Summer just wouldn’t be summer without barbeque sauce-smothered chicken smoking on the grill. The smell of grilling chicken is very pleasant and I often feel as if I’m missing out when I catch the smell occasionally filling my neighborhood.
Food is often extremely enjoyable prepared in the proper manner with the right tools and knowledge. From the time the ingredients reach your kitchen until it’s plated and on the table, thought and care have gone into every detail because a meal is a shared experience.
A quality meal’s story doesn’t always start at the grocery store or the farmer's market, but increasingly in a backyard garden or a small farm, and in our case in our grassland pasture.
This is how we grow chicken, truly free-ranged. Grass, sun, wind, rain, and a little perspiration help ensure that our birds are healthy and happy.
I have numerous food allergies and intolerances and have had problems with chicken (even organic). But Pradaria Farm chicken not only tastes wonderful it tastes clean and I never have a reaction to eating it. I eat it almost every day, in soups or roasted. And Pradaria Farm turkey is the absolute best turkey I’ve ever eaten…tender, flavorful…amazing!
With the quick spike of the mercury to the low nineties in early June, I realized that I needed a way to keep our eggs cool at one of our drop sites. There were already a couple of fridges and a freezer humming along at their own pace in the heat. So why not follow suit and add another fridge? That would be the obvious choice. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it; in this case more is not better. Besides, if I’m going to spend time focusing on creating clean food, shouldn’t it be presented in a clean manner?
At the same time, a friend of mine was telling me about this documentary he had watched about living a little lighter in regards to carbon emissions. And in this animated, detailed retelling of a movie I may never watch, he mentions this crazy pot refrigerator thing that the protagonist in the movie uses. Now this got me thinking. After a little research it turns out that the pot fridge thingy was invented in Africa for small farmers, is water cooled, and called a Zeer. I was sold and our very own Zeer was born.
I had hoped that the transition from a hobby farm to a commercial venture would go smoothly. But, unfortunately for us, we failed to protect our farm’s name and another farm snatched it up. But after some deliberation we have settled on a new name: Pradaria Farm.
As long as I can remember I have wanted to farm. It began when I was only a couple of feet tall, watching my cousins chase and catch chickens on my uncle’s farm in Utah. On this ranch the horses where huge and wild, my cousins rough and ready for anything, and the cattle were placid and content to munch grasses. The experience was profound, even though at that age I couldn’t have expressed it in words. I knew I needed it.
Grassland in Portuguese (Pradaria) encompasses all that our farm is- simply livestock, pasture, clean air, and water. This simple approach to farming is the root that drives our growth and dedication to producing only clean food. Our mission statement is: “Premium food that’s grown with integrity, placing quality of life and taste to the forefront of production.” This is the way food was raised in the State of Jefferson by the early farmers who settled this area. This food heritage and our own emigrant heritage, Portuguese farmers who settled in this area intertwine to create something new that I hope my family would be proud of- Pradaria Farm Clean Food.
When I first gained access to the couple of acres of pasture that I currently farm, my eyes would casually skim over the poly-culture of plants and grass-life, unable to differentiate one from another due to the vastness of the fields. I only gained insight into the nuances of the pasture once I started to rotationally graze my livestock. When using this method a farmer becomes intimately familiar with the many paddocks that are formed through the process, creating a magnifying lens focused on the different plant families. Rotating back to a paddock that the animals haven’t had access to in a month or two feels similar to visiting an old friend. Then things you haven’t noticed before start to take center stage.
Onto this stage stepped Purple Vetch (better known as Crown Vetch), a legume that’s used in agriculture nationwide as a cover crop because it fixes nitrogen in the soil. But the USDA recognizes it as an invasive species, growing unchecked throughout Oregon (it is what creates the large purple patches on the hills in the Rogue Valley during the spring and early summer). At the time I was excited to find it in abundance, happily fixing nitrogen on my land and providing quality forage for my livestock. I didn’t know that this plant was invasive until a friend brought it to my attention.
But over the next couple of years there seemed to be less and less of the vetch in every rotation. This plant that had grown throughout the region had started to disappear to my and my sheep’s dismay (the sheep loved to eat it). Pressure from the sheep’s grazing and chickens following behind cleaning up the seeds seemed to have created an environment that was in uninhabitable to vetch.Instead of changing the paddock system around to save what was left, I decided to allow events to play out. As I move in to my fourth season, there is no vetch anywhere on my pasture land. It only grows where the sheep cannot reach, on the neighbor’s side of the fence line. I have effectively (and unintentionally) eradicated purple vetch.