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24 Mar

Sacred Sheep Revive Navajo Tradition, For Now

14 Jun

A wonderful article from NPR about the Navajo Churro – we love this scrappy little breed and love that we can share in protecting a little slice of American culture. Click here to listen to the story.

Our Churros, freshly shorn: Hernanda, Paz and Paz's lamb

Sacred Sheep Revive Navajo Tradition, For Now

by Hal Cannon
June 13, 2010

For as long as anyone can remember, Churro sheep have been central to Navajo life and spirituality, yet the animal was nearly exterminated in modern times by outside forces who deemed it an inferior breed. Now, on a Navajo reservation of northern Arizona and New Mexico, the Churro is being shepherded back to health.

The Navajo Nation is the size of West Virginia, and at last count, 175,000 people live here. Most people are spread out in small clusters that you see off in the distance from the highway. Amongst modern prefab houses and hogans, the multisided traditional homes of the Navajo, are often corrals with small bands of sheep grazing nearby.

“Sometimes you find me, and I just want to sit in the corral with them,” Navajo weaver Roy Kady says. “Just find a corner and I sit there. They motivate me, even just to see them; it’s that strong to me.”

Churro sheep are smaller than most breeds and have a long, wavy lustrous fleece that is valued by Navajo weavers like Kady. He lives near Teec Nos Pos, where he’s chapter president — sort of like being the town’s mayor. For him, this flock is part of something larger, something he calls “din’e bi iina,” the Navajo lifeway. “Din’e” is the preferred name for the Navajo, and “bi iina” means “lifeway.”

“Sheep is your backbone,” Kady says. “It’s your survival. It’s your lifeline.”

For centuries, the Churro was all these things, providing the Navajo with what they needed to survive in the stark desert: meat for sustenance, wool for weaving clothing and blankets, sinew for thread. It’s no wonder the Navajo are grateful, even reverential when it comes to the Churro.

“Sheep is a very important part of this whole cosmology to us,” Kady explains. “You know, there are songs to where it refers to ‘the first thing I see is the white sheep to the East when I wake up to make my offering. It stands at my doorway.’ And that’s how we know that the sheep is something that’s very sacred to us.”

Where The Churro Went

The Churro were the first domesticated sheep in the New World, and, by most historical accounts, were brought to the Southwest by Spanish Conquistadors in the 1500s. Over the next three centuries, Churro sheep and the Navajo wove a life together in a balance of nature. However, by the 1860s, America’s westward expansion collided with Navajo resistance. In a tragic move, Kit Carson and his troops were ordered to relocate the tribe and destroy their livestock.

Sheep is your backbone. It’s your survival. It’s your lifeline.

– Navajo weaver Roy Kady

“The eradication of this particular sheep breed — because we are connected to it with songs and prayers and ceremonies — when it was taken from us, that part of our life was also destroyed,” Kady says.

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Lamb’s Big Year: Belly, Bacon, Neck, Shoulder Proliferating

23 Apr

Lamb is becoming hip — great news for small lamb producers that sell locally….

From Huffington Post

SAN FRANCISCO — There are fashions in meat, as in all things, but… Are you ready for lamb bacon?

That’s just one of the new dishes popping up on menus across the country as chefs experiment with American lamb, a trend driven partly by a concerted effort on the part of producers to shake off lamb’s dated image. Fussy crown roasts topped by tricky little frilled caps – out. “Lamb Jams,” cooking contests featuring local chefs getting their grill on – in.

“We’re definitely trying to approach a whole new generation and make lamb more approachable,” said Megan Wortman, executive director of the Denver-based American Lamb Board.

Why lamb now?

New Hampshire sheep farmer Jeff Conrad sees the trend as riding the wave of eating local. “People want to know where their food’s coming from,” he said. Conrad, who with his wife, Liz, runs Riverslea Farm near Epping, has noticed an increase in people buying lamb cuts for everyday meals, as opposed to previous years when he sold mainly whole animals to families looking to have a party.

“Ground lamb? We can’t even keep that around,” he said.

For chefs, cooking with lamb is something new, giving them a chance to stretch creatively. And if you use the lesser-known cuts – such as the neck and belly – it also can be cheaper, good for budget-stretching, said Matt Accarrino, executive chef at SPQR in San Francisco.

“I’ve been calling 2010 the year of the lamb,” he said with a laugh. “I’d rather have a lamb belly than a lamb rack. Braised and glazed, long and slow-cooked – it’s a very versatile cut. It’s much less expensive than, say, the rib chops. You see a lot of people working with lamb neck.”

Across the country, Mike Price, chef/owner of Market Table in New York City, has been selling more lamb and fewer steaks, “which I think is a good thing. I’m a big fan of lamb.”

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