So I’m not among the “in” crowd of Austin food bloggers.
To be honest I didn’t know there was one until I started following Austin Farm to Table’s tweets and saw all her tweets about amazing meals she had with other food bloggers. Color me jealous! But through her I’ve learned about some great things, among them the Slow Food Austin farm tours.
As soon as I saw the blurb on the Slow Food Austin site, I wanted to sign up.
SFA is launching our farm tours with a bang – come with us on January 16 to meet Jason Kramer of Yonder Way Farm, an ambitious and exciting operation along the lines of Joel Salatin’s pastured salad bar beef farm, Polyface. Jason raises pastured pork, beef, poultry and eggs, and is completing construction of an on-farm commercial kitchen from which he plans to serve barbecued pork, sausages and other eatables. In the best farming tradition of cooperation, Jason also offers organic produce and milk from two other neighboring farms.
If Joel Salatin or Polyface sound familiar, that’s because he and his farm are featured prominently in Food, Inc., and he is also in Fresh. (Both of these are worth seeing, by the way. Food, Inc. is currently available on Netflix Instant.)
Of course I completely didn’t take into account that this tour would be right in the middle of my cleanse. Oops. But having been caffeine, alcohol, gluten, meat, dairy, and sugar free for two weeks, I figured I would be OK if I took the day off.
Saturday morning I dressed in my tromping boots, jeans, and layered shirts, grabbed my camera and notebook, and headed out to Brenham, 90 minutes from Austin. We’ve been having some cold weather topped with rain for three days, and even with all my preparation I was a bit chilly. Thankfully, waiting for us at the farm was some amazing coffee roasted by Independence Coffee, which is located just up the road from Yonder Way.
Once everyone had arrived, Farmer Jason Kramer told us a little bit about his farm. It’s hard to believe, but four short years ago Jason didn’t know anything about farming. Now he runs a 113-acre farm with 1,100 chickens, 80 cows, and 40 pigs. All the animals are raised without the use of chemicals of any kind, and they are never fed corn. The animals graze on the land, rotated through different areas of the farm.
There were chickens wandering all over, and they are super friendly. Apparently that is a trait of Red Sexling chickens, which make up most of Yonder Way’s flock. Jason told us that he also has some Americana chickens, but is phasing them out. If you’re wondering about the roosters – yep, Jason pretty much bets on all the eggs being fertilized.
These are some of the portable shelters for the chickens. They’re made with recycled fiberglass and are mounted on wheels for easy transport. The chickens follow behind the cows about 3 days apart, to help, erm, clean up. The chickens are supplemented with organic feed, but get much of their food from the ground. The chickens above are some of the younger layers. “Some of these guys don’t even know what’s coming out of their hind ends yet,” Jason joked. Among this group the eggs are found all over.
These are the more experienced layers and their portable egg house. The chickens just hop inside when they need to lay (or sleep) and chill in the grass the rest of the time.
Did you know that for a store-bought egg to be considered organic free-range, the chicken only needs to have access to the outdoors? It doesn’t mean they actually go outside. Jason’s chickens are always outside. His chicken’s eggs are healthier than the standard egg, too. According to Mother Earth News, pastured eggs have more beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin E, and omega-3s, and less cholesterol and saturated fat.
Jason said that all the sows are either pregnant or nursing right now. It was hard to get a picture of them, but you might be able to see a piglet in the upper right of the above picture. Apparently pigs are pretty hands-off when it comes to giving birth, although he did have to get rid of one pig that rolled over on her piglets and crushed them. We did see one of the pigs come in from the woods to get some water to drink, so they have plenty of roaming space as well. Also, having the chickens be able to enter the pig enclosure helps with the smell. I don’t remember smelling anything bad at the farm, just crisp fresh air.
After we saw the chickens and sows, it was already time for lunch. The Kramers and their friends and family served us a delicious lunch of apricot-glazed pulled pork, cold broccoli salad, and simple beans (also with pork). I am already wishing I had the recipes for all of it!
After we ate we were able to see the processing room for the chickens. They are working on getting organic certification for chicken processing, and hope to have organic processing for beef and pork in six months. Once they do this, they will be the only certified organic meat processor in the entire state of Texas. This is huge, considering what a big meat-producing state Texas is.
This is where the chickens, well, die. They are put head first into these funnels and the jugular is cut, so the chicken bleeds out, passes out, and dies. In factory chicken processing the head is just lopped off, which is why your store-bought chicken generally has blood-filled arteries running through it. Letting the chickens bleed out makes for tastier chicken, and it takes less than a minute. Bleeding a chicken is “kinda like steeping a tea bag,” Jason said. After that, they go into the scalder, then into the defeathering tank.
Jason said this machine can defeather 4 chickens in 30 seconds. Then they go off to the next room to be cut up. Yonder Way’s facility can process up to 700 chickens a day, if they had enough workers. That’s a pretty impressive number for a small-scale farm!
Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to see the rest of the pigs, or the cows. We were all so interested in hearing what Jason had to say that we ran out of time! And, of course, we were interested in getting some of the products the farm has to offer. Included in our tour fee was a sample pack – half a chicken, a pound of ground beef, and a pound of pork sausage. We also were able to buy off their order sheet. Unfortunately they were out of flank steak (fajita meat) and oxtail, both of which I really wanted. They did have pork jowl, but not cured, so technically not guanciale. (Yes, those Namu Sprouts are still eluding me.) In theory I could cure them at home, but my husband already thinks my foodie habits are half-crazy, and hanging strips of pork in our fridge wouldn’t help my case of sanity. Anyway, I went with pork shoulder and beef short ribs. Of course, I’m already plotting what to do with everything.
Jason and his wife Lynsey (and their helpers) were wonderful, informative hosts, and it was a real pleasure to hear what they had to say about farming. You can really tell they are passionate about what they are doing. I know many people who love their jobs, but I’ve never seen anyone been as animated discussing their work as Jason was. This farm is happy. No wonder half of us are tempted to spend a week working on the farm for free.
I’m going to end with what could be Yonder Way’s entire farm philosophy, as Jason said it:
“Animals know themselves better than you do. Put them in their environment and let them go to work.”