Cookery Maven Blog

Happy Cows In Mellen

'Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land's inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.'

Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food.

I owe my introduction to the O'Dovero-Flesia farm to my quest for a seriously good hot dog. My preferred hot dog supplier, a meat market in Mellen, exited the sausage business a few years ago and while Hebrew Nationals are a good substitute, they just weren't the same. Everything changed when Pete told me about the O'Dovero's cattle farm and meat market— I was back in all beef, natural casing with a satisfying snap hot dog heaven. And, lucky for me, O'Dovero-Flesia heaven also included dry aged beef, the perfect pork belly for pancetta and a picturesque collection of cows, buildings and pastures.

Five generations of O'Dovero's have called these 1,000 acres at the base of the Penokee Hills home and as I pulled into the driveway, I can understand why— it's beautiful. The undulating pastures are framed by hardwood and pine forest, the Penokee hills rise up in the background and two barns with field stone foundations (built in the late 1920's/early 1930's) wear the weathered patina of 87 years of Wisconsin rain, wind, snow and sun.


The extraordinary (or not, depending on how you look at it) thing is it's still a working farm— raising cattle and supporting a family who are rooted in this place as much as the trees are rooted in the hillside. After nearly 90 years of mindful animal and land stewardship, the farm and family are faced with a nearly incomprehensible challenge— legislation has been purchased by an out of state mining company to allow an open-pit iron ore mine, literally, in their backyard. GTac, a Florida company owned by the 'New King of Coal' Chris Cline, plans to detonate 5.5 million tons of explosives every nine days until the pit measures 4.5 miles long— all within a mile of the O'Dovero's pastures, barns, cattle and home.  It goes without saying, they are in a fight for their lives.

The cows on the farm reminded me of George, inquisitive and friendly. They were well taken care of and it showed in their demeanor and appearance. The best part of the day was speaking to Margaret, a member of the fifth generation and Veterinary student, about her connection to the farm and what's at stake if GTac starts to blow up the hills behind her house. The land, water and animals will be sacrificed, without consideration from a company who used money (and lots of it) to unethically re-write legislation to indemnify themselves from the damages that are inherent with any extraction industry.

Aldo Leopold said, 'There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.' Since I am an enthusiastic meat-eater as well as a passionate animal lover, two seemingly contradictory terms, I spent some time thinking about the sacrifices inherent when we harvest, anything, for our consumption. How should we honor the harvest of any animal, plant or mountaintop for our dinner table, gas tank or warship? Acknowledging that sacrifice starts with mindful consumption, re-using what we can and remembering, always, that the resources we have are not endless.


Incredibly, thanks to our disconnected and pseudo-sanitized food system, we are able to purchase a plastic wrapped package of beef with an expiration date and a price on it and think the only components of the transaction are the exchange of currency at the checkout aisle. We forget, or choose to ignore, the elemental transaction that occurred on the farm, where the cow was raised and harvested. Because of this sense of separateness, we also forget that the knives we purchase, the cars we drive or the railroads used to transport our toilet paper were once deep in the earth, under mountaintops standing sentry over farms and communities. That's why farms like the O'Dovero's are important— they haven't forgotten and they understand the sacrifice they are asking of the animals in their care.

It's easy to pretend the meat we eat came from cows as happy as the O'Dovero cows or the steel in our cars came from a remote mountaintop without ties to a family's stories or traditions if we disregard an elemental truth— everything is connected. Albert Einstein said, 'A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.' Once we free ourselves from the prison of separateness and we evaluate our consumption in the context of what sacrifices are necessary to fill our bellies, drive our cars or build warships, it's a game changer.

I drive a car, I use appliances and I'm sure there is a steel I-beam somewhere in my house but I can no longer ignore the fact that these conveniences extracted a cost somewhere, to a family or community who sacrificed their mountaintops, forests or clean water. The recognition of the inherent sacrifice in everything we consume begs the question— what do we value as a society? If the only currency that gets any traction is the almighty dollar, how do we begin to assign value to clean water, unmolested forests, healthy communities and happy cows? What is a sustainable and good way of life really worth? I know it feels like cool water rushing over my feet when I'm walking down a river bed. I know it sounds like the waves of  Lake Superior lapping along the shore on Long Island. I know it looks like a group of cows resting in a bucolic meadow of a family farm. Why is it so hard to convince people that it's worth protecting? Is it because we are using the wrong currency?

Is a family farm like the O'Dovero's reason enough to stop a mine? Are the sacrifices GTac is asking of us worth it? On the surface, it seems like a simple proposition— Northern Wisconsin needs jobs and the iron ore in the ground has value, so the sacrifice of one family farm is a fair trade for 'economic prosperity'. But if we dig deeper and look at what's really on the chopping block, it becomes clear that considering only the economic component of the deal is short-sighted. What is the true cost of removing five generations of a family's stories and legacy from the land? What is the inherent value of the Bad River Watershed? How can we quantify what destroying hundreds of acres of trees, ferns, flowers, wild berries and mushrooms will mean to the people and animals who live in the Penokees? Maybe the most precious currencies go beyond empirical value and as a result, require very, very careful consideration when we are asking for their sacrifice. The Penokee hills, the Bad River Watershed, Lake Superior and the O'Dovero-Flesia farm are worth saving— the sacrifices are too great.

In A Good Way Of Life

The old threads are unraveling,
Get your needles ready. 
We are stitching a new quilt
of humanity.

Bring your old t-shirts,
worn out jeans, scarves, 
antique gowns, aprons, 
old pockets of plenty
who have held Earth's treasures, 
stones, feathers, leaves,
love notes on paper. 

Each stitch
A mindful meditation. 
Each piece of material
A story.

The more colour the better, 
so call in the tribes. 
Threads of browns, whites,
reds, oranges
Women from all nations
start stitching.

Let's recycle the hate, the abuse, 
the fear, the judgment. 
Turn it over, wash it clean, 
ring it out to dry. 
It's a revolution
of recycled wears. 

Threads of greens, blues, purples
Colourful threads
of peace, kindness, 
respect, compassion
are being stitched
from one continent to the next
over forests, oceans, mountains. 

The work is hard
Your fingers may bleed. 
But each cloth stitched together
Brings together a community. 
A world, our future world
Under one colourful quilt. 
The new quilt of humanity.

~Julia Myers

It was a first for me, a Native American drum ceremony near the Potato River. But as I stood near the moving water making its way toward Lake Superior and listened to Tony DePerry offer his prayers, I knew I was in the right place.  Meister Eckhart said, in the 13th century, 'if the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice'. As I spread my tobacco into the water, I sent deeply heartfelt prayers of gratitude for Mother Earth, Lake Superior and the people who are re-imagining abundance and community in Northern Wisconsin.

Our souls have traveled through many lifetimes to be right here, right now— at a time when the heartbeat of a 2 billion year old mountain range, that once rivaled the Alps, and the largest body of freshwater in North America are threatened by human greed and the mining industry. Their shortsightedness has ignited a fire fueled by prayer, gatherings, ceremonies, story-telling and a re-definition of true, not stolen, power and influence that will not be extinguished.

A womb in bark— fitting for a space where the past is cherished and the future is being born amidst gratitude, feasting and ceremony.

We continued on our Saturday in the Penokees road trip to the Lac Courte Oreilles Harvest Camp near the proposed mine site and it was another eye opener. We walked into the camp and were met by Melvin, the head honcho, who warmly welcomed us and explained a few simple camp ground rules. In spite of the super-sized mosquitos, it was a magical place— a fully functioning settlement among the trees and rocks slated by GTac to become overburden.

An indigenous elder from British Columbia, Cecil Paul, told a story about a Magic Canoe, the preservation of the Kitlope, an old-growth forest in northern B.C. (story here) and the change that is possible when we gather around a fire, in a camp or in a mythical canoe. 'I was alone in a canoe," he (Paul) has said.  "But it was a magic canoe.  It was magic because it could make room for everyone who wanted to come on board, to come in and paddle together. The currents against us were very strong. But I believed we could reach our destination.  And that we had to for our survival.'

'You know, you guys call it 'the Kitlope,'" Cecil says. "But in our language we call it 'Huchsduwachsdu Nuyem Jees.'  That means 'the land of milky blue waters and the sacred stories contained in this place.' You think it's a victory because we saved the land.  But what we really saved is our heritage -- our stories which are embedded in this place and which couldn't survive without it, and which contain all our wisdom for living.' The LCO Harvest Camp is a place where, regardless of where you come from, all our wisdom for living is alive and well, available to anyone who walks into the forest off Moore Road.

We are in for a long haul— GTac isn't going away anytime soon but they are showing their true colors, as are we. It's maddening when you realize what you cherish has been sold to the highest bidder but we are shining light, from the banks of the Potato River or the LCO Harvest Camp, on the death throes of greed, hubris and corruption that doesn't fit in the world we are re-imagining. Community, ceremony, legacy, conservation and stewardship— good places to start changing our world.

The Last Places Are Worth Saving

“The good life of any river may depend on the perception of its music; and the preservation of some music to perceive.” Aldo Leopold

'All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for).

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.

This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter downriver. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species. A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these 'resources,' but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state.' Aldo Leopold A Sand County Almanac

I'm lucky to live in one of the world's 'last places', a place still relatively untouched by expansion and extraction. While a stand of old growth pines are a rarity due to logging and fisheries in Bayfield aren't shipping 12,000 barrels of whitefish and trout a year like they were in 1881; Lake Superior is still crystal clear and cold, white and red pines poke their heads up over the forest canopy and I can see every single star in the night sky. These are worth saving.

There are complicated issues facing Lake Superior— GTac, a company based in Florida, wants to build an open-pit (4.5 miles long, 1.5 miles wide and up 1,000 feet deep) taconite mine in the Penokee Mountains, six miles from the Bad River Reservation and Lake Superior. Twenty three creeks, streams and rivers flow directly into the Bad River Reservation, specifically the Kakagon Slough, and then into Lake Superior from the mine site. Sulfides, a by-product of mining, will flow directly downstream— decimating the wild rice beds, killing fish and polluting 10 percent of the world's fresh water. Sounds like a no-brainer— who would want to pollute one of the most beautiful places on Earth? The complications arise from the real and pressing problem of poverty and unemployment. A promise (valid or not) of 700 'good paying' jobs are a Siren's song to people who are looking for relief from financial distress. However, the question remains— what is our legacy to the people, animals and trees who come after us?

'For unnumbered centuries of human history the wilderness has given way. The priority of industry has become dogma. Are we as yet sufficiently enlightened to realize that we must now challenge that dogma, or do without our wilderness? Do we realize that industry, which has been our good servant, might make a poor master? Let no man expect that one lone government bureau is able—even tho it be willing—to thrash out this question alone.

....Our remnants of wilderness will yield bigger values to the nation's character and health than they will to its pocketbook, and to destroy them will be to admit that the latter are the only values that interest us.' Aldo Leopold 'A Plea For Wilderness Hunting Grounds' The Best of Outdoor Life: One Hundred Years of Classic Stories

When I was 8 or 9, my Mom, Bridget, Tom and I took an Amtrak train to Duluth, it was a big deal. We met my Dad at the Radisson and had dinner in the rotating restaurant on the top floor. As the harbor came into view, I remember seeing the lake stretch out for miles and was awestruck. That dinner in a slowly spinning restaurant was the start of my lifelong love affair with Lake Superior, a Midwestern inland ocean.

The lake has been a backdrop to so many of our family stories: Ted asked me to marry him on the Moccasin Mike Road beach, I slept in a tent for the first time on that same beach, Jack had his first pickle on the patio at Sir Ben's, a canoe ride north of Two Harbors inspired our purchase of Isle of Skye, we saw our first moose in Washington Harbor on Isle Royale, we saw caribou in the Slate Islands, the kids jumped off cliffs on Devil's Island, we walked up to the top of Mt Ashwabay on my birthday, I swam with Guinness, our Newfie, in Julian Bay, spent countless days on the beaches of Long Island, driving on the ice road, with all the windows down, to Madeline Island, my first sauna on Spain Island near Loon Harbor, the list literally goes on and on. At the end of my time here, I'll leave behind my children and the memories we've made together. Legacy is all we have and our family legacy is forever intertwined with Lake Superior and her shores.

I met literally hundreds of people at Good Thyme and over the course of those evenings, I realized three things: people crave a sense of belonging, they want to create memories and part of the magic of their visit up here was the lake's steadfast constancy. I heard countless stories about rituals and legacies: families who came up to the same cabin every year, beach glass collected to take home, epic rock skipping contests, wedding and subsequent anniversary dinners spent at the restaurant, the first ferry ride to Madeline Island, kayaking in the sea caves, again, the list goes on and on. I'm not unique in my deep affection for this place; there are a million ways to fall in love with Lake Superior and I've seen it in the eyes of people when they shared stories of 'their' lake.

'If in a city we had six vacant lots available to the youngsters of a certain neighborhood for playing ball, it might be "development" to build houses on the first, and the second, and the third, and the fourth, and even the fifth, but when we build houses on the last one, we forget what houses are for. The sixth house would not be development at all, but rather it would be mere short-sighted stupidity. "Development" is like Shakespeare's virtue, "which grown into a pleurisy, dies of its own too-much."

In objection to the dedication of the Gila as a permanent wilderness hunting ground, it has been truly said that a part of the area which would be "locked up" bears valuable stands of timber. I admit that this is true. Likewise, might our sixth lot be a corner lot, and hence very valuable for a grocery store or a filling station. I still insist it is the last lot for a needed playground, and this being the case, I am not interested in grocery stores or filling stations, of which we have a fair to middling supply elsewhere.' Aldo Leopold 'A Plea For Wilderness Hunting Grounds' The Best of Outdoor Life: One Hundred Years of Classic Stories

Extraction is quick and dirty— there is lots of action, fuss and bluster, money is promised and delivered (hopefully) but extractions, at their core, are not endless. Eventually, we'll run out of taconite, the action and money leaves to find another mistress and we're left with a shadow of the beauty and majesty that once was a blessed and integral part of our daily life. At some point, we have to decide the resources we have so generously been given are not endless and deserve our utmost respect and thanks. If I had a wish for my children and grandchildren, it would be they can see and feel the lake that has provided solace, joy and deep peace to their mother and grandmother. I would wish they could continue to add to the tapestry Ted and I started when they were born and pass on a legacy of gratitude and stewardship for one of the great wonders of the world.

What does stewardship and sustainability really mean? Is it possible to re-imagine an economy where we have enough and we re-define abundance?  Is there any common ground between a neighborhood in Minneapolis creating a sense of community with a garden and a group of people in the Chequamegon Bay creating a sense of community with a movement to protect Lake Superior? Absolutely. As Aldo Leopold said, 'the land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land'. I don't believe we can function in a sustainable way without practicing good stewardship to the people, animals, land and water where we set down our roots. I believe protecting Lake Superior is a good place to start. I believe we are connected in a myriad of unseen but deeply felt ways and these last places— Lake Superior, the Penokees and the Bad River Watershed are worth saving.

'A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.' Aldo Leopold