WNYC Radio: The Pleasures and Perils of the Farming Life

amandaOrganic farmers from around the region talk about the pleasures and perils of farming organically in the 21st century.

Jamie Critelli of Floral Beauty Greenhouses sells potted plants and hydroponic vegetables and herbs at the 57th Street Greenmarket. He spent eight years in the Army and in 2012 earned a Veteran Farmer Fellowship to grow his business.

Mike O’Dell is the youngest dairy farmer in Orange County, New York. His Back to the Future Farm sells bottled milk, dairy soaps and other value added dairy products at Union Square.

Amanda Andrews of Tamarack Hollow Farm in Vermont is an organic vegetable farmer who has been farming for about 4 years on her own. Tamarack Hollow Farm sells at Union Square Greenmarket.

See/Hear the full story at http://www.wnyc.org/story/pleasures-and-perils-farming-life/.

A Man and His Ox

Food Systems network NYC recently spoke with Mike in NYC.
Story by: Ed Yowell

“Whoa, farming with oxen…there’s a story,” I thought when, at a Wednesday, Union Square Greenmarket, I spoke to farmer and friend Mike Betit, of Tamarack Hollow Farm in Burlington, Vermont. (Some Newsletter readers may remember Mike as one of four, a farmer, Mike, two butchers, and a chef, who returned to omnivorous ways after their adventures in vegetarianism, as recounted in ‘Born Again Omnivores.”

Mike, and his partner Amanda Andrews, farm 88 acres, with about six acres under organic cultivation in 2011 and with plans to increase to ten acres this spring. Tamarack Hollow started transitioning from being primarily a pig farm to a more diversified operation in 2008. With the Great Recession, Mike saw the demand for his sustainably raised, pastured pigs start to decrease…he produced 300 pigs in 2008 and 70 in 2011. Mike said, “Prior to 2008, the demand for good protein was increasing, and supply increased to meet the demand.” He continued, “With the recession, people just weren’t buying high-priced protein. It was one of the first things they cut.” Consequently, Mike and Amanda’s fresh and smoked pork products at market are now increasingly supplemented by organic produce including greens and cabbages and turnips, radishes, and other root vegetables.

Mike and Amanda, in addition to having their operation certified organic, practice managed intensive rotational grazing coordinated with crop rotation. On their web site they have written, “We believe that diverse farms offer the most sustainable option for the future of farming. Every product from our farm represents a vital component of our farm system: pigs aggressively clear abandoned ground, boosting soil fertility, and keeping weed pressure low. As a result, successive vegetable and cover crop rotations produce a bounty of produce, without the dependency on plastics and fertilizers that we find distressingly common in organic production.” And, their integrated weed management approach, in addition to meaning no sprays, not even those certified as organic, means weeding everything by hand.

It takes about 18 hours for a human to weed what a human enhanced by an ox can weed in about three hours, Mike figured. So, he figured, he and an ox could weed two acres in a day instead of six. With plans to increase vegetable production in 2012, savings like that are important. Hence, Mike and Amanda’s work force was joined by Lucky the Holstein Ox.

ScreenshotIt occurs that, like me, many New York City dwellers have only the vaguest notion of what an ox is or does, other than supplying tails to braise. An ox, plural oxen, is a bovine creature; usually a castrated bull (castration making bulls more tractable) trained to be a draught (or draft) animal. Oxen may be, less typically, bulls or cows and can be multi-purpose, used for draught and meat, albeit not at the same time. Oxen are joined by horses in the draughting chore, but there are significant differences, which are obvious, even to a city dweller, with a little thought. Significantly, horses are fast and cattle are slow. The pulling style of horses is different than that of oxen…the operative characteristics of oxen’s style being slow and steady. Oxen are best fit to ploughing (or plowing), transporting, threshing, and powering machines, to mill grain or supply irrigation. Draught horses are best fit to harvest grain, which benefits from greater speed.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned comparisons, draught animals, horses and oxen, are interchangeable. When I asked Mike why an ox and not a horse, he responded, “I’m a Vermonter, Vermont is a dairy state, I guess I’m just a bovine kind of a guy.” While that can explain the presence of Lucky the ox, it does not explain Lucky instead of the tractor. Mike says his big wheeled tractor compacts the soil, an undesirable circumstance, and the costs of associated, specialized, equipment for the tractor to pull are higher than the costs of comparable equipment to be pulled by an ox. So, with few economies of scale to help absorb higher mechanization costs, Lucky is a versatile, cost-effective contributor to the bottom line of Tamarack Hollow Farm.

Lucky is also a way to decrease the farm’s use of fossil fuel while providing a more satisfying work experience for the human part of the team than the does the tractor, for understanding the ox mentality is a necessary prerequisite to success. Lucky, like other oxen, is a slow starter, needing to get into the rhythm of the task at hand gradually, perhaps not so unlike a human…a little start, followed by a short rest, gets him into the mind set for the serious, deliberate, work ahead. This year Amanda and Mike plan to use Lucky for more tasks, including ploughing and harvesting, and perhaps acquiring another ox.

For those wanting to know more, an English – Ox Dictionary is provided here:
Get Up – Go Forward
Whoa – Stop
Back – Back Up
Gee – Turn Right
Haw – Turn Left


Rad Radishes

daikon-pasta-400It’s now, around January and February, that daikon radishes begin to really sell, said Tamarack Hollow Farm’s farmer Amanda Andrews. She drives down from Burlington, Vermont, every week to sell produce at the Union Square Farmers Market on Wednesdays, and says that only diehard daikon fans really buy them when they’re first harvested in September. At that point in the year, the long, white radishes are often overshadowed by spotlight-stealing fall produce like tomatoes, squash and berries.

Food writer Cathy Erway is one of Tamarack Hollow Farm’s customers, and she’s a fan of daikon because of its versatility. “It has a very mild taste, and it’s very pleasant because it takes on any broth or flavoring that you want to give it, and it just really absorbs it all,” she said. “It doesn’t lend too much of a funky or spicy… radish taste that we associate with the vegetable. So, in a way, it’s kind of a blank slate.”

See the full story at http://www.wnyc.org/articles/last-chance-foods/2013/feb/01/last-chance-f…. Go Radishes!

Tamarack Hollow on Quinciple

mafTamarack Hollow Farm is a busy place. Piglets rooting around in the snow; sheep baaaing up a storm, chickens clucking in their coop, afraid to go out in the snow and Thor and Finn, the two farm dogs, keeping an eye over everything. And to top it all off, Mike Betit and Amanda Andrews, the farmers at Tamarack Hollow, have their hands full dealing with the youthful exuberance of the team of oxen they bought a year ago. Their names: Thunder and Lightning. See the full story here.

Tamarack Hollow in the Burlington Free Press

Check out Candace Page’s great story on the farm in the Free Press.

On a cool May afternoon, the scene at Tamarack Hollow Farm had all the gloss of an urban daydream: While cars whizzed by on the Burlington Beltline, farmers Mike Betit and Amanda Andrews herded four skittish Belted Galloway beef cows toward an enclosure to be checked for pregnancy by the waiting veterinarian.

The cows mooed. Seventy pigs squealed in a nearby paddock. One-hundred-and-fifty laying hens squawked and pecked behind their fence. Thunder and Lightning, the farm’s oxen, bellowed from time to time, the sound reverberating toward the homes of a New North End neighborhood just across the highway.

The mucky farm road led to fields ready for planting, their dark dirt as rich as chocolate.

The spring air smelled of damp dirt, manure and promise. …

[Click the top link to read the whole story. Thanks for the ink Candace!]

The Nomadic Oven Visits Your Neighborhood Pig Farm

mikeandchicken pigandcowcollage

Turning from suburban Ethan Allen Parkway into Tamarack Hollow Farm is a little surreal, like wandering off the set for “Leave it to Beaver”, and finding yourself in “Little House on the Prairie”. Talking to Amanda Andrews and Mike Betit, life on the farm seems ripe for a situation comedy as well, with punchlines that juxtapose their homesteader lifestyle and the sedate neighborhood of 19th century houses that surrounds them. Warm summer evenings find neighbors strolling across the farm’s bridge to sip wine and watch the pigs and cows in their pristine pasture overlooking…highway 127. A few residents squirm when confronted with the less picturesque realities of farm life, like the three-sided, all-season composting outhouse, and the eau-de-farm that rises on hot days. Sitting by the crackling wood stove in the 14’ by 20’ cabin that Betit built last spring, it’s hard to imagine that we’re just a stones throw away from the picket fences and shopping centers of the New North End- until I open the door to the sound of rushing cars.

Read the rest of Jen’s story here

NY Serious Eats, November, 2010

“I LOVE YOU, BACON,” proclaims the sign at Tamarack Hollow Farm—but as Mike Betit told me last week, “We only put it up when we actually have bacon.” Tamarack Hollow, located in Burlington, VT, started out as a hog farm, although they now also sell a small but unique selection of produce. Betit credits the tanking economy for the change in their approach at the market. “People just weren’t buying high-priced protein. It was one of the first things they cut.” That loss ended up being the market shoppers’ gain, as in addition to Tamarack’s beautiful smoked and fresh meats and sausages, Betit’s current produce selection includes greens, cabbages, broccoli, turnips, radishes and more.

Betit’s wife, who used to work for Keith Stewart of Keith’s Farm, chooses which crops to grow. Tamarack Hollow goes beyond organic certification: Referring to the growing number of organic certified sprays on the market that many certified organic farmers use, Betit says: “In addition to being certified organic, we don’t use any f***ing sprays. Period.” In addition, all of the crops are hand cultivated. “We’re literally out there with stirrup hoes and hand weeding everything. We use intensive rotational grazing, and our vegetables are part of the rotations.” Tamarack Hollow Farm is 88 acres in its entirety, but only 3 1/2 acres are cultivated at any one time, giving the soil time to recover. The only problem, Betit told me, is that the soil is sometimes too fertile, recently leading to a ridiculously large cabbage.

As the season progresses, Tamarack Hollow will be at the market year round. When the weather gets colder, look for greenhouse microgreens and sprouts, as well as spinach and baby kale that are grown in low tunnels. Of course, the meats will be available all year long. Check out the slideshow for a look at what Betit had to offer at last week’s maket. See the full story here. Photos by Ben Fishner.

Dreaming of the Christmas Goose: Megnut.com

It’s broiling hot today in New York City, and as I scurried around the greenmarket attempting to buy some tomatoes before I burst into flame, I noticed a sign at Tamarack Hollow Farm. Tamarack is one of the nicest vendors at the market. When I bought my first pork shoulder, I asked the vendor how to prepare it. He gave me some directions, then pointed to the label on the package. “If you have any problems, call my wife. She’ll walk you through it.” Culinary phone support included in pork purchase price! Who knew?

Anyway, today’s sign said something to the effect that orders were now being taken for duck, goose, smoked ham, and suckling pig for delivery from September 1 through the end of the year. As I walked home, I imagined what I could do with a suckling pig. Then in the stifling heat, my thoughts drifted to goose and I longingly imagined December’s snow and icy air, the scent of pine trees, and the fun of having family over for a lovely Tamarak roast goose for Christmas dinner. A huge bead of sweat stung my eye and snapped me from my reverie. It’s a 102° and I’m thinking about Christmas goose. I’m tempted to head right back over there and place my order, if only it weren’t so hot outside.

(Posted August 2, 2006: original at http://www.megnut.com/2006/08/dreaming-of-the-christmas-goose)

Farmer Mike’s Interview with Not Eating Out in NY

There were many things that blew my socks off at a dinner Sunday night, held in a cozy Brooklyn ground-floor apartment. The basil-ricotta gnocchi was one of them. The lamb pot pies (above) were definitely another. But the one thing that really struck me the most was when, while casually biting off chunks of his garlic sauce-smothered lamb breast and duck fat confit hors d’oeuvres, Tamarack Hollow Farm founder/farmer Mike Betit said, “The first two years [of starting his farm], I lost money. The third year, when I started selling at the NYC Greenmarket, I broke even.”

Holy cow (or lamb)! What in the world would make someone continue their work after such dire straits? Commitment. Passion. Principle. In a word, belief in humane, pasture-raised livestock and its subsequently delicious meats. To me this is a true example of the dedication, if reckless, of all the farmers who truck their goods in each week to the Greenmarket, and the strength of its support for small farms in return.

Before and during the four-course dinner that myself and twelve other New Yorkers enjoyed that night, Mike shared a few other tales of his trade. Between the lamb-based courses prepared by him and our talented chef-hostess, and the conversations about small farms and animal raising, the dinner was rich, meaty and oh so filling. Here are some of the things Mike had to say.

3285266554_3739666a77_msavory lamb sausages at the hors d’oeuvres table

What’s in these delicious sausages?

Rosemary, red wine and Feta.

Are there any more of these being sold at your Union Square Greenmarket stand?

No, these were a small run, and they’re all out. As with so many things [at the Greenmarket], investigation pays off. There are so many limited-run things from everyone.

Why does Tamarack Hollow Farm only sell on Wednesdays at Union Square? Why not at other Greenmarket locations, too?

Well, there are a lot of politics about who gets to sell at what market. But for better or for worse, I’ve purposely hung my hat on Wednesday at Union Square. I can cultivate a following of customers who always know I’m there then.

 3285270234_68c43f640d_mMike Betit (center, standing) shares his farming philosophy

How long does it take you to drive to NYC each week from your home in Vermont?

Five hours, each way.

When did you begin farming?

I started raising pigs in 2003. The first year, I lost about 8k, the second year, about 16k. The third year, when I began selling at the [NYC] Greenmarket, I broke even.

Do you also sell locally, around Vermont?

Yes, I’ve always sold there, but there’s less demand for the type of meat I produce than in NYC.

What did you do before you became a farmer?

I taught. I was a field guide at an alternative school for at-risk youth. I was “Outdoor Mike.”

3285270210_640e5ed7c2_mtwice-cooked lamb breast (aka belly) with turnips and basil ricotta gnocchi. According to Mike, lamb breast is on the rise to becoming the new “in” cut

What animals do you currently raise?

Aside from sheep and pigs, I raise ducks, turkeys and geese. [After some table conversation about Berkshire pork and other heritage animal breeds]… Breed has less to do with the resulting meat than the production practices. Ten years ago, Berkshire pork was a nonexistent market condition. Now it’s a selling point, but you can produce Berkshire pork just the same way as the rest of [today’s industrial, factory-like farmed] pork is, and come out with the same kind of quality. The way I see it, management comes first; breed is second. I really think if you manage the breed well, that will affect your product the most.

What else have you got on the horizon for Tamarack Hollow Farm?

We’re adding veal this year to our offerings, and eggs. We’ve got eggs that have yolks so dense it’s like tapioca. It’s almost dark red.

Now that is one good egg.

(See original post at http://noteatingoutinny.com/2009/02/21/heres-lookin-at-you-cook-mike-betit/)