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.

What the “cluck?” Dec. 13, 9-9:30AM Central w Fresh Eggs Daily’s Lisa Steele

More and more municipalities are reversing old restrictions and once again allowing home owners to raise chickens in their own backyards. This means more and more of us are enjoying fresh eggs (unlike anything you’ll find in the grocery store), and the company of hens.
Since lots of city folk have little experience with poultry, you can imagine the questions and worries that arise when snow falls, dogs threaten, birds develop a cough, or chicks arrive!
Lots of blogs and books have emerged to meet the growing demand for practical information. One of the most popular – in print and on the web – is Fresh Eggs Daily.
On Saturday, Dec. 13, we’ll chat with author/blogger Lisa Steele about managing the small – and larger – flock. A fifth-generation chicken keeper, Lisa is an amazing resource about the natural management of the home flock. I hope you’ll tune in.

What: Deep Roots Radio interview with Lisa Steele, author/blogger of Fresh Eggs Daily
When: Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014, 9:00-9:30AM Central
Where: Broadcast and streamed live from the studios of WPCA Radio, 93.1 FM and www.wpcaradio.org

Free-range chickens checking out the changed landscape

Free-range chickens checking out the changed landscape

Deep Roots Radio - connecting the dots between what we eat and how it's grown

Deep Roots Radio – connecting the dots between what we eat and how it’s grown

How far for that perfect loaf? Dec. 6, 9-9:30AM Central with Sam Fromartz

What: Deep Roots Radio conversation with Sam Fromartz
When: Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, 9:00-9:30AM Central Time
Where: Broadcast and streamed live from the studios of WPCA Radio, 93.1FM and www.wpcaradio.org

Sam Fromartz

Sam Fromartz

A highly experienced, nationally-recognized and celebrated investigative journalist, Sam Fromartz is Editor in Chief of the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN). His interest in food isn’t limited to the academic or mud-raking, however. He’s been a devoted bread baker for decades. His passion for crusty artisan breads collided with his journalistic career several years ago to send him on a four year journey around the world in search of the perfect loaf.

Join Sam and me as we converse about the explorations that resulted in his new book “In Search of the Perfect Loaf: a Home Baker’s Odyssey.”1403903106338

Bonus: Here’s a 2012 Deep Roots Radio interview with Sam about then then new Food and Environment News Network. Enjoy, and tune in tomorrow.

5 below. In the dark. Under the coop.

I started riding NYC subways and buses on my own when I was about 12. My sister and I would take the elevated train to music lessons Saturday mornings – me for flute, Cathy for clarinet. For a short stint, we rode into downtown Manhattan on afternoons to clean cages and welcome visitors at the ASPCA.
When I reached my late teens, I used public transportation at all hours to get to classes and night spots. A car was a luxury I couldn’t afford, and, anyway, where would I park the darn thing once I reached traffic-choked downtown?
It was the night-time forays that evoked my Mom’s advise each and every time I started out, “Walk in the middle of the street.”
Now, this directly contradicted the stay-out-of-the-street mantra drummed into me as a child, but it made sense. If you were on a lonely street, you were less likely to be pulled into a dark entryway or a parked car if you kept to the center line. This approach posed the challenge of dealing with passing automobiles, but hey, you had to use your judgement. I had to stay alert, use common sense.
Thinking back to the late 1960s, it’s interesting that the focus was on man-made things: lights, traffic, trains, speed, buildings, the crush of a crowd, and the hidden dangers of a run-down neighborhood. And that, too, made sense. These were immediate and significant factors as I navigated my city of 8 million people.
That was then. Things have changed – a lot.
Last night I found myself crawling on my stomach in the snow and dirty ice beneath the chicken coop. It was night, it was dark, yet there were chickens sitting under the coop instead of inside of it. This was not the norm. You see, poultry usually climb into their coop and settle themselves down for the night all by themselves. They take their cue from the angle of the setting sun. Once in the coop, all I do is shut the door behind them. This usually works like, well, clock work. But not last night.

Free-range chickens checking out the changed landscape

Free-range chickens checking out the changed landscape


When I went out to close things up, only half of the birds were dozing in the clean pine shavings. The rest were nestled into the snow under the coop. It was 5 below zero and I not only worried about them freezing but also about them becoming a midnight snack for a passing fox, raccoon, weasel or stray dog.

Why had they broken from their routine?

Coop on a snowy evening

Coop on a snowy evening


I think it was the moon. It was so bright, every tree cast a sharp shadow. I think the silly chickens were confused.
Clouds scudded across the silver-white wedge. It was cold, but the air was still and I was plenty warm in my insulated pants, felt-lined boots, and wool hat. Our beef cattle were silent on the far side of a small hill, happy in their hay bedding. Across the field, the road was black – no headlights. There wasn’t a soul to be seen. Quiet.
And I was belly-down in the snow, reaching around tires and sharp-edged axles to rescue hens from a peril-filled night. Dave was on the other side of the hen house doing the same. Fortunately, chickens don’t like running around in the dark, so the task didn’t take very long. After urging the last hen into the dark coop, I shut the door and we headed back into the house.
Farming means working outdoors in all types of weather and until all hours of the day and night. I’m careful to keep my ankles out of gopher holes, my eyes away from 2″ buckthorn, my knees bent when I pick up 50-lb. sacks of alfalfa. I wear my seat belt in the tractor and skid steer. I walk carefully among the cattle. They are familiar and curious, but they are not pets. Each animal weighs roughly 1,000 lbs., some much more, and a simple toss of a head could break a wrist.
As I haul hay and move equipment, round up chickens, and move cattle from pasture to pasture, my Mom’s cautions continue to echo in my head, “put on a hat,” “get some sleep,” “rest,” “sit down for a bit,” and “you want some coffee?”
Although she lives in New Jersey, her love and care keeps me company, and her advise continues to make sense.

The Rush to Winter

Last year, we experienced the “polar vortex” with temperatures in the -40 range and winds of over 35 mph. Over 4.5 ft of snow covered our pastures and the cows eventually refused to slog through it to get to the brook to drink. Dave and I had to haul water every day, and break ice (that formed on the water trough) every morning. Ugg.
Now, we’re all wondering what this season will bring, what with January temperatures having arrived in November.
Right now, fat flakes are swirling across the fields. I brushed them off my face and coat when I came in 10 minutes ago. The air had been clear when I started out about noon. I’d heard snow was in the forecast, so I pulled on snow pants and woolen hat to insulate myself against the rising wind long enough to move two big round bales of hay out to the moos. The cows still had remnants of a couple of bales out there, but I wanted to make sure they could get their fill if temperatures began to drop.

Moving hay in the snow

Moving hay in the snow

It’s funny, the cows immediately began walking up to the barn when they heard me fire up my John Deere. They knew fresh alfalfa-and-grass hay was on the way. It was fun to watch them approach – they’ve become so furry for the winter season. These BueLingo beef cattle were designed for the Upper Midwest; they just don’t pay much attention to the cold.
Well, they’ve got their hay, and I’m going to warm up some tea and make a grilled ham and cheese sandwich for lunch. Then we’ll all sit for a bit and watch the snow.

Sat., Nov. 29, 9-9:30AM: The fundamental links between life, fine art and agriculture. Tune in.

The linkages between art, life and the land are deep and undeniable according to nationally- and internationally-recognized painter Gregg Rochester. With degrees and experience in the arts and psychology, Rochester creates oil painting that tap these ties and pull you into their agricultural landscapes. Join us tomorrow, on Deep Roots Radio, for our conversation.

What: Deep Roots Radio with Gregg Rochester
When: Nov. 29, 2014, 9:00-9:30AM Central Time
Where: Broadcast and streamed live from the studios of WPCA Radio, 93.1FM and wpcaradio.org

Hope you’ll tune in.

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

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

“To lay an egg” – city style vs farm style

A milestone.

Even as a kid in New York City, I knew that “to lay an egg” was not a good thing. It meant you’d failed to do something you’d set out to accomplish – and everybody knew it. Why’s an egg synonymous with failure? According to numbers of Internet sources, it’s because an egg resembles a zero; and zilch is what goes up on the board when you fail to score.

This expression took on new meaning when I moved to farm country. Over the last several years, I’ve learned there’s a world of difference between an egg from a free-range hen and an egg that comes from an industrial battery-caged bird. The free-range variety is deep orange (lots of carotene) and the yolk has tension and body because the hen pecks around in the sunshine foraging diverse seeds, insects and grasses. This makes for an egg that not only tastes great but packs lots of nutrition. According to research published in Mother Earth News, pastured eggs provide more beta carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins A and E, and lots less saturated fats and cholesterol.

Dave and I raised chickens for the first time this summer. We bought three dozen day-old chicks to free-range across the farm. Most are meat birds – an iridescent mahogany – that now weigh between six and eight pounds each. The flock also includes four laying hens. The two Buff Orpington are a pale yellow, and the Buckeyes are a very deep brown.

Over the summer, Dave and I watched the birds grow and patrol the pastures for bugs, worms, seed heads, grasses and herbs. We laughed when five chickens would chase after the one with a tasty grasshopper in its beak. The birds helped our beef cattle by aggressively consuming flies and fly larvea. On the downside, Dave and I also contended with losses due to predation by hawks, eagles and fox.

Chickens on a snowy afternoon

Chickens on a snowy afternoon


Summer’s gone and the pastures are covered in snow. But the chickens are still here. Yes, they can do very well in our cold winters.

Yesterday, I opened the chicken coop and lowered the ramp so that the flock could climb down into the fresh air. I then opened the side door and reached in to refill the waterer. That’s when I saw them – two eggs sitting in the wood shavings.

Eggs! Tan and small (the first eggs always are) I carefully picked them up and carried them into the garage. They laid eggs!

Our first free-range eggs

Our first free-range eggs


Three small eggs now sit in our refrigerator. I can hardly wait to see if there will be one or two more tomorrow. First cows and calves, now chickens and eggs. For this city-girl turned grass-fed-beef-farmer, “laying an egg” means success.

Where to go for a sustainably-grown Thanksgiving? Listen in Nov. 22, 9-9:30AM Central

You’ve heard lots of news stories about the toxic herbicides and pesticides used to grow food and about the illnesses from bacteria in foods, and now you’re wondering where to go for food you can feel safe to serve family and friends. I hear ya. This morning, on Deep Roots Radio, we’ll take a look at places to shop for your holiday – on regular – meals. Also check out resource links for Food Lovers on this website. Tune in: Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014 Deep Roots Radio on 93.1FM and streamed live at wpcaradio.org. … Continue reading

We’re on TV! WI Public Television tonight, Nov. 17, 8PM and Nov. 18, 2PM !!

Sooo excited! Bull Brook Keep and our 100% grass-fed beef are featured on tonight’s episode of Around the Farm Table. It’ll be broadcast at 8PM tonight (Nov. 17), and again tomorrow afternoon (Nov. 18) at 2PM.
A big thanks to host Inga Witscher and her crew for coming out to our farm. I hope they’ll visit again soon.
Here’s a link to the video: http://video.wpt.org/video/2365331365/
Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 10.17.47 PMTonight’s show also features Keppers Farm (Turtle Lake, WI) and the Hungry Turtle Farmers Cooperative, based in Amery, WI. I hope you enjoy this show and plan to visit our farm in the very near future. We’d love showing you around.
Sylvia

A wild apple night

What a night! Up till the wee hours boiling down apples to make and can golden sauce and ruddy butter. Added just a splash of pinot grigio, a dusting of cinnamon and a couple of pinches of cloves, and had the pots bubbling for hours. Nothing like putting up sparkling jars of summer. Most of the apples came from volunteer trees across the farm. We never spray or dust with any types of herbicides or pesticides. Yumm.

Lids and bands, jar lifter, magnet to lift lids from hot water, and digital timer

Lids and bands, jar lifter, magnet to lift lids from hot water, and digital timer

Cores and scraps for my apple-loving cows and chickens

Cores and scraps for my apple-loving cows and chickens

Bubbling apple sauce ready to can

Bubbling apple sauce ready to can

Apple sauce and apple butter - edible jewels for the winter.

Apple sauce and apple butter – edible jewels for the winter.

Wet summer made for great wild-apple butter

Wet summer made for great wild-apple butter

Oct. 18, 2014, 9:00-9:30AM Deep Roots Radio – savings seeds starting right now

What: Deep Roots Radio Interview with Koby Jeschkeit-Hagen, master seed saver, teacher, and researcher
When: Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, 9:00-9:30AM Central Time
Where: WPCA Radio, 93.1FM in and around Amery, WI, and streamed on www.wpcaradio.org
Why: Gardeners and farmers started savings seeds eons ago. It’s only been recently that we’ve all come to depend on the dwindling selection of vegetable, fruit and grain seed selections available from large-scale seed houses. You can reclaim valuable genetic diversity, flavors and growing habits by beginning to save your own seeds. And it’s not too late to start. Your fall garden may still offer several opportunities to gather and store seeds for next growing season.
But how to start? Jeschkeit-Hagen shares some tips in this interview. She’s also leading a class – An Introduction to Seeds Savings – on October 23rd. The introductory class is sponsored by the Hungry Turtle Learning Center, in Amery, Wisconsin, and the cost is just $10. You still have time to register!
For more information about seed saving, visit the Seed Savers Exchange and the Seed Sages sites. Jeschkeit-Hagen also suggests searching for “seed saving” on the Internet for the many other websites, information and videos available.
Hope you’ll tune in!
Sylvia

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

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