Big Birds and Big Green Eggs

Story by Claire Stuart, photos by Bre Bogert
If you take a drive down Springsbury Road in Berryville, you might catch a glimpse of two huge ostrich-like birds in a field beside the road.
No, you aren’t seeing things. It’s just Big Bird and Puff, Dave and Lauren “LuLu” Conrad’s emus. The Conrads have been keeping the gigantic birds since 2006. Emus are flightless birds that are native to Australia. They grow to be five to six feet tall, weigh well over 100 pounds and live about 20 years in the wild and about 35 in captivity.
Dave Conrad explains how they came to own them. “One day my daughter called and said, ‘Dad, I’m bringing you some emus.’  She knows that Dad will take anything that’s free! At the time, we didn’t even know what an emu was.”
Their daughter was into horses, and the family of one of her friends had a riding stable. For whatever reason, they’d bought some emus and soon discovered that juvenile emus are like packrats —they love bright shiny objects. The birds were stealing items of horse tack and anything else interesting they could find. They had become a nuisance, so the owners decided to get rid of them.
“They’ll pick at people’s rings and watches,” said Dave Conrad,  “and they’ll try to take glasses off your face.”
The Conrads describe Big Bird, the male, as friendly, but he gets aggressive when he has young. Puff, the female, is more standoffish. Once a clutch of eggs is laid, the male emu sits on the eggs and turns them for about eight weeks, without eating or drinking. When they hatch, he cares for the young. In the wild, the female leaves and finds another mate.
Emus can run at speeds of 30 to 40 miles an hour, zipping off in a flash from a standing start. They readily demonstrated this as they took off after a family pup who was annoying them. They defend themselves by kicking, and they have long, sharp claws. However they are generally gentle birds.
Dave Conrad explained that you can’t tell the sex of an emu by looking at it. Emu reproductive organs are internal, and trying to do an intrusive examination of a six-foot, 150-pound bird with claws like a velociraptor, while possible, is not anything most people would attempt. It is easier to do when the birds have just hatched. You can send for an expensive DNA test, or you can just wait and see, as the Conrads did. When emus reach maturity, which takes a few years, the females begin to make a drumming sound. The males just grunt like pigs.
Lauren Conrad brought out one of the emu eggs. It was huge and green and looked a bit like an avocado. “Last year we got 29 eggs,” she said. “One emu egg is equal to about a dozen chicken eggs. We don’t eat the eggs but you can. You can scramble them. We hard-boiled one, but there was too much white before you could find the yolk.”
“It took three sandwiches worth of white sliced off to even get to the yolk,” Dave Conrad recalled. The eggs are not green inside and look just like giant chicken eggs.
In this part of the country, emus only lay eggs in winter, from about November into March. In normal winters, they usually lay an egg every three or four days. In very cold winters, they lay less often. The birds are very cold hardy but they take shelter in their shed in extreme cold.
Big Bird and Puff are very curious. They like certain noises, especially the sound of a loud car exhaust, and they will run to the fence to check it out. The Conrads guess that a local young man with a noisy exhaust purposely guns his engine to get the attention of the emus when he drives by.
The Conrads were raising and selling emus for a while, but it became too much work and expense, considering the price they could get for the emu chicks. Now they only sell the eggs, which people buy to decorate. A customer arrived to pick up some eggs that she planned to use in a decorative nest.
Egg carving is also popular and has a long history as an Australian aboriginal art form. Emu eggs are particularly good for carving with a Dremel or similar tool because the thick shell has three layers of different colors. The outer layer is green, the next layer is turquoise and the inner layer is white, allowing for beautiful three-dimensional effects.
Lauren Conrad sells emu eggs at the Clarke County Yard Sales and other community happenings, or you can e-mail her at:  lulupot47@gmail.com

Holiday Recipes From Clarke Kitchens To Yours

Baby Stuffed Winter Squash

From Oak Hart Farm

Ingredients

6 small Winter Squash (Acorn, Buttercup, or Butternut) (Oak Hart Farm)

3 Tablespoons Apple Cider

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons Wildwood Hickory Syrup (Falling Bark Farm)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 small onion, chopped

1 medium apple peeled and diced

1 cup quinoa, rinsed well

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped (Oak Hart Farm)

1/4 cup pecans coarsely chopped

 

Cut each squash in half lengthwise and scoop out and discard the seeds. Arrange the halves in a large baking dish, fleshside up. Add ½” of water to bottom of the pan to maintain squash moisture.

Mix together apple cider, olive oil, and hickory syrup in a small bowl.  Brush the flesh side of the squash halves with some of the syrup mixture, and sprinkle each half with salt and pepper.  Roast at 400 degrees until the squash is forktender, approximately 45 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Using the fork poke the inside of the squash several times, and brush generously with more of the syrup mixture.

Heat the remaining oil in a saucepan over mediumhigh heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add the diced apple and cook for about 3 more minutes.  Add the quinoa, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 cups water and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the quinoa is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover and stir in the cranberries, remaining syrup mixture, half of the parsley and half of the pecans.

Stuff the squash halves with the quinoa and sprinkle with the remaining parsley and pecans. Serve warm and enjoy!

 

Warm Cheddar & Apple Dip

From Love at First Bite

Ingredients:

2 Lb Cream Cheese (softened)

1 Lb Bacon

5 Large Apples (small dice)

2 Medium Sweet Onions

2 Cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese

1 Cup Shredded Carrots

2 TB Garlic

1 t Salt

1 t Black Pepper

1/3 Cup Sherry

Crackers or Baguette Slices

In a Medium Soup Pot: Cut Bacon into a small dice and cook until crispy. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Leave a small amount of Bacon fat in pan and add Onions, Garlic and Carrots. Saute vegetables.

Add softened Cream Cheese, Bacon (save ½ cup for topping) and Sherry to pan and mix together. Add Salt & Pepper. Heat until warm and creamy.

Put in Baking Dish and top with remaining Bacon. Can be served immediately or kept warm in the oven. Recipe freezes well.

Serves 16.

People Nourishing A Farm Family’s Soul

By Annie Young

I’m standing on the other side of the table. It is my only Saturday off work since March and I find myself at another farmers market. Instead of being behind the table selling our greens, I’m chatting and buying from vendors. From both sides, I can see the importance of knowing your farmer or producer. When buying directly from the producer, you can certify the integrity of the product and learn how it is produced. But being behind the table, I also recognize the importance of knowing our customers.

I wake up before the sun on Saturdays. My Farmer is already at the farm, having woken and headed out an hour earlier. A quick wash and I throw a hat on my head. I lift my sleeping daughter out of bed and tuck a warm blanket around her. Trudging across the field to the market truck, I am laden with her snuggly, slumbering body, a bag full of toys, snacks, clothes, wipes and training potty. I feel like a packhorse. Heck, I am a packhorse prepared to greet what the day may bring us at market.

My daughter wakes as I tuck her into her car seat in our large box truck. “Not pretend, Mama, not pretend,” she insists. She loves going to market and wants to make sure we are really going, not just making believe as we sometimes do. I assure her we are heading to market now. My Farmer hands me strong, hot coffee in a semi-clean mug and off we go.

Central Markets are hopping and lively with dedicated customers and a team of managers that bust themselves promoting the markets. The vendors have a camaraderie and team spirit that I have not often felt at markets I have worked over the years. We have attended over 15 different markets in the past 15 years. Central Markets are by far the busiest and best managed markets we have joined. The customers come and shop every week season in and season out. The markets go year round and the customers’ loyalty does not change with the weather.

We know our customers, their families, their lives because we see them every week. Some show up early, eager to get their greens and get on with their busy day. We know that others will run in as we are packing up the tents and tables, begging for some arugula even though we have sold out hours ago. The customers know that we don’t use any pesticides or chemical fertilizers. We grow everything using the organic standards even though we are not certified. They know we are committed to being stewards of the earth as well as growing quality produce. This knowledge of each other strengthens our relationship and trust.
Market day had a downpour of rain that lasted almost the entire time. A stream of water rushed under our tables where our little girl happily splashed in the puddles. “Our Regulars,” as we call them, came in their raincoats, umbrellas and rain boots. They plodded along undeterred, ready for their weekly greens. Many made the comment that as long as we were coming, they were coming. I replied that as long as they were coming, we were coming too.

We are involved in each other’s lives. Our customers charted my progress when I was pregnant and showed up each week with a bigger belly. Now I return with our little girl in tow and they exclaim how they can’t believe how she
has grown.

One woman comes each week. We notice her hat or scarf on her head. She appears to be losing weight. She is vocal about how she is fighting cancer and how our greens are her key to equilibrium during her treatments. Her optimism is contagious and inspiring. We cheer her on and over stuff her bag of greens.

Two men show up together every week. Their smiles are warm and cheerful. Occasionally one comes alone while the other travels for work. He frets about what to buy because his partner cooks and he doesn’t. We offer recipes, sympathy, and tips for eating the greens. We greet his partner gustily when he returns from his stressful job of training military in Egypt.

Our customers made my Farmer’s creative venture into a valuable living that our family depends upon. From the other side of the table we receive, what my Farmer calls, our second pay check. Compliments, encouragement, high praise—all feed us in a way that wholesale never would. We nourish each other.

Livng the Full Life at Life More Abundant Ranch

By Annie Young

When I arrive at Life More Abundant Ranch, life certainly seems full and abundant. Matt Hardin offers a gripping handshake as three of his four kids bounce over with fresh faces and full smiles. Later Jessi comes out to greet us with their youngest son, who just turned one. They proudly show me the 450 chicks that have been in their brooder for just three days. The fluffy balls of yellow are eating, toddling, drinking, and sleeping in a warm, small shelter with plenty of sunlight pouring in on them. Hardin is teaching his oldest son to care for the chicks and to read their needs in their behavior. “I couldn’t do it without my family, and I wouldn’t want to,” Hardin firmly states.

The farm is their home and place of work. Now in their third year at their farm in Stephenson, the Hardins raise chickens, turkeys, and quails for eggs and meat. Their pasture-raised poultry has a grass-based diet filled with bugs and seeds. Hardin carefully moves the chicken enclosures so that the birds have the freshest, greenest grass to scratch and eat from. Each section of grass is grazed only once a season. With the chicken structures being moved daily or weekly, depending on whether they are broilers or layers, that is a lot of grass!

Hardin is vigilant about taking care of the grass and soil. “Any decent farmer is healing the land.” He considers himself a steward of land that he farms. A student of Joel Salatin, Hardin works to maintain healthy microbial life in the soil and keep the chickens healthy through foraging naturally with plenty of sunlight. Rotating the grazing area allows the birds to fertilize the soil and eat a variety of food—but not overgraze or weaken the soil structure. The fields on the ranch are lush and green. Hardin says they will be the same in August, with the natural manure and weed seeds eaten out of them by the chickens, turkeys, and quail.

The pasture-raised poultry is never given hormones to increase production of eggs or growth. They are never given appetite stimulants. Synthetic vitamins never touch those bird . . . lips. Kelp is used for trace minerals. Even the feed is GMO-free. These are key elements to raising healthy poultry birds and humanely processing them.

The other difference in Life More Abundant Ranch is how they work to educate their customers on why it is important to choose food that is raised humanely without many of the additives that conventional farms use. From listing the various chemicals and interventions factory farms use to raise their poultry to articles about GMO on their website, the Hardins help consumers understand the difference between the practices of these large industrial farms verses smaller, local steward farmers.

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOS, are something that Hardins are especially cautious of—they avoid eating or putting them into their poultry. Briefly, GMOs are created in laboratories where genes from viruses, bacteria, animals, or insects are inserted into the DNA of plants. This new seed is grown and distributed into the food system—and has been since 1996. The United States requires no labeling of food containing GMOs, but the European Union has banned the use of GMO foods altogether.

Many consumers are wary of the outcome of eating food with these modified organisms in them. People are demanding more accountability and transparency from their food producers. Labeling foods would allow customers to choose foods that may or may not have GMOs in them. Some brands, like Cheerios, have changed their ingredients, claiming to no longer use GMO grain.

Knowing your farmers and their practices helps consumers make choices about how to feed their families in ways they feel is best. Life More Abundant Farm works hard to be accountable to their customers and transparent about how they raise their poultry. They even list sites that encourage customers to educate themselves and to “take action” so that lawmakers are encouraged to promote this same accountability throughout the food industry.

Learning through experience, and being a careful observer of their birds, is critical to success at Life More Abundant Farm. Keeping production at a sustainable level and attending local farmers markets creates relationships with the local community and customer loyalty. Their faith and family values are integral in their daily habits and farming practices. Farming, togetherness, and caring for the land is the life of Matt, Jessi, and their family.

Find them at Clarke County Farmers Market and Freight Station Farmers Market, Winchester or by appointment at their farm. Contact info: www.lifemoreabundantranch.com, 443-845-6145, and on Facebook at Life More Abundant Ranch.

Michael Judd To Speak about Edible Landscapes in Middleburg

 Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership hosts international permaculture

Michael Judd, who created Ecologia, Edible & Ecological Designs, has designed edible landscapes for people like Top Chef finalist Bryan Voltaggio. He has put his experience and expertise in a new book. Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist, which is a how-to manual for the budding gardener and experienced green thumb alike, full of creative and easy-to-follow designs that guide you to having your yard and eating it, too. Judd will be speaking about his book at a program sponsored by the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership on April 24. The event will be held from 5–7pm at Goodstone Inn & Restaurant in Middleburg.

Growing up between northern England and the Appalachian mountains of Maryland, Judd’s roots have been branched with diverse landscapes and fertile culture. Mix in a decade of running a grassroots nonprofit in rural Latin America, heading up an arid lands research project in the desert of Spain, and extensive study at the New York Botanic Garden, you end up with an eclectic designer that melds form, function, and productivity seamlessly.

Judd’s start with whole system design began with an opportunity to live with the last of the Lacandon Mayans in southern Mexico along the Guatemalan border. Here he experienced the ancient design practices of the Mayans that ingeniously mimic nature’s patterns to create functional landscapes. About the same time he discovered a parallel design system coming out of Australia, “permaculture,” that applies similar landscape use of the Mayans but adapted to the modern world.

Combining these designs in 2001 he launched an effort called Project Bona Fide. Project Bona Fide started on the volcanic slopes of Ometepe Island in Nicaragua’s southwest corner just above Costa Rica. The project focus has been to create food security through food forest design that maximizes land use for a diversity of harvests. Today in 2014, thirteen years into the project’s inception, 26 acres have grown into a haven of production and examples of linked design systems that mimic nature’s functions while meeting the needs of local economies and ecologies.

As the project stabilized, Judd began to split his time in a parallel universe on the island of Manhattan where he studied the latest in modern design at the New York Botanic Garden. Coupling whole system design learned in Latin America with the form and art of contemporary design, Judd created Ecologia, Edible & Ecological Designs. He won his first commission from Top Chef finalist Bryan Voltaggio to design an edible courtyard at Voltaggio’s flagship restaurant “Volt,” in Frederick, Md.

With the help of more than 200 beautiful color photos and drawings, the permaculture designer and avid grower takes the book’s reader on a step-by-step process to transform a sea of grass into a flourishing edible landscape that pleases the eye as well as the taste buds. With personality and humor, he translates the complexities of permaculture design into simple self-build projects, providing full details on the evolving design process, material identification, and costs.

The cost of the program is $10 and includes light refreshments provided by Goodstone Inn & Restaurant. A cash bar will also be on site. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing after the program. However, pre-registration is required as limited space is available. To register, or for more information, visit www.HallowedGround.org.

The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the unparalleled history within the swath of land from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello to Gettysburg, Pa.

Goodstone Inn & Restaurant in Middleburg, Va., is a country inn and French Country restaurant in the heart of Virginia’s wine and hunt country drawing inspiration and purpose from its location on 265 acres of rolling hills and farmland. For information call 540-687-3333 or visit www.goodstone.com.