Grounded: Organically Connected
“If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”
~ Michael Pollan
Truer words have never been spoken. In a world of fast food, processed products, and an overabundance of sugar, the pleasure of eating responsibly sourced produce and meat has been lost. Lives are busy, time is short, and everyone runs around from task to task with little thought to what is being put into their bodies. Many of us no longer know what it’s like to eat fruits and vegetables that have been picked fresh from the vine. Arugula, fresh from the garden, is robust and peppery. Free range eggs fresh off of the farm have rich yellow yolks and a taste that will leave you wanting more. Strawberries picked that morning, at the height of ripeness, burst with flavor and sweetness: natural sugar that is combined with fiber to help your body digest it properly.
Over the past decade, amazing resources have materialized to make farm fresh meats, produce, and other products more accessible than ever. Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) are in almost every town. Farmer’s markets happen weekly and market seasons are getting longer, as most are adapting to a year round growing cycle. As the demand for these products increases, prices are coming down. Many CSAs will even deliver straight to a place of business if they have multiple families enrolled. Farm to table restaurants are beginning to appear everywhere. It is becoming easier to eat responsibly. Now, people want to support the local farms, the local chefs, and, in turn, the local community. It is possible to eat fresh and tasty food straight from the farm at home and in many restaurants. It’s time to get grounded and go back to our roots!
COVENANT VALLEY FARM
As the last of the sun’s rays spillover Covenant Valley Farm, and the stars, too numerous to count, begin to fill the night sky, another peaceful day has come to an end. We’ve captured farm life in many photos with happy cows in pastures, roosters crowing in the early morning, sheep baaing to one another, and bees buzzing amongst the wildflowers. What the photos don’t capture are the humorous situations: running after escaped animals while in high heels, being chased by angry bees, slipping in the mud and manure, getting booted by a momma cow’s hoof just because you walked by, driving to the vet clinic with a newborn calf in the backseat of a Versa while your husband is away travelling, or finding a black snake in the chicken coop happily enjoying eggs. Farm life is also not without its trials and tribulations: cracking ice in the water troughs as sleet pelts you, late nights going out to check on heifers getting ready to give birth, sleeping in your car to be close to an injured cow, or bringing a hypothermic calf in to be by the fireplace only to watch it silently slip away.
How did farm life begin for us? Certainly not in what most people would consider a traditional sort of way. We do not have backgrounds in agriculture or a family farm passed down through generations. We are what is affectionately known as “city folk,” with our goal and motto, “Bringing Nature Back to the Farm,” driving our many decisions.
In 2007 changes to my husband, Nolan’s, job led us to decide to move away from San Antonio, Texas and our sweet, suburbia lifestyle with one stipulation in mind: no more suburb, subdivision, or postage stamp yard living for us. We wanted a peaceful country farm life. Our original dream was to actually own just a few acres for some horses. God had a different plan for us. If you had told us where our journey would take us to today, we would have certainly laughed at that idea. After hauling children, cats, and dogs across the interstate lines in a 22-hour car trip, we arrived in Georgia to friendly neighbors waiting anxiously to greet us. Our new home, an old log cabin with modern updates situated upon eight acres, waited just as anxiously to embrace us and alter our lifestyle forever.
Our farm started out with a rescue. It was step number one on the path to “farmdom.” Our middle child, Marissa, had begged us to rescue a rooster from her science teacher before he could be made into chicken soup. We agreed to build a chicken coop of sorts and save that poor rooster, which we named Michelangelo. Nolan, I must say, did a terrific job building this coop considering his lack of experience when it came to poultry. We decided that Michelangelo was lonely and needed a wife, so along came Sistine. A family of five cannot simply enjoy just one fresh egg a day, so I’m sure you can guess what happened next. We ordered more chickens. We have learned an incredible amount from our chickens. A rooster can spot you from across a field and chase you down in no time. Mother hens will fight a snake and win. And did you know that chickens can be ordered online and shipped through the mail? We now have approximately 90 hens and sell our eggs at the Oconee Farmers Market and the Daily Co-Op Grocery Store, enjoying a more vibrant taste and increased health benefits.
Our next adventure began when Nolan gifted me a wonderful Great Pyrenees puppy as a thank you for leaving family and home to move across the country for his job. Great Pyrenees are working dogs and, well, we decided he needed a job. A trio of Jacob’s sheep, Georgia Belle and her two misbehaved boys, Eli and Jasper, were shortly thereafter delivered to our farm. I now know why God compares us to sheep. They know the sound of my voice, and begin to call out as soon as they hear me. While I would like to believe it is because of their affection for me, I know it is all about the food as they come running and hopping on all fours just like in the cartoons. Although we don’t utilize the sheep for any commercial values, they certainly bring us lots of laughter and joy.
Our saga continues with my husband, Nolan, who has throughout his life dabbled in beekeeping since starting a 4-H project at the age of ten. The business side of Covenant Valley Farm truly began thanks to the honey, as Nolan’s hobby developed into the farm we are today. We currently have an excess of twenty hives, which produce local wildflower honey onsite at our farm, and sourwood honey when taken up to the Clarksville area in June. I affectionately refer to him as the “Bee Whisperer” because his honey has always been deliciously superb. Our honey sales and loyalty of our “honey addicts” are a testament to his fabulous honeybee handling skills. Raising bees is a continuous adventure which requires a lot of hard work from both the bees and our family. The bees perpetually keep us on our toes, sometimes chasing us down the road and making us look like fools screaming and shaking out our hair as we run. Honey itself in its raw and natural state is a wonderful product with many culinary and health benefits, and above all, a third of food produced comes as a result of pollinators. This means that we have to absolutely do a better job of taking care of our bee populations and minimize the use of insecticides and pesticides. Today we sell our honey at the Oconee Farmers Market, on Athens Locally Grown, and, when supply permits, to The National here in Athens, Georgia. Our honey has also become a favorite among brides for their wedding favors. At one point we produced a honey butter product which became a finalist in the “Flavor of Georgia” competition. However, the cost of producing such a commercial product was daunting at best. Along with the wildflower and sourwood honey, we also offer handcrafted, all natural “Honey Beelicious” lip balms, lotion bars, and beeswax candles.
When the pasture across our dirt road became available in 2009, we thought that this might be an opportunity to delve into another aspect of farming. Well, of course why not? We had watched over the years as our neighbor had kept and raised cattle on this acreage, and we foolishly believed that it would not be too difficult. Heck, we had come this far and tried our hand at several different opportunities, what was one more thing? After a lengthy process to purchase the land through the Farm Service Agency, we were well on our way to adding “cattlemen” to our ever growing farm resume. We purchased six heifers in 2010, and have since increased to our current 32 head of cattle, occasionally leasing other pieces of land to keep the cattle fat and happy. Per usual, we learned so much from these animals. We have observed cows babysitting for each other so the others can eat. We have found that cows have an obsession with eating apples. Cows will even eat the occasional watermelon when offered! We have come to appreciate the different health and taste profiles that our grass-fed beef offers. One of my favorite, albeit at the time terrifying, experiences raising cattle came when I was able to deliver a calf stuck in the birth canal. Having literally only my own two hands and no family or neighbors there to help, I made it through with the help of adrenaline and a UGA vet on speaker phone. Thankfully, I did not have to follow the vet’s piece of advice to “let go immediately if the cow tries to get up and run.” A healthy and large bull calf was brought into this world. Life and death is a part of farm life, but the joy of a newborn animal is hard to surpass.
We have also tried our hand at raising turkeys, which turned out to be extremely difficult and expensive for our farm. We have also enjoyed raising pasture-based pigs, one of my personal favorites as they are hilarious to work with. However, when there are several 400-600 pound animals pushing you to hurry up and feed them, it makes it a little easier to be relieved when it is time to take them to be processed. We are hoping to make a comeback in raising pigs as soon as we are able to find a stable source of additional nourishment, such as refuse from restaurants, to help offset their production cost.
With as much work as a farm requires, we have been taught the importance of integrating practices into production whose benefits are at least two-fold. For example, the crimson clover Nolan plants serves as a food source for both the bees and the cattle. In addition, it replenishes nitrogen into the soil. We are strong believers in treating all of our animals humanely, and we keep our pastures free of insecticides and pesticides in order to protect our bees. Our farming practices not only benefit production, but also give us the benefits of food, humor, community, and life lessons that can only come from being around animals.
Our lives are busily filled with working the farm, and when asked about our daily routine we have come to realize that there is not really one. Our days include letting our “ladies” out of the chicken coop in the morning, where they crowd the door and wait impatiently for the chance at some feed and insects. We constantly check the water for all our critters, manage and work the bees, and collect eggs in the evenings when our “ladies” are secured in their coop for the night. The sheep are fed daily, and we continue to mow pastures and rotate the cattle throughout these pastures on a constant schedule. We maintain our own personal raised garden beds, make lip balms, lotion bars, and candles, and prepare for our different markets each week. Our mantra has become to expect the unexpected. All these responsibilities occur in the midst of running kids to and from school and working our normal jobs, with Nolan as an airline pilot for Delta and myself as a Realtor for Coldwell Banker Upchurch Realty. Coupled together, none of this makes for your typical 8-5 type of job. So why do we do this? At the end of the day, we love it, and we thrive on it. We like to say that we did not choose farming, but that farming chose us. We are continuously driven to search for ways to produce better food options, for not only our community but also for the health and well-being of our own family.
Covenant Valley Farms:
Steak with Red Wine Sauce:
Recipe from Prevention Magazine
“Lean grass-fed beef tenderloin is worth a splurge for its heart-smart omega-3 fats. The irresistible sauce combines red wine, which helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels, and meaty mushrooms, which make a sensible portion of steak satisfying.”
2 tbsp of Honey
1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 cup Dry Red Wine (such as Pinot Noir)
1-4 cup Reduced-Sodium Beef Broth
1/2 tbsp Unsalted Butter
4 oz Shiitake Mushrooms, stems discarded and caps sliced
3 tbsp Shallot or Onion, finely chopped
2 Beef Tenderloin Steaks (3-4 oz each), preferably grass-fed
1 tsp Grapeseed or Olive Oil
1. Cook honey in saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened and darkened in color, about 8 minutes. Off heat, carefully pour vinegar down side of pan. Stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens (do not burn) and returns to a syrupy consistency, 6 to 8 minutes. Add wine and broth and simmer until reduced to ¼ cup, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
2. Melt butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and shallot and cook until tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir into sauce and season. Reserve skillet.
3. Season beef with 1/8 tsp each salt and pepper. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook until browned on both sides and instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 125F for medium-rare, 7 minutes, or to be desired doneness. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.
Covenant Valley Farms:
Cathy’s Pound Cake:
3 1/2 cups Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 pinch of Salt
3 sticks of Butter, at room temperature
3 cups Sugar
7 farm fresh eggs (room temperature)
1 cup of Milk with lemon juice
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2 tsp Almond Extract
1. Grease and flour a Bundt pan. Pre-heat oven to 325 F
2. Mix dry ingredients and set aside.
3. Cream the butter and sugar. Then add eggs one at a time and beat thoroughly.
4. Add dry ingredients and alternate with the milk, adding the extracts and finishing with flour.
5. Pour mixture into the cake pan and cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Covenant Valley Farms:
Other Quick Recipes for parties:
Cream Cheese with Sourwood Honey Dip
- (1 8oz cream cheese mixed with 1/3 C of Honey) served with raw veggies
Brie Cheese with Wildflower Honey
- Brie Cheese warmed and drizzled with Wildflower Honey…. delicious!