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Farm Life Show (Ep.04) - 5 Principles of Regenerative Agriculture for your Home Garden

posted on

July 10, 2021

On this episode of The Farm Life Show, Blake and Blaine discuss the joy of applying five principles of regenerative agriculture to your home garden. Since the Hitzfields apply regenerative agriculture principles to farming at Seven Sons, they also share some of the real-world benefits they’ve seen. The concept of regenerative agriculture dates back to the 1980s and largely revolves around practices like minimal soil disturbance and composting. More recently, farmer Gabe Brown outlined five principles of regenerative agriculture in his book Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture.Brown’s book has had a huge impact on Blake and Blaine and comes highly recommended. Here’s a brief outline of five principles of regenerative agriculture — as well as some real-world insights from the Hitzfield brothers. For the full story, don’t miss the video.

1. Minimal Soil Disturbance

Modern agriculture relies heavily on tilling. Tilling can be done by hand with hoes, rakes, or shovels but with large-scale farming, massive machines like rototillers do the heavy lifting. Farmers till for numerous reasons, such as facilitating planting and destroying weeds. But tilling comes with a price…According to Blaine: “When you till the soil, it's like a hurricane and an earthquake to all the soil life and all the carbon goes up into the atmosphere. Nature never ever tills.”For home gardeners, one way to minimize soil disturbance is to build raised garden beds. These simple structures prevent weeds from growing and make it much easier to leave the soil alone. By creating enclosed “boxes” out of wood or metal and first laying cardboard underneath, your garden can be weed-free.

Composting is an excellent way to fertilize the soil and help your garden beds to thrive. On a larger scale, after several years of leaving the soil undisturbed at Sevens Sons Farms, organic matter in the ground has tripled from 2% to 6%. Each 1% increase in organic matter means an acre of land retains 20,000 more gallons of water. This reduces the necessity to irrigate the ground by other methods.

2. Armor on the Soil

Keeping soil covered naturally with crops and vegetation provides a “coat of armor” against wind and water erosion. Armor also increases organic matter in the ground by allowing macro and micro-organisms to thrive.At Seven Sons Farms, all the cows and pigs are raised on lush pastures, but even after a full season of foraging, the animals only eat about 50% of the vegetation. According to Blake: “The other half (of the grass) remains and is trampled down. That creates a blanket over the soil and shades from the sun. It keeps the soil temperature nice and cool.”

3. Plant Diversity

Monocultures don’t exist in nature. Diversity of plant and animal life is crucial to regenerative agriculture. On Seven Sons Farms, having a variety of different plants and insects contributes greatly to all the animals having healthy immune systems.Diversity can benefit home gardens as well. Having a variety of different plants and vegetables growing in your garden will help protect it overall. As Blaine says: “You don't want a garden that just has one or two types of crops in one area. It’s probably a recipe for trouble, and you’ll be more susceptible to insect pressure.”  Insects aren’t necessarily a bad thing, and pesticides are vastly overused. Diversity helps guard against negative insect impact, naturally.

4. Cover Crops and living roots

In mass-scale agriculture, cover crops are planted during the “off-season” for cash crops — like corn and soybeans. Cover crops help protect and maintain soil health and commonly include wheat, barley, and clover. Some cover crops can also be harvested as cash crops at the end of a growing season.You can apply similar practices to your home garden on a smaller scale. For example, as Blake explains: “Last year when our garden was done for the season, and we had harvested the last potatoes and other vegetables, we put down [cool season plants like] wheat and radishes.” Blaine continues: “The number one tool for regenerating your land is having green growing roots in the ground year-round. That's the process of regeneration. Your soil doesn't regenerate unless there are living roots growing. A big no-no is leaving your garden dormant through a third or half of the year.”

5. Animal Impact

This is where things get extra challenging for urban gardeners. At Seven Sons Farms, having chickens, cows, and pigs grazing the land plays a huge part in regenerating the soil. As Blaine says: “One of the reasons Seven Sons have been able to make so much progress so fast in regenerating our soils is because we have that animal impact.”If you have an outdoor vegetable patch and goats or chickens, allowing them to graze the garden beds can be beneficial. If not, applying the first four principles of regenerative agriculture can still significantly improve your home garden.

Quiz Time at Seven Sons!

Did you know that 78% of the air we breathe is made of nitrogen?Nitrogen is also crucial to farming. In fact, one of the main costs a conventional farmer has is buying synthetic nitrogen and applying it to the soil. Regenerative farms don’t have that expense. Instead, they harness the “hundreds of thousands of pounds of free nitrogen floating above every acre of land.”A particular plant captures nitrogen from the atmosphere and distributes it through its root system into the soil…Can you guess what it is?The first person to answer correctly in the YouTube comments will win a $20 online credit with Seven Sons Farms.

Farm UpdateOne of the best things about Farm Life is the diversity of wildlife. Aside from pasture-raised cows, pigs, and laying, we always have some unexpected (and welcome!) visitors. For the last few years, Seven Sons has been home to a den of adorable and outgoing Red Foxes. They can typically be found playing next to the bulldozer Brooks Hitzfield (Son #5) has parked in his backyard.A few more quick updates:

  • We’re restoring and expanding some old ponds by draining, cleaning them out, and waiting for them to refill naturally
  • Preparations are well underway for Farm Fest 2021
  • Renovations on Blaine’s ranch and the old farm store cabin continue to pick up pace and go well

Further Reading

If you’re interested in regenerative agriculture and want some more details, here are some recommended resources:

Regenerative Agriculture and Home GardeningPerennial FoodsChaos Garden: Plant DiversityScaling Down Regenerative AgricultureGuilds for the Small Scale Home GardenThe Beginner’s Guide to Companion Planting

Be sure to tune in for the next episode of The Farm Life Show.In the meantime, don’t forget to plant your pointer on that YouTube Like button and subscribe to make sure you never miss an episode.And don’t forget to “shake the hand that feeds you.”* *Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma

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Sustainable Dining: Delicious Side Dishes to Serve with Your Pork Chops

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You can turn these versatile cuts into the centerpiece of any dish, across almost any cuisine.  Whether you cook a British-style roast dinner with creamy mashed potatoes or a Spanish-inspired butterbean dish, these cuts can be paired with a number of side dishes for a variety of delectable flavor combinations.  Why Choose Seven Sons for Your Pork At Seven Sons, we’re committed to providing you with the highest-quality food. That means sustainably raised pork, free from antibiotics, hormones, and GMOs.  Together, with our partner farms, we provide our hogs with a stress-free environment on open fields and regenerative pastures using animal stewardship practices that promote health and hardiness. Not only is our way kinder, but the quality of the meat is better. Compared to conventional pork, Seven Sons’ pork cuts are far more nutritious, tender, richer in flavor, and higher in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Ready to taste the difference? Order your Seven Sons pork chops today.

A Complete Guide to Pork Cuts and How to Cook Them

Pork is a versatile meat rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. It’s a great addition to a healthy diet, and you can cook it in various ways. Which cut of pork you choose and how to cook it, depends on a few things.  Before deciding which cut is right for you, consider the source. Pasture-raised, heritage breeds produce more flavorful pork with better nutritional content[1] than standard grocery store products.  But can you tell the difference between pasture-raised pork and industrially produced pork? Yes! Our pork is firm and darker pink in color (indicating the animal was pasture-raised). Pork meat that is pale in color, soft, or damp was most likely factory-farmed. As a bonus, all our pork is sugar-free and free from GMOs, nitrates, and antibiotics. Now that we’ve sorted that out, let’s talk about the different pork cuts!  1. Bacon  Bacon is a breakfast staple for a reason, and it’s our #1 selling product of all! These thin slices of pork are quick to cook–making them a great, tasty breakfast, lunch, or dinner option! We recommend frying, baking, or grilling your pork bacon until it turns dark pink and the fat is crispy around the edges. Bonus: You don’t need to stop at breakfast with your bacon. Wrap a tasty filet mignon, top your favorite hamburger, or make bite-sized pieces to mix in with oven-roasted Brussels sprouts, asparagus, or Cobb salad. 2. Pork Sausage Another breakfast staple – pork sausage – is made of cuts from the shoulder and loin of the pig. We season our sausage with black pepper, red pepper, rosemary, and sage to give it a rich, hearty taste.  For the healthiest option, grill or oven-bake your sausages until browned and cooked through–or fry them in a skillet for 10-12 minutes. Then, serve with eggs, in a breakfast sandwich, or with a side of sweet potato hash. 3. Ham Ham comes from the hind leg of the hog. 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How to Cook Pork Sausages: Top 3 Methods

Whether served in a bun, mixed with rich tomato penne, or fried in a pan with eggs and cheese, protein-rich pork sausages are a versatile, delectable choice for a flavor-packed breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Not only are pork sausages rich, meaty, and delicious, but they can also make for a nutritious meal if you buy the right type. Some sausages include added sugar and are high in sodium and additives, which don’t bode well for a healthy diet.  However, if you choose pasture-raised, heritage pork sausages, you’ll get high-quality meat free of hormones, antibiotics, and GMOs. This makes for a healthier, ethical choice and better taste. Not to “humble brag,” but we’re kind of known for our sugar-free breakfast sausage, so we feel really good about putting together this article. 🙂 But, for those of you who prefer to make your own sausage, our ground pork is perfect! Here, we’ll discuss the top three ways to cook sugar-free, heritage pork sausages perfectly. Prep Time: 5 minutes Cook Time: 12 minutes Servings: 6-8 What You'll Need One of the appeals of cooking pork sausages is how quick and easy the process is. Because the meat is so naturally flavourful, all you’ll need is a tablespoon of oil, and you’re ready to go:  1 tbsp oil (Avocado or Extra Virgin Olive) 1 lb. Sugar-Free Pork Sausage All our pastured pork sausage is made from the highest-quality meat raised on our regenerative family farm or within our trusted partner farm network. With the cooking methods below, enjoy a variety of flavors, including kielbasa, Italian, bratwurst, and breakfast patties. Instructions Now, it’s time to explore our three favorite methods for cooking pork sausages: on the stove, in the oven, and on the grill. Cooking on the Stovetop This is the classic way to cook pork sausages–and it’s quick and easy.  Heat a drizzle of oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Place four sausages in the skillet, cooking for 5 minutes on each side or until the middle of the patties reaches 160°F.  Once cooked, remove the sausages from the skillet and let stand for five minutes.  Repeat the process until all sausages are done.  Baking in the Oven If you’re looking for an oil-free or low-effort cooking method, baking your pork sausages is the way to go.  Preheat oven to 375°F. While it warms, line a baking tray with non-stick parchment paper and place the sausages or patties on it. Put the tray in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes or until sausages or patties reach 160°F. Halfway through baking time, flip so they’re nicely browned all over.  For extra crispy results, cook sausages in a skillet on high heat for two minutes after baking.  Option: You can also use a cast iron skillet as an alternative to a baking sheet. Cooking on the Grill In the mood for a barbecue? Pork sausage links also cook wonderfully on the grill. Here’s what to do:  Preheat grill to medium-high heat and gently oil grates. Place sausages on grill, cooking for roughly 5 minutes on each side or until the middle of the sausages reach 160°F.  Remove sausages from the grill and let stand for five minutes.  Why Sugar-Free Pork Sausage? If you’re watching your carb intake, sugar-free is a given. But even if you don’t mind a touch of added sugar to your diet, it's a good idea to be mindful of the sugar content in products like bacon and sausages. Added sugar in pork products indicates they’re highly processed, and highly processed foods have been linked to a variety of health problems, including increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. To ensure you choose a healthy and tasty option, look for nutrition labels that are free of sugar and contain only a handful of ingredients: pork, water, and natural herbs and spices. All our pork product labels look like this because they’re all sugar-free! Side Dishes to Pair with Pork Sausage Pork sausages make for a hearty, delicious meal any time of the day. Here are some of our favorite ways to serve them for a mouth-wateringly tasty breakfast, lunch, or dinner:  Breakfast Gooey egg, sausage, and cheese breakfast sandwich Colorful fried sausage, veggie, and potato hash  Old-fashioned sausages, biscuits and gravy  Lunch Sauteed peppers, sausage, and onions laced with red pesto  Grilled sausages with creamy coleslaw and a dressed summer salad  Spiced, baked eggplant stuffed with herbs and sauteed sausage  Dinner  Sweet, zingy tomato and sausage penne pasta  Grilled sausages served with baked sweet potato wedges and roasted vegetables  Crumbled spicy sausage and caramelized onion pizza  Expert Tips & Tricks Before we dive into the cooking instructions, here are some helpful tips and tricks to keep in mind to get the perfect sausages every time:  Before cooking your breakfast sausage patties, gently press your thumb down into the center of each one. This will help the sausage to retain its circular shape during cooking.  When it comes to sausages, slow and steady wins the race. That means cooking them on low to medium heat. Otherwise, you risk a burned outside and undercooked inside.  While cooking as many patties or links as you can in a skillet might be tempting, it’s better to cook them in manageable batches. If you don’t, you may accidentally steam the sausages instead of browning them, and lose out on the crispy exterior. Once your sausages are cooked, allow them to rest for a few minutes before serving. This will make every bite more juicy and tender.  For the perfect pork sausage, a meat thermometer is your best friend! You’ll want to ensure the sausage's innermost part reaches 160°F–that’s how you’ll know it’s ready.  Recipe FAQs Is it better to cook sausages in the oven or pan? How you cook your pork sausages depends on your preferences. The oven, skillet, and grill are all great options. The oven is the best option if you prefer a more hands-off approach to cooking, but we'd recommend the pan if you enjoy sizzling your sausages to perfection.  What’s the difference between Italian sausage and breakfast sausage?  Seven Sons’ Italian and breakfast sausages are both beautifully seasoned and sugar-free. The major difference between the two is our selection of herbs and spices in each. While the breakfast sausage is milder and lighter in flavor, with hints of sage and rosemary, the Italian sausage has a lightly spiced flavor thanks to the addition of paprika.  How should sausages be cooked? Pork sausages are versatile and delicious. For best results, you can cook them in several ways, including in the oven, on a skillet, or on a grill.  Can you pan-fry pork sausages? Absolutely! Heat a drizzle of oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat to pan-fry pork sausages. Next, cook your sausage patties for five minutes on each side or until the middle of the patties has reached 160°F. Don’t forget to let them rest for a few minutes after cooking, so they’re extra juicy and tender.  Should I add any seasonings to the sausage patties? Seven Son’s breakfast and Italian pork sausages are already perfectly seasoned with a delicate blend of herbs and spices, meaning all you need to do is cook them!  Can I store leftover cooked pork sausage? Yes, it’s easy to store leftover pork sausage. First, let the meat cool completely. Then, transfer it to an airtight container. You can refrigerate it for up to 4 days.  Ready to Cook?  Try Seven Sons’ delicious, sugar-free pork sausage range today. As always, we’d love to know what you think! So, let us know if you tried our recipes and how it turned out!