Rhode Island White Chickens–A Threatened Heritage Breed

12 Week Old RI Whites

How we ended up with four Rhode Island White “Starter” chickens is the typical story of if your head is hard enough, beating it against the wall eventually works. After a few Google searches, I finally found four local sellers who hatched their own chickens. The first three I called didn’t answer, and had no voicemail. The fourth answered on the first ring, and promptly put me on a waiting list for chickens which would be ready for sale in a week. I made the cut, and drove up to the community of Battleground to pick them up.

Did he have the chickens! The first group I saw was a flock of a few hundred Rhode Island Whites, which were a special order from a hatchery. My chicks were part of an “overrun” set of hens, which were the result of an excess production of chickens, that the hatchery did not want. During my drive home, I had time to think about why chickens that look this fine are threatened as a breed. I came up with two good reasons.

The first is that correlation does not equal causation, a common mistake among our poorly educated population. Consider the following parody:

All Cats are Gray at Night

All White Chickens Look Alike

They don’t, except on a superficial level. Similarly, just because the words Rhode Island appear in Rhode Island Red chickens and Rhode Island White chickens, that the whites are only a white version of the reds. They aren’t. Whites are a well documented breed that is the result of crossing three different breeds that was introduced in 1888. Rhode Island Reds were developed by a number of breeders using a large range of different brown chicken breeds. The names are the result of geography, not merely genetics.

The larger issue is that Big Chicken, and Big Ag in general, ruins everything it touches. The myth that industrial production is more “efficient” than local food production finally took it on the nose this past summer, as even politicians are lamenting how expensive their crudité has gotten. Dudes, try shopping somewhere other than the supermarket–a farmer’s market, maybe.

At any rate, the big decline in Rhode Island White numbers in the 1960’s corresponds with the corporate takeover of food distribution that occurred at the same time. In this case, correlation can be proven to be causation as well, with independently verifiable evidence. Now that the system of Big Chicken is beginning to show its weaknesses, from Bird Flu caused by overcrowding and poor sanitation, to high prices brought on by equally greedy corporations, like Big Oil, will local production step in and fill the void? Is that flock of hundreds of Rhode Island Whites a sign or an aberration? History, in the long term, favors the sustainable, in whatever form it may take.

Local Brew: Goat Island Brewing Oktoberfest Lager

Oktoberfest South

Goat Island Brewing’s Oktoberfest beer is not actually made in the community of Berlin, Alabama–locals call it “Bur-lin”–but just a few miles to the west, in the town of Cullman. Cullman is in fact named after founder Johannes Gottfried Kullman, who was a “Colonel” in one of the many German revolts against royalty in 1848-1849. After revolt after revolt in Germany failed, Kullman thought it wise to relocate to the constitutional Republic of the USA.

Goat Island is becoming another craft brewery that is growing every year. The Oktoberfest is a well behaved lager, that could easily be drunk by the pint. It doesn’t hurt that they have beers with clever names, like Peace, Love and Hippieweisen, a wheat beer made with Alabama summer weather in mind. It also doesn’t hurt that their Duck River Dunkel won a silver medal at the Great American beer Festival in Denver in 2018. Not bad for a small Southern brewery.

Goat Island is an actual place, a small island just offshore in the Smith Lake impoundment. Legend has it that a single goat was marooned there as the waters rose, and spent a solitary life as the only one of his kind on the island. Someone could at least have taken him a beer.

A Box of Soup Tomatoes

Peas Sold Separately

“Soup Tomatoes” was an unknown term to me until a few years back, when I asked a vendor at the Festhalle what variety of tomatoes she was selling, and she responded “soup tomatoes.” Soon enough I found out that those were specially priced tomatoes for home canning, not a particular variety of tomatoes intended for soup. Now we look forward to the arrival of soup tomatoes every year.

Why? These are really just tomatoes that have an odd shape or blemish of some variety. They won’t fetch the premium price of perfect slicing tomatoes, which can go for as much as a buck a pound. Used for canning, prettiness is second to taste, and since none of these will ever live to the entrance age of Miss America Tomato, quantity is the key. All tomatoes look the same, after being run through a food mill.

The bottom line to this story is that this twenty five pound box of tomatoes went for ten bucks. All skin flints such as myself immediately see a mental image of a sign that says twenty five cents a pound. Through the food mill they go, and the puree, with salt and fresh basil added, goes into the jars, and gets topped off with some olive oil. Then we have a superior product at about 1/5 of the cost of a commercial one. Forget inflation–don’t worry, be happy, and buy some soup tomatoes.

December 16–Pizza al Fresco


Yes, winter in the age of climate disruption. Technically this was late late last fall, but with temps in the mid 70’s, it might as well have been late late spring. In this situation, the only thing to do is light up the brick oven, and eat some pizza outside.

Our pizza sauce has evolved over the years, and I will simply list the secret ingredients, soon to be secret no more. Here it goes:

Balsamic Vinegar

Garlic Paste

Italian Tomato Paste in a Tube (like the Garlic Paste)

Homemade Pesto, frozen in an ice cube tray

Home canned local Tomatoes

It is possible to screw up the sauce even with these ingredients, but it can only be accomplished with some difficulty. Go easy on the vinegar and the paste, and all’s well that eats well.

I will resist the temptation to make another bad joke about Al Fresco. I could hurt his feelings.

Canning Tomatoes

Maters Ready for Inspection, Sir!

Time for the yearly canning update. Get busy! Life is short and Tomatoes are sweet, so can ye tomatoes while ye may.

First note–last year’s crop of canning lids were mediocre, so we switched from the usual hot water bath canning method, to pressure canning. Zero failures since then. If you don’t have a pressure canner, just double the time the jars of maters swim in the hot water.

If you’re lucky, somebody gave you something like this, or you know someone you can borrow one from. Ours only comes out of hibernation a few times a year.

Old School

The Mirro-matic was designed to process enough food for an entire family, and this one did–just not for our family. A former co-worker of mine had all of his children grow up, and off to college, and he just wanted to get rid of this beast. As the only farm boy he knew, I was the obvious heir apparent.

We will probably can only quart jars tomorrow, to speed up things and conserve on the number of lids we have. US made lids are just now coming back on the market, and none are available locally. There is a good deal on Amazon for some, and an order is forthcoming. It should be just enough money to get space cadet Bezos an extra 1/4 inch into outer space.

Life in a Red State

Buried Counters

There was once a common saying in Mississippi, which was a simple “The richest land, and the poorest people.” That perfectly sums up the contradictions of living in a Red State.

Barbara Kingsolver discussed this dilemma quite perfectly in her essay of the same title, “Life in a Red State.” Naturally, she started with a discussion of how her kitchen was literally covered with tomatoes. Then she expanded from there. After today, I can definitely feel her pain.

The tomatoes and peas are only a fraction of the haul I made this morning at the Festhalle. Those two combined cost us the princely sum of $26, with the maters being the majority–$20. Preserving those this weekend will be a whole lot like work.

I once worked at a Southern public University where the faculty salaries were right at the lowest in the country, and the administrative salaries among the top ten percent. There is only one solution to a problem like that–leave. All that got us is a beautiful river front house, and tomatoes up to our necks. There’s nothing to not love about that.

May Day Breakfast with New Taters, Homegrown Eggs, and Leftovers

Let’s Eat!

We started off International Worker’s Day the right way, with our once every weekend Farmer’s Omelette. We had to celebrate the needs of workers to conserve every penny, so we made this partly with leftovers, although they were no ordinary leftovers. Having grown up on what we call a “dirt farm,” I know how to use a leftover.

The Base

Heaviest Skillet available

1 slice good Bacon (preferably organic)

New Taters, Precious

Just Enough Time to Wash off the Dirt

First, cook the slice of bacon. The real purpose of this is to render out the fat needed to fry the taters. I like to add some olive oil for extra flavor, if needed. These little gems didn’t need any. The Yukon Golds were so tender I didn’t even peel them. Naturally, I had planted them in composted chicken manure to begin with.

Fry the taters until practically done, and chop the bacon. Turn the oven on to 400 F. Time for the magic leftovers.


Grilled organic Onions

Grilled organic cherry Tomatoes

Chicken kabobs on Friday night, grilled over hardwood charcoal. It was all too good, and had those two left over. The Florida Maters were halved, and the onions diced. They just needed to be warmed, so I threw them in with the chopped bacon. Then came the money shot.


Homegrown Eggs

Our chickens are getting fat and happy, and we had nine eggs on two days each last month–and we only have eight hens. Currently we are feeding about five families with our eggs. The birds will without doubt be demanding overtime feed soon.

Cook the eggs over-easy style in the oven, but without turning them over. Watch this like a chicken on lookout for a hawk, and take out while the yolk is still runny. This is more than enough to feed the two of us, plus a snack for our two dogs. They especially like the taters.

Cullman Strawberry Festival, 2021

We bought these last week, locally grown. Nothing better.

May 1, aka Mayday, is the beginning of the Cullman Strawberry Festival, at the Festhalle. There will be plenty of Chicken Dancing, and strawberries galore. Also, some lovely lass will be crowned Strawberry Queen. This schedule is courtesy of Cullman Parks and Rec.

Schedule of Events


farmers market



kids carnival

museum gazebo

arts & crafts show

depot park

food vendors open

museum parking lot

dj laken pitts

main stage – between sets

cullman community band

main stage

magic show with brian reaves

First Avenue Stage



Lifesouth blood drive

depot park




cullman high school jazz band

main stage

cullman civic ballet – “Alice in Wonderland”

First Avenue Stage


wallace state dancers

First Avenue Stage


the humdingers

main stage

strawberry soda throwdown

First Avenue stage


introduction of miss strawberry festival

main stage


the humdingers

main stage


cullman civic ballet – “Alice in Wonderland”

first avenue stage


the humdingers

main stage


wallace state dancers

first avenue stage


cullman middle school jazz band

main stage

strawberry eating contest

first avenue stage


strawberry festival baking competition

main stage


Doggie “Paw”geant

main stage


wallace state jazz band & Singers

main stage

Cullman ballet theatre school

first avenue stage

after “paw”ty

museum gazebo


cornhole tournament registration


strawberry soda throwdown

main stage


strawberry bucket hoisting contest

main stage


lorirayne music

main stage


cornhole tournament



avenue g band

main stage


after party with dj laken pitts

Taters in the Ground, Precious

Taters Planted, now Grow, Little Taters

In true Appalachian fashion, we have gone from temps in the high teens last week, to approaching eighty this week. Time to get those taters in the ground.

Something of a note on climate here, and global warming (anthropogenic climate disturbance), in general. The USDA keeps moving us back and forth among hardiness zones, depending on which way the political winds are blowing. Therefore, I follow the thermometer, instead of the bureaucrats.

With the exception of one night, we have had a zone 9 winter, even though we are up in the mountains. Even that night was marginally zone 8, at 18 degrees F. We haven’t seen Zone 7 weather for 15 or 20 years.

The lowest forecast night time temp for the next week is more than ten degrees above freezing, so these jokers should get a good start. I have one row of sprouted tubers that we grew last year, some had sprouts that were a good foot long.

The other row is sprouted organic potatoes that I bought at our best supermarket. I was going to buy real seed potatoes, but no one here had them yet. WHAT! This is the South, dopesticks.

I buried them all in composted chicken manure. I’m going to try a new fertilizer this year, just because I love the name of it–Moorganite. It’s a combo of composted cow and chicken stuff. Strong to quite strong. That’s 45 garlic plants on the left of the pic. Taters and garlic, anyone?

Rejuvenating Cast Iron Cookware

Back in Action Again

Even someone as OC as myself occasionally slacks off. I pulled out a dutch oven that had this skillet lid sitting upon it, and there were spots of surface rust on the inside of the lid. Time for some rejuvy-nation.

Lard to the Rescue

This was a simple fix–lard and paper towels, plus some heat. This is a stove top treatment, so it does require some adult supervision.

Start with a practically invisible layer of melted lard. Heat until it smokes, wipe it out, and repeat the step until you get tired or fall asleep. After a few rounds, the rust disappears. Magic!

A Stovetop Skillet

It finally dawned on me why I like this skillet lid so much. It’s the handles. There isn’t a long skillet handle to get in the way of all the other things on the stove. This now is no longer a lid for a dutch oven. It’s a permanent resident on the stovetop, where it is used at least a couple of times a day.

Now I have to get MJ the 2020 Rosie the Riveter skillet. This is seriously a 19th amendment year.


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