About Sylvia Burgos Toftness

A Latina from the tenements of the South Bronx, I now raise 100% grass-fed beef in west central Wisconsin with my husband Dave. We believe more people will choose to farm and eat healthful foods if they know the connections between what we eat and how it's grown. That's why we invite you to walk the fields with us; hear from experts on my Saturday morning show, Deep Roots Radio; share our adventures on my blog, From the Bronx to the Barn; and buy our sustainably grown beef. We farm with a tiny carbon hoofprint (R) so that you can enjoy great-tasting grass-fed beef that's high in nutrition while helping to restore our environment.

Classes: Baking artisan breads, cooking pastured meats

It’s cold out, the holiday’s are upon us, and you’re committed to delicious, healthful, deeply nutritious meals. Plus, you’re looking for a chance to learn something new, chat with interesting people and enjoy some great food.

Beefy soup!


If that’s you, take a class with us! Our teaching kitchen at Bull Brook Keep is just the place for learning to bake artisan sourdough breads, focaccia and ciabatta, and for examining how best to cook pastured meats.

artisan breads from your home oven

These classes feature strategies and tips for fitting sourdough, bone broth, and pastured meats into your busy schedule.

For the class schedules and to register:
Baking classes
Pastured meat cooking classes

I look forward to baking and cooking with you at the farm!
Sylvia

Typing, invoicing, phone calls, map searches – getting our grass-fed beef to your table

I sat down to the keyboard a bit before 8:00 this morning, and now it’s after 1:30PM. How is that possible?!
Well, there were all those emails with a subject line I love to write: Your beef is ready!
Then there were the follow-up calls with customers to confirm delivery to drop sites in and around the Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN metro area.
And there were Google Map searches to find out where I’d have to make home deliveries.

Beefy soup!

And, of course, while all of this was going on, I was keeping a mental inventory of beef just picked up from the USDA processor. Hmmm, T-bones, ribeye, sirloin, chuck and cross-rib roasts, briskets and flank steaks, and lots more.
This is the record-keeping-and-communications time of the year that adds the final links to the food chain. To be honest, it’s a time I value and respect – delivering beef directly to the customer.
It represents well over two years of work on Bull Brook Keep farm.

BueLingo calves

It starts in the early spring with the arrival of our BueLingo calves. The herd grows sleek and fat as we move them from pasture to grassy pasture throughout the growing season. Midsummer marks the breeding season. We separate the bulls from the larger herd in mid-fall (away from the heifers too young to breed). Grasses shrivel as frosts hit and snow blankets the farm. That’s when we provide the cows with hay grown in our own fields. As the days warm in April and May, the cycle begins again. Dave and I work to manage our pastures and herd in harmony with nature.
Cattle that spend the last several months of their lives eating grain in feedlots reach harvest weight by the time they’re 16-18 months old. It’s a confinement approach that is often accompanied by subclinical antibiotics in the feed, and the administration of hormones.
In contrast, our 100% grass-fed cattle, take nine to 10 months longer to reach harvest condition. It means an extra year of feeding and care for us, but we’re committed to breeding and raising our beef cattle on grass – and only grass. No grains, no hormones, no subclinical antibiotics. And by practicing rotational grazing, our cows are contented and healthy, and the pastures improve. We’re seeing more farmers in our area adopting this approach.

Fresh air and sunshine 24/7


Dave and I made a home delivery last night, and I’ll be making several stops at drop-sites this week and next. It’s hard work, but to me it feels like a reward. When I hand over the boxes, it’s almost like placing a big bowl of delicious beef stew and a thick slice of homemake sourdough bread in front of a dear friend or family member. (It’s so much more fun to cook, when you’re cooking for someone you value.)
I thank God for the farming stewardship He has given Dave and me, and for the wonderful customers and friends walking the path with us.
Sylvia

Video

What comes before focaccia? Before ciabatta and pizza? Quick video tells it.

Ciabatta, pizza and focaccia


It’s just three weeks before this Fall’s first artisan baking class at Bull Brook Keep!

What? You haven’t signed up yet!? Is it because you’re not sure you can bake great flavor, luscious crusts, and tender crumb in your home oven?

Never fear, my classes are designed for success in home ovens and for new, and experienced, bakers with busy schedules.

You can focus on breads built from poolish – a bubbly batter – used to make focaccia, ciabatta and pizza dough. Or you can get up to your elbows in flour to make the crispy crusts and delightful flavor of mild French sourdough. The basic formula can be used for all kinds of variations – with cornmeal, sweet potato, whole wheat, roasted beets, raisins and coriander, and more. In this class we explore two or three of these.

All classes are limited to 4-6 students because they are hands-on, include lunch, bottomless cups of tea or coffee, sampling and lots of conversation and fun.
All classes are held in my teaching kitchen. Our farm is an easy and scenic drive from the Twin Cities. And yes, you’ll see the cows.

Oh, about poolish and focaccia: here’s a 4-minute 50-second video that quickly illustrates the process.

Questions? Just give me a call. Want a private class? No problem. Get 4 to 6 people together and we can schedule it. What better way to warm up the house!
Sylvia
651-238-8525

Sliding seasons

Two days ago, it hit nearly 90 degrees. And the humidity – it was awful. It felt as if I was breathing through a sponge.
This morning, the dogs and I walked to the mailbox in a cool drizzle. It was 58 degrees and I was glad I’d pulled on my old denim barn jacket and cap. Although our driveway’s only 600 feet long, my low boots and the hems of my jeans were drenched before I got to the road.
Our driveway ends at a cattle grate that works to keep the cows inside our property (they balk at the light and dark pattern created by the grate’s heavy horizontal pipes).
I put Siggy (my Corgi) on “stay” at the grate and walked the last few yards across the road and to our weathered mailbox. It’s worst for wear because some vandal decided to use it for a piñata a couple of years ago.
I pulled out a short stack of junk mail, and a magazine I was very glad to fold up under my arm to protect it from the light drizzle. Siggy, Parker (Dave’s English Setter) and I made our way back up to the house. Half way, I made a quick stop at the orchard. One of the several fairly young apple trees was bending under its ripe burden. Note to self – pick, dry, freeze and can apples – yesterday.

Fall = applesauce

The dogs ran and romped around me, clocking a couple of miles as they zig-zagged across the gravel, around the orchard and across the open grasses.
Despite their doggy activity, it was quiet. I like that about drizzle.

Contented BueLingos

The driveway slopes up to the house, and as I neared it, I looked East. Most of the cows were reclined on a near pasture, contentedly chewing their cud. A good sign of health and calm.
As I opened the garage door, I began to mentally tick off today’s to-do’s: notify customers of the summer sausage now available for pickup; write up meeting notes from last week: start a batch of French sourdough, contact prospective students for upcoming artisan bread baking classes, contact potential guests for Deep Roots Radio; and schedule our next beef harvest. Because Dave and I farm in rhythm with the seasons, harvests are a sure sign of the shift from summer to fall.
The window of my small home office opens to a southern slice of the farm. I can see some of this year’s calves. Boy, but it’s a healthy group. It’s amazing how some of those steers have gained hundreds of pounds and nearly a foot of height in just four months.
The sky’s brightening a bit, and I can just make out a pair of sandhill cranes on a ridge. I love their call, and the way they slowly wing just 40 and 50 feet above the ground.
Leaves are turning. And even though we’ve gotten lots of rain and considerable sunshine, the grass just doesn’t grow as quickly or as thickly as it did in early July. Despite this annual slow-down, we’re still able to rotate the cattle to fresh paddocks (grazing areas) even now because the pastures are so much more diverse and healthy than even two years ago. This is important for us because our BueLingo beef cattle are 100% grass-fed and grass-finished. They grow and fatten on grasses, legumes and herbs. No grain. No hormones. No subclinical antibiotics. This means it takes up to a year longer to get our cattle to harvest condition, but again, that’s what it means to raise cattle as nature intended.

Our third-crop hay is baled and waiting for me to move it off the field and to the storage area. At this time of year, it’s the very heavy morning dew that presents a challenge. I just don’t like driving a tractor really wet ground. On a typical late September day, I’ll often wait until mid-afternoon before venturing out in my John Deere. Given the last two days of rain, I’m going to hold off until we’ve had a couple of sunny days to dry things out a bit.
Drizzle, drenching dews, cooling days and lengthening nights. Every turn of the clock moves us from the growing to the harvest season. Again.
It’s fall.

Artisan baking classes scheduled for Oct., Nov. and Dec. Get up to your elbows in flour and fun!

Beef, bread and brewed tea. What can I say, I really enjoy all three.

Dave and I raise 100% grass-fed beef using sustainable practices because of the wonderful results: great-tasting beef, happy cows, restored pastures, living soil.
I love baking bread for similar reasons: using healthful ingredients; employing the power of sourdough to raise the dough and to combat many of the anti-nutrients that make breads, seeds and beans difficult to digest; listening to the “yumm’s” when friends and family savor the loaves, pizzas or biscuits; and, sharing the baking experience with students. YOU CAN all bake artisan loaves in your home oven.
Oh, and the tea? Well, I just like milky, sweet tea – English style.

Please click here for the schedule of baking classes in Oct., Nov., and Dec. Classes will focus either on baking with sourdough or baking with poolish (the basis for focaccia, ciabatta and pizza). Classes are hands-on (minimum 4, maximum 6 students, unless otherwise arranged).
Register online, or send me an email and pay with a check.
I’ll soon post the January and February schedules. Email me if you’d like an alert to the schedule.
You can also arrange for private classes with family and friends. Just contact me to schedule, 651-238-8525, sylvia@bullbrookkeep.com

Bring an apron and prepare to eat well, to get your hands covered in flour, and to have fun!
Sylvia

Just what is a CSA farm? Is there one near you?

from CSA

CSAs, like farmers markets, have been increasing in number dramatically in the last 10 years. Here’s some basic information about CSAs and why they’re a good source of fresh, local produce.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, each CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or “share-holders” of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer’s salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm’s bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production. Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests.
By direct sales to community members, who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing.

Find a CSA Farm Near You Search National farm databases by city, state, or zipcode

Local Harvest – http://www.localharvest.org/csa/
AgMap – http://agmap.psu.edu/
Search the Business category for the term Community Supported Agriculture or use the Advanced Search to find a local CSA.
Wilson College, Robyn Van En Center, CSA Farm Database – http://www2.wilson.edu/CsaSearch/
The Eat Well Guide – http://www.eatwellguide.org/

Local Food Directories. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service. Includes directories of farmers markets, on-farm markets, CSAs, and food hubs.
https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/local-regional/food-directories
Local Food Directories. ATTRA – The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service – http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/local_food/search.php

Jim Riddle on the new Organic Farmers Association – the certified organic farmers voice in Washington, D.C.

Although there are hundreds of environmental, agricultural and good-food nonprofits nationwide, Jim Riddle asserts that none represents the voice and influence of the 16,000 certified organic farmers in the US today. In this Deep Roots Radio interview, organic farming pioneer and policy analyst Jim Riddle describes how the Organic Farmers Association, a new member-driven organization, will represent certified organic farmers in the policy and regulation issues debated in Washington, D.C. Jim heads the 18-member steering committee developing the foundational documents and procedures for the Organic Farmers Association.
A certified organic grower, Jim is a former chair of the National Organic Standards Board, was the founding chair of the Organic Inspectors Association, and co-authored their manual. Jim was instrumental in the passage of Minnesota’s landmark organic certification cost-share program, which is now a Farm Bill program.
I hope you enjoy this interview.
Sylvia

Deep Roots Radio, 91.3FM and www.wpcaradio.org

Three Wisconsin women farmers battle to legalize sale of home-baked goods

In this Deep Roots Radio interview, Lisa Kivirist describes the multi-year battle to legalize the sale of home-baked goods in the state Wisconsin. The Badger state has been one of only two in the entire country that has not permitted the sale of home-baked muffins, cookies and breads.
Lisa is one of three women farmers who sued the state in this effort, and recently won a state Judge’s declaration that the ban against the sale of home-baked goods is unconstitutional.Her sister champions in this effort are Dela Ends (Scotch Hill Farm) and Kriss Marion (Circle M Farm and Bed & Breakfast).
Lisa is an assertive champion of women farmers and their ability to build their farm-based businesses. The author of several books on eco-entrepreneurship, she and her husband run the award-winning Inn Serendipity Farm and Bread and Breakfast in southern Wisconsin.
I hope you enjoy this lively interview.
Sylvia

French sourdough boules

Peace Coffee: serving up great taste, social justice, environmental stewardship cup after cup

Drink coffee? One, two, three cups a day? Now multiply that simple act by several hundred million people every day. It’s hard to imagine the mountain of coffee beans needed to satisfy that thirst. Now, consider that those beans could work not only to create delicious brews, but also to produce a fair wage for farmers half way around the world.

This is the reality for at least a small percentage of coffee harvested for the American market because of Peace Coffee, a firm headquartered in a city you might now automatically associate with the tropical coffee bean – Minneapolis, Minnesota. In this Deep Roots Radio interview, Peace Coffee CEO (and Queen Bean) Lee Wallace describes the business’s unorthodox beginnings in 1996 and its steady growth since then.

Yes, every cup of coffee you buy could help farmers move from poverty to a living wage.

I hope you enjoy the interview.

Sylvia

One of the varieties of Peace Coffee

Audio

The benefits of sourdough breads of ancient grains w Therese Asmus

I hope you enjoy this Deep Roots Radio interview with Therese Asmus, of Artistta Homestead, is a long-time baker and teacher dedicated to the nutritional and flavorful benefits of sourdough breads made with ancient grains. She shares research and insights into the nutritional differences among ancient grains and contrasts their digestibility with commercially varieties.

Loaves made with ancient grains


She says many customers who can’t tolerate goods baked with conventional varieties can now enjoy bread again.
Sylvia