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grassfed beef harmony hill farm

Here’s why grassfed beef is worth the money

Plus tips on how to cook it up — it’s different from grainfed beef

– By the Veggie Fairy Team

All our family farmers are transparent about the way they farm. They do it the old fashioned way: slow and natural.

harmony hill farm grassfed beef

That’s how Earl, his wife Robin, and son Jesse raise their animals (cows, pigs, chickens, and more) at Harmony Hill Farm in Scottsville, Va. We talked about it with Earl, and we’ve got the whole conversation below, plus info how to cook grassfed beef without ruining it!

The motto of Earl and his family is: “Farming in harmony with nature.” It’s not the cheapest way to farm. But here’s why it’s worth paying a little extra money to benefit from what they have to offer.

grassfed beef

Before the days of industrial corporate farming, the typical American family spent 30% of their income on food… about the same as what they spent (and still spend) on housing.

Nowadays, thanks to industrial agriculture, most Americans spend less than 10% of their family budget on food. But it’s true what they say: You get what you pay for. Treating plants and animals like widgets on an assembly line has made them cheaper in every sense of the word. Today’s food has fewer nutrients, less natural flavor, and more unhealthy stuff like pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and bad fats.

To minimize cost while maximizing profit, industrial agriculture harvests produce before it’s ripe from soil full of chemicals, then ships it long distances. Industrial ag crams animals into confined spaces, stuffing them with unnatural feeds, antibiotics, and hormones to fatten them fast during their short, often miserable lives. The result is food that’s much less nutritious and flavorful than what your grandparents ate, and worse for the environment.

To get the food our bodies were meant to eat, you have to turn back the clock to the old ways of doing things. You have to take your time and grow your produce in soil that’s naturally rich and fertile, not chemically enhanced. And you have to leave your produce there until it has absorbed all the nutrients and flavor it was meant to absorb from the earth and the sun.

You have to raise your animals the way nature intended — out in the pastures and woodlands and sunshine, eating what they were meant to eat. For cows, that means grass. Grassfed beef contains more healthy things like vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and cancer-fighting fats.

Yes, it costs more to make food this way. But better health is worth it. The better flavor that comes with it is icing on the cake.

As a farmer, it’s not easy to go the unconventional all-natural route. The American industrial food system is designed to support conventional farmers. We asked Earl about it.

harmony hill farm

VEGGIE FAIRY:

How long have you been farming?

EARL:

We’ve been farming full-time here in Fluvanna County for two and a half years. Before that I was a landscape contractor for 30 years in Hanover County. We’d gotten a few cows and hens and broilers, raising them on the side as hobby. But our hearts became more involved with that than the landscaping. So we left the landscaping business, found a farm, and moved up here and started farming full-time.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

That’s a big change! Any regrets?

EARL:

None so far. We moved away from our family and friends, so we don’t have that everyday interaction anymore. We thought it would be more of an emotional strain. But it really hasn’t been. It was time for a new season in our life and where the Lord was leading. It doesn’t mean it hasn’t been difficult or we haven’t had our struggles. But any new venture you’re always going to have those things.

The other day I was talking with Sam (Seasonal Roots’ Farmer Connector) about mindset and emotional things. You’ve got to turn a profit and make a living and support your family. But for us it wasn’t all about the money. It was about a lifestyle change and the direction we wanted to head.

harmony hill farm grassfed beef

VEGGIE FAIRY:

How’d you pick up the hobby and then turn it into a second career? Do you come from a farming family?

EARL:

We’re first-generation full-time farmers. My grandfather always did it on the side. But he never did it full-time. We were the first to do it as a career. Some new farmers do their research early and get started really young. But financially it can be really hard. Getting in when we did later in life, we had a monetary base we could fall back on because of the landscaping business.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

Why did you get into all-natural farming? Was that your grandfather’s influence?

EARL:

No, my grandfather’s methods were more conventional. We call our type farming unconventional because we’re out of the mainstream, unlike industrial farming. My wife was the driving force. Robin started the research to learn about healthy food and healthy eating, where we bought our foods from and how it was raised. She wanted our family to have healthier food. As we started doing it on the side for ourselves, we thought we might be able to make a go of this.

harmony hill farm

VEGGIE FAIRY:

Healthier eating motivates a lot of us. What else motivated you?

EARL:

Our faith — our belief that things are created a certain way, and they need to be allowed to perform in a manner in which they were created. Cows were created to be herbivores and eat grass, not meat byproducts and grain. Our society has changed that, wanting to get away from how something was designed to live, and that’s how we cause a lot of our problems. No animal was designed to live in an industrial situation, crammed in together.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

So how did you learn how to farm unconventionally, as you call it?

EARL:

Our learning has been schooling with folks who have been in our type of farming. We were reading Wendell Berry and Greg Judy. We’ve been to classes with Polyface Farms, falling back on their wisdom and experience. And of course trial and error — you learn by doing.

grassfed beef

VEGGIE FAIRY:

What’s been the biggest challenge of becoming an all-natural farmer?

EARL:

That hardest part is that here in America, because of the industrial, commercial way that we do things, the food is so cheap. Our food is cheaper than anywhere else in the world. That’s hard to overcome. The food we grow is more expensive because our animals are so much more healthy and better for you. It’s more work and takes longer to grow a quality product.

But still, it has to turn a profit. So it’s been hard because that’s the biggest thing you hear: “Why is your meat so much more expensive?” We have to do a lot of educating. It’s better for you and tastes better. We do what we can to be transparent. We invite folks to come out and see how we do it. Our customers visit our farm and they can see our animals out on pasture or in the woods. With a local family farmer like us, you know where your food comes from. You’ve got no clue when you pick something up from one of the big box stores.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

So what kind of response do you get?

EARL:

Usually folks, if they want to eat healthier, once they get it, they’re sold for life. And those folks are everywhere. You’ve just got to be able to find them. That’s where Seasonal Roots fits in — you help us connect with those families who want to eat healthier food.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

We’ve mentioned already why grassfed meat is healthier for people. Is eating grass healthier for cows, too?

EARL:

Grassfed is so much better. Because our herd is out on pasture, like nature intended, they stay healthier. They don’t get sick as often as they would crammed into a crowded, dirty feedlot eating grain. And their ruminant stomach can’t digest grain, so if you feed them grain, well then they need antibiotics. The meat we provide has no antibiotics and no GMOs.

*

Grassfed vs grass finished

Not only is the beef from Harmony Hill Farm grassfed — it’s grass finished, too. Many farmers who claim to be grassfed actually switch their cows to grain at the end to fatten them up faster. The cows of Harmony Hill eat grass their whole lives.

grassfed beef grass finished beef

There’s more on that, plus the environmental benefits of grassfed on Harmony Hill Farm’s website.

Their site is full of great information, including their favorite books on these subjects, so be sure to check it out. You can also visit them on Facebook.

How to cook grassfed beef

To get the full benefit of lean, healthy, grassfed beef, you have to cook it right. Fortunately, it’s easy to cook right. You just have to know how. So don’t let anyone tell you grassfed beef is tougher than grainfed.

The biggest culprit is overcooking. Grassfed is made for rare to medium-rare cooking. If you prefer beef well-done, first sear it over high heat to seal in the juices, then cook it at very low temps in a sauce to add moisture, like in our beef bourguignon recipe. The reason: grassfed is high in protein and extremely low in fat.

However you like your beef, be sure to take it out of the fridge 30 minutes to an hour before you cook it, so it’s closer to room temperature. Like your muscles, it’s more relaxed (and tender) when it’s warmer. As it warms, it also releases moisture that you can pat dry ahead of time. That prevents the meat from steaming itself into a gray lump instead of searing nice and brown. Rub it with extra virgin olive oil, salt it, and if you like, coat it with your favorite dry rub seasoning.

For grassfed steaks cooked indoors:
1. Preheat your broiler to 450 and place a heavy, oven-proof skillet in the oven to preheat along with it.
2. When the skillet is sizzling hot, turn a burner on high, grab an oven mitt and move the hot skillet from the oven to the burner. Turn the fan over your stovetop on high and place the steaks in the skillet. They will smoke like crazy! But be strong and let them sear for a minute, then flip them to sear on the other side for another minute.
3. Put the skillet back in the oven. One-inch steaks will take 4-6 minutes to hit medium rare (120-130 degrees inside). Since it will continue to cook even after it’s removed from the heat, take it off when the internal temp is still 10 degrees below the target temperature. Using tongs (not a fork — don’t poke holes for the juices to escape), place the steaks on a cutting board and loosely tent them under foil for 10 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat while it finishes cooking, making for juicier steak.

More tips for grassfed cooking, plus recipes, are on our Pinterest beef page.

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, pastured eggs, grassfed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

local organic food

Is organic worth it?

EAT BETTER LIVE BETTER NEWSLETTER / May 9,2018

Tips, hacks, recipes, stories, and the weekly special all help you eat better live better with fresh local food!

IS ORGANIC WORTH IT?
And can you even trust organic labels?

When you've got nothing else to go on, that organic label seems like an easy solution. Organic foods have a reputation for being more nutritious and safer. Plus, organic can cost up to twice as much as conventional - must be better, right? The truth, it turns out, is complicated...

Read the rest of the newsletter below, or view this issue as a printable PDF with clickable links.

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harmony hill farm local food

This one thing helps local families find local food

EAT BETTER LIVE BETTER NEWSLETTER / May 2,2018

Tips, hacks, recipes, stories, and the weekly special all help you eat better live better with fresh local food!

THIS ONE THINGS HELPS LOCAL FAMILIES FIND LOCAL FOOD
Plus helps working moms & dads serve up healthy eats, too

That “thing” is our veggie fairies! Seasonal Roots veggie fairies, a.k.a. neighborhood Market Managers, are the irreplaceable links that bring farmers and families together. If it weren’t for our veggie fairies there would be no Seasonal Roots. Not only do they deliver fresh local food to your doorstep, they also handle one-on-one customer care and spread the word about local food. They're committed to supporting farmers and families.

Seasonal Roots veggie fairies come...

Read the rest of the newsletter below, or view this issue as a printable PDF with clickable links.

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local food harmony hill farm

This one thing helps local families find local food

Plus it helps working moms and dads serve up healthy eats

By Kristin H, Director of Veggie Communications, and Suzanne A, neighborhood Market Manager:

That “thing” is our veggie fairies! Seasonal Roots veggie fairies, a.k.a. neighborhood Market Managers, are the irreplaceable links that bring farmers and families together. If it weren’t for our veggie fairies there would be no Seasonal Roots. Not only do they deliver fresh local food to your doorstep, they also handle one-on-one customer care and spread the word about local food. They’re committed to supporting local farmers and local families.

Seasonal Roots veggie fairies come from all walks of life. Many are work-at-home parents. Others are like Suzanne in the Richmond area, whose kids are now adults.

Suzanne’s story

For Suzanne, supporting family farmers through Seasonal Roots is personal.

When Suzanne was a kid, her dad ran a farm with help from her and her brother and sister. He raised cattle, dairy cows, chickens, pigs, and hunting dogs. She can still remember the breeds: Black Angus cattle; Guernsey, Holstein, and Jersey cows; Rhode Island Red and Leghorn chickens; the dogs were Pointers. “The pigs, I’m not sure,” she says, “They had coarse white hair, pink skin showing through, and muddy most of the time! Also HUGE.”

(Sort of like the guy in the photo with this post. It was taken at Harmony Hill Farm in Scottsville, Va. That’s where the Ingersoll family raises crops and livestock using humane, sustainable methods that are good for us and the planet. And then they bring all that goodness to Seasonal Roots online farmers market.)

On the farm where Suzanne grew up, the fields were planted with corn for human and animal consumption, plus produce of all kinds. Out in the pastures, field grasses were harvested for hay. A farm like that is a fulltime job, yet Suzanne’s dad had to work another fulltime job at the same time to make ends meet.

Many small family farmers are forced to work exhausting double duty like that. It’s because our modern food system favors big agricultural corporations thanks to Big Ag’s money and influence. Yet local farmers are the ones who provide us with the freshest, healthiest food. When they succeed, it’s good for everybody who gets to eat what they produce. Seasonal Roots is all about helping local farmers succeed.

Suzanne can appreciate the good parts of farm life in hindsight. Looking back, she recalls, “I grew up on a farm and couldn’t wait to leave, honestly. You either have it in your blood or you don’t. It is hard work, and if your farm includes livestock, as ours did, you can’t go on vacation. As a youngster, I didn’t appreciate the clean air, the wide ranging area to run around, and the wonderful food. Like a lot of kids, I wanted burgers and fries.”

She wanted fast food. Sigh.

Local food + home delivery = help for working moms & dads

While Suzanne may have wished for fast food as a kid, she sees it differently as an adult. “I am grateful now that I was raised in a healthy way and that I am not a picky eater,” she says. “I love fresh fruits and veggies… and I love the convenience of home delivery!

“I so would’ve loved Seasonal Roots when I was working fulltime and my sons were younger. It would’ve saved me time and, therefore, money! Working fulltime and raising kids is exhausting. But I made sure my kids always tried a bite of whatever I was serving. And now, ages 21 and 27, they eat everything. So many of my former co-workers’ kids only wanted chicken nuggets and fries, so I’m glad my husband and I made the effort. I feel certain our sons will do the same when they are blessed with little ones!”

When it comes to fresh food versus fast food, having healthy eats on hand for kids to try is half the battle. When children are given a chance to try fresh fruits and vegetables, they often discover they like them. We hear that over and over from Seasonal Roots members.

But when you’re busy juggling lots of responsibilities, you don’t have time to chase around after the freshest, healthiest food — the kind that tastes the best and is the most likely to win kids over. In fact, the way our American food system is set up, the fastest, easiest, most convenient food is often the least fresh and the most unhealthy.

That’s when you need a fairy godmother (or a flock of veggie fairies) to do it for you — someone you trust who can track down local farmers using the best practices and then deliver it, freshly harvested, to your door. So if you’re a Seasonal Roots member, do your working-parent friends a favor and tell them about the veggie fairies!

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, eggs, grass-fed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

humane farming

Humane farming is good for humans too. Here’s why.

EAT BETTER LIVE BETTER NEWSLETTER / March 14,2018

Tips, hacks, recipes, stories, and the weekly special all help you eat better live better with fresh local food!

LOTS OF PASTURE AND NO PESTICIDES, ANTIBIOTICS, HORMONES, OR GMO'S AT THIS LOCAL FARM

Out of the six kids in the Avery’s Branch Farms family, Oliver is the one in charge of their pasture-raised chickens. The family also raises cows and pigs. With support from Seasonal Roots and other Virginia families and restaurants, their farm has really grown. Their chicken flock has grown from five hens and a rooster to 3,800 hens. The egg business is now big enough for 24-year-old Oliver to launch (cue the drumroll…) AUTHENTICITY FARMS!

Even as the flock has grown, Oliver’s commitment to his family’s humane farming practices has remained the same...

Learn the difference between cage-free, free-range, and pasture-raised below, or view this issue as a printable PDF with clickable links.

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pasture-raised chickens authenticity farms

Humane farming is good for humans too. Here’s why.

Lots of pasture and NO pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, or GMOs at this local farm

By the Veggie Fairy Team

There’s no such thing as a chill chicken. Pigs may be laid back. But laying hens are in a constant state of panic, as if today could be their last. That’s what Oliver has observed since his parents started farming a dozen years ago when he was 12. Relying on humane farming practices, they raised cows, pigs, and chickens at Avery’s Branch Farms in Amelia, Va.

“Now and then we have some hens that like to be petted, but that’s just a random individual,” Oliver says. “I’ve never heard of a super chill chicken.”

So apparently, Chicken Little, who famously ran around crying, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” was a pretty typical chicken. But can you blame her? For a chicken, the world is full of imminent death and dismemberment by raccoons, possums, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, untrained dogs, and as if that weren’t enough, hawks from above. When you’re raising chickens, the temptation is to lock them away inside where it’s easier to raise them.

Easier. But not healthier. And the resulting flavor’s nothing to write home about, either. Being stuck inside doesn’t even make the chickens any less frantic.

The humane farming backstory

Avery’s Branch Farms has been supplying Seasonal Roots and other Virginia families for a long time. We love how the hens have access to pasture year-round. Grass makes up 50% of their diet. The rest of what they eat includes insects, worms (chickens are not naturally vegetarian, which is why those “100% vegetarian feed” claims are not necessarily a good thing), plus local, non-GMO grain. During the winter when the grass isn’t growing, the grass portion of their diet is supplemented with alfalfa, a high quality hay.

Even when it’s cold out the girls always have outdoor access. So they’re able to do all the natural things that make a chicken happy — grazing, pecking, scratching, and flying short distances out in the fresh air and sunshine. As a result, they naturally stay healthier.

According to Oliver, “We never use pesticides, antibiotics, or hormones. Our animals are kept healthy by their exceptional diet and environment. In return they give us the healthiest, tastiest products.” And the chickens are kept safe from predators under the watchful eye of trained, hen-loving dogs. The chickens are as naturally frantic as ever, but they’re happy and safe and truly pasture-raised.

That’s a much higher standard than “cage-free”, which means the birds are not confined in a tiny cage but are still kept indoors, roaming around inside long, low, crowded warehouses. Pasture-raised is better than “free-range” too, which usually just means the chickens have minimal access to an outside concrete pen while spending most of their lives stuck inside like the cage-free birds. For an excellent explanation of the difference between cage-free, free-range, and pasture-raised, read this.

A local farm success story

Out of the six kids in the Avery’s Branch family, Oliver is the one in charge of their pasture-raised chickens. He recalls, “I had always wanted to partner with restaurants to offer the same life-giving products to restaurant-goers we had always offered to our family customers. With the help of the nearby Amish community, we started delivering to restaurants and it was a big hit. Soon we had to increase our flocks to accommodate the demand.”

Seasonal Roots helped Oliver introduce more Virginia families to the goodness of his family’s pasture-raised eggs. Just like Virginia’s high-end restaurant chefs, we could all see and taste the difference that a grassfed diet makes (more on that in a minute). But the restaurants needed a consistent supply to make pasture-raised eggs a regular part of their menus, and so did we. A bigger flock made the small family farm in Amelia a more dependable supplier to everyone.

They started out with five hens and a rooster in 2005. Today their flock has grown to 3,800 and the egg business is big enough for Oliver, now 24, to make the flock his own and launch (cue the drumroll…) AUTHENTICITY FARMS!

Even as the flock has grown, Oliver’s commitment to his family’s humane farming practices has remained the same. So one local sustainable, humane family farm is now two. Seasonal Roots members can pat themselves on the back for being part of making that possible.

The health benefits of pasture-raised eggs

Humane farming practices aren’t just good for the animals. They’re good for the humans, too. A pasture-raised egg looks different from an industrial farmed egg, even if it’s cage-free or free-range. A pasture-raised yolk is deep orange surrounded by a thick, milky white. The flavor is richer. And it offers higher amounts of vitamin A, D, E, K2, B-12, folate, riboflavin, zinc, calcium, beta carotene, choline, and tons of omega 3 fatty acids, including DHA, EPA, ALA, and AA.

A pasture-raised egg offers the highest quality protein, second only to the lactalbumin protein in a human mother’s milk. It is a true superfood. A study found that compared to industrial farmed eggs, the benefits of pasture-raised include:

  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene
  • 3-6 times more vitamin D (thanks to hanging out in all that sunshine!)
  • We’re proud to support the humane, healthful, life-giving work of the newest addition to our market, Authenticity Farms!

    Visit the Authenticity Farms website for more on Oliver’s goals and mission.
    Visit the Avery’s Branch Farms website to get to know the family and their principled approach to farming.

    ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

    Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, eggs, grass-fed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

    love local leeks

    How I learned to love leeks

    EAT BETTER LIVE BETTER NEWSLETTER / November 22, 2017

    Tips, hacks, recipes, stories, and the weekly special all help you eat better live better with fresh local food!

    ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY’RE LOCAL
    by Duane, founder and Head Veggie Fairy

    I love when the winter months come and we have fresh, local leeks in the kitchen. My first farm encounter with leeks was on a nice fall day. I was standing in a field out at Charlie Collins’ Victory Farms in Henrico. Charlie sold his produce at in-person farmers markets, and I was looking at a fifty-foot-long row of leeks. They were at the peak of ripeness and ready for harvest. But Charlie was about to till them all under. Why? He’d learned…

    Continue reading about why Duane loves leeks, below, or view this issue as a PDF with clickable links.

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    eating local

    4 Ways you can help fight hunger in your community

    EAT BETTER LIVE BETTER NEWSLETTER / November 22, 2017

    Tips, hacks, recipes, stories, and the weekly special all help you eat better live better with fresh local food!

    GIVING IS ALWAYS IN SEASON

    On delivery day last week, the day before Thanksgiving, one of our neighborhood Market Managers, Nickie, posted this on Facebook:
    “I’m volunteering with the 25 Project to provide meals to roughly 500 homeless living in shelters and tent cities in DC and Northern Virginia tomorrow. I reached out to the good people at Seasonal Roots to see if they could send some surplus veggies my way, and boy did they…

    Continue reading about fighting hunger while eating local, below, or view this issue as a PDF with clickable links.

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    eating local

    Eating local means eating what nature provides

    EAT BETTER LIVE BETTER NEWSLETTER / November 22, 2017

    Tips, hacks, recipes, stories, and the weekly special all help you eat better live better with fresh local food!

    THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING GREEN BEANS

    Green beans are a tradition on many a Thanksgiving table. So Sam, our Farmer Connector, always stocks our online farmers market with them for the holiday. This year, he scoured the whole region, but there was nary a green bean to be found.

    The culprit…

    Continue reading about eating local in spite of the weather, below, or view this issue as a PDF with clickable links.

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    sustainable greenhouses

    As temps drop, farmers keep farming

    EAT BETTER LIVE BETTER NEWSLETTER / November 8, 2017

    Tips, hacks, recipes, stories, and the weekly special all help you eat better live better with fresh local food!

    WHAT’S ON TAP FOR THANKSGIVING, PLUS WHAT’S UP WITH THOSE PALE YOLKS?

    Thanksgiving is com-ing, right about the time most traditional farmers markets are closing for the winter, or scaling back.

    But not your online farmers market! We stay open year-round.

    A little dip in the temperature gauge can’t stop our local farmers from…

    Continue reading about local winter farming and what’s happening with your yolks, below, or view this issue as a PDF with clickable links.

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