The Butter Bitch and I took delivery of our first shipment from the Crown S meat CSA Sunday. The meat was delivered to the house of Jenni, one of the co-organizers, who also hosted a barbecue and potluck dinner. Crown S provided beef patties, and several people brought salads and dessert. We provided a red leaf lettuce salad with almonds, a sherry-oil dressing, and slices of pear that we brought back from our visit to Helsing Junction's open house.
The deliveries occur nearly monthly, with breaks in the schedule when winter passes are impassable (December and January) and another break in the spring. Our first share included a dozen eggs, three packages of ground beef (about 1 pound each, I would guess), a rib steak, and a chuck roast. Over the next year, we will receive approximately 50 pounds in shipments of 6-8 pounds. The size of the deliveries was determined by the membership, who felt that 6-8 pounds would be a good amount. People who wanted more meat were able to order multiple shares. A few people realized that 8 pounds of meat isn't that much, while others talked as though they knew exactly what they were getting into. The monthly amount is about right for us.
Meet and eat
The barbecue was our first chance to meet the other members and to chat with Jennifer, one of the co-owners of Crown S Ranch. Jennifer and her husband Louis are former engineers who moved from Seattle to Methow Valley, where Louis' "kinda hippy" parents had a plot of land that they had kept organic for decades. They started raising their own animals to provide healthy food for their children, and different species were added over time.
Currently, Crown S raises chickens, cows, and ducks. "We'll see how the ducks turn out," Jennifer said about her 5-year old daughter's project. They pasture-finish calves bought from a neighbor, who raises the calves on organic grass and ships them to California for finishing. The cows are finished on organic grain, slaughtered, and then shipped to retailers in different states, including Washington. It struck me as odd and wasteful that a cow born 200 miles away would travel two states away and back before being sold to me. This is one of the results of the industrialization of the food system.
Jennifer was knowledgeable about the problems with the industrial food system and the unsanitary conditions of large cattle operations. She sat on a blanket next to us and chatted with several people while children wandered through and around us. Some people had read Fast Food Nation and others The Omnivore's Dilemma, while some were unfamiliar with both books. We held an impromptu discussion on the problem with all-grain diets for cows, the increase of raw milk in the state and raw milk safety processes, and how several of us are interested in lard but can't find it. I mentioned two local suppliers of lard and promised that I would look into them, as well as how to make lard.
I appreciated Jennifer's openness about their methods and their projects. In addition to the warning on duck eggs, she was straightforward about her and her husband's use of antibiotics. Crown S won't use antibiotics unless the life of a steer is threatened.
"I don't want to use antibiotics, but I also want them to have a life."
A cynic might say that she also wants to protect her investment, and of course she does, but if Jennifer and Louis cared only about the dollars and cents, they could have stayed in Seattle to work as engineers or they could have chosen industrial ranching methods. What started as a way to provide healthy food for their family has expanded into a business that provides healthy foods for a number of families. Almost everyone at the barbecue had one or more children; the Butter Bitch and I, and a middle-aged man who attended alone, were the only ones in the group without children.
This morning, I cracked open two of the eggs to check the yolk color. Bright yolks indicate freshness and also that the chickens had a healthy and varied diet. The eggs from Crown S had bright orange yolks, though one was brighter than the other. I cooked them in butter, discovered that we had not bread for toast--I love to mop up yolks with toast--and tucked in. The yolks were fatty and rich, and had an intense flavor that I don't usually find in eggs. Perhaps I used too much butter or cooked them for too long, but the rich flavor reminded me of the tangy richness of good cheddar. They were keepers.
Since our beef arrived frozen, we haven't had a chance to compare the flavor and quality to other meats. I expect we will compare them soon. The flavor might differ slightly from Skagit beef, since Crown S meat comes from a valley east of the Cascades and the two herds have different species of grass to feed on, but I don't know that my palate is that acute. We'll be more interested in the texture and overall flavor of the beef itself.
Jennifer is working to add other options from farmers in the Methow Valley, including grains, spices, and lamb. If the eggs are any indicator, then next year we will be back for more beef, probably more than one share, and other options.