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.

Join me Thurs, 10/16, 7:00-9:00AM CT on WPCA Radio – a voice of the people

I’ll be sitting in with morning jockey Dave Corbett tomorrow at WPCA Radio to share a couple of hours of conversation and inquiry. If you join us, you’ll be able to answer these questions:
– What’s community-supported radio, anyway? Same as National Public Radio?
– Is WPCA part of the Wisconsin Public Radio network?
– How much government support does WPCA get every year? (Hint – the answer rhymes with bureau.)
– How much am I paid to host Deep Roots Radio every week?
– Is radio free?
– How big is my herd of BueLingo beef cattle?
– Where did I grow up?
– What’s the purpose of Deep Roots Radio? (You should know this one!)

Sylvia at WPCA Radio studio

Sylvia at WPCA Radio studio

Hope you’ll join Corbett and me for a fun couple of hours. Tune in, 93.1FM in around Amery, Wisconsin, and www.wpcaradio.org worldwide (thanks to the Internet).

Live, Sat., Oct. 11, 9-9:30AM Central – Rebuilding food hubs w food, farmers and education

What: Deep Roots Radio interview with Bobby Maher, Director of Hungry Turtle Learning Center
When: Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. 9:00-9:30AM Central Time.
Where: Broadcast 93.1FM, and streamed live from the studios of WPCA Radio
Why: The demand for local, sustainably-grown foods continues to grow all across America, Wisconsin included. What’s it take to redesign a local food system? The food hub planted and growing in Amery, Wisconsin (pop. 2,960 and just 65 miles northwest of the large metro area of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.) has three strong legs: farmers growing delicious, nutrient-rich foods; a brand new Farm Table Restaurant; and, an educational/outreach component in the form of a new nonprofit, the Hungry Turtle Learning Center.

One of the three legs in the food hub stool

One of the three legs in the food hub stool

Hungry Turtle Farmers Coop - an essential component of the new food hub

Hungry Turtle Farmers Coop – an essential component of the new food hub

Delicious, nutritious, local

Delicious, nutritious, local

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

What’s Facebook and Twitter got to do with organic food? Sat., Oct 4, 9-9:30AM Central

What: Deep Roots Radio chat with Soon Gunther, website designer, social media activist, good-food lover When: Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, 9:00-9:30 AM Central Where: Broadcast and streamed live on WPCA Radio, 93.1FM and www.wpcaradio.org Why: Sustainable growers want to provide healthful, delicious foods to the marketplace. Consumer demand for sustainable, local foods continues to grow. Social media plays a role. Tune in!! Sylvia … Continue reading

Harnessing sun, dew and grass

I was walking out to the chicken coop in the early morning, a pail of seeds and cracked corn swinging on my left and my right hand raised to shade my eyes. The sun, just a few degrees above the trees, hit the dew-drenched grass and sent spears of bright light into the air. It was like a white fireworks: busy, slightly chaotic, riotous.

Bright sunshine blazes on dew-drenched grassesBut the air was soft around my ears. The loudest sound came from my rubber boots swishing through the tall, wet grasses. What a difference from last year, when drought reduced our fields to short dry bristles that cracked underfoot.

The chickens must have heard me – they stirred noisily as I approached the coop. There was clucking, and more…a crow. A new sound! Our small flock of free-range chickens is 12 weeks old, and the young cockerels were practicing scratchy welcomes to the day.

I spread organic oats, wheat, and cracked corn on the grass outside the chicken coop before opening its door and lowering the ramp. What a ruckus as birds pushed one another to get to the grain! They cackled and shoved for about five minutes. Then, they were done. Just like that, they turned their backs on whatever middlings remained and headed out in search of fresh clovers, insects and frogs. (Yes, frogs.)

Cows and chickens working togetherAt sometime during the day, the chickens will wander over to the cows. I move the cows from one small field (a paddock) to another every day so that they can harvest their day’s meal: fresh grasses, weeds, herbs, clovers. Despite these frequent relocations, the chickens never fail to find them and feast on the flies that pester the herd. Dave and I had thought the chickens would help keep down fly larvae, but have been delighted that the flock is so effective at insect control directly on the cows’ faces, legs and bellies. A wonderful – natural – symbiosis.

Early fall: a beautiful time of year. I look forward to walking visitors through our fields, to observe our cows and chickens, and to talk about how we – farmer, livestock, and consumer – can work together to re-imagine and re-establish a more healthful food system.

Sylvia Burgos Toftness

Chickens: devastation and 3-step proposal

Mad. Upset. Determined. Our farm is in rural Wisconsin. Although we’re just 70 minutes from the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro, predators are everywhere: coyotes, wolves, bear, hawks, eagles, owls, weasels, muskrats, badgers, fox, raccoons, possums, stray cats and the occasional house dog turned hunter when allowed to roam the countryside. It’s amazing any livestock or songbird makes it. The challenge is made even greater when you raise animals on pasture – wide open spaces where threats lurk under leaves, in borrows beneath the grass, and in the skies above. Although we sometimes hear packs of coyotes yipping close by, we’ve never … Continue reading

Putting my money on the beat-up trailer

Sometimes we stand together quietly – me and the cows. The air is still and filled with green smells: grass, hay, leaves, fresh herbs. I lean against the metal gate and watch as some stroll from one patch of fresh grass to the next, others recline and chew their cud, and calves run in what looks like a game of tag.
It’s what grass-fed/grass-finished cows do every day, every growing season.
It’s late summer, time for harvest. On Thursday, Dave and I loaded two beefy steers (altered males) into our “new” cattle trailer. It’s an investment we made this spring so that we could transport our cattle as calmly and humanely as possible.
Dave discovered it along-side a back road. “For Sale” the sign read. When we pulled over to take a look, we immediately saw the bashed-in back end. An auto accident, said the owner when she came outside to chat with us. Yup, a section of the frame was bent and the back sliding door was crumpled and pulled off the runners. A mess. But was it a salvageable mess?
Dave had a friend – a master welder – take a look and estimate the repair cost. Based on that, we purchased the trailer and set about to repair and paint it. It still looks used – the dents are easy to see – but it works really well.

repaired cattle trailer

An investment in sustainable farming

It was about 6:30 in the morning, and the sky was heavy when we walked to the barn and loaded the cattle into the steel trailer. It took no more than 10 minutes. We then drove 30-miles to our USDA-licensed, family-owned custom meat processor in nearby Woodville, WI.
After a life on open pastures, in full sunshine, in the company of their herd, our beeves traveled 30 miles. They were spared growth hormones, sub-therapeutic antibiotics, months in crowded feedlots, and a final drive of up to 1,000+ miles to a massive processing plant.
I won’t kid you: raising 100% grass-fed beef isn’t easy, and it isn’t without physical and financial costs. There’re weekly fence repair, annual fence replacement, improvements to the handling facility, and building better water systems. Two years of drought were followed by this year’s deluge. Both conditions – dry and drowned – ruined large portions of the hay we’d hoped to store for winter feeding. This roller-coaster weather also drove hay prices up from $35/bale to over $65-100/bale.
This is farming. Hard and often unpredictable. Yet, Dave and I remain committed to grazing our beef cattle (and not feeding grains or corn) because grass is what cattle are designed to digest. Grazing is healthful to the herd, restores soil and protects groundwater, produces beef of high nutritional value, and contributes to the economy and vibrancy of our local community.
As a girl growing up in the Bronx, I never would have imagined that I’d care a wit about a beat-up cattle trailer. But that 12-year-old who volunteered at the ASPCA and the cattle woman I am today share a basic value – the wellbeing of the animals put into our care.

Food scare. Ag hype. What’s the truth? Live, Sept. 6, 9-9:30AM Central w Ag Insider

What: Deep Roots Radio interview with Chuck Abbott, Ag Insider journalist.
When: Saturday, Sept. 6, 9:00-9:30AM Central
Where: Broadcast and streamed live from the studios of WPCA Radio, 93.1FM and www.wpcaradio.org
Why: The Internet, social media, emails and water cooler conversations are all about the latest hype, scare or boast about America’s food and the system that produces it. Where’s the truth, and how do you find it?
This Deep Roots Radio conversation features Chuck Abbott who posts daily on the Ag Insider. A project of the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN), Ag Insider is available free of charge. Abbot brings three decades experience as a Washington-based Reuters commodities correspondent and as national farm editor for United Press International.
I hope you’ll tune in.


Rain – at last

Farm Update – Monday
It was the downpour that woke me this morning. What a welcome sound! After four weeks of dry – only 1/4” rain that entire stretch – we needed this inch-and-3/8 on our fields. The seasonal pond just below the house has gone from dust to ripples. And, somehow, a small flock of geese knew it would reappear.

Taking flight

Taking flight

It’s stopped now. Clouds scurry overhead and the air is filled with the rustle of grasses and leaves pushed by cool gusts from the north. Everything feels scrubbed clean, refreshed. Calves are kicking up their heels and running circles around their dams.
Thank you, God.

Elvis is in the building!

The herd sire returnith
Although I’ve witnessed the scene several times now, the simplicity and unvarnished single-purpose of it continues to amaze me.
Dave and I met the cattle hauler at a neighboring farm late in the afternoon. The hauler had, in fact, gotten to Turnip Rock farm five or ten minutes ahead of us and had already backed the long, aluminum trailer to the cow barn. He and Josh, owner of Turnip Rock, were in the old barn coaxing my BueLingo bull, Full Throttle, away from the Jersey cows he’d been “keeping company” with since late May.
I stayed out of the bull’s line of site; I didn’t want to spook him. If you get a bull walking in the right direction, you don’t want to halt his movement for even a second.
Fortunately, both Josh and Tracy (the hauler) are experienced, and Full Throttle soon clumped heavily into the trailer.
The four-mile trip to Bull Brook Keep was uneventful and Tracy began backing the trailer to our gate. The rest of our cows, heifers, steers and calves silently watched from several hundred yards away. Their heads were up, eyes bright and ears forward.
The trailer was nearly to the gate when Full Throttle let out a loud, long trumpeting bellow: he’d gotten a whiff of the waiting herd.

Full Throttle, registered BueLingo bull, herd sire

Full Throttle, registered BueLingo bull, herd sire

The herd immediately responded to his call and came galloping across the farm. They stopped just a few yards from the trailer and waited as Tracy opened the doors and Full Throttle calmly stepped down.
Herd mobs a welcome for Full Throttle
The bull was immediately mobbed by the welcoming herd, and he walked through the throng.
He was home.

Learning to talk – and eat – like a farmer

Growing up in New York City meant being able to speak at least two or three languages, each reflecting the mindset and philosophies of a distinct group. I spoke ‘Bronx’ of course, Puerto Rican Spanish and spanglish (mix of English and Spanish), Bronx High School of Science Yidlish (Jewish expressions and inflections mixed with English), and a bit of Italish (Italian expressions mixed into the English). My brother, who was a little kid when we moved into an mostly Italian neighborhood, is much more fluent in Italish. He took to the inflections like a duck to water. When I first … Continue reading