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Grapefruit and watercress salad

December 9, 2014

4 large grapefruits (mine came from Barry Farm)

1/2 cup maple sugar
 (of course you can substitute, but this sugar is great)
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
 (try and experiment with different vinegars)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh mint (the apple mint seems to be the best for this)

1/2 teaspoon salt (I use Himalayan or Celtic sea salt)

1/2 cup olive oil

2 bunches watercress (about 6 oz), trim off the tough stems (we grow it in the aquaponics system)
A bit of arugula
 (it grows 12 months a year around here)
2 large ripe avocados, pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I am afraid I have to import these)
Fresh ground black pepper
• Cut the peel and the pith off two of the grapefruits. Slice the grapefruit into 4 rings each and place them on a parchment-lined platter.
• Heat a skillet medium high, put the sugar in a bowl, dredge the grapefruit slices in the sugar and when the skillet is piping hot, panfry the grapefruit slices for 1.5 to 2 minutes each side, until they are golden and caramelized.  Transfer the grapefruit back to the platter and refrigerate. They tend to want to fall apart so be careful turning them and moving them.
• Juice the other 2 grapefruits into a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil, quickly lower the heat to medium, and simmer to reduce the juice to 3 tablespoons, 8 to 10 minutes.  Transfer the juice to a blender and cool. 
• Make the vinaigrette by adding the vinegar, mustard, garlic, mint, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the blender and slowly pouring in the oil with the blender going.  Salt and pepper to taste.
• Combine the watercress, arugula, avocado, and enough vinaigrette to lightly coat the salad.  Mix carefully so the avocado does not become part of the liquid dressing.
• Cut the grapefruit slices into cubes. If you make them too small they will become mush.
• Divide the salad on serving plates and top each salad with grapefruit pieces and serve.

The art of a tree

December 5, 2014

Today I did my morning chores, planted some more winter crops, had some problems of sheep running wild, and when all was under control I sat on the low boy trailer to take a break when this leaf fell on my leg. I realized that I had spent much of my life doing art and growing plants and animals and that I had never created anything as beautiful as something that just fell from the sky and settled on my leg.

Nature is fantastic

December 5, 2014

Today I did my morning chores, planted some more winter crops, had some problems of sheep running wild, and when all was under control I sat on the low boy trailer to take a break when this leaf fell on my leg. I realized that I had spent much of my life doing art and growing plants and animals and that I had never created anything as beautiful as something that just fell from the sky and settled on my leg.

Native persimmons cooked with a chicken and vegetables

December 4, 2014

IMG_2640I have not published a recipe in a long time so tonight’s dinner will get the spotlight. Under all these vegetables is a whole chicken. This recipe is simple because there are few rules. Put one chicken in the pan. Rub a bit of olive oil on the chicken. Salt and pepper the chicken inside and out and stuff the chicken cavity with fresh oregano, thyme, parsley and a cut up orange or two. Surround it with the vegetables you have. In this case I have beets, green beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions and oyster mushrooms. Pour a half cup of white wine over it all and top the chicken with about 20 extremely ripe native persimmons cut in half. The persimmons will keep the chicken moist. Bake at 450˚ for about 1 hour until the internal temperature reaches 165˚ in the thigh. Eat and enjoy. Grow your own dinner.

Maintaining genetic diversity for the next generation

December 4, 2014

IMG_2635 A few weeks ago I heard Paul Bosland of the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University, talk peppers on the radio. He was outlining a problem in the chile industry. Years of drought and competition from China, was hurting the economy of small farms in the state. Each year seeds from the most productive plants were saved and used to grow next year’s crop. The plants were not selected for taste, drought tolerance or pest resistance, but only for productivity. He asked the national seed storage lab in Colorado to go into their repository and pull out of liquid nitrogen, some of the original seeds of the New Mexico Chile, over 150 years old. They propagated those and are selling small samples of these new, old seeds. The only way to save the cultivar is to grow it. I have a packet.

One of the many problems with monoculture is the lack of seed varieties that farmers are choosing to grow. When our climate changes, the seeds currently in use might not adapt to the new conditions. New pests and weeds might move into the area. New diseases could spread quickly through the entire agricultural industry. Nature provided us with seeds that can tolerate, adapt and survive, but are we letting them go extinct by not using them? If, as a farmer, I grow 10 different kinds of winter squash or green beans I stand a better chance of surviving a drought or an insect/disease infestation and I increase the odds even more if I grow something that my neighbor does not.

The same problem exists in animal agriculture. Most of our beef comes from two cattle breeds or crosses of those two. The semen of one bull might be used in 10,000 dairy cows.

D. Phillip Sponenberg and Carolyn J Christman in A Conservation Breeding Handbook described our situation. “Livestock breeders of today inherit extraordinary genetic wealth in the form of distinct breeds of domestic animals. In the past, it was certain that every generation of breeders would serve for a time as stewards for this treasure. … Times have changed, however, and the very traditions of animal breeding are now threatened… As a result, future generations may not receive the genetic treasure we have inherited. The genetic diversity essential to selection of animals, environmental adaptation, and maintaining agricultural opportunity may be lost.” *

The Livestock Conservancy recognizes 14 breeds of sheep that they have placed on the threatened or critical lists. One of those breeds is the Gulf Coast Native Sheep, the sheep we raise. They are adapted to an environment that is tough on sheep. They are resistant to parasites and hoof rot, are tolerant of our summer heat, and are vigorous foragers. They fell out of favor after the development of anthelmintic medications made it possible to bring in larger sheep, less adapted to this area. Larger sheep grew faster in feeder situations, providing more meat and a quicker turnaround. With our commitment to minimize the use of medications and to feed the sheep entirely on forage, the Gulf Coast Native Sheep seemed like the perfect breed to conserve. And the only way to conserve the breed is to raise it as an agricultural product. Without consuming these diverse breeds of sheep, goats, poultry, hogs and cattle they will vanish into the history books with the dodo bird. We cannot preserve their genetic diversity in a seed bank. When medications become ineffective, companies will develop stronger and less environmentally safe products, farmers will give higher doses of medications and the diseases, like weeds, will continue to adapt. Where do we hit the wall? There are animals out there that can exist in many different conditions, and we have the obligation to future generations to save them.

We attempt to do our part to preserve our genetic diversity through rare breeds and rare seeds. We experiment with diverse crops, revive unusual species, and support companies that do the same. Next we will turn our attention to rare poultry.

*A Conservation Breeding Handbook by D. Phillip Sponenberg and Carolyn J Christman

A link to the Livestock Conservancy –

I have linked three places to purchase rare, saved seed and the first one is in my hometown of Berea, Ky.: Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds this is, of course not an extensive list, just a few I know of.

For more information on our sheep breed:

Slow food’s ark of taste lists the gulf coast sheep and many other different foods that are not found in the grocery store.

Here are links to a few talks on related subjects.

This is just one of Vandana Shiva’s many videos.

Waller County Farmers and Ranchers Co-op

November 25, 2014

IMG_0907The Waller County Farmers and Ranchers Co-op is in operation. We will meet twice a month at the Waller Country Agri-Life Extension Service, 836 Austin St Ste 203, Hempstead, TX 77445 · (979) 826-7651. The next meeting is Monday, January 5, 2015 at 6:30 pm. We do not have the website up yet but you can find us on Facebook. Membership is open to all people working in agriculture or those that want to learn agriculture. During the next few meetings we will be working on the bylaws. Once those are approved we will be voting in the first elected officers, so now is a good time to be participating.
From the Facebook page…
“Our co-op will endeavor to help local growers farm in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner while achieving sufficient incomes. We want to embody the local food effort in our area and contribute to preserving farming and farmlands in our area.”
We will be providing training workshops this spring and sharing research.
In the future we hope to work toward providing food hubs, poultry processing, agricultural equipment, etc.
You do not have to live in Waller County to be a member. Come by and get involved.  A membership has a one time $50.00 fee.  The next meeting we will have a visit from Greg Koehler of the Texas Rural Cooperative Center and an expert on co-ops.

Bioneers Conference in Hempstead–Sunday November 2

October 27, 2014

How do we develop and define our agricultural ethics?

Our personal and community values should guide us to develop a business practice that has social and ecological benefits. I emphasized an agricultural business for three reasons. (1) Agriculture is particularly challenged ethically with the inhumane treatment of animals and workers, and the destruction of the soil and the water. (2) Everyone is involved in agriculture as a consumer, retailer, truck driver, taxpayer, etc. If you eat, you are supporting the ethics of the farm and processors that produced that food. (3) I am a farmer.

On Sunday, November 2, 2014, at the Blackwood Educational Land Institute in Hempstead, Tx., I will be leading a round table discussion entitled “Personal and community values drive an organic agricultural business plan” at the Bioneers Conference. We will not limit the talk exclusively to agriculture because all businesses should evaluate their ethics and define their values. Come join me and check out all the other topics and speakers at

I believe our health and our existence require we redefine our farming ethics. Let’s do our part of redefining that.


PO Box 271347
Houston, Texas 77277-1347

(P) 713.768.3422
(F) 713.426.3702


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