Archive for the ‘Fellowship’ Category

Shark Knives – Hand Made in New Zealand

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

Our friend, Peter Griffiths, makes a range of knives at his workshop and gallery out in Takahue:

I have the Big Chef and it’s awesome. Don’t miss the Parang.

Pete doesn’t use the computer much, but if you email or call, his wife, Sabrina, would be able to help you.

If you’re in the Far North of New Zealand, you can also drop in and check out the Long Flat Bottom Workshop and Gallery, where Pete makes the knives.

Wood Craft, Permaculture Gardens, Knife Sharpening, WWOOF Hosts.

274 Takahue Road
09-408-3685 (Please call during daytime NZ hours)

I Slaughtered a Chicken for the First Time (With a Little Lot of Help from My Friends)

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

WARNING: This post contains material that may not be suitable for some readers.

I really like to eat chicken. Becky likes it too. However, we’ve gone almost completely off industrially produced chicken. The cost of organic chicken is about twice as expensive as the regular variety here, and those aren’t inexpensive.

Since we’re going to be eating our chickens, I needed to learn how to kill, pluck and dress them. Becky has a friend who’s husband also needed to learn these skills. This friend of Becky’s has a mum and dad who have been raising and eating their own chickens for decades. So, on an absolutely fine Saturday, we all converged on a nearby farmlet for a delicious lunch… and a hands on lesson in the skill of slaughtering chickens.

From the reading I’ve done, I knew that there were a lot of ways to kill a chicken. This time, we would be breaking the chickens’ necks (See: How to Kill a Chicken, or How to kill, pluck and dress a chicken).

The small children were removed from the area and Garth and I were each handed an Orpington rooster. The method of how to break the neck was explained. I was up to go first. As I stood there, preparing to kill the chicken with my bare hands, I wondered: How is it that, at the age of 38, and having consumed some unthinkable number of chickens in my life, this will be the first time that I’ve personally killed a chicken? The answers to that question are far more disturbing than the act of killing the chicken.

Kevin kills a rooster

A lot of things that are wrong with the planet today can be explained by the fact that the vast majority of people in “developed” countries have absolutely nothing at all to do with producing the food (and in many cases, alleged food, or pHood) that they are consuming. Once societies were sold on letting food production become someone else’s job—and in the most horrific examples, left up to the state—that was it. Heretofore unthinkable nonsense came to be seen as efficient, healthy and convenient. Toil outdoors was no longer necessary. Better living through chemistry. The green revolution. Trust us. Welcome to the brink of oblivion.

If you’re reading this site, you probably won’t learn much from watching, Food Inc., but I’d suggest watching it anyway, especially if you have a hard time with the idea of killing a chicken yourself.

So, there we were, Garth and I, holding the lifeless roosters. Leila, the chook authority of the region, showed Garth and I how to dunk the carcasses in hot water to loosen the feathers. Plucking the birds took the most time, but it was actually easier than I thought it would be.

The rest of the procedure was pretty much the same as you might read in the guides linked above, and in books. However, Leila showed us a great trick for dealing with the intestine and anus that all but eliminates the chances of… an undesirable rupture. A few centimetres forward of the anus, gently cut a small opening through the skin (cut in the direction perpendicular to the spine) until you can see inside the cavity. This will allow you to clearly see all of the plumbing that needs to stay intact as you cut out the anus. Then use the knife and draw backwards to cut out the anus. There’s absolutely no guesswork using this method because you’re able to see exactly where the blade is going.

Thanks to Leila, Ken and family for having us over and teaching us such valuable skills.

Country Calendar: Growing Strong — Whangarei Growers Market

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Crossposted from Cryptogon.

We were over at my mother and father in laws’ house on Saturday. They have a television, so we all watched Country Calendar.

Country Calendar is usually very good, but it was particularly good this time.

Most of the food purchased in New Zealand is sold through the retail networks of just two large corporations. There’s New Zealand based Foodstuffs (which operate New World, Pak’n Save and Four Square stores) and Australian based Woolworths Limited (which operate Woolworths, Countdown and Foodtown stores). This duopoly has led to New Zealand having the second highest food price increases in the world over the last decade. (The cost of food in South Korea increased the most.)

The duopoly that has a death grip on most of New Zealand in the retail food sector exists to screw everyone over, except shareholders, to the extent possible. The people who produce the food are paid the minimum possible price. The people who buy the food are charged the maximum possible price. Yes, while that sounds like a good business model for the vampire middlemen, it pretty much sucks for everyone else.

Now, you know how I’m always going on about the power of many small scale producers selling directly to the retail customers.

Well, don’t worry, I’m not going to write it all out again.

Just feast your eyes on what happened when a couple of small scale growers got fed up with being screwed over by Foodstuffs and Woolworths. HAHA! This is fantastic.

Behold: The Whangarei Growers Market.

The retail customers are buying more varieties of higher quality food for lower prices. The growers are earning more, having eliminated the vampire middlemen. Foodstuffs and Woolworths, aren’t allowed to have stalls at the Whangarei Growers Market because they’re not growers. The purpose of the market is for local producers to sell locally produced food. And by the look of it, people seem to like the arrangement quite a lot. The vampire squid duopoly middlemen… Not so much.

Watch: Country Calendar: Growing Strong.

Here’s a bit more from Transition Towns Whangarei:

Via: TVNZ Country Calendar:

When supermarket price-setting was threatening the livelihood of Northland growers, they fought back by cutting out the middle man and selling their produce direct to consumers.

Today the Whangarei Growers Market is a thriving venture providing a living for around 30 local producers. Many more seasonal suppliers jostle for space throughout the year.

The market was started 12 years ago by Robert Bradley and Murray Burns in what has been likened to a David and Goliath struggle.

Robert Bradley says the supermarket chains were using their buying power to dictate prices, with low returns driving small to medium sized growers out of business.

Tomato grower and market co-founder Murray Burns was one of those whose margins were being whittled away.

“The only way to deal with that was to get much bigger or close down – and we wanted to do neither,” says Murray.

The pair were inspired by the concept of village markets in Europe and the United Kingdom, and a resurgence of farmers’ markets in the United States.

They found other growers who shared their predicament and a group of 12 held the first market in a car-park in Whangarei in 1998.

It now takes place every Saturday morning and, when Country Calendar visited, everything from fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, milk and cheese to macadamia nuts and olive oil was on sale. The market has a rule that all produce must originate in Northland.

The local-only principle has kept struggling growers afloat and encouraged new businesses that may not otherwise have been viable. Asparagus, for example, is now grown in Northland for the first time in many years.

The market is also a venue for growers and consumers to meet face-to-face – there is a requirement that growers are also the stallholders.

At the peak of the growing season, the market attracts up to 6000 shoppers over the four hours it is open. Around 50 pallets, or 2000 cases, of produce is sold each Saturday.

Robert Bradley says the key to success has been offering significant qualities of high quality local produce at moderate prices.

Many similar markets have sprung up around the country in the last decade but the Whangarei enterprise deliberately distances itself from the popular farmers’ market movement.

Robert believes some of the newer markets have got sidetracked into “food fashion”.

“For us it is a matter of ‘keep it simple stupid’ – and it has really worked.”

Bask in the Glory of Cornelius, Our New Barred Rock Rooster

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

We recently swapped roosters with a woman who keeps a variety of chicken breeds in Kerikeri. She had this particularly handsome Barred Rock rooster that she couldn’t bring herself to turn into a meal for her family. Since New Zealand is a village, and the Far North is an even smaller village within the village, news of this roo soon reached us.

We took our biggest Barred Rock rooster down to her, hoping that he would make a succulent meal for our new found friend and her family. She took one look at him, though, and said something like, “Oh, he’s beautiful too… Hmm. Maybe I’ll breed him.” So, he didn’t wind up in a pot, as far as we know.


The rooster that she wanted us to have had already gone with some mutual friends of ours. Since our roos aren’t ready for the pot, our friends offered to board this Kerikeri roo for us. Several weeks passed by and the time came for him to get settled in on our farmlet—although our roos still aren’t ready for the pot. We met up with our friends and picked up the rooster. (We gave them a sack of organic wheat in appreciation for keeping him for as long as they did.)

They had a different name for him, which was pretty good, but as soon as I saw him out and about, all I could hear in my head was, “Cornelius.”

Now, the friends of ours, who were temporarily keeping Cornelius, thought that he wouldn’t have any trouble with other roosters, since they had been keeping him with some roosters without incident. We decided to let him in with ours, hoping that it would go ok.

And it did go ok, for about five minutes.

But after that, the situation became a bit more tense. That is to say, I witnessed my first cock fight.

Our biggest rooster, who was scheduled to go to Becky’s cousin’s farm, had just managed his first, juvenile and pathetic crow the day before. Well, as far as that rooster knew, he was the boss. He strode over to Cornelius and stared him down. Cornelius cowered a bit. That wasn’t good enough for our Young Punk rooster, who had a peck at Cornelius. I waved a stick around and called out, “Enough of that.” Young Punk persisted in his pecking and Cornelius continued to cower and retreat. I started making my way into the run as this clearly was going… in a sub-optimal direction. Then Young Punk pulled on Cornelius’ comb and, how should I put this…

Young Punk started it, Cornelius was going to finish it.

Obviously, I know very little about keeping chickens, but I knew that this was very different than the rooster confrontations I’d seen so far. This was a full tilt cock fight. The loser was going to be dead, or wish he was. They were swirling all over as I tried to break them up. The hens and other roosters ran away. It couldn’t have been more than thirty seconds by the time I separated them, but they were both bloody. Cornelius, not so much. Young Punk, on the other hand, got his ass handed to him. He would have definitely bought the farm had I not intervened. Young Punk was stunned, wobbly and bleeding. He didn’t mind that I picked him up. As long as he was out out of striking range of Cornelius, he remained calm.

I looked Young Punk over and determined that his injuries were superficial. I asked Becky to call her cousin to see if she was still interested in this roo, and, uh, is it ok if he’s just been in a cock fight with an older, bigger and stronger opponent, and is looking a bit worse for wear?

Claire was keen to have the rooster, even in his current wretched state, so I packed him up in a fish bin and drove him over there. In case you’re feeling bad for Young Punk, definitely don’t. I turned him loose into a beautiful enclosure with about a half dozen Red Shaver hens who thought that he looked pretty good—even if he did just have his clock cleaned by Cornelius. By the way, Young Punk’s new name is Charlie.

Once Cornelius installed himself as the undisputed hierarchical dominator, there was peace with the other roosters. The lesser roos are content to simply stay out of his way.

Should we have brought Cornelius here earlier, before Young Punk/Charlie had any chance of challenging him? Would Cornelius have simply been the de facto boss at that point? After we discussed this situation with a veterinarian friend (and veteran chook lady), she said that we should have pulled the one that was making the play for boss (Young Punk), and then immediately introduced Cornelius. The lower tier roos would have thought, “Meet the new boss, older, bigger and stronger than the old boss,” and peace would have been maintained.

I’ll conclude by posting a video of Cornelius, basking in the glory of his victory, and surrounded by the hens and lesser roosters. His beautiful comb and wattles are a bit battle scarred, but, as you can see, he’s doing just fine.

Note: Make sure that your computer’s volume is turned down toward the end of the video! Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

A much higher resolution version of this video is available at YouTube:

Water Doom: The Spring Gave Out

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Update: 3 May 2010

Recent rain has recharged the spring. There’s good flow into the tank and it’s 3/4 full now. Faucets, shower, etc. are working again.

The streams are still not flowing as usual, so we’re continuing to take it very carefully with water.

—End Update—

The Far North of New Zealand is experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. Kaitaia, the town near us, has been running under emergency conditions for weeks. Anyone caught using a hose outside faces a NZ$20,000 fine. The local farming community is in deep trouble. The hay and silage that has been put up for winter is already being used for feed. Some beef and dairy farmers are getting ready to slaughter their herds. Soon, it will be too cold to grow much grass, even if rain comes. But there’s no meaningful rain coming anyway…

Our new kitchen faucet

We have been OK here, but after months of what might as well have been no rain, the spring finally gave out, and we used up the water that had accumulated in the tank. Technically, the spring hasn’t stopped. I’d say that about five litres trickle down to our house per day. And the cows probably drank more water than we used.

For the last two weeks, we have been living over at Becky’s parents’ house. At first, we thought that it would be easier over there with Owen, but it turned out to be pretty hard going because their place isn’t two-year-old proof. We’re back home now, but living in a quasi camping mode. Our total, usable household water supply includes two 20 litre water containers and a 200 litre rainwater barrel that’s about half full. [Update: Our friend Andrew let us borrow another 20 litre container and offered to let us fill up over at his farm.]

I’ve been giving the chooks water from the rain barrel. I’ll probably start giving the dam water to the chickens, but I read somewhere that it’s better not to give very turbid water to chickens. I don’t know if that’s true, but our dam water is very cloudy.

Rainwater barrel

I have been putting off piping water from the dam down to the troughs and garden. Well, nothing puts a bomb under your tail to complete a water infrastructure project like having cows with about a day’s worth of water remaining in their troughs. Luckily, this is a personal, local and regional collapse situation, and not a BIG biggy collapse. I was able to drive to town, in our petrol powered pickup truck/ute, and buy the NZ$550 worth of pipe and fittings that I needed to complete this project. The pipe was even on sale! HAHA. A few hours of work later and the cows had a gravity fed water supply. (Another time, I’ll write about the gravity feed system that I built. It’s working great.) At first, the cows stood by the trough and looked at me, in protest, “We want our spring water back.” But they got used to the dam water pretty fast. Bex and I are happy that we didn’t have to send our cows to the works, or give them away. I doubt that anyone would buy our cows now, since most people are facing the same situation with water.

I’m seriously thinking about buying a Big Berkey water filter, as that thing could keep us going if the drought persists. I could put our dam water through that and it would be fine. If the dam runs out (a really grim possibility) there is still plenty of water in the river below our property. It’s flowing well and the water is probably ok to drink. I just don’t like the word probably when it comes to the safety of water. We could have that water tested, but I wonder if the quality could vary over time… There are no intensive farming operations around that river. It’s just bush and several lifestylers with a few dozen cows over about five kilometres. Anyway, the Big Berkey could come in very handy if the shit really hits the fan here. The reality is that it will probably never be this dry here again in my lifetime, but there’s that word probably again…