great grass = great lamb

News and notes from John and Sukey Jamison of Jamison Farm, Latrobe PA

Monday, December 18, 2017

Irrelevant or Ahead of Our Time?

One of us is seventy years old. The other is fast approaching that age. As many people in this age bracket, both of us sometimes question our relevance. Indeed, just two days ago I was asked a question by a millennial regarding the sustainability of livestock agriculture because of our dwindling supply of water. It was more of a challenge than a question.

Translated, he was saying, not asking, “How could you be so selfish as to raise animals on grass, allowing them to drink from or totally contaminate the aquifer, thus depleting the Earth of its water resource”???!!!

Thoughts flashed through my head. He went to college for a year, can he be that stupid? Is he just an over educated jagoff who has to wear slip-ons because he doesn’t have the common sense to tie his own shoes. Does he think it’s more sustainable to feed animals in feedlots, knowing that the feed grains, GMO or not, have been raised at the peril of millions of tons of lost topsoil and possibly millions of gallons of diverted irrigation water? Or…. that the animals in the feedlots have to be fed low level anti-biotics to just live through the stress of confinement. He’s either clueless or both clueless and dangerous or Sukey and I are irrelevant and wrong.

We utilize Intensive Rotational Grazing. Reducing a system that had been used for hundreds of years to a workable art and science, Andre Voisin’s 1957 book, Productivite’ de l’herbe or Grass Productivity, released a generation of livestock producers to improve the sustainability of Livestock Production while securing the ecological permanence of the topsoil. Though not describing a specific grazing schedule as did Voisin, Louis Bromfield’s  Malabar Farm  contains the chapter, “Grass, The Great Healer” which describes the ability of grass production to heal the scars of over - plowed soils.

This fall, it seems like we finally got it right as we were named the 2017 Conservation Farmers of the Year. In this Tribune article, Greg Phillips, conservation district manager, stresses the importance of these  practices: “It is the grass and climate here, plus their best practices, that allows them to raise these fantastic animals,” said Greg Phillips, conservation district manager and CEO. “The Jamison Farm may produce the least sedimentation of any working farm of its size in the county.”

Recently we read in the November 23, 2017 edition of The Washington Post an article entitled “A growing number of young Americans are leaving desk jobs to farm.”

When we were in our thirties, we started farming part time. In our early forties, we began farming full time. We were both English Majors; I was a corporate wonk. According to The Washington Post, I guess we were ahead of our time.

Here’s how it went…..

“This is really stupid!” she said. Sukey was laying supine on the floor of the hay wagon, holding on for dear life to our five year old daughter who had just landed in her arms after having been catapulted off a hay bale. I was driving our 1940’s Case WD tractor trailing an old International Harvester Square Baler which worked about 50% of the time. The hay wagon was hitched behind the baler so the crew could stack the bales as they came out of the machine. As we creeped down the hill, a train of tractor, baler, wagon, with wife and daughter on board as baling crew, we were moving ok without any of the usual interruption from the baler until the left front wheel of the tractor was swallowed by a two foot deep groundhog hole. My daughter, sitting happily on a hay bale, was suddenly launched like a “Hail Mary” pass. Sukey, playing Lynn Swann, did an over the shoulder catch with both receiver and received ending up safely on the floor.

This event started a serious discussion about the advantages of fence. Sukey graduated Magna Cum Laude as an English Major from Washington and Jefferson College. While she became famous as the first female graduate, as honor students received diplomas before the rest of the class, it didn’t mean much in the world of agronomy. The logic incorporated in a Liberal Arts’ College English graduate is often questionable, if not nonexistent. She must have, however, retained some farmer logic from her Pa. German ancestors.

If I remember, her conversation after she and Eliza got on terra firma, began like this, “That was the third trip you made over this field. You mowed, then you raked, and now you baled. If you were like these other idiots, you would have sprayed or even plowed, that’s five trips. No wonder they can’t make any money. Look at the price of gas. Are they crazy? And then you haven’t even put those stupid square bails in the barn. If you hire some high school kid, who won’t work anyway, he’ll probably load wet bales that’ll heat up and then the barn will burn down.”

She continued, no breath yet, “Then, if the barn is still standing, you have to unload the bales by hand. Who’s going to do that?” Before I can answer,,, “You and I, that’s who. And then, we have to load them up in the tractor or the truck, take them out to the sheep where we tear up the field with the machinery.”

Not finished yet. “Hay is grass, and grass is hay. Why not put up fence and let the sheep eat it themselves. Why should we harvest it for them when they can harvest it themselves? Put up the fence, depreciate it and don’t use fuel going over the same field five times a year. What a concept!”

And to this honor, Sukey says,

"What a surprise and great honor to be named Conservation Farmers of the year 2017! Our many years of learning about farming and nature has become our way of life and conservation has always been a part of our routine without our even thinking about it. A famous food writer once mentioned to us that we were prescient to have followed grass farming (raising  lambs on grass) In reality, it was our inexperience in farming, our English degrees in college and  our under funding in business that led us to building our own fencing and rotating our animals on smaller pastures instead farming in the traditional way of feeding animals in the barn and making hay on all of our pastures with big noisy equipment that we couldn't afford. Today "grass farming" is all the rage, healthier for animal and for the consumer and at the top of the conservationists' list. We are honored to be recognized! This award is very meaningful to us and we really appreciate the recognition. We wanted to share our news and thank all of you, our longtime friends and customers for being so loyal over the years. Without you, we would not have gotten to where we are today!"

Monday, September 11, 2017

9/11 remembering


                                        ( Daniel Boulud Good Guy)

Eliza and I were told to come into the city via the GW Bridge. Daniel Boulud wanted racks for a lunch he was doing for Rudy Giuliani and Kofi Anan after they flew over Ground Zero in a helicopter. Eliza was scheduled to “trail” in Daniel’s kitchen.  It was September 18, 2001, both tunnels into the city were still at least partially shut down from the 9/11 disaster.

By the Fall of 2001, Eliza had finally decided that she wanted to cook for a living. She had spent a semester in College which did not work for her. After that, she came back to the farm, worked at our plant cutting Lamb. She was and still is a good butcher, but she wanted to go further. Because she had delivered lamb with me to restaurants since she was very young, she met many of the big names by the time she went to High School. Indeed when Francois Payard was Daniel’s Pastry Chef, he fed her his famous Chocolate Souffle with house made Pistachio Ice Cream. She loved it; her reaction made his day.

A month later, she made the same dessert for Sukey, me, her Grandparents and other guests and family. It was incredible, but only Sukey, Eliza and I ate it. The rest said they were “too full,” “didn’t eat dessert” or had some other lame excuse. Eliza was devastated. She had spent two days successfully replicating a dish created by the Chef who had just won “Best Pastry Chef” by The James Beard Foundation and no one would even try it. I think that’s what changed her. She finally knew how good she was. She learned three things that day. One, she had to follow her instincts that if she thought it was good, it was good. Two, if some culinary Philistines pass on something that’s excellent, that’s their loss. Three, many of the French, and all great Chefs even boil water with passion.

I don’t think she ever forgot that episode. Now that she decided this was to be her career, Sukey and I sat back, letting her feel her way along, only jumping in with suggestions when we were sure we wouldn’t rock her boat. When she wanted to spend some time in NYC in Daniel’s kitchen, we were ecstatic. She had scheduled September 11, 2001 with Chef Yeo, one of Daniel’s assistants. Sukey called a few days earlier and rescheduled to September 18, because of a conflict at the farm.

Of course, on September 11, all Hell broke loose. We were slaughtering lambs at the Plant when we first heard about the New York attacks. My guys and I kept on working until we heard that a plane went down about fifteen miles as the crow flies from where we were working. I sent them all home, while sirens were screaming at the airport in Latrobe. Because of the crash of Flight 93 that occurred in Shanksville, PA, we thought this was a national invasion. They all wanted to be home with Family.
After a few days of assessing the situation, most people decided we had to keep on living, keep on working, so we did. We kept on doing what we did. We knew business, especially in New York, would be bad. We just had no idea how bad. Eliza and I made the trip to the City, anyway. As we drove down the FDR Drive, we were taken by the lack of traffic. It truly looked like a ghost town.

People seemed to be walking in a trance. We delivered the lamb to Restaurant Daniel on 65th Street, and then drove down to a trendy hotel in the mid Thirties. As we checked in, we realized we were the only ones in the lobby. The clerk fell over himself as we were two of probably twelve guests in the hotel. That night, we quickly got a cab and went to Judson Grill on 52nd St. for dinner.

I think there were six other people in the restaurant. The waitress we had was attentive but then also aloof. She had to come back to the table a few times to repeat whatever specials were available that night. Finally I realized that she had been crying, so Eliza and I just waited until she was ready, and then placed our orders. After the first or second course, our waitress became more at ease, perhaps because one of the cooks told her we were vendors and friends of the chef, Bill Telepan. She began talking with us, at first guardedly, and then more easily about what the problem was.

Gallantly holding back tears, she told us three of her friends who worked at “Windows on the World” in the North Tower were still missing. The restaurant workers in New York are very nomadic, with some working for several restaurants at once, or at least working for one and then another. They are also tribal. They all know each other and know that sooner or later they may be working together. After the smoke cleared figuratively and literally, seventy three food service workers were lost. That loss affected all the restaurants in the city.

The next morning, Eliza and I took a cab to Restaurant Daniel. I found Alex Lee, Daniel’s Executive Chef, who quickly sent Eliza off to change into work whites, and told me to see Daniel in his “Sky Box”, the glassed in office which overlooks the kitchen. When I walked in, Daniel was on the phone, Georgette Farkas, his PR person, was there along with another assistant. Something important was going on but I didn’t know what it was, all I could see and hear was a lot of emotion going on in both French and English.

When things calmed down a little, Daniel realized I was there, apologized for the commotion, greeted me and then asked me how 9/11 was affecting the business. “What business?” says I. Just as I was about to expound, the phone rang again and his assistant asked him to take the call. By this time, Alex Lee came into the room. He and I started talking about the disaster. I told him Flight 93 went over the farm and that we in Western Pennsylvania felt the same anxiety the people of New York were feeling. Alex seemed in a turmoil. On this day, people were going to have to be laid off as there were more people in the kitchen than in the dining room. I asked what was going to happen to the workers.

He said Daniel had a plan. I assumed that had something to do with the continual phone calls being made and taken by Daniel and the office staff. It turned out that all the fuss was about a project launched by Daniel, Chef Grey Kunz, Chef Don Pintabona, Drew Nieporent and others. It seemed that there was a problem getting food to the firemen and volunteers at Ground Zero. The group of chefs and restaurateurs had decided to prepare food in restaurant kitchens in midtown and other parts of the city, send it to a staging area in Hoboken, N. J. where it was then ferried across to Lower Manhattan.

Feeding the Firemen seemed like a great idea to me. Beside everything else it did, it certainly showed that many of the chefs and most of the cooks who had emigrated here truly loved the USA. It also kept the staff working while it gave hope to the chefs and restaurateurs that their businesses and city would come back. The concept seemed to run out of steam as other agencies became involved later, but it was a great statement of purpose and ingenuity while it lasted. Even we sent lamb shoulders to Daniel be made into a braised ragout which was served to the Firemen and rescue workers.

That morning of September 19, when all was commotion in Daniel’s office, while calls were coming in from news agencies all over the city, one of the assistants said, “Daniel, “Good Morning America” wants to know why Chef Daniel Boulud is feeding the fireman, what should we say?”

“Tell them no fireman in my town is going to eat frozen effing chicken nuggets."