set into a hill sideways, with the grade height access at the top of the hill. This first bay will protect a tractor or other large machinery, while the middle will be feed, seed, or raw material storage. The third bay will eventually house a walk-in freezer. 

This is vital for us, as we need to transfer delicate product as quickly and easily as possible during the heat of the summer. We process animals on a rolling schedule, so we’re not only packing coolers for market several times per week, but we’re also picking up meat from our processor and shuffling it around to an off-site storage facility to maintain strict first-in, first-out protocols. Heaving loaded coolers in and out of a pickup truck in July gets old pretty fast. Now we’ll employ a hand truck to make this safer for ourselves and our products.

Less important, but still an efficiency we can realize through thoughtful design, is our feed handling. About once every two weeks, we pick up pig feed by the ton from our neighbors at Union Mills Feed. If we fill our own containers (reusable 1000 lb. capacity bags) they offer significant savings (economically and environmentally) over buying the same product in 50 lb. bags. This presents a minor problem for us, because until recently we were tractor-less and thus had no way of unloading these huge bags besides transferring with a bucket (not fun).  So we used a small flatbed trailer and simply left the feed on it, covered with a tarp. This worked well for a few years, but meant our valuable feed was exposed to the elements and curious critters, and we never had use of our handy trailer for other projects. With our new shed and truck-height loading dock, we can unload with a simple pallet jack and pick up about twice as much feed per trip.

Beyond the joys of the wheel, this transition is important for us. Physically separating farm operations from our home will allow us to better distinguish our business from our family life. We’ll squeeze a desk and coffee machine in our new shed, so we don’t have to take off our muddy boots to come in the house to warm up on a cold day. We’ll move our files out of the guest bedroom and reclaim the garage for (gasp!) parking a car or building a climbing wall for Freddy.

Our farm is entering its third year, and has so far proven to be sustainable from a personal and economic point-of-view. Now we’re pouring revenue back into it, so that we can feed more people while maintaining our mission! Now, back to work...

Recipe: Pork Tenderloin with Roasted New Potatoes and Kale Salad

Order of operations: Pull your pork out of the fridge, get the spuds working, make the salad and cook the tenderloin last. 

Pork Tenderloin

  • One 1lb Pork Tenderloin

  • Salt

  • Leftover bacon grease (or butter or canola oil) 

Let your tenderloin rest on the counter for 30 minutes before cooking.

Preheat oven to 425.

Heat a dollop of bacon grease in cast iron pan on medium high. 

Salt the tenderloin all over and brown on all sides (about 2 minutes per side). You want a nice, brown sear, so don’t futz with the meat too much while it is in the pan. 

When all sides are browned, move the pan to the oven. Cook the tenderloin until it reaches 140 degrees. This should take 8-12 minutes, depending on how big the tenderloin is. Remove the tenderloin from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Your meat will continue cooking a bit after it comes out of the oven. When you slice it, it should be brownish gray at the edges and pink in the middle. 

Spuds

  • New potatoes
  • Olive or canola oil
  • Salt

Preheat oven to 425. 

Cube potatoes. Toss in oil, spread on pan, sprinkle generously with salt. Roast for 30 minutes, or until puffy on top and crispy on the bottom side. 

Kale Salad

  • Lacinato Kale
  • Beets or Peaches
  • Snow peas
  • Feta
  • Kosher or Maldon salt
  • Easy Balsamic Dressing (equal parts olive oil + balsamic vinegar, 1tsp Dijon mustard, 1 tsp sugar. Make it in a mason jar and shake, shake, shake to emulsify)

Stack leaves of lacinato kale on top of one another. Roll the leaves like a wad of bills. Slice the roll thinly to create ribbons. Season with a pinch of salt and dress the salad with your hands, massaging the kale as you incorporate the dressing. Thinly slice beets or peaches and snow peas. Add beets or peaches, peas and feta to your salad. 

Happy 2017!

We’re excited for a new season of farming: full of opportunities, challenges, and rewards. 2017 is going to be a big one for us, as we’re doubling our production and to help manage that growth, Christina is now working full-time on the farm. Woo hoo!

So what better time than now to talk in some detail about how we raise our pigs? Not much has changed from last year, we’re still focused on raising happy animals and making the best tasting pork possible. Fortunately those two goals go hand-in-hand!

We keep our pigs content by eliminating sources of stress and providing all that they might need. The local coyotes and cougars are kept at bay by a livestock guardian dog that lives with the pigs and has bonded to them as his “flock.”

Our pigs get fed a ration of non-GMO grain from our local feed mill (Union Mills Feed, 5 miles from the farm) and pre-consumer food waste (veggies, bread, whey). Pigs grow fast - reaching 280 pounds in 6-8 months and so they eat a lot! One of our goals this year is to reduce the amount of purpose-grown commercial hog food we buy. In a normal system each animal will eat about 1000 pounds of grain to reach market weight. By adding in food waste and turning it back into delicious pork, we’re not only keeping our feed bill down and animals happy but preventing all that food from ending up in a landfill!

The most important part of our management system is our frequent moves onto fresh ground. Pigs want to be pigs and explore their surroundings, rooting and searching for buried treasures. They’re also creatures of habit, and if we were to let them loose onto a huge pasture they would create “bathroom” areas that they would use over and over again. Our neighbors wouldn’t be too keen on giant stinking piles of pig poo and more importantly, nasty bacteria and chemicals would leach into our water system. To prevent this we keep them in small groups and give them access to about 2000 square feet of ground at a time, which forces them to spread the manure around the pasture and allows the billions of soil microorganisms to effectively capture its nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the soil for use by future crops. We’ve turned a liability into an asset.

This is all well and good, you might be thinking, but where do we get the pigs to begin with? Ultimately it will make sense for us to breed our own piglets and develop genetics that fit best in our system. But at the moment we don’t have the resources (labor, mostly) to do that and so we’ve been buying weaned piglets at 20-30 pounds from some professional breeders in the area.  Last year we raised Berkshire/Tamworth crosses. This year, our first group are Yorkshire and Hereford. We like getting pigs that are heritage breeds crossed with conventional breeds, as they are hearty, fast growing, and produce great tasting meat.

So we buy them as babies and raise them up, keeping them healthy and as comfortable as possible. At around seven months old they reach market weight and we load them into our livestock trailer and take them to our USDA and Animal Welfare Approved butcher, who processes the animal into retail cuts. We pick up the cuts about a week later and then load them into our freezers back at the farm, where they wait until they head to market or one of our fine local grocers.

This summer you’ll find our products at the Milwaukie, Oregon City, and Molalla Farmers Markets, as well as at the Silverton Food Co-op and Grano Bakery & Market in Oregon City.

Best wishes to you and your families for a happy and healthy 2017! We’ll see you out there.