Farmstead Meatsmith

I don’t eat meat. But, to my surprise, I am learning to slaughter (so far chickens and Muscovites) while Andreea does butchering. Andreea eats some meat (not much) and we prefer to eat home-grown foods, including meat (I do enjoy eggs, and I do eat a morsel of meat from every animal that I slaughter, out of respect for the animal … and Muscovite meat is the best I’ve tasted in my entire life … I used to eat meat). The truth is that even if you keep chickens just for eggs, you will end up, eventually, with chickens that need to be slaughtered (old hens, too many roosters …).

My first visit to Romania took place during the holiday season, the time of year where many (if not most) villagers butcher a pig. Everywhere we visited people tried to impress me with their meats (a symbol of wealth) when all I really wanted was their potatoes ( a symbol of poverty) and other root vegetables. Andreea was constantly on the lookout to make sure that they didn’t fin a way to inject me with meat (like cooking Mamaliga in pork-fat, or mixing in a chopped pork for good measure). At the time, when this piece of meat was placed before me I couldn’t handle it and asked politely that it be moved away:

Fast forward two years and I found myself living in a Romanian village and documenting up close the slaughter of not one but three pigs. I got to witness how different people approach butchery in different ways and it was easy to spot the one doing the best job … even there quality was evident.

Slaughter and butchery is still common knowledge in Romania. Even many current city-dwellers have village-life in their pasts and they can take apart a large pig very efficiently. However there isn’t much quality and there isn’t much appreciation. It is another typical opportunistic action, something that’s done to provide food for the cold winter. Andreea has tasted quite a bit and she wasn’t very impressed by the cooking either.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I find Andreea drooling in front of her computer. She was watching the beautiful people at Farmstead Meatsmith. They are reviving meat harvesting in the USA. They do it with exceptional quality and care … from butchery through to cooking. Andreea was very hungry when we stopped watching.

I joined  her as we watched their introduction video (used to raise money on Kickstarter for more video productions):

<br/>And then this video, the first produced after their successful Kickstarter campaign:

<br/>Beautifully produced videos, by and of beautiful people doing beautiful work.

 

Rex

Last night Rex died.

We took him in 5 months ago. Our neighbors wanted to get rid of him and tied him to a post outside their yard next to the “road” in the hope that someone will take him in. Mind you, this is a road that sees at most a few horse-carriages a day and everyone here has more dogs then they need. We found him there and I suggested that we take him home and so it was. Until we took him in he lived most of his life tied in the same place – through hot summers and cold winters. He was also beaten quite a bit – so he was kind of messed up to start with. He was a very energetic dog and because he was tied he was also very excited. It took careful attention on my part to keep him focused and to walk him properly to his new home.

He took to us fairly well and we quickly became home (even though his previous home was 200 meters away). I enjoyed him. He had precise responses. Though he was very energetic he was also very gentle. At his most excited he could jump at me but touch me ever so lightly (unlike Indy who can topple me if I am not ready for her weight). However in the first days he was here, he and Andreea collided. The result was numerous bone-deep punctures in Andreea’s arm and our first visit to an emergency room in Romania.

That was when the seeds of the end were planted. Rex also became vicious once towards Andreea’s father who was visiting with us and he put on an unpleasant display of aggression towards Andreea a few weeks later. Both times I arrived in time to gain control over him. In reflecting on this second incident it occurred to me that Rex attacked Andreea for me … I was feeeling resentment toward Andreea at the time … and as I was processing those emotions, Rex seemed to act on them.

I came close once to being attacked by Rex when I was holding a stick to keep him away – he was used to getting hit with a stick (while he was tied and helpless to run away or attack) … so I learned that a stick pointed at him is not an option with him (a stick held in my hand, planted in the ground did work).

He needed clear and sharp leadership. I was very demanding towards him and he responded well. When I had to raise my voice to get his clear attention he would either run to his box (a temporary rain-shelter we setup for him when we brought him over) and sit down in it, or he would sprawl down in front of me in complete surrender (which was at times amusing, given how hard he was trying to contain his excitement). Andreea wasn’t able to provide him the clarity he needed.

The result was that Rex dominated Andreea. She was afraid to go outside. She would only go outside with me or if I first tied Rex down (which only made him more excited). When we both realized and clearly communicated to each other the intensity of the situation I suggested that we put him down. We did not have the tools to create a more balanced existence and it is not right that Andreea be fearful at home.

Andreea had a hard time with my suggestion, even though she agreed with it. She pondered it for a few days and then decided she wanted to try castrating Rex to see if that would moderate his behavior. She found a veterinarian in a nearby village  that could come and with my help do the castration. Scheduling didn’t work out and that was delayed.

Meanwhile, another complication appeared. The same neighbors who wanted to get rid of Rex have another dog, Beethoven. He is treated pretty much the same as Rex was. He grew up to be a large and strong dog. During the last couple of months, whenever he got loose he would come looking for Rex and attack him. Rex met him with his own viciousness but was never the instigator. It was always Beethoven attacking Rex. The village veterinarian recently came by to vaccinate the dogs against Rabies. He told us that Rex’s behavior had improved drastically … that Rex was the dog he most feared when doing his rounds in the past (and there are plenty of larger and mean-spirited dogs in our area). I managed to very carefully separate between Rex and Beethoven a few times. It was an unpleasant task and it frustrated me that I had to collect other people’s mss.

Yesterday our neighbors slaughtered their pig. In the evening they invited us to join them so that Andreea could enjoy some of the freshly cooked meat. As always, all three dogs joines us for the short walk … and actually led the way. As we headed down we encountered Rex and Beethoven at it again. It was cold, dark and I was tired of this and decided to let them resolve the situation on their own.

This time Rex didn’t survive the attack. This morning Levente came by and told us that he saw Rex’s corpse next to our neighbor’s gate. Andreea felt his death (without knowing clearly that was what she was feeling) while we were there last night. She suspected something was wrong when he didn’t appear this morning. He was probably already dead when we left our neighbors last night. We probably passed just a few meters from him on our way home but didn’t see him in the dark (it was even colder and darker and we were focused on getting home).

Andreea has met his death with sadness and gratitude. She thanked Rex for understanding the situation and for bringing it to a resolution. She feels free again … a huge relief for her and a return to a more natural order of things for Bhudeva.

The ground is already frozen solid and it is nearly impossible to bury him. Rex’s body was also already frozen solid. Levente (on his way home) tied a noose around him and dragged him off to an open hill where the foxes will have a feast on his remains.

I am reminded of the words of the Indian chief in the closing pages of Lila. Rex was a good dog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter 2012 Has Arrived

Until yesterday I still thought the snow blanket may be temporary. This morning I am convinced its here to stay 🙂

I’ve switched to winter mode. It’s 10am and I am just getting out of bed after tea and some reading and writing. Time to go outside and feed the animals. Then back inside for breakfast, to fire up the rocket stove for an hour or two to keep the room warm for the day and to continue reading, writing, resting … being winter 🙂

 

 

 

 

A few Euros from the EU

Yesterdays post on bees and the EU has turned into a much appreciated debate with Sam. He has responded generously. My reply/comment was long … almost a post, so I am reposting it here for the sake of archival continuity. My main point is that the EU subsidies are not really supporting Romanian farmers but enslaving them financially and mentally (the latter being the more potent price).  I believe that is true for farming subsidies in general. However subsidies within a community/country shift energies within it … the EU subsidies are, I believe by design, stealing energy away from Romania.

So great to have a quality debate 🙂

As for the “science of bees” I believe it would come with more authority if I cited my source rather then regurgitated what I’ve learned from it: http://biobees.com/articles.php.

I would specifically refer you to two articles:

The future of natural beekeeping: http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Future-of-Natural-Beekeeping&id=7287954

Sustaining the honeybee: http://ezinearticles.com/?Sustaining-the-Honeybee&id=1450967

The people you are buying honey from in the market are most probably small local producers – they are the typical industrial producer. These are too busy running their operations to sell in the market. They sell their produce in bulk to large aggregators.

As for what Romanian industrial beekeepers actually do in regard to the bees – they only do what lines their pockets with most honey/money (not what any association defines as proper … you of all people should know what a wild-west this country is when it comes to regulations). With the risk of generalizing … traditional beekeeping (like traditional agriculture) is ignorant and destructive. It is easy to confuse love of honey-money with love of bees. Given what I know about bees I have witnessed very little love … though I have heard it spoken. I don’t buy it. I’ve witnessed honey-frames with brood (just born bees) emerging (literally) being inserted into those honey extraction spinners (you can also see brood being disturbed/injured in the beautifully produced movie – as a frame is cut open in preparation for extraction) … is that what they mean by love of the bees?

An issue unique to Romania I would like to address further is those “few Euros from the EU”. I will use milk to make my point. Most Romanian small-medium producers sell most of their milk to a milk truck that makes rounds every morning – they get ~80 bani per liter + if they meet agreed quotas they are supposed to get bonuses (though from what we’ve heard the bonuses are being delayed big time). We buy our milk directly from them – fresh and warm – for 2 lei per liter. The milk truck container is preloaded with chlorine as a preservative … so already the milk is compromised … the first step in a long process of deterioration until the poor substitute for milk arrives in the supermarkets for 4 or 5 lei.

This system has become standard. Producers don’t need to worry about sales and marketing (especially tricky with milk that can spoil) and everything they produce gets “purchased”. As a result they no longer produce any other higher-value products. We have not yet been able to find (in our and in neighboring villages) a local producer that makes butter or cream (smantana). They don’t bother anymore. Their world has been marginalized by those few EU Euros … which provides them a bare minimum. They cannot better their lives with it … they can at best be sustained where they are. Ironically their only chance at progress is by quantitative growth = more cows. The results is over-crowded and dying pastures (over grazed, over compacted…) and terribly diminished soil fertility.

Those few Euros are how a fantastic and diverse ecosystem of small producers have been reigned in. If they were a few large producers organized as corporations then they could have been taken over by standard market dynamics. However in this marvelous Romanian ecology that was not the situation. So they came up with a creative solution which appears in the form of “a few Euros from the EU” – a majestic system of control.

With Cutia Taranului we are trying to show milk-producers that they can produce and sell (reliably and consistently) added value products like cheese, cream and butter and make much more money and have much more control over their lives. I cannot begin to describe to you the huge mental barriers that are locked in place thanks to those “few Euros from the EU”.

And I am convinced that similar patterns, destructive to both nature and people, are in play with the bees and the honey. Money is being used to put in place misdirected motivations.

With natural bee-keeping we (=Andreea and I) don’t need a honey-extractor of any kind, we use inexpensive home-made top-bar hives (instead of the expensive, complicated system of standard beekeeping), we don’t injure any bees (after we’ve made the difficult transition from standard hives to top-bar hives), we only take honey that is left after the bees have made it through winter, our bees have an opportunity to fight-off potential varroa infestations on their own without us getting in the way and we will expand our apiary as we continue to develop our land providing us and the bees with more sustenance.

But, I may be crazy and wrong about this 🙂

The EU Strikes Again: Bees

Sam sent a link to this article and video about Romanian nomadic-bee-keepers. The short articles describes how UK bee-keepers have experienced a difficult year (meaning drastically reduced yields) and they are angry that the EU is supporting bee-keepers in Romania and Hungary instead of coming to their rescue. It also includes a nicely shot video of the Romanian bee-keepers:

I didn’t enjoy watching the video. I saw in it another aggressive move by the EU to inject western industrialization into the Romanian ecosystem. I’ll try to outline what I believe is really happening.

Bee Abuse

Bees are not nomadic creatures – they settle in one place, build a hive and occupy it for a long time. In late spring or early summer some the bees may swarm – which is a survival instinct in which a large part of the family leaves the hive to establish a new family. They will naturally prefer to settle in fertile areas (plenty of flowers) and may leave if a location ceases to support them. But other then that they are not nomadic.

The opposite is true. They are very sensitive to location – they have GPS-like capabilities that enable them to fly back and find the hive entry to within inches. If you move the hive just a little bit they will get confused and will have to reorient themselves to find it. That is why “Romanian nomadic bee keepers” travel only at night and have to travel large enough distances (at least a few km) so that the bees are “confused enough” so as not to try to fly back to where they remember their hives were.

Moving the bees around is an abusive behavior that goes against their nature. This of-course complements the widely used and commonly known box hives which are designed to make it easy for humans to penetrate into the hive and disturb the bees to make sure they are “working properly” and to get at their honey stores. Those smoke makers you commonly see bee-keepers use are meant to discourage the bees from attacking, which they tend to do when their homes are brutally disturbed (wouldn’t you?).

Another frequently abusive practice in standard bee-keeping is that the hive food-stores are almost completely depleted by their operators. This includes winter honey stores which the bees need to get through winter – especially the cold Romanian winters. Instead the bees are fed sugar-based syrups which are much cheaper then the actual honey. This artificial food is a poor replacement for honey and is often supplemented with medications.

The entire commercial bee-keeping paradigm is about industrialization of the natural behaviors of the bees. Moving them around is merely another abusive step towards increased efficiency at the expense of the well-being of the bees. Bee population around the world is in dire straits because of standard commercialized bee-keeping. If Romania continues its excessive bee-keeping habits it is just a matter of time until the Romanian natural bee population will be badly disrupted.

Nature Abuse

When natural systems are left alone they gravitate around a natural balance. It is true that bees play a critical role by pollinating flowers – simply put we would not have food without bees. But there can be too much of a good thing. Bee populations partake in a dynamic and natural balance in the environment – they need plenty of food and very little competition. When too many bee hives are placed in a limited area there can be too many bees resulting in hive-robbing and violence.

The increase in honey-bee population is not being met with increased natural reserves. Pastures are widely over-grazed and abused. Industrial agriculture takes over huge fields with poisoned mono-cultures. Deforestation is a huge problem in Romania. It is any wonder that industrial bee-keepers have to move around to find remote untouched still flowering locations?

Sidenote: honey-bees are not the only kind of bee and not the only pollinator. Mason bees are much better pollinators – some say 100 times better than honey-bees. So the whole “we need honey bees to pollinate our fields” pitch by the HONEY-bee industry is inaccurate, incomplete and misleading.

More worrying is that bees transport not only pollen but other chemicals. If bees have access to a field that uses pesticides and to a natural forest they will be transferring those pesticides into the otherwise untouched eco-system. When bees are moved around between locations then they carry things (natural and chemical) over from one eco-system to another. Doing so disturbs the natural order of things.

Sidenote: just in case you missed it – the pesticide issue means that there is practically no such thing as organic honey. The only way to produce truly chemical free honey is to have the bees in a location in which in a 3-5km radius (typical honey-bee range) there is absolutely no use of pesticides or insecticides. Good luck with that … anywhere in the world.

All this is being done not for the bees and not for nature, it is being done to increase productivity. A much healthier bee-keeping paradigm is smaller local apiaries – it has been present and working in Romania (and probably many other countries) for a long time without any EU support.

People Abuse

I don’t have enough direct knowledge about the financial workings of the honey-economy in Romania (like I do about the abusive milk-economy). What I do know is that most honey-producers sell their massive honey yields to large-scale marketers. If that honey reaches Romanian consumers it does so at a much higher (at least double) price. Though I wouldn’t be surprised to find that much of that honey is exported while other honey is imported into Romania (the “efficiencies” of free-market merchants can be mind-boggling).

Honey producers (I don’t believe they deserve to be called bee-keepers) enjoy a steady income since all of their yields are purchased by the aggregate marketers. This is supplemented by EU subsidies (according to the one of the interviewees in the video above a sum of 4500 euros once every three years). The producers get used to and become dependent on this system yet they have no say in it. Market prices are set (non-negotiable) by the larger marketers as are the EU subsidies.

The producers are enslaved not only by the economic realities of this system but also by its mentality. Namely abuse bees, nature and yourselves to maximize yield.

… and don’t forget these fortunate honey producers get to live in a truck filled with bee-hives … the perks just keep piling up don’t they?

Natural Bee Keeping

top-bar hive - natural bee keeping
This year we started natural bee-keeping with two horizontal top-bar hives. A hive in which: :

  1. We leave the bees an ample (most of the) honey supply to use as winter feed. We harvest whatever is left in spring. We may harvest some honey in summer to prevent the hive from exploding with honey.
  2. We rarely open the hives so as not to disturb the bees. We do not use a smoker. Instead we have a water sprayer at hand to simulate rain … though we rarely need to use it.
  3. We place the hives in partial shade – the bees are very productive without us needing to “encourage” them by placing the hives in full sun.
  4. The bees build their own combs out of natural wax in whatever sizes they need (instead if using pre-fabricated wax foundations).
  5. The hives are simple to build and home-made. They are built with thick wood walls to offer much better winter insulation … and the hive designs allows us to add more insulation for winter.

There is no such thing as “Nomadic bee keepers” … sheesh!

Government Corruption and Romania

Jeffrey Sachs appeared yesterday on my consciousness radar and I’ve started consuming him. I just watched this engaging talk about his most recent book “The Price of Civilization”. I loved to see the word “virtue” (a personal context which will become more clear when I complete and release my Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance project) in the book and video title and I loved to hear an academic, especially of economics recognize and highlight it.

One core theme that came up was the legalization of corruption in American politics. As I was listening to this talk I thought about the corrupt state of Romanian politics and I actually found comfort. Romanian politics and its corruption are immature compared to their American counterparts. They are more visible, more simple, more direct … and therefore (should be) easier to identify and deal with. They are not hidden behind an enormous body of government, libraries of legislation and vast economic empires. Romania is, still, a beginner in these domains and the corruption should be easier deal with.

If nothing else then this elaborate lecture indicats that Romanian corruption is not as unique or severe a problem as it is often made out to be. I suspect that it is actually a lesser problem. I suppose a ruler of some kind gives measuring context.

 

Who is Romanian?

I am not sure I agree completely with the thesis in Sam’s recent post (I would need to invest more time then I care to right now to reflect on it). I also don’t know who is currently the minority and who the majority but I know who I want the majority to be:

Because believe me, there are lots of good people here, from all nationalities and ethnicities and speaking all languages because I know them and I meet more every single week. We’re only in the minority because someone played a cruel trick on Romania long ago and convinced most of the population to include useless fools as being part of what makes up “we” when in reality they are the minority and so they are not us, they do not speak for us, they do not represent us and in no way have they ever demonstrated that they deserve to be included in our group.

Sorin Apostu and his ilk might speak Romanian, might have been born in Romania, might carry a Romanian passport but he isn’t one of us. And that’s why I don’t just say it but know that I am more Romanian than he is, because we, the positive, good, honest, moral people, we are Romania and he and all the corrupt, evil assholes can go fuck off. We are the ones who make this country a good place to live and so it is ours, not his. I don’t care what his papers say – he hasn’t earned the right to call himself a Romanian.

Honestly, I think this is true of many places in the world … I just happen to be more sensitive and affilated with Romania now then with other places 🙂