Updated: Aug 29, 2020
Series 1: Opening Farmer Profiles, Episode 4
I made three trips to Evans & Evans Farm and I'd make three more, easily. It's down a beautiful country road in the Catskills, just outside of the Town of Andes, NY. The road is rural as you might expect and passes some other farms -- beef cattle, chickens -- but as you go it's easy to hear Julie Andrews signing and Captain Von Trapp whistling. The hills are definitely alive.
Besides the drive, the farmers couldn't be nicer or more interesting. At Evans & Evans, as you will learn it's never just about the sheep. It's about so much more and if we are lucky, the Evans and their Farm Manager Sam Scott will continue what they are doing and the world will follow their example.
Two of my visits were exclusively to visit the sheep. On my first of those, I walked up to an open-air barn and 100 ewes (female sheep) looked at me and continued chewing their golden, crackling hay. Not a peep. Not one baa. Nada. My second visit was more fun -- because I got to see Joe and Jackie in action and because it included a little more sheep noise, some bobcat tracks, and a skunk stain on the white snow. You would be surprised at how little noise 100 stampeding sheep make.
I also took a little trip to Williamsburg, Brooklyn to meet restauranteur Andrew Tarlow who has spent the past two decades bringing the best ingredients to Brooklyn and turning them into the most memorable meals at Diner, Marlow & Sons and Roman's. Andrew has long been touted as the foodie pioneer that transformed Williamsburg. But that doesn't do him justice. Andrew gets the world and what really matters -- big stuff and little details. On the dinner plate, yes. But well beyond that.
I hope you like the story of Evans & Evans Farm. I really do. The more farmers like Jackie and Joe and Sam that I meet and spend time with, the more convinced I am that we all need to know our farmers better. They are observant and thoughtful, interesting and full of ingenuity. Farms are story generators. Spend a day on one and see if you can keep yourself from sharing your experience.
This is the fourth episode of Talk Farm to Me. I am so delighted that you have been following along. If you've missed one, go back and meet them all. And if you have a moment, please give them a rating (just click the stars) and write a review on iTunes. Any love you share there will help more people meet our farmers.
Stay tuned in two weeks for a fish tale you'll never forget.
Talk farm to you soon,
XOXO Farm Girl
Below are some good notes for you: music, some important links, and a full transcript (for all access).
All of the music in this episode is by Lobo Loco.
All Night Long (ID 774) and Spencer Bluegrass (ID 1230)
www.musikbrause.de Creative Commons License (by-nc-nd)
Marlow Collective (Marlow & Sons, Diner, Marlow & Daughters, Roman's, SheWolf Bakery)
Talk Farm to Me, Season 1, Episode 4
Lamb for the Dogs and Andrew Tarlow -- Evans & Evans Farm
Andrew Tarlow (00:00):
How do you tell people how special Evans' lamb is? How special his lamb chop is? One way to tell them is by saying it's $50 dollars a plate.
Farm Girl (00:19):
Welcome to Talk Farm To Me. I'm your host, Farm Girl. On Talk Farm To Me, the farmer takes center stage and we find out what they do and how they do it. No matter how you spend your time, I'm pretty sure you have more in common with farmers than you think. So, sit back and relax, and I'll bring a farmer and maybe a cow or two right into your living room for a chat.
Joe Evans (00:55):
Yes, I'm from Wales and then actually I came over here to set up a business in advertising, a small business, and did that for a few years. Didn't enjoy it, and eventually managed to extricate myself from the advertising world. I always wanted to work for myself.
Jackie Evans (01:08):
I was an esthetician or beauty therapist or whatever back then, and did massage and beauty therapy and stuff. I had the nails and the eye makeup.
Farm Girl (01:21):
When Joe and Jackie Evans left London in 1990 for New York, they made three promises to their two elementary school age children.
Jackie Evans (01:30):
We were going to get a dog, go and see whale watching, and go to Disney World. So, it started off with dogs for the kids.
Joe Evans (01:40):
So, I come from a sheep farming area, and most of my relatives are sheep farmers. So, every farm in Wales has at least one, usually four or five border collies either running loose or kept in kennels until they're needed, and then they go out and work. I used to be dragged by my father to these weird things called sheepdog trials.
Farm Girl (02:03):
Between the age old parental promise of a dog and the powerful tug of Joe's ancestry, the Evans' border collies herded them into a direction they did not anticipate. In order to enter sheepdog trials, the dogs needed training. First, they used ducks. Then geese, and finally they bought the dogs four sheep to practice on.
Jackie Evans (02:26):
Then we bought another few more, and they had babies. Then we bought a few more, and they had babies. So we left Putnam County in 2014 with 170 sheep.
Farm Girl (02:43):
Now legitimate sheep farmers, Joe and Jackie Evans unwittingly entered an industry of 80,000 farmers raising over six million sheep in the United States. It's an industry fraught with issues and blame. Livestock farming is implicated in belching out a quarter of greenhouse gases. Meat consumption has been under attack since a 1950s study about the perils of sugar spurred lobbyists to vilify meat consumption as a distraction. Modern day vegans, less than 1% of the population, promote a meat and dairy free diet, underscoring health and climate concerns as well as animal welfare. Restaurant trends in 2020 reflect this as plant based protein tops the menu charts.
Farm Girl (03:28):
Joe is very tuned in to the nuances of these complicated issues. He has recently started an email newsletter of sorts that aims to debunk industry myths and to point out how their farm and the meat they produce is different. Joe and Mrs. Sheep Farmer as he affectionately refers to Jackie, together with their 25 year old farm manager Sam Scott, are pioneering new ways to farm sheep. A better way. A way that connects the sheep with the land, the land with the meat, and the meat with an important market that values healthy farms and bringing healthy meat to your table. Here's Joe.
Joe Evans (04:07):
I see us as being in the health business. We believe passionately in doing as much as we can to have healthy soils, healthy foragers, healthy animals so that the consumers, that they can consume healthy food.
Sam Scott (04:20):
The land around here is great for sheep farming. You can't do a whole lot else with it. It's steep, there's woods and stuff. It's hard to do anything else agriculture related other than graze animals.
Joe Evans (04:34):
Very, very few people, it's probably no more than 2% or 3% really understand the difference between sheep or cattle that are grazed rotationally and don't need grain, don't need corn, that do benefit the soil enormously through depositing the manure.
Farm Girl (04:52):
Evans' sheep don't stay in any one field for too long. They move through the farm's 107 acres as well as adjacent rented city lands and the neighbors' hay fields, starting from when the snow melts in early spring through Thanksgiving.
Sam Scott (05:07):
Always seems to be about an acre, an acre and a half a day.
Joe Evans (05:11):
So, you can't plant anything on this land that we have. Nothing. Hay just about survives, but it's not crop land. It's not arable land, and it's only suitable for pasture, and there's a large body of opinion that says that well managed pasture through rotational grazing, the type of grazing that we employ, is actually highly beneficial for carbon sequestration because you're growing more leaves. The leaves stay there throughout the year, and that absorbs CO2 and gets it sequestered in the ground. As long as you don't plow it, it's incredibly beneficial.
Farm Girl (05:53):
On their 107 acre farm that looks like a set straight out of the Sound of Music, Sam and the Evans tend a flock of Katahdin sheep, bred to thrive in the Northeast.
Joe Evans (06:04):
We just wanted to grow it piece by piece. Nothing too dramatic. We've got 344 animals at the moment, so we probably have about 200 lambs hopefully. So, we go back up to around 500.
Sam Scott (06:16):
Lambing is a big event. It's the event of the year, because that's the new generation being born. They need attention and care, and so that's maybe the most intensive part.
Farm Girl (06:32):
From 100 pregnant ewes come close to 200 baby lambs each spring. Approximately 10 of them, or 5%, need some help coming into the world.
Jackie Evans (06:44):
A lamb is supposed to be born like superman. Head and front feet first, all together. If you're seeing back feet, it means you need help because it's breached. I've seen a front leg and a back leg. So, you've got to push one back in then hope everybody else comes out in order, the right way around.
Farm Girl (07:06):
Jackie has lambing season down to a science. Three rams impregnate 100 ewes on a schedule that ensures that all 200 baby lambs are born within a 23 day period.
Jackie Evans (07:20):
Sam now is making the jugs, which are the private bedrooms for each ewe. It's a little pen with a door, and it has water and food, so she can bond with her lambs there. The mom and the lamb do not make much noise because they're so close, so they have to go to a small nursery so they learn to call each other. They learn each others' voices. "Hi mom, I'm over here." "Okay dear, I know. I'm over here," before they go out into the big flock, otherwise they get lost.
Farm Girl (07:50):
Joe and Jackie are super affectionate with the sheep, scratching them on the back or behind the ears when they approach. They often greet them by ear tag number.
Jackie Evans (08:02):
Come here #216.
Farm Girl (08:04):
The ones that were bottle fed as babies have names.
Jackie Evans (08:10):
Farm Girl (08:10):
Jackie Evans (08:10):
Joe Evans (08:10):
Farm Girl (08:13):
Joe is quick to point out a little brindle sheep that was his very own bottle fed baby last lambing season.
Joe Evans (08:21):
That's my lamb.
Farm Girl (08:23):
Each of the sheep farmers is keenly tuned in to the animals, in an open air barn filled with clean, dry hay, 100 sheep jockey for position at the biggest bales. I watch them and listen. They're mostly quiet, chewing, relaxed, but Joe and Jackie are circling. They have noticed that one sheep is not feeling up to snuff, and within seconds, they catch her, flip her gently onto her back, and grab the medical kit. What's the matter?
Jackie Evans (08:53):
We've got one that's not looking quite well.
Farm Girl (09:00):
It's a funny dynamic. The sheep are like pets, except that they're not. They receive the best care as a flock and individually. It's a key part of the business.
Observation is everything. On a daily basis and also year over year, every detail feeds into the bigger picture.
Sam Scott (09:30):
We keep records of every single lamb, who the mother is, who the father is, characteristics of them and stuff for identification. They all get their number.
Jackie Evans (09:39):
We follow the genetics, and it is very helpful because you can then see where problems lie in the gene line. We had problems with a ram because he had very low parasite resistance, and that showed its ugly head last year because it was so wet and warm, the parasites were much more vigorous I suppose you would say.
Farm Girl (10:01):
The Evans noticed their lambs resistance to parasites was off, and ultimately had to downsize their flock from 700 to 500.
Jackie Evans (10:10):
It was horrible. It was heartbreaking, it was soul destroying, but we got through that and with clearer mind, we could follow the genetics back.
Farm Girl (10:22):
It's hard work, and a hard issue to face, but it means everything to the health of the flock, the farm, and the business.
Jackie Evans (10:31):
So, he has gone and we've got these two [inaudible 00:10:34] who've got high parasite resistance. They're ram lambs, so they're first timers. They're not proven like the other ram that we have.
Farm Girl (10:44):
Evans and Evans Farm is hopeful that the new rams will be productive and will improve the genetics of the flock. The 200 lambs due this spring will be an important new group.
Jackie Evans (10:55):
We're trying to get our flock to work with the land. We can change the genetics of the flock, we cannot change the land.
Farm Girl (11:09):
According to the US Department of Agriculture, most lambs are harvested at six to eight months. Evans' lambs live on the fat of the land for a full 12 months or more. It is important to understand how deep a commitment this is. It means keeping the sheep fed and fat when the ground is covered in snow. To manage this, Joe spends all summer harvesting and storing grasses, labeling their white plastic wraps with what he calls essays about what each bale contains, where it was grown, when it was harvested. Every detail. Then he knows what to feed which sheep and when.
Jackie Evans (11:45):
It's harder to get weight gain just on grass. It takes longer. Same as grass fed beef. It just takes longer to get that weight gain.
Farm Girl (11:54):
When lambs near their perfect harvest age and weight, they are called fatties. The Evans feed them the richest grasses, so that they do not lose weight over the winter. Cold burns calories, you know.
Joe Evans (12:06):
Yeah, so the fatties, they get special rations, and they're fed all the time, and they're kept in a nice warm housing. Because cold really does reduce the growth and take fat off an animal. So we want to keep it on.
Farm Girl (12:23):
I think that's a good dieting tip.
Joe Evans (12:26):
Get out in the cold.
Farm Girl (12:26):
Go outside and get out in the cold.
Joe Evans (12:28):
Get out in the cold and eat hay.
Farm Girl (12:30):
Evans’ lambs and sheep are grass fed and grass finished. That means the animals only ever eat two things: mother's milk and grass. Period.
Joe Evans (12:41):
That's how I feel all animal agriculture should be. You should feed them what they would eat in a natural setting, which is what we're trying to replicate here, the sheep. And they're eating a majority of grass and clovers and ground-based plants.
Farm Girl (13:01):
The Evans work closely with their customers. Local chefs have been eager to incorporate Evans pristine lamb, and even their more mature sheep as mutton, into their menus. But their farm and the way they raise their animals has benefited most from their relationship with storied restaurateur Andrew Tarlow. Andrew is largely credited with transforming Brooklyn's dining scene with his famed restaurants, Diner and Marlow & Sons, and his whole animal butcher shop, Marlow & Daughters. I had the opportunity to sit down with Andrew one morning in his bustling office.
Andrew Tarlow (13:38):
So I own a butcher shop, which we started because we were really committed to sourcing grass fed meat. And really it started with finding out where our beef came from for the restaurants. And it kind of morphed into buying animals in whole form and all these other things. But yeah, we've been buying lamb from Evans, and it gets sent to the butcher shop, and then it gets distributed to the restaurants.
Farm Girl (14:05):
Andrew and his team have spent the past 21 years building on a food movement that revolves around sourcing the best ingredients from the farm and bringing them to the table.
Andrew Tarlow (14:15):
I've always been fascinated with the way things grow. Since opening restaurants and obviously being involved in a direct food system, finding the source of the food has been very interesting to me, and seeing farmers work.
Farm Girl (14:31):
Andrew is an artist. He paints daily. He has a literary magazine. He's what I like to call a creator. He has built and sustained successful restaurants. It's all a part of the same process.
Andrew Tarlow (14:46):
In a creative process, you ask questions how is that cut made, or why is it look this way, or why is it shaped that way, or why is it this color. In the same way, we were sort of asking ourselves where did this apple come from? How did we get this butter? How do we buy this milk? It's sort of, I think, a creative spirit. And I think it ties to asking yourself where does this food come from. We're on a culinary path with our farmers to really get the best thing possible.
Farm Girl (15:15):
Part of that creative process means a frank dialogue between the chefs and the farmers. The chefs in Andrew's restaurants like to experiment and to build on the inherent flavor of their ingredients. They wanted to know how can we get lamb with intramuscular fat.
Jackie Evans (15:32):
We looked into how we could do that. We read a lot of papers. Found from a paper in Australia that you can't get intramuscular fat until the land has grown properly. Their skeleton is at the right mature size. That's when they can start putting on intramuscular fat. We knew we got to the right place, and they were happy.
Andrew Tarlow (15:51):
We are also not fearful of having our food have flavor. I think part of having a younger animal is this tender thing that is a little less flavorful, really. So yeah, we worked very closely to try and find where that age and harvest age should be. But that came through the chefs and through feedback, and also through his feedback of saying this is actually the right time.
Farm Girl (16:24):
Andrew is different. He's successful, for sure. His first restaurant, Diner, now in its third decade is always packed. But he's more than that. He cares. He recognizes the symbiotic relationship that we have with one another. It's as simple as that bumper sticker you've seen whizzing down the highway. No farms, no food. Andrew wants to play a part in allowing farms to do their best.
Andrew Tarlow (16:50):
I don't think people think about the holisticness, didn't realize that a farmer is connected to these businesses, you should be in service to them. Because they're the ones who are actually working really hard to actually support you.
Farm Girl (17:05):
Andrew struggles on how to tell his customers about the farms and the farmers they work with. It's a tricky balance. What's the right way? A sign, a poster? He cringes. He's definitely into talking about it. Talking with me. Yes, talking with you in the restaurant every chance he gets.
Andrew Tarlow (17:25):
And we, as a restaurant, are pushing our prices all the time up. And it's probably perceived from the outside world because we want to get rich. But it's really because we are trying to give that money back to someone like Evans. So if we can actually figure out how to tell that story better, it's a huge win for us. But it's something that we, or I, think about, and we struggle with and try and always figure out. How do you tell people how special Evans lamb is, how special this lamb chop is? One way to tell him is by saying it's $ 50 a plate, right? And then having them give you a whole lot of pushback. And then you say, well, it's because of this, and because of this, and because of this.
Farm Girl (18:11):
Joe credits Andrew Tarlow with making their farm.
Joe Evans (18:14):
Andrew Tarlow just really drove our bus in the direction that we've gone in, because we hadn't thought of selling whole carcasses to the foodie market in New York city. But it came to us, thankfully. And through the quality of the product, I assume, that it's stayed with us, and we're very happy.
Andrew Tarlow (18:32):
He's also made our business. We're connected, right? We need him as much as he needs us.