Thursday, March 28, 2013

Birds of a Feather

Bird's Haven Farms

The arrival of spring to Central Ohio has been like a laggard snail creeping out of a distant forest. Just as I was beginning to lose hope of seeing shades of green appearing any time soon, I was fortunate to meet Bryn, the youngest member of the Bird family of Bird’s Haven Farms, amidst one of their greenhouses bursting with life. Off a gravel paved road northeast of Columbus, Bryn was kind enough to share with me their story and how her father created a haven for her family to flock to.

Although Tom Bird was originally from Westerville, he met his wife Ann over a thousand miles from Columbus during his collegiate days at Colorado State. After graduating, the couple decided to reside in the “Centennial State,” married, had two children, and then eighteen years later added son Lee followed by daughter Bryn to their brood. When Lee was only nine years old he purchased a tractor. This might be typical for the son of Midwest farmer, but it was highly unusual for the son of a veterinarian living in urban Colorado. Bryn explained how from birth, farming was deep in her brother’s soul and whether he realized it or not at the time, something was drawing him to explore his father’s ancestral roots. After Tom celebrated his 50th birthday, he sold his veterinary practice, purchased 110 acres and moved his family to the middle of rural Ohio. The family jokes that Tom and Ann obtained the land for Lee, given his innate love for farming, but I was soon to find out that this farm is a complete family affair.

As Bryn relayed to me the statistics of Bird’s Haven Farms, I was impressed with the vastness of their property and the much-more-than-a-monoculture farm they have become. She laughed as she told me that while growing up in Granville she and Lee would lie about how much land they owned because compared to their neighbors, 110 acres was a minute amount. She went on to describe that in the beginning they did what typical Ohio farmers do and grew corn and soybeans. Things on the farm changed after her brother graduated from The Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute and took over running the farm. Lee dreamed of expanding beyond the traditional commodity crops and nearly eight years ago they completely switched over to growing a vast variety of vegetables, focusing on early season tomatoes. One thing that hasn’t changed on the farm is the offering of farm fresh eggs. Currently, Ann cares for 150+ Rhode Island Red hens and hand washes each and every egg they lay. Because she is a city girl at heart, she lets her hens go into retirement (something not typically done with laying hens). The “old ladies” as the Bird’s affectionately dubbed them, are allowed to roam the high tunnels to eat the weeds and fertilize just as the younger hens do. Over the years, Ann has even picked up a nickname of her own; the Granville Egg Lady delivers her product door-to-door for a select local group of lucky customers. Bryn told me how her Mom and Dad are still very much involved on the farm. Besides the eggs, Ann helps with the business side of things and Tom has the pleasure of selecting the menagerie of seeds they will grow (this year is over 65 different crops). Bryn continued on, telling me how a cousin comes in March to assist with all the seeding and an Aunt helps out by making the hanging flower baskets. Bryn, who just recently moved back to Ohio, has a day job as an advocate for farm worker right issues through federal policy reform, but still manages to lend a hand by working the farmers markets and growing the marketing side of their business.

This year marks the 17th season that Bird’s Haven Farms will participate in the Granville farmer’s market. They will also take part in the New Albany, Westerville, and new to this year’s line up the Clintonville market. Besides the markets, they also offer 215 CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) spots with only a few remaining for the 2013 season. If you are avid gardener or just ready to experiment growing your own food, Bird’s Haven is happy to set you up with some of their starter plants. Tom Bird started Bird’s Haven Farms as a place of refuge for his family. Bryn echoed the fact that there is a sense of comfort knowing that if anything would happen, she could “always go back to the farm and the family business”.


The Bird’s Haven Farms eggs (pictured left) traveled 37 miles to Columbus, while the eggs (pictured right) traveled roughly 454 miles to Columbus.


Egg-splained: Free Range, Cage Free and Organic
The Cost of Fracking
Strawberries at Bird’s Haven Farms {Farm Tour}

Italian Easter Bread

If dying your eggs, please use a food safe natural egg dye.

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Amber Waves of Syrup

Sticky Pete’s Pure Maple Syrup

What do the Cincinnati Reds, a stray dog, and acres full of forest have in common? If I told you the answer was maple syrup, you would be well within your rights to be a bit confused since, on the surface, they seem completely unrelated. In order to connect the dots, I must take you to a stunning property nestled into the Appalachian foothills, and set the clock back nearly 20 years.

Sticky Pete’s Pure Maple Syrup was conceived when Laura McManus-Berry and her now late husband John settled into their home which sits upon 200 acres in Athens, Ohio (otherwise known as my happy place) . The land just happened to be lush with nearly 30 acres of maple trees; a myriad of species covering the spectrum of red, black, silver and the ever popular sugar. Since they were not aware of anyone making maple syrup in Southern Ohio, the couple took a chance and began experimenting with “sugaring”, as the professionals dub it. They started small by tapping a few hundred trees and began selling at the local farmer’s market. As the popularity of their product grew, they quickly made the decision to invest in commercial equipment and expand the business. In order to fully legitimize the operation, Laura and John knew they needed to think of an appropriate name to start marketing their sweet amber liquid. Around this time, the couple had discovered a young stray dog on their property. John, being fond of the Cincinnati Reds and baseball legend Pete Rose, decided that given Rose’s recent gambling troubles they would take a chance on keeping the unpredictable dog and name him Pete. Fittingly, they realized their new found company was also a risk given the warmer southern location and the vast responsibilities facing a team of two. The Sticky Pete’s Pure Maple Syrup brand and label bearing a sketch of their trusty pooch was created. John passed away right before the peak of maple syrup season eleven years ago. Laura credits the incredible community of Athens for saving her business, and she described to me how a crew of people showed up at her doorstep ready to help even though they were clueless as to the complex process. Since Laura was the only one that possessed the knowledge of turning sap into syrup, it forced her to keep working and she noted it was “better to be busy than idle and it kept me going”. She went forward that year with making her delicious product thanks to the support she received from her friends and neighbors and has continued to carry forward the business her and her husband had built together.

Today, Laura runs the company with the help of Pete’s unrelated canine successor Danny, and what began as a few hundred taps has turned into a few thousand. As we walked back into the woods, she brought me up to speed on sugaring in Athens. Early on, Laura and John realized what was best for their rolling property and small operation was to utilize a system of tubes. She pointed out the intricate web of tubing that connects each tree and winds its way through the woods. The maple sap is collected in a large gathering tank that is fed by a main line which is connected to a series of lateral lines allare hooked to the tree taps. During the short 6-8 week season that falls in February and March, the freezing and thawing of winter turning into spring starts the tree sap flowing. Laura explained how 45-55 gallons of the clear liquid sap equates to only one singular gallon of finished maple syrup. Each year, Sticky Pete’s turns thousands of gallons of sap into syrup and Laura works nonstop, sometimes 24-7, continually processing. In order to get the sap from the gathering tank in the middle of the woods to the sugar house to be processed, Laura pumps it through large tubing at a rate of 200 gallons per hour. Once the sap has made it to the sugar house, it is concentrated by flowing through a reverse osmosis machine. Straight out of the tree the sap contains 2-3% sugar, but after a run through this machine the sugar content is bumped up to 9%. This increase in sugar allows for less time boiling, which in turn makes a finer grade of syrup and also saves time and energy on the farm. After it has nearly tripled in sugar content, the liquid weaves along in a constant boil to release more water and until it is finally turned into the golden syrup you enjoy on your morning pancakes and waffles. To be considered pure maple syrup the final product is required to have a sugar content of at least 66%! Early in the season, the syrup that is produced is light in color and flavor, and as the season progresses the hue and flavor gets darker and richer. After reaching the necessary sugar level, the syrup must be filtered and bottled, all of which is done by Laura with minimal help.

After spending just a short period of time with Laura, I can see why a close friend referred to her as a “little power house.” She loves working her land, being out in nature and creating a beautiful and delicious product for local Ohioans to enjoy. You can find Sticky Pete’s Pure Maple Syrup at the Athens Farmers market, various restaurants uptown Athens, as an ingredient in several O’Chocolate bars, local festivals, and Celebrate Local in Columbus. Little by little I am being exposed to the growing food society of Athens, Ohio, and Laura Berry’s Sticky Pete’s Pure Maple Syrup are another shining example of the great local food and inspirational people who call the Athens area home.

Maple Syrup

The Sticky Pete’s Pure Maple Syrup (pictured left) traveled 86 miles to Columbus, while the syrup (pictured right) traveled roughly 477 miles to Columbus.

Sticky Pete’s is proud to say that their product is 100% pure maple syrup. Unfortunately, most of the well-known syrup brands you find on your grocery store shelf are mainly corn syrup loaded with artificial flavors and colors. Yes, there is a tremendous difference in cost, but not only do they taste drastically different, but if you have ever witnessed the tedious process of making pure maple syrup you will happily pay the higher charge for the real deal. Please refer to my first blog post about Malabar Farm maple syrup to discover the difference between syrup grades and health benefits.


A Local Choice: Malabar Farm

Buckwheat Pancakes w/ Dark Chocolate Chips

These delicious and hearty pancakes can be made gluten free and with or without chocolate chips.

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