The Fork in the Road

Welcome to our farm at The Fork in the Road!  We raise cattle, pigs, row crops, and seasonal veggies. Check out our new catering menu & special events!

Why You Should Buy Our Antibiotic-Free, Pastured Pork (Hint: the reasons aren't what you think)

Last November, my husband and I dove headfirst into raising pastured pork.  Our friend who was raising them had his barn destroyed in a storm and needed them somewhere that would offer shelter for the winter.  He called us, and after two days of fixing fence in a two-acre pen and moving shelters into place, we started hauling them to their new home.

Now, four months later, the hogs are ready to turn into bacon and we are faced with the question of how to advertise them. We're told that we'll make more money if we present them as "all-natural, antibiotic-free, growth promotant-free pastured pork".  All of these descriptions are true of our hogs, but not one of these popular phrases are actually a valid reason to buy our pork.

"All natural" is a vague term that can be interpreted a hundred ways.  "Antibiotic free" describes all meat sold in the U.S., even if the animal was once treated by antibiotics.  (We haven't given any antibiotics to our hogs because, so far, they've all been healthy, but we wouldn't hesitate to give our piggies medicine if they needed it.)  We don't use growth promotants like ractopamine because we aren't set up to use them properly, not because we don't think they are beneficial or safe.  (They are.)  "Pastured" pork does not mean that they raised in a safer, more humane environment.  Until 2009, our family raised hogs only in barns, and they were cared for with the same love and respect that we give our outdoor hogs.  We find joy in seeing our pigs root in the dirt and roll in the mud, but there are many valid reasons for raising pigs indoors.

But don't let me talk you out of a good thing.  After discussion, we agreed that, morally, we absolutely could not market our hogs using these catchy titles because of the unnecessary fear and conflict they create, but we also realized we don't need to.  There are plenty of great reasons for buying a hog from us, and we can stand behind these reasons with a clear conscience:

1) Quality.  The top quality cuts coming from big packers like Tyson & Smithfield get sent to restaurants, hotels, and other places willing to pay more.  What you find at the grocery store is still delicious, but there is even yummier meat out there - like ours.  You'll get the very best of our herd, not the leftovers.

We can't take all of the credit for the great quality we are offering you.  The local lockers like GTB Custom Meats and Clay Center Locker play a huge role in this.  The men and women that process our hogs are skilled craftsmen, not just another body on an assembly line.  They are each unique in their seasonings, curing, smoking, etc. and you will appreciate the superior taste.

2) Savings.  The average cost of our meat is somewhere between $2.75-$2.90 per pound after you figure the cost of the pig and the processing.  This is for bacon, pork chops, loin, ribs, sausage links, porkburgers, ham and whatever else you dream up to have the locker cut for you.  I'm sure if you really watched for sales to stock up from grocery stores you probably could,  but again, you are sacrificing quality. (Not to mention time!)

3) Convenience.  I just love spontaneous get togethers with friends, don't you?  Having a freezer full of meat makes pulling together a last-minute dinner party a breeze.  On a more practical, day-to-day level, I know that even if I haven't seen the inside of a grocery store in two weeks, I can still throw together a healthy, yummy meal for my family.

4) Your $ goes to your friends, not China. In 2015, Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer and packer in the U.S. sold out to a company in China.  I'm not implying that if you buy their brands that every dollar is going overseas.  In fact, for the American farmers that actually do the work of growing their pigs, very little has changed.  They still get paid to raise the pigs, and you are still keeping them employed when you buy Smithfield brands.  However, I get a little twitch in my eye knowing that a communist government half a world away profits from American farmers, (any more than they already do...)

 A few of the Smithfield brands.

A few of the Smithfield brands.

Anytime you buy anything in America, you are supporting a local someone somewhere, whether it is a Kansas hog farmer, a California broccoli grower, or the truck driver moving the food up and down the roads.  There are so many benefits to having the world's safest and most efficient food supply, and I am in no way saying we shouldn't support that.  

However, if you are like me, you think that your neck of the woods is pretty awesome and the people who live there are some of your faves.  It can be a wonderful thing to directly support your friends and neighbors by buying food locally.  And if you can support your community while getting quality, savings, and convenience, why wouldn't you?

WORK HARD, EAT WELL: Principles of Healthy Living from our 98 Year Old Grandma

Do you ever get overwhelmed with all of the "health" information out there?  Obesity is rampant and yet "health & wellness" businesses are thriving.  Somehow this doesn't add up.  I don't know if any of these fad diets actually work long-term, but I DO know a woman who has a sound, sustainable plan for living a long, healthy life.

My husband's grandma, Lorene, is 98 years old, and she lived with us for 1-1/2 years before transitioning to a nursing home.  This was a precious time together in general, but the lessons I learned from her about how & why to care for your body have had a lasting impact.  I do not claim to be a picture of perfect health, but I do believe I can continue to build good, long-lasting habits by mimicking some of her behaviors.  Here are the principle of healthy living I've learned from her:

1) Learn to love your veggies.  One of the first times I met her was when my husband and I took her a bag full of his turnips.  She was giddy with excitement.  Do you know anybody that gets giddy over turnips?  I believe that you can learn to love your veggies by committing to find a way that you do like them.  If this means baking kale into your lasagna or adding a little bacon to your green beans, do it!  The more you eat them, the more acclimated you will get to the flavor, and will eventually learn to love them without the extra goodies.  You may even find yourself looking forward to turnip season!

2) Get your exercise.  Every day that Grandma lived with us, she would get her exercise.  She would walk as fast as she could, back and forth on the deck or in the hallway until she was out of breath and had her heart pumping.  At the age of 95 this didn't take long and certainly wasn't painless, but she got it done nonetheless.

 Grandma Lorene in 2012.  She was so excited about us replacing the deck flooring to make it safer for her exercise!

Grandma Lorene in 2012.  She was so excited about us replacing the deck flooring to make it safer for her exercise!

3)  Eat healthy food, but don't deprive yourself of the occasional treat.  Grandma eats her whole grains, veggies, meats, fruits, and milk.  However, I've never met anyone that appreciates a good piece of pie more.  She enjoys all things in moderation.

4) Know your healthy weight range & keep an eye on it, but DON'T obsess over it.  I used to take Grandma to all of her doctor appointments, and they would weigh her.  If it was a number that she knew to be in her range, she would nod her head and say, "That's about right."  If it was a little high, she'd grimace and say "I better cut back."  And then she would.  She knows her weight is a good indicator of how well she is taking care of herself, but isn't in the habit of fretting over it daily.

5) Skip the "health foods" and eat simple/basic/real food.  When Grandma lived in independent living by the nursing home, I did her grocery shopping for a time.  She never once asked for a protein bar, slim fast, or fat-free anything.  The grocery list varied, but it always included oatmeal, whole wheat bread, raisins, seasonal fruit, seasonal veggies, milk, eggs, and pantry ingredients for a specific meal.  (Meat would come from the farm.)  Her meal portions were small - she stretched one big dish to last the week - and she would supplement them with things like apples, bran buds, and cottage cheese.  And the occasional cookie.

6) Find something productive to do.  Twenty years ago, Grandma raised a garden that makes the square footage of this 28 year-old's look wimpy.  She also was involved in about every community & church group she could be in, sewed her own clothes, read books, you name it. I really wish I could have met her as a young woman!  Rather than turn on the TV after work, could we get moving to learn something new or give our time to contribute to our community?

 98 years young! 

98 years young! 

So often, we think of health in terms of the number of pounds we want to lose by a certain date.  We completely flip our lives upside down trying to achieve this, hating the diet all the while, and eventually go back to old habits.  It's a wicked cycle, and one that keeps us constantly focused on ourselves.  Grandma doesn't obsess over herself.  She methodically does what she has to to maintain good health, but for the most part, goes about her day focused outward on her family, her work, and her community.

There was a summer in college when I had tremendous weight loss success - but I spent that whole summer obsessed over what the scale would say in the morning. Every spare minute was devoted to a workout and I couldn't enjoy my mom's hearty Sunday dinners because I was scared it would set me back. The worst part? At my skinniest, I was the most critical of myself I've ever been. That's a place of self-absorbtion and self-loathing that I hope to never visit again. 

Having this amazing lady in our lives has helped ground me by giving me proper perspective of my long-term health. I find myself doing and saying things that I've learned from her.  Maybe there are a lot of people seeing big weight loss with a protein shake, but common sense tells me to stick to foods that people ate when this woman was born.  I could track every calorie that I consume, but common sense tells me to eat less when the jeans get tighter.  

Part of my mission at The Fork in the Road is to not only get myself back to these old-time approaches to health, but to help our community do this as well.  When we cut out the dieting and the distractions of technology, there can be immense joy to be found in simply working hard & eating well.

 

Farm Bureau Challenge

Last Spring, I learned about an Entrepreneur Challenge put on by the American Farm Bureau.  The competition offered cash prizes to help rural, ag-related businesses grow.  I decided to enter, not necessarily expecting to win, but with an attitude of "Why not me?".  Before you get your hopes up, I'll tell you that finalists were announced earlier this month, and The Fork in the Road was not among them.  However, the impact that this competition has had on my business is incredible and I am so thankful that I took the leap.  It helped me refine my vision and plans for the future and define tangible stepping-stones to getting there.  

One of the first questions that I had to answer for the competition was "What problem are you trying to solve?"  It's a little embarrassing to admit that I had never thought of this.  Last Spring, if you had asked me why I grew vegetables to sell, I would have told you that I just really love to garden.  As I dug deeper though, I realized this attitude is not sustainable, nor does it really speak to the heart of why I spend hundreds of hours sweating in the sun during the growing season.

It's commonly known that taking the time to make a meal plan can help families eat healthier and stick to the budget.  However, with only 24 hours in a day and all of the other multitude of responsibilities that parents have to juggle, "What's for supper" is often an afterthought.  This is the first "problem" that The Fork in the Road wants to help solve, starting next Spring.

Right now, there is a lot of time, thought, and planning going into offering nutritious, budget-friendly meals for your family next year.  Each week of the growing season, we'll prepare baskets featuring seasonal vegetables from The Fork in the Road, meat from the craftsmen(& women) at GTB Meats, and recipes that pull it all together.  Rest assured that there are a lot of self-imposed requirements on these meals, such as "easy to prepare after a long day" and "my kids will actually eat this".  Stay tuned for more details as we figure this out.

P.S. Another amazing side-effect of this competition is all of the free advertising.  The talented Rick McNary wrote this article about my entry:   http://kansaslivingmagazine.com/articles/2015/10/19/the-fork-in-the-road