The local crop no one talks about
One of our most important local crops never even hits the shelves of the local Farmer’s Market–not in its ‘original’ form, anyway… I’m talking about grass! Work is going on right now in fields and farms all over New England to harvest and process grass into its finished form that we call hay. Drying and baling are the basic steps in preserving this precious crop to use as feed during the long winter months.
We hear the term ‘grass-fed’ tossed around frequently. It conjures up bucolic images of cows grazing in New England fields, lazily shaking off flies with their tails. Magically, they become that ground beef that goes into the burgers we all crave. It is not magic that brings it to our tables, however, but long hours of planning and even longer hours in the fields.
Make hay while the sun shines!
During the summer months, animals can be let out to pasture, but fields will be covered with snow for a good part of the year. Cutting, drying, and baling preserves the grasses, in all their nutritious glory, so that the feast can be moved indoors. Make no mistake, this is serious business.
So- what goes into a good hay crop? A good blend of grasses, to begin with. Then the right location of the fields. Corn may be more spectacular at its height, but livestock doesn’t make it through the winter without hay. The real value of the crop is determined at harvest.
And, oh- the variables to contend with!
It shouldn’t grow too tall and you can’t cut it too short, but weather is the biggest factor. A sunny, dry stretch of at least 3-5 days is needed to cut, dry and bale the hay. In addition, the ground itself cannot be too wet or the equipment can’t operate!! A damp crop can go moldy and become useless. Later summer cuttings have higher nutritional value, but the goal is dry. Ideal conditions could yield 4-5 cuttings, but this summer has been far from ideal… no wonder meat prices fluctuate!
Now you’ll know the value being created that next sunny day you pass a field and the tractor is busily mowing, raking, and turning the grass so it will dry (solar power at its best) to make bales of various shapes and sizes. Next time you go to buy meat for your burger, you may also appreciate the harvest it took to sustain the cow (or lamb- see below):
Mixed Meat Burger
yields 5 burgers
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon fresh herbs, finely chopped (oregano, thyme, rosemary, basil)
1 clove garlic, minced
Mix ingredients together and gently form into patties. Salt and pepper lightly and chill until needed.
Cook on a nice, hot grill (spray grill liberally to prevent sticking). Cook 2-3 minutes per side or to your liking. Garnish with fresh local lettuce, tomato and onion. Enjoy!!