VERDANT HOLLOW: TRUSTING NATURE AND THE GOOD OF THE EARTH

“It’s hard work but it’s good work,” says Molly Muchow about co-managing the 230-acre Verdant Hollow Farmhttps://www.verdanthollowfarms.com/ on Garr Road in Buchanan with her husband Brett.

It’s also a big change in lifestyle for the couple who until a few years ago were living in Chicago with their three children and Molly was working as a personal chef and Brett as a certified teacher on the city’s South Side. But they like the vision that owner Susan Flynn had when she purchased the land in 2016.

Her goal was to create an Animal Approved Welfare by AGW farm for producing certified grass fed lamb, goat milk, pasture raised pork, vegetables, and eggs.

The AGW designation is the only label guaranteeing that animals are raised outdoors on pastures or ranges for their entire lives on an independent farm using truly sustainable, high-welfare farming practices. It’s an independent, nonprofit farm certification program. one of the top five fastest growing certifications and label claims in the country. Welfare Approved farm using regenerative practices to produce seasonal vegetables,

Obtaining these certifications was a goal not just for raising animals to bring to market but also to create a place to host visitors for retreats, education, and to carry forth the concept of regenerative practices in raising the best produce possible. It’s a type of farming designed to reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity with the end result of reducing carbon output.

It is a beautiful piece of land, with hollows, woods, pastures, and an 1860s-era barn repurposed by Stanley Tigerman, an award winning architect whose work incorporates an urban whimsicalness to rural structures.

         “We plan to build six cabins—it will be a place for people for relaxation and detach from technology, returning to the pace of what farm life was,” says Flynn who though she’s from Chicago knows the area well because she has had a home in nearby in the area for the last two decades.  

         “That would be before the 1940s,” says Brett.

He adds that Verdant Hollow is a no-till farm.

I tell him that as an urban dweller, the concept of no-tilling evades me. Brett explains that tilling upsets the ecosystem of the soil. No-tilling also provides protection from soil erosion. To further protect the soil, in the winter they cover crop, using plants to protect and nourish the soil.

“We also don’t use any treated wood here,” says Brett.

         “Our animals are pasteurized year round,” says Molly, noting that the goats have seven acres to roam.

As part of their educational outreach, they also invite school groups out to visit, showing them the rhythms of what farm life was list long ago.

         “The kids really liked the chickens,” says Flynn.

         They also liked the goats and sheep and the two Colorado Mountain dogs—June and Case—who protect them.

         “Two of them can take out a mountain lion or cougar and are always on the alert to protect the other animals,” says Brett.

I must have passed some unspoken Colorado Mountain Dogs’ test because today they’re just friendly as can be, letting the goats come up to the fencing so I can pet them.

But while I’m doing so, I come under the watchful eye of a llama who is also a guardian animal and seems less disposed to accept me than the dogs. Indeed, he stares from within what looks like a guard box that allows a wide open view of the animals in the large pen. The latter encloses a large, wooded area where the animals can munch away to their hearts delight. That also includes the Katahdin Hair Sheep, prized for the taste of their meat and heritage hogs who are allowed to run free through the woods as well. What’s raised here is sold to local restaurants and can be purchased by anyone at the farm.

It’s all still a work in progress. Besides building guest cabins, they also laying out new roads, erecting a welcome pavilion and expanding green and hoop houses, ensuring a longer growing season for microgreens and starting vegetables earlier in the spring as well as the medicinal herbs they grow. There is are solar panels, a system for collecting rainwater, big areas for composting, yurts, and meditation platforms.  The farm is  also part of pilot project for Cannabidiol (CBD) which is an active ingredient in cannabis derived from the hemp plant that’s can be used to help reduce pain, insomnia, and anxiety and features CBG (cannabigerol) which is more potent for healing as well as beneficial in treating such conditions as inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and cancer.

In all, they’ve come a long way and there’s still so much they want to do. But living on the farm yields a sense of satisfaction, of accomplishment, and of producing from the land, food that is good, healthful, and helpful.

Verdant Hollow Farms Recipes

Slow Cooker Bone Broth

1 whole pasture raised chicken (stew or soup bird)

2 whole carrots, skin on, scrubbed, and quartered

1 whole onion, skin on, clean and cut in half

3 stalks celery, clean, and quartered

1 whole head of garlic, clean, and cut in half horizontally

1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar

Optional additions: clean veggie scraps, fresh ginger, fresh herbs, dried mushrooms

Place all ingredients in a slow cooker and cover with cold water. 

Set to low and let simmer for 12-24 hours (the longer the better).  Strain through a cheese cloth and add salt to taste. 

Drink on its own, as a base for soups, or stir in some cooked rice and winter greens for a quick lunch.

Molly’s Notes:  

I always freeze a couple containers to have on hand when someone gets the sniffles or just needs a warm cup of goodness!

*I keep a baggie in the freezer to collect any carrot peels, veggie scraps, or chicken bones while cooking other meals.  Add these scraps to your slow cooker for extra flavor and a way to reduce kitchen waste.

Carnitas

1 3-4 pounds bone in or boneless pork shoulder or butt roast

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon salt

1tablespoon ground pepper

2 tablespoons bacon fat, olive oil, or avocado oil

¼ cup fresh lime juice

¼ cup fresh orange juice

Fresh lime juice and salt to taste

Chopped cilantro

Taco toppings: shredded lettuce or cabbage, queso fresco, salsa, pickled or raw red onions

Warm tortillas (Molly Muchow prefers the corn, but flour works also)

Season your pork shoulder roast with the chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper.  Heat your oil in a large sauté pan.  Once it is hot enough to sizzle with a drop of water, add your shoulder roast.  Brown on both sides and transfer to your slow cooker.  Add your lime, orange juice, and a ½ cup of water.  Cook on low for 8-10 or until it starts to fall apart from the bone.

Preheat your oven to 425.  While the roast is still hot, shred with two forks, discarding the bone. Spread the shredded meat and a cup of the juices on a large sheet pan.  Sprinkle an additional 2-3 tsp of salt over the pork and place in the oven.  Stirring every five minutes until slightly crispy, but still tender.  

Squeeze additional lime juice (to taste) over the shredded pork and serve with warm tortillas, chopped fresh cilantro, and any of your favorite taco toppings.

*The pork roast can also be slow cooked in the oven.  Once seared on all sides, place in a deep roasting pan with the juices/water, cover with foil and cook at 325 for 3.5-4.5 hours.

Lamb Curry

½ medium onion, diced

3 medium carrots, peeled and diced

½ head cauliflower, diced

1 tablespoon fresh garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped

1 tablespoon ground lamb

3 tablespoons ground curry powder

2 tablespoons coconut oil (can substitute with other oil you have on hand)

1-2 handfuls of chopped greens (kale, chard, or spinach)

Chili flakes (optional)

2 teaspoons salt

Cooked rice (I prefer jasmine or basmati)

Sauté the onion, carrot, cauliflower, garlic, and ginger over medium heat until soft.  Season with salt and add the ground lamb.  Sauté the lamb and vegetables until the lamb is browned (5-10 minutes).  Add the curry powder (and chili flakes to taste) and continue cooking until it is well incorporated into the lamb and vegetables.  Remove from heat and fold in your chopped greens, letting them wilt in the pan.  Serve over rice with a side of warm naan on a cold winter day!

*This recipe is a great way to use up any veggies you have in your fridge.  Feel free to add any other chopped vegetables you have on hand (zucchini, fennel, peppers, etc.)

For more information: 773-882-4431; verdanthollowfarms.com

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