The good, the bad, the absolutely ugly, and hope. US Senate Ag Committee approves DARK Act

It was interesting. This morning’s US Senate Ag Committee hearing was carried live on the Internet, and watching it was an education in and of itself. I, along with thousands of others (I hope) looked on as 20 committee members (Senators all) considered a proposal to amend the “Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946” that would establish a national voluntary labeling standard for bioengineered foods.
Transparency – that’s good.
Why the amendment? Because some businesses and elected officials want to make it illegal for any state to require GMO labeling on our food. So much for truth-in-labeling. It’s why this legislation has been dubbed the DARK Act (Deny Americans the Right-to-Know Act). That’s bad. Very bad.
Over the course of the hour-long hearing, I heard committee chair Sen. Pat Roberts say that about 625 organizations submitted letters supporting the amendment. No surprise. What he didn’t say is that over 4 million people have signed petitions demanding GMO labeling, and that poll after poll indicate 90% of those asked want GMO labeling.
That’s an absolutely ugly aspect of this issue: 625 organizations/corporations trump over 1.4 million individuals’ signatures. The amendment also seems to step all over state rights.
When Senator Roberts put the amendment to a voice vote, it was approved 14 to 6. Now titled Senate bill S-2609, will go to a vote by the full Senate as the companion to House bill HR-1599 which passed last year.
The fight’s not over. There’s another opportunity to demand transparency in food labeling. That’s hopeful.
Stay alert for next steps.
Sylvia

We have the right to know what's in our food.

We have the right to know what’s in our food.

Baking French Sourdough – Class March 20, 9:00AM-1:00PM

SOLD OUT
By request, another sourdough bread baking class is scheduled for
March 20th, 9:00AM-1:00PM.
Where? The teaching kitchen at Bull Brook Keep, an easy ride from Minneapolis/St.Paul

Yes, you can made hearth bread -a French sourdough, and variations – in your home oven to fit your schedule.
Click here for more information and to register.
Class is hands-on and limited to 6 students.


Questions? Sylvia Burgos Toftness, 651-238-8525, sylvia@bullbrookkeep.com

Hearth breads made with poolish. Say, what?

Why is it that the hearth breads taste so good? Why do they have those wonderful brown crusts that crunch and shatter when you bite into them? And those holes! When you slice or tear them, their interiors are filled with large glossy holes perfect for holding butter and olive oil and tapenades. Why can’t you make them at home? Do you really need a wood-fired oven?

Hold on…let’s get rid of the myth first. You can bake hearth breads in your home oven. It’s not rocket science, but like anything worthwhile, hearth baking takes a bit of planning and time. Fortunately, however, you’re not chained to your kitchen. On the contrary; you use time, temperature and wet doughs to bend the bread-making process to fit into your schedule.
One strategy is using a pre-ferment – a portion of the total dough that’s mixed hours ahead of the bake. Why? Because a long contact between the water and flour helps free up more of the starches, sugars and proteins that help create great flavor. A pre-ferment also gives the loaf a longer shelf life.
One type of pre-ferment is called a poolish. (Some bread experts believe the term is of Polish origin, hence the name.)

Easy to make poolish starter (pre-ferment)

Easy to make poolish starter (pre-ferment)

It’s an easy-to-make batter made with flour, water and a tiny bit of yeast. You make it 4-16 hours before making the final dough. During those hours, it ferments on your kitchen counter or in your frig, a cold closet or in a chilly root cellar. The colder you keep it, the longer you can extend this process. You can tell it’s ready to use when the thick batter’s filled with bubbles and smells sweet.
When you’re ready to bake, you combine the poolish with the rest of your flour, additional water, sometimes a smidge of yeast, and salt to make up the final dough.
Focaccia with herb oil and freshly cracked salt

Focaccia with herb oil and freshly cracked salt

Loaves made with poolish include ciabatta, pizza, focaccia and other rustic breads.

Learn to make hearth breads using poolish at my hands-on class Tuesday, February 16 at Bull Brook Keep. I’m also holding a class on sourdough breads February 20. Classes are limited to 5 students. For details and to sign up, click here.
Sylvia

Where to get garden seeds not owned by Monsanto

This is a quick dash, but here are a couple of sources to start:
– Mother Earth News has a few posts that list sustainable seed companies. This is just one of them.
– The Seed Savers Exchange is a national network devoted to growing out and sharing (for a small cost) open-pollinated vegetable, herb, and flower seeds

Here are three of my faves:
High Mowing Seeds
Prairie Road Organic
Johnny’s Seeds

Sylvia

#GrazingItalyUK – Bye, bye Cardiff. Hello, Bologna!

Today (Nov. 18), we leave the UK (so eager to return) and head to Italy. First stop, Bologna. Can’t wait to eat!!! Having a great time traveling with my daughter, Dessa.

Flying Cardiff to Bologna

Flying Cardiff to Bologna

#GrazingItalyUK – at Derbyshire grass-fed dairy. And rain. Of course.

November 14th.
In Wisconsin, it’s about the snow. In Derbyshire, rain’s the thing
Especially after last night’s misadventure (missed plane), today’s farm visit felt like a special gift.
My early morning flight out of Dublin brought me to the East Midlands, a place of fat white sheep on rolling hills, ancient stone walls, and lovely thick-walled houses hugging narrow, winding roads. Low, stone buildings, many of them hundreds of years old, are home to families, small shops or public services.
The day was grey and chill as I exited the terminal and made my way to a platform where frequently running buses provide convenient and very economical transportation to a wide network of towns and villages.
Robert Thornhill, grass-based dairy farmer, is a 2014 winner of a Nuffield Farming Scholarship, an award and grant given to farmers who want to conduct practical research about sustainable farming on their home turf and by visiting foreign farms. He met me at the Bakewell bus stop and drove us back to his 300-acre Standhill Farm. I am so grateful for the time he and his wife devoted to converation and comfort. He pulled on boots and walked out into the rain to show me his milking parlor and pastures. It was wet out there. Then he and his wife introduced me to their two young sons (just back from a rock climbing lessons) and we all sat down to lunch and steaming tea.
This post will be short, but I promise a longer report on this particular visit because Thornhill is nothing if not both committed to sustainable grazing and to thorough research about how to make this work on his farm. Again, more later.
Right now, I’ll say that Thornhill is a successful dairy farmer for what I observed to be key attributes: thorough, curious and experimental, steadfast and forward thinking.
Thanks, again, Robert.

#GrazingItalyUK – from Dublin to Derbyshire – finally!

Nov. 14. 8AM Flight to England
I’ve checked-in and will soon board my flight to the Midlands Airport. Once back on the ground I’ll make my way to Bakewell, home of Robert Thornhill’s Standhill Farm, a sustainable grass-based dairy farm.
Wish me luck!
Sylvia

Next stop - Bakewell and the Standhill Farm

Next stop – Bakewell and the Standhill Farm

#GrazingItalyUK – Dublin, and then Wexford

Day 2 in Ireland – a second day of great travel, friendly people, very poor Internet, and non-existant international phone service (although it had been arranged much in advance)
I lost an hour’s worth of writing earlier today. Let’s try this again.

Dublin
My daughter Maggie and I were wheels down in Ireland 8:30AM Nov. 11 and were treated to a ride to our hotel by two bright musicians, entrepreneurs in the local scene. The ride was unusually long (lots of haulted and rerouted traffic) but conversation was lively, so, no complaints.
We made it to the Grafton Hotel, situated in the heart of a busy downtown shopping district. We spent about an hour checking out small shops and a vertical shopping maul a stone’s throw from the hotel. Any American would be comfortable here.
The narrow, winding streets were crowded. The pace was fast and the look very sharp indeed. Dublin is a big city, make no mistake about it. Black is the color, and tight is the mode. Skinny pants, black hose and leggings paired with leather boots – ankle or knee high – or 3″ heels. Long scarves around necks of both men and women, and light-weight jackets the standard issue.
The population, at least in the city center, is surprisingly young, mid-20s to early-40s.
Our initial needs met, we both crashed for a couple of hours.
After a refreshing shower, we dressed for the evening out. It was a 10-minute walk on rough brick and cobblestones, and across a quaint foot bridge to the Winding Stair restaurant. Mag (who performs as Dessa with the rap crew Doomtree) used smartphone navigation to get us there. Much needed given the twists and turns on streets and alleys that change name every other block.The street fairly throbbed with the energy on the street. Lots of people out on a weekday evening. Felt a bit like NYC, although I felt a bit of New Orleans in the mix – a definite upbeat vibe.
True to it’s name, the Winding Stair features a circuitous staircase from the first to second landing. The spot was suggested by Bill and Sharon Gunter, the conveners of Slow Food Dublin. It proved a good choice – local foods put to their best advantage in creative dishes. I washed mine down with a local hard cider. Yum.
I’ll review lots more of the Slow Food Dublin in an upcoming Deep Roots Radio show. Throughout this trip, I’m hoping to gain some understanding of how different countries feel and demonstrate the good-food-good-agriculture connections.

On to Wexford
This morning, I got to the Dublin Connolly rail station with 30 minutes to spare. Lots of time to grab a yogurt and watch the crowd surging through the turnstyles. Connolly Station is an intersection for commuter trains, rail travelers, bikes and buses.
DublinWexfordI love UK rail service: comfortable sitting, picture window views, smooth and quiet travel, and Internet service. (I’m having an awful time with both Internet and International cellular service so far, so I think I’ll bite my tongue on this for the moment.)
The rails from Dublin to Wexford hug Ireland’s eastern shore and so I was treated to spectacular views of waves crashing just yards from the road bed. And when I looked to the west it was to farm fields gradually sloping up to hills dark against a grey sky.
It’s a wet landscape of puddles, creeks, shallow wetlands (I could almost see the trout), and ponds. Wooded hedgrows marked field boundaries, and houses nested into hillsides.
A good trip.
Now, I’m sitting in a small coffee house in windy, raining Wexford. The forecast is more wet with lots of wind. Raincoats are ubiquitous. I picked one a slicker in Dublin.
I expect a call any second. It’ll be from William Considine, organic farmer/owner of the Nicharee farm in Duncormick, about 20 miles from Wexford.
It’s at this farm that my farming research begins. How are organic/sustainable farms in Ireland the same or different from those I’ve come to know in the U.S.? How are they the same?The adventure continues.
Sylvia

Dublin – Here we come! #GrazingItalyUK

Follow our farm visits and chats with SlowFood #GrazingItalyUK

Here it is, November 10, 2015 – travel day to Dublin, Ireland and the start of our UK-Italy grazefest. I’ll be visiting grass-based sustainable farmers in Ireland, England and Scotland, and chatting with SlowFood advocates in the UK and, hopefully, Italy as well. Yes, we’ll be eating our way – grazing – for a couple of weeks. Can’t wait.

Minneapolis to Dublin - the first leg

Minneapolis to Dublin – the first leg

I’m traveling with my lovely daughter, a writer/singer/rapper who performs as Dessa. She’s a member of the Doomtree crew and is the lead of her own band. She’ll be in the UK for a business conference, and to do a couple of shows.
I’m traveling as myself – a Baby Boomer from the Bronx, retired public relations practitioner, and now farmer. My husband David and I raise 100% grass-fed beef in northwestern Wisconsin. Our farm, Bull Brook Keep, is located in a lovely area of hilly pastures, lots of creeks and small rivers, numerous ponds and many lakes.
Why this trip? I’m on a mission to learn
– How grass-based farms operate in Wexford, Ireland; Bakewell, England; and Cardiff, Wales, and
– To better understand how good-food lovers in the UK and Italy anchor their cultures and economies, as well as their cuisines, in local agriculture.
I’m sure I could study both those issues for years on end, but this is a start. Dessa and I will be traveling together from Nov. 10-24. During the early part of the trip, I’ll be on my own as I walk through pastures. We’ll meet up in Cardiff and continue together from there.
I hope you’ll join our adventure on Facebook and Twitter, #GrazingItalyUK.