What About You?

We are wondering…as we sit here looking at a blank post…what do you, the readers of our blog, want to know about us? What can we share with you on this space to better connect you with our beautiful farm?

Recipes? Some are coming. Promise. Hopefully a lot!

Farming tips?

Whole food, raw milk, local food (etc.) information?

Pictures?

Charming anecdotes?

Please comment and let us know! We want this space to serve you!

The Story of the Incredible, Edible, Locally Sourced, Organic, Corn, Soy, and GMO Free Egg

It’s almost summer and that means a few things here at the Deck Family Farm — the grass is growing and the farmer’s markets in Portland and Eugene are in full swing. You can find our tasty, Animal Welfare Approved meat and pasture-raised eggs at our booths.

Intern Lisa Beneman chats with a customer at the Eugene Farmers Market

We love the market because it gives us a chance to personally connect with our customers and vice versa. We are always answering questions and sparking conversations about local food and it’s no surprise that folks love our eggs.

We are always fielding questions about why our eggs cost so much more than eggs in the supermarket. As it turns out, the answer is anything but simple so I’ve decided to save myself the breath and paint the big picture here — along with some pretty pictures of the farm.

We don’t have any ‘cages’ or ‘ranges’ on our farm. Just lush green pastures

When you buy ‘organic’, or ‘cage free’, or ‘free-range’ eggs in the store you are the victim of clever marketing and fuzzy regulations. To you, a free-range chicken conjures images of a hen on a lush field of grass with half a million or so of her BFFs laying eggs and pecking dirt to their hearts content. To the USDA it means a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feed Operation) with a little door to a concrete chain-link pen. Their exact definition reads: “Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.”

That’s it?

The sad truth is terms like ‘cage-free’ and ‘free-range’ have been hijacked by conglomerate agro-giants to snare a growing demographic of consumers who believe the welfare of the animals they rely on for three meals a day should be better than a convicted felon. Unfortunately, the only true way to know how your eggs are produced or your meat is raised is to know exactly where it came from.

I encourage you to give a conventional egg farmer a ring and spark a conversation about his “cage-free” operation and I’m sure he’d love to tell you all about it.

In the meantime, let me show you how our eggs are raised.

The Organic Flock is hungry. Everyday we feed them pellets and collect their eggs from the nesting boxes located in the chicken trailers.

The Deck Family Farm eggs that you buy come from hens born and raised on our pastures in the Willamette Valley, 7 miles West of Junction City, OR. Our ladies live on our Owens Valley Pasture, where they have the freedom to roam in and out of their chicken trailers, which they frequently do, and lay eggs in the nesting boxes, which we collect by hand every day. The chicken trailers allow us to move our flocks twice weekly.

Farm Manager Raul Lopez moves the Soy Free trailer from the winter pasture to their new home

The reason for this is two fold — their manure is especially nitrogen rich and we’d prefer it to feed our pastures, not burn them. Moving them regularly enriches the life of the hens as well by allowing them to constantly peck through fresh grass.

We hear a lot of questions regarding the feed we give our gals. The short answer? Certified Organic chicken feed for our Organic flock and soy free pellets for our “Soy Free” flock.

We have two different flocks for a couple reasons.

“Layers need a balance of protein and amino acids to regularly lay high quality eggs. Most people use corn or soy in their layer feeds,” farm owner, John Deck explained to me one day during our lunch break.

Soy in particular has 44% protein, soft white wheat has 9% peas are 23% and corn is just 9%. But corn and soybeans are two of the big 5 — the highly subsidized, monoculture kings that soak up pesticides and blanket the Midwest. Soy is also one of the most common food allergens and many folks with sensitivity to industrial eggs, enjoy our soy free eggs just fine.We pride ourselves on doing whatever it takes to avoid these crops in our chicken feed.

Farmer Girl Shanti Deck perches a young Rhode Island Red pullet. These ladies will start laying eggs this summer.

“If we want to feed the chickens year round and we wanted to do an organic, no soy, no corn feed all sourced locally from the Willamette Valley, we’ve now set ourselves a bar that is really difficult to achieve, “ John says. Owners John and Christine decided to mill their own feed  because it gives them the ability to utilize grains grown in the area, the flexibility to use grains seasonally and it’s much cheaper in the long run.“We’ve been milling locally sourced wheat, barley, oat and pea for the pigs for a long time and we’ve done pretty well on that.”

But including layers in the milling program has been a struggle from the start. Farming is an economy of scale — corn and soybeans saturate the market making them readily available and cheaper than alternative protein sources. Today, fewer farmers are growing crops like peas and barley because the return on their crop is far less per acre than if they grew corn or wheat.

“Four years ago we had an organic, soy free feed but at some point you couldn’t buy organic peas in the valley,” Christine Deck explains. She told me there wasn’t a market for soy free feed when they started asking around. “It was really frustrating because we were trying to work with the local mills and they told us soy just is the protein.”

That’s when the Decks decided to split the flock and scrap the milled layer ration. One flock would get organic pellets, the other would get soy free pellets. But as more and more folks demand soy free chicken eggs, the supply follows. 

The next time you crack a Deck Family Farm egg consider what it took to get to your dinner plate

This year we are proud to be returning to our own personally milled, organic, soy and corn free layer ration. Our solution to the chicken feed debacle is a wet mash the hens won’t be able to pick through and that we can create from resources as close to the Willamette Valley as possible.

“Since we have milk we can use that as a component in the wet mash which allows us to use a little bit lower protein feed,” John says. The freedom to close the loop to your own system is of the luxuries of having a diversified operation.

We can’t thank everyone in the Willamette Valley and all across this big green state for supporting us in realizing the potential of a truly local food economy. We wish it was easier to bring wholesome, sustainable food to your table but anything worth doing isn’t easy. We pride ourselves on being your source for Animal Welfare Approved meat and eggs. See you at the market!

Gardening with the Gods

It’s been just over a month since we finished grazing the pigs in the garden area and I can’t believe the change it’s undergone. Last year’s garden was quite a success and I’m excited to be undertaking a little vegetable production this year in my spare time. All the interns have been a great help in planting, mulching and watering when the spring rains are absent.

The garden as it stood in early March just before the pigs grazed through. Death and rebirth.

Not the same exact angle but still pretty incredible. We planted annual rye grass for Ella and RJ’s wedding in June,
potatoes and broccoli in the corners and onions/carrots/radishes along the edge. Instead of rows we’ve decided to plant in little circular pods throughout the garden plot.

But the real hard workers are the pigs. Those little guys sure can work the soil and it’s a labor of love. I grazed them over last year’s garden for about two weeks and I captured it with a little timelapse video. It’s nothing special but it’s fun to watch…

It’s incredible to watch them as they munch down the old cabbage and onions — they pull and tear the roots and break up the soil with those incredible snouts. They’ll inevitably find some black walnuts to munch on and plenty of earthworms. Happy pigs make a happy garden. Sure, we may lose some organic material along the way but the pigs enjoy a veggie smorgasbord while taking care of our dirty work and we’d like to think they thank us for that.

But where the pigs’ work ends, ours begins. Lately, we’ve been doing our best to carve out chunks of time between collecting eggs and milking cows to plant the early season stuff — potatoes, onions, carrots, radish, cabbage, broccoli, peas, and of course, kale.
Intern Alex Prediger weeds the potato/broccoli bed on a gorgeous day. We were lucky enough to receive a bunch of broccoli starts from our friends at Horton Road Organics.
Transplanted cabbage under a bed of fresh mulch.
After some much needed renovation work and a little sheet mulching, the little greenhouse on the property is ready to house our tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers and (eventually) melons. 
This patchwork greenhouse is made out of straw bales and rotting 2x4s, but strength isn’t the only measure of character. RJ and I framed some windows in it with lumber milled from the property and it may even have doors soon! 
The tomatoes, sweet potato and peppers inside don’t seem to mind a little breeze. I can’t wait to seem them turn this little house green

The onion bed with little baby carrots just popping up. We planted radish as a marker crop but it basically became sacrificial food for the cucumber beetles. Radish fans are sparse on the farm so the jokes on you beetles!
Growing food is a vital necessity for life. We owe more than just full stomachs to our ancestors who learned to work in accordance with the dynamics of nature, to put down their spears and pick up the spade.  While some folks may point to agriculture as the progenitor for great imperfections in our modern world, I disagree. 
In the mythologies of the world, the act of growing food from seed is a deeply symbolic endeavor that unites the duality of life and death — every year in the garden death nourishes life. Last year’s broccoli stalks and cabbage leaves release their energy into the soil for the coming fall harvest. We bury seeds like loved ones and care for their graves with a religious vigor. 
I love the ancient symbology of growing food. I wish our culture was still inspired by the simplicity of life the way our ancestors were. The plants and animals were our brothers and sisters — the mountains and rivers the source of our nourishment.  
But all things must pass. In his great book Eaarth, Bill McKibben argues that this planet is so thoroughly altered from it’s origin, one can hardly call it by the same name. I suppose that’s true. There’s no senses wallowing in nostalgic grief for a time and place forgotten, but in this chaotic, contemporary world man has few sanctuaries left to relish his role in nature. The garden is the great microcosm of the universe where all things intersect and man stands in the center. Perhaps that’s why growing good tomatoes makes you feel like a god…