Charity Logo

Charity Logo

Charity of the Month


In December I am riding for Heifer International. Founded in 1944, Heifer International works with communities around the world to end hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth. Its approach is more than a handout. Heifer provides animals (e.g., heifers, goats, water buffalos, chickens, rabbits, fish, and bees) and training to impoverished people in over 30 countries. The animals can give milk, meat, or eggs; provide draft power; or form the basis of a small business. Communities make their own decisions about what crops, animals, and market strategies make sense for their everyday conditions and experiences.

Heifer International is based on 12 Cornerstones, such as Sustainability; Genuine Need and Justice; and Gender and Family Focus. Perhaps the best known Cornerstone is Passing on the Gift, in which Heifer recipient families pass on the offspring of their animals to others in need. In this way, whole communities can raise their standard of living.

A donation to Heifer International also can make a wonderful alternative holiday gift. Instead of yet another sweater for Grandma that she really doesn’t need, why not donate a Heifer animal or a share of an animal in her honor? Does your child really need so many new toys? Instead of five new toys, give him/her three new toys and a Heifer flock of chicks. Heifer has honor cards to let your loved ones know of your gift on their behalf.

I have set up a Team Heifer page to support Heifer International through A Year of Centuries. My goal is to raise $500. Please make your donation through If you would like more information about Heifer’s work, please visit Whether you give to honor a loved one or make a regular donation, thank you for taking steps to transform the world for the better.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Agro Cycle Tour

Yesterday Robert and I had a unique and very fun bicycle ride.  We went on an Agro Cycle Tour, hosted by Athens Food Tours.  This company spotlights restaurants, shops, and farms that provide locally grown food.  Walking tours are available in Athens, and three times a year they offer bicycle tours that visit farms in the vicinity of Athens.  Yesterday’s Agro Cycle Tour was based near Monroe, not too far up the road from where Robert and I live.

About 70 people joined the tour.  We split into two groups so that everyone could have a more close-up experience at each farm.  Robert and I headed out with the first group on the 45-mile route.  Particularly after my century yesterday, it was nice to ride at a very moderate pace, punctuated by stops at three farms.

The first place we visited was Foster-Brady Farms.  It has been in the same family since 1860.  Hal and Cheryl Brady gave us an overview of the farm’s history.  Then, their son Clay showed us around the farm, where he grows multiple types of produce.  The Bradys sell their vegetables to several nearby restaurants and at the Monroe farmers market, which Cheryl manages.  Here’s a view of part of the garden and one of the hoop houses:

Several vegetables, like sweet potatoes and pumpkins, will be ready in a few weeks, but there’s a lot in season right now, including tomatoes, peppers, okra, and several types of field peas.  I was especially excited that they have muscadines, which I got to taste for the first time this year:

Nothing says late summer/early fall like the slightly musky taste of muscadines, a wild grape native to Georgia.  When people refer to muscadines, they usually are talking about the deep purple fruit, but there are also scuppernongs, which are a golden variety of muscadine.  Both are delicious.  I look forward to muscadine season every September.

Foster-Brady Farms also has a number of beehives, which are owned and maintained by the University of Georgia.  The bees pollinate the vegetables at the farm, and the Bradys sell some of the honey.  UGA has an excellent honeybee research program.  It has been a valuable resource to Robert and me in our own hobbyist beekeeping.

Because the tour took most of the day, I’m glad they had snacks at each stop.  It was also a way for each farm to give a taste of what it had to offer.  Foster-Brady Farms had a stew of several types of its peas, seasoned simply to allow the flavor of the peas to shine through.  It was wonderful!

They also had a dip made with some of their fresh basil, served with fresh, raw okra for dipping.  Man, was it good!  I can’t believe that I had never thought of eating raw okra like this.  I’ll bet it’s great to dip with hummus, too.

Additionally, it occurred to me that okra is probably delicious roasted in the oven with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, the way I sometimes cook potatoes or asparagus.  Another tour participant said that she does cook okra this way and highly recommends it.  I tried it tonight - outstanding.

There was one other treat at Foster-Brady Farms: goats!  They were quite friendly.  The goats are used for brush control.  The Bradys just have to make sure to keep the fence around the garden and hoop houses in good repair.  If the goats were to get into that area, they would be in goat nirvana!

After another jaunt on our bicycles, we arrived at the next stop, Darby Farms.  Daniel Dover owns and manages Darby Farms, which produces poultry (chickens, ducks, and turkeys) and pork.  His approach is very much like that of Joel Salatin, an innovative farmer that I first learned of in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, one of the best books I’ve read in the last decade.  (For more on this topic, refer to my August 31 post entitled “Farm Animals.”)  In a nutshell, Daniel works with and mimics nature as much as possible, creating an integrated, healthy, and vibrant system.  He describes it as farming like our grandparents did but with space-age technology, e.g., the special fencing that allows his animals to range freely.  The fencing is polypropylene twisted with stainless steel fibers that carry an electric current.

Chickens were the first farm animal on our tour.  He grows a breed of chicken specially selected for its genetic hardiness.  They arrive as newly hatched chicks.  They are incubated in a brood chamber that allows them to get fresh air, which promotes good health.

The brood chamber lies on top of a mound of wood chips, which is a rich ecosystem.  Microbes migrate from the ground through the pile.  The chicks eat the various insects that they find in the wood chips.  At the same time, they eat their own chicken poop.  This may sound gross, but it inoculates them as they simultaneously ingest the indigenous microbes; the chicks are getting natural antibiotics.  Daniel says that all of his farm animals are very healthy, never having disease outbreaks.

When the chicks are a few weeks old, they are moved to a mobile chicken pen.  The pen protects them from predators, and it can be moved from place to place, allowing the chickens to graze all over the pasture.

Two-week-old chickens in mobile pen

Pasture showing grid pattern where mobile chicken pen has been moved from spot to spot

Although there aren’t any ducks at the farm at the moment, we got to see the turkeys!  They are just beautiful.  Darby Farms has several varieties of heritage turkeys, which means that their genetics have not been altered in about 85 years.  The meat is supposed to be extra flavorful, and the turkeys are self-basting due to a layer of subcutaneous fat.  Look at these delightful turkeys:

Then there were the pigs.  Have you ever met one up close?

Pig tail!

Domesticated pigs are very friendly, and Daniel says that they actually are quite clean.  That makes sense; let them root and forage as they are intended rather than keep them in a confined, muddy enclosure.

Pigs and other animals in huge, corporate concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs) are put under a lot of stress, which affects the quality and taste of the meat.  It’s comparable to the physical effects that humans experience when they are in abusive situations.  Daniel says that the taste of pork from his pigs contrasted with CAFO pigs is like night and day.  I didn’t get to taste any pork, but we did have a yummy snack of chicken salad at Darby Farms.

Next, we rode to Down to Earth Energy, a company that produces biodiesel.  EPA-registered and produced to meet national ASTM standards, it can be used in any vehicle that runs on diesel, and no engine conversions are needed.  Biodiesel has much lower carbon emissions that regular diesel.  Down to Earth Energy provides biodiesel in Atlanta and Knoxville, including fuel for the biodiesel fleet owned by Georgia Power.

Down to Earth Energy began operations several years ago using leftover chicken parts from poultry processing plants.  The oils from this waste work well to create biodiesel, but this source turned out to be too expensive because chicken processors also want the waste to feed back to the growing chickens.  Now, Down to Earth produces biodiesel from waste oil from restaurants.

Here’s a view of the biodiesel production building:

This is the distiller that sends energy back to the beginning of the process for reuse:

The entire biodiesel production process consumes zero energy thanks to an adjacent solar panel array:

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get to the point of providing all of our energy needs through such renewable resources?

We hit the road one last time and enjoyed the longest stretch of cycling for the day, which was only 15 more miles.  After getting back to our starting point, we drove less than half a mile down the road to our post-tour lunch at the William Harris Homestead.  The tour included pizza made with ingredients from the farms we had visited: vegetables from Foster-Brady Farms and chicken from Darby Farms.  There was also sausage from a farm that another Agro Cycle Tour visits in another region near Athens.  For my pizza, I selected just about everything: chicken, tomatoes, onions, red bell peppers, banana peppers, jalapenos, eggplant, and – to top it all off – an egg.  It tasted as good as it looked:

Speaking of eggs, I had an interesting dining companion – a fuzzy caterpillar with eggs on its back:

Maybe all of the insects were enjoying the day.  This pretty butterfly was hanging out nearby, too:

In addition to lunch, we got to tour the William Harris Homestead.  A couple of William Harris’s descendants were there to demonstrate some aspects of life in the 1800s.  We saw cotton being carded and then spun into thread.  A loom was set up to show how the thread is woven into fabric.  I tried to imagine how in the olden days, just about all of people’s time and energy went into providing food, clothing, and shelter for themselves and their families.  I’m grateful for the luxury of riding my bicycle.

Also, several vendors had food items for sale.  I bought a muscadine-lime Popsicle for dessert and a couple of jars of homemade pickles.  These weren’t the usual pickled cucumbers; I got pickled green beans for bloody Marys and pickled green tomatoes, which I love to eat on their own.  At Robert’s urging, I bought some sweet potato-honey butter as well.  Then, I loaded up with produce from Foster-Brady Farms: okra, peas, pears, muscadines, tomatoes, and basil.

Later that evening Robert and I had a light supper at home.  He’s been exploring some paleo-inspired foods to see if it will enhance his cycling performance, and so he made some tasty muffin-like creations that included prosciutto on the outside, filled with a mixture of eggs, spinach, and some seasonings, and topped with cherry tomatoes.  I cut up a pear from the grocery store because my Foster-Brady pears weren’t quite ripe.  However, I did use some Foster-Brady tomatoes and basil in a salad that I seasoned lightly with salt, pepper, olive oil and red wine vinegar – wow!  It was a delicious way to wind up a delightful day.

1 comment:

  1. Great writing and photography, Betty Jean. I was in the second group on the tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have done some other farm tours and always enjoy them.
    Paul Jones