Tuesday, April 5, 2011

IPA 25

Happy Anniversary! 

Ok, so technically the Weeping Radish opened on July 4th 1986 but we've decided to start the party early! In honor of our 25th Anniversary we've brought out a new beer: IPA 25. This India Pale Ale is brewed with a unique hop infusion process and uses hops grown in North Carolina. We have the first beer in North Carolina to use the "Goodness Grows in North Carolina" agricultural seal! 
We'll have it bottled soon but until then come by the Pub and have a glass of IPA 25!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Carolina Meat Conference

Hiding somewhere outside Charlotte in Concord, North Carolina is the Cabarrus Arena and Events center. It is a surprisingly large facility but nearly impossible to find without GPS. Last weekend it hosted a wedding, a gun show and the Carolina Meat Conference. I’ll give you one guess as to what I was doing there!

Uli and I eventually found our way to the Arena early Friday afternoon, arriving just in time to attend a lecture by Keith Payne from USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service and Don Delozier, Director of NCDA’s Meat and Poultry Inspection Division. Officially listed in the program as “Policy and Regulatory Issues in Meat Processing” which sounded very helpful, but my inner cynic was delighted to find that the discussion barely touched on this topic. Mr. Payne set the tone for the lecture by cheerfully stating that catfish is now classified as meat and not seafood. Funnily enough Uli and I were the only ones laughing at this! Later we discovered that the Catfish Lobby, in an attempt to protect themselves from dubious imports masquerading as catfish, pushed for the reclassification so USDA instead of FDA would regulate their industry. Mr. Payne’s other source of pride was Food Defense. After 9/11 the Federal Government made funds available to protect against terrorism and to get the money USDA had to come up with something (I’m not exaggerating; he said that almost word for word!). The importance of Food Defense Plans for everyone under HACCP inspection accounted for the majority of Mr. Payne’s speech. He had a particularly bland slideshow showing the number of plants of various sizes that have plans and how those numbers have grown. Our meat inspector bullied me into writing our Food Defense plan months ago and I can safely say no one is any safer because of it. It could be re-titled “Common Sense” because what it really says is that we will keep doors locked and not have strangers rambling through the butchery. Bravo USDA, money well earned. However, the best part about Mr. Payne was that if he wasn’t talking about catfish or Food Defense Plans he couldn’t answer anyone’s question! It was “Here’s my card. Let me get back to you on that,” to every single question. This man knew he was coming to the conference to lecture on Policy and Regulatory Issues but he didn’t know a thing about them. It was definitely an enlightening lecture for me but I doubt it was what he intended!
Don Delozier was equally amusing and frustrating in his lecture. Currently in North Carolina there are two types of inspection, a state inspection that allows you to wholesale anywhere in North Carolina and the TA inspection which is a federal inspection program (Food Safety Inspection Service) that allows you to sell across state lines and is performed by state employees. We are a TA Facility and have not enjoyed the experience. Now the State, in an attempt to balance the budget and reign in spending, is seriously considering cutting the TA program and letting FSIS send their own inspectors. Naturally the thought of a shrinking department, and the resulting loss of prestige, horrifies Don Delozier and he spent the first ten minutes of his allotted time reassuring us that he had faith that the State would not allow this catastrophe to occur. Everyone was encouraged to contact their legislators and urge them to support the TA program otherwise small farms would be forced to close. I still haven’t figured out how the two are connected, but in politics I don’t suppose that matters. It turned into comedy hour when Mr. Delozier started to describe the different programs and ended every sentence with “Exactly the same.” Really, Mr. Delozier? Why should the State pay for two programs that are “exactly the same” and don’t help the small farmers? 
The real reason why Uli and I drove across North Carolina to attend this conference was that Uli was speaking on a panel about collaborating with other facilities to manage the rapid growth of the industry. I just went along as a dutiful daughter to help with the driving and pour beer at the Friday night social. The panel was composed of pairs of farmers and processors (Sorry for using that word Dad!) who worked together in North and South Carolina. Uli teamed with Richard Huettman from Acre Station Meat Farm to discuss how Acre Station slaughters and does the raw primal cuts for farmers and then the Weeping Radish steps in to create cooked and smoked products that use the whole animal. Bias aside, it was very interesting to hear how Uli and Richard work together to make sure the farmer gets the most value from their animals. Richard was surprised to discover that he was something of a celebrity at the conference; his was the only slaughterhouse in the state that no one complained about! It was during the question and answer session though that our Butchery really began to shine. Someone asked about education and how processors found and trained employees. On the job training was the general consensus from most processors, but one of them stunned Uli and I when he said, “If they can use a knife we’ll put them to work.” Our butcher Frank spent five years training to break down an animal and de-bone it without wasting meat or damaging primals and they let anyone who can hold a knife slash through expensive high quality meats?!
We had to miss the Saturday afternoon and Sunday sessions at the conference, but a glance at the schedule suggested more of the same: politicians desperately trying to justify their jobs and bureaucrats displaying their ignorance of the real world. The sad thing is that we spoke to several farmers who were discussing real innovation and progressive techniques, but as long as the politicians are hogging center stage the farmers won’t be heard. A conference for the small meat farmers of North Carolina was a good starting point, but it only served to show me how far the industry has to go to become truly sustainable.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Spend A Day with the Butcher!

On January 22nd Frank Meusel, the resident Master Butcher at the Weeping Radish, will open the doors of our facility and demonstrate to the participants how he applies his craft.

He will start by showing where the different meat cuts, which we are all used to seeing  shrink wrapped in a meat counter, are actually found. He will explain what to look for in an animal and how age and feed impacts the meat.

All primal cuts will then be vacuum packed and sent to the Executive Chef at the Sanderling Inn for use in the kitchen of the 4 star Left Bank Restaurant.

Then he will prepare meat for sausage making, using an emulsion process which is the traditional way to make high quality sausages. All his spices come from Europe and Asia and of course these ingredients will remain his secret.

Frank makes his job look very easy, so we give participants the chance to use the sausage stuffing machine. It's not quite so easy when you try it for the first time!

During lunch, the chef at the Weeping Radish prepares a tapas style sampling of the meats and guests will also get a chance to sample the delicious Weeping Radish beers. Also on the menu will be the Sweet Potato Liver Pate, which has just won a National award at the Good Food Award competition in San Francisco.

After lunch, Uli Bennewitz, the owner, will give a complete facility tour which encompasses such issues as Farmer to Fork, chemical free food and many of the regulatory challenges facing small business in this new food world. 

This will be a full day of learning, fun, sampling and most of all it will be an opportunity to see a real craftsman apply his trade. The cost is $100 per person, which includes lunch and beer samples. For reservation (space is limited) call 252-491-5205 ext 3 or email capwradish@hotmail.com.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year New Blogger

After months of persuading,  I have managed to convince Uli to start blogging! Enjoy his first post!

The land flight or brain drain in rural America:

Let me state upfront, I make a living from the trends of modern farming. Glistening green giants costing in excess of $250,000, GPS systems which plant, fertilize and harvest with guidance from satellites (the same satellites which may also guide drones and smart bombs), and genetically modified seeds so expensive that the bags state how many seed kernels you're buying. One farming operation is now capable of precision farming 20,000 acres with just five workers.
I have been involved in this industry for over 30 years and I am amazed how yields have gone up, not just what you may expect under perfect growing conditions, but I have seen 160 bushel corn yields in years when we had no rain during a critical growing period. 30 years ago this lack of rain would have been the end of the crop, now seeds are genetically bred to tolerate drought stress. It is an amazing system and of course in good years we can raise 200 bushel corn. We used to be happy with 35 bushel bean yield, this year I saw for the first time 80 bushel beans.
Instead of every farm having a few fields of crops, a few cows or pigs and an integrated natural fertilizer program, we now raise 300,000 hogs in one community and the other farms are strictly grain producers. So what is wrong with this system? It is the most efficient food production system we ever had. If you are the 10,000 acre farmer, working very hard you will fiercely defend this system, since this type of agriculture is the envy of most of the world.

However, I think there is another complication with this system completely unrelated to the issue of organic food, GM crops, subsidies, the patenting of seeds and a range of such issues. It is just what I would call cultural depletion of rural areas, a land flight and a brain drain.
There is no doubt that the bulk of the educational system has been moved to urban areas, the same is true about research, high tech, manufacturing, transportation, any form of entertainment and all corporate offices. The number of people who have moved to cities or suburbs from rural areas is staggering. The entire growth of suburbia is based on this trend.
Whenever there are winners, there have to be losers. We have always acted as if these trends never had losers, but there are real losers: Rural America.

I have been involved in the management of a large farm in rural Illinois and I have consulted in many rural areas around the country. I have witnessed the decline of small town (rural) USA: Schools have been closed, all kids who excel at High School or College move to urban areas, the average age of the surviving residents in these small towns goes up year by year. Many parents in small towns are anxious to see their kids off to college and the success of the kids is judged by the fact as to what jobs they have been able to procure "in the city". With this trend, the quality of rural life declines, the churches become more prominent for the older generations and politically rural America thus becomes a prime feeding ground for the fear mongering of Fox News and others. One interesting site to see in small town USA are the war memorials, which somehow have much more names on it given the size of the town as compared to urban or suburban areas. This seems to indicate a lack of opportunities for the remaining young people in these towns, and military service becomes not a choice, but an inevitable way of life due to lack of alternative employment and training opportunities.
So has the success of agriculture really benefited rural America? As so often the answer is yes and no. Politically this is a wonderful situation: The left can attack the horrors of modern agriculture, while the right praises the export opportunities and the wonderful benefits of corporate successes, from Tyson Foods, to Monsanto and Cargill grain. The tax payer subsidizes a lot of this system, just look at http://farm.ewg.org/summary.php. It is fascinating reading; 80% of all subsidies go to the largest operators.
The founding fathers are turning in their graves as to what we have done to our rural areas, and I am not talking about Yellowstone or any of our national parks. I am talking about our real rural areas, where there are no job opportunities, no educational opportunities. There is nothing for residents to do but to live in trailer parks, live of welfare and food stamps, and produce children to continue the cycle. The counties have low property taxes, high crime rates. We are allowing all of this to continue while we dish out millions of dollars through dozens of agencies in Afghanistan and Iraq trying to teach illiterate populations how to have a US style legal system, school system and police force.
My mother told me a long time ago, charity begins at home.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

FRESH Opinions

Two weeks ago we were delighted to host Beach Organics, a local organic store, for a screening of the movie FRESH and the opportunity to meet local organic vendors. The fascinating and frightening topic of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and their effects were also discussed. At the Weeping Radish, we are strong advocates for local food, knowing who your farmer is and how they raise their products, rather than only buying Certified USDA Organic, so an evening on USDA Organic was an interesting experience for us.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think organic growing practices are better for consumers and the environment, but I do not think USDA certification, or any certification from large corporations, guarantees these benefits. There are many people, however, who believe in the power of that seal as much as they believe in the benefits of truly organic products. It has been my experience that when blind faith in certification and buzzwords takes over the consumer ends up looking foolish and local farms get hurt.

That Sunday evening, for example, I was having an intelligent conversation about regulations in the food industry with a very nice lady when she asked about our products. She was practically heartbroken when I said they weren’t organic. My response to her “I only eat Certified Organic,” was to show her a bag of USDA Certified Organic frozen broccoli. Slightly to the left of the certification seal was written in small letters “Made in China.” It was definitely a shock to this lady to know that the organic standard she held dear was being given to products from a country that exported poisoned baby formula. How can a local farmer compete with products like that? More importantly why would they want to? Why would a farmer submit to an expensive and irrational inspection process when the integrity of the certification is questionable at best?

Another woman’s response to “organic” vegetables from China was that the really important certification was Non-GMO. The short film on GMOs was more thought provoking and inspired less cynicism in me than the longer FRESH movie; almost everything in FRESH was portrayed with more impact and detail in Food Inc. The other film described how easily GMOs could be spread from one field to another and the horrible mutations occurring in lab rats fed GMO foods. What they didn’t mention was that close to 80% of all corn, beans and cotton in the US is now GMO seed with the majority coming from one company (Monsanto). Some people might dare to call that a monopoly, but monopolies lobby very hard to keep their existence quiet. I have to wonder though, as concern over GMOs grows, and with a powerful monopoly already in place, how long before that certification process becomes just as unreliable as USDA Certified Organic and with much worse consequences?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

It's Official!

Our Christmas Bier has been brewed and is aging nicely in the tanks! A staff and customer favorite, the Christmas Bier is a doppelbock with a rich malty flavor. It was also the first beer we ever brewed that took advantage of the "Pop the Cap" movement - the group that repealed the 6% alcohol limit for beers. Now hovering comfortably around the 8.5% level the Christmas Bier is the perfect brew for the holidays! It hits the shelves Thanksgiving Week and if the finished product is anything like my early sample it's going to be a very Merry Christmas!

Friday, September 17, 2010

New Blog

Welcome to the new Weeping Radish blog! Technical issues plagued us with our old site so here we are! I've brought most of the older posts to this new address, but if you are feeling nostalgic you can hop over to www.weepingradish.blog.com to see all the posts in chronological order.

And now that I don't have computer and internet glitches as an excuse, perhaps there will be more posts about what's going on at the Radish!