21 Sep

I’m finally writing from Chicago, returned to a whirlwind homecoming. People keep asking me how the trip went, likely expecting complete enthusiasm from me – but I can’t give it. To be honest, it was a hard trip, not something I’d jump to do again. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun, or that I’m not totally excited to have biked all those 750 miles – and above all, the Yogurt Pedaler project is not over.

The most pivotal conclusion I’ve reached about this trip was that the method wasn’t the right one to succeed in accomplishing my goals for the project. People I met were nearly always much more impressed by my bike trip than they were with making yogurt…and making things was the point, not going on a long bike ride. That doesn’t mean people weren’t touched by the yogurt – plenty of people have said I inspired them to try themselves – but the biking part of the project turned out to be somewhat of a distraction at times.

I also ran into plenty of problems being an outsider – which, in retrospect, should have been a pretty obvious expectation. New arrivals to a community are never immediately embraced into the neighborhood networks; transient street vendors are rarely trusted at first, and it takes time to build social and economic networks. There was no way I was going to expose and encourage local agricultural resources and communities when I wasn’t a part of them myself. I would repeatedly meet people, tell them about my project, and we’d chat for a few minutes before they would say, “oh, so you know about so-and-so’s dairy farm, then, just 20 miles west of here?” And of course, I didn’t. These small family farms don’t advertise online, they depend on word-of-mouth and a dedicated clientele at a local farmers market to sell their products.

Also, 20 miles west may not be far in a car, but that’s backtracking a whole day on a bike, and visiting even a handful more farms along this route would involve weaving through the countryside for countless more days or weeks.

This isn’t to say the project failed, by any means. The farms and people I did meet were enthusiastic, inquisitive, and encouraging. I am possibly even more dedicated to the mission of the Yogurt Pedaler to inspire people to make things and understand where their food comes from, and I still think yogurt is a fun, magical, and informative gateway to these sorts of explorations. But I want to rethink my methods – and this is where you readers can help me!

What were your greatest takeaways from this project? What should I definitely hold onto?
Were you inspired to make your own yogurt? How did it go? Share your incubation methods – success stories and messy failures!
How can I reconstruct this website to keep the project alive as a resource, not just as a journal of a bike trip that is over for now?
Where do you think this project should go? How can I evolve the project to reach more people, more effectively?

(If you’d rather not comment here, email me with comments.)

Days 27-29: Gambier and Mt. Vernon, OH

13 Sep

It had been 3 years since I’d returned to Kenyon – not enough time for Gambier to lose its familiar comfort and quirkiness, but enough time for me to completely forget about the street that led me up the hill to “downtown.” I pumped up the hill, which I remembered as a formidable end to every ride I took those years ago, but which was oh so much easier than the many rollercoasters of the morning outside Granville.

I had contacted a handful of key people at Kenyon before arriving, but things didn’t come together until the last minute. I had planned to visit a few farms near Fredericktown on Friday, but freak winds had blown through on Tuesday evening and left them with lost barns and too much of a mess for visitors. My cold had settled in with full force, though, so I didn’t fight the unexpected rest day. Ruth and I went down to John Marsh’s farm on the edge of Gambier, where Matt Riley gave us a tour. I’d heard of Matt – a friend of Aaron Zaremsky (in Yellow Springs), Matt’s a recent Kenyon grad who’s stayed in Gambier to tend this farm, as well as another he started at Wiggin Street Elementary School. This is the farm’s first year, and it’s mostly experimental. Matt and the others, including John, have a great piece of land, and plenty of hopes for supplying the Kenyon dining hall, co-ops, and local food banks with fresh produce. Right now, there’s just not enough man-power to harvest everything, and connections to get the food to people who need it are still not well-established, so lots of Matt’s efforts are focused on saving as much as possible from being tossed in the compost.

When evening approached, I headed over to the Parish House for a workshop with students from PEAS (People Endorsing Agrarian Sustainability), a student organization led by Sara Berman, my enthusiastic and reliable contact on campus.

A great crowd showed up, full of questions and enthusiasm and knowledge, and a couple of hours later I fumbled across the street with more yogurt than I had room to incubate. Disaster was averted, however, thanks to Ruth and Joseph’s fancy dehydrating oven.

Saturday morning opened chilly and gorgeous, and I was pretty near ecstatic as I pedaled into Mount Vernon on the Kokosing Gap Trail. Melissa Raines had published a piece about me in the Mt. Vernon News on Friday, so plenty of people came up to me having read that I would be at the market. The crowd was fantastic – all ages, and I nearly ran out of my samples, saving some for afternoon demonstrations back in Gambier.

I restocked on yogurt recipe flyers, then set up in front of Farr Hall right in downtown Gambier. I quickly gave away all of my goat milk yogurt, which was absolutely delicious, and met plenty of wary and very excited Kenyon students.

On Sunday I got to see the new Peirce dining hall – backstage! I met John Marsh, who owns the farm I visited Friday and is in charge of getting local food into the dining halls, to talk about the feasibility of making homemade yogurt in the kitchens. I was really looking forward to it – it’s just what I’d been hoping to do on this entire trip: inspire people to make their own yogurt. It’s pretty easy for people to taste the difference in freshly-made yogurt, even if the texture isn’t just what you like every time. And John understands. I’ve long been an avid cook, my love for farms was a major inspiration for this trip, and I’m now very much involved and invested in food distribution at Open Produce, but I’ve never worked in kitchens before, and I loved seeing all of the enormous machines arranged cozily in the surprisingly-small Peirce kitchen. Space is certainly lacking, John concedes, but that didn’t stop us excitedly re-arranging pots and pans to determine possible set-ups for the various stages of yogurt-making.

He has two enormous “kettles,” where milk could easily be brought to temperature. Then, eliminating one key observation stage, there is a handy “chiller” that can bring the milk quickly down to a certain temperature and keep it there steadily. After inoculation comes the incubation stage – and this is where things always get complicated. We played around with different ways to immerse yogurt pots in water, rest them on hangers in the heaters, or (if necessary) resort to using the very exposed pilot lights on the many gas burners.

I left hopeful, and John was excited about experimenting with the stability of hot water temperatures in the kettles overnight. I can’t wait to hear how they go, and I hope to hear that Kenyon students are eating homemade yogurt before the year is up! Does anyone have suggestions for yogurt-making on a semi-industrial (10-15 gallons/day) scale?

The REAL yogurt recipe

10 Sep

This is the long version, which I should have posted months ago and didn’t realize was missing from the website.


milk (whole is yummiest, but you can use any real milk – from cows, goats, sheep, buffalo, you get the idea)
yogurt (choose your favorite texture and flavor, because your yogurt will take on these characteristics, too)
(YES, it’s that simple!)


1. Heat the milk. To kill off any bad bacteria, and to break apart the casein proteins in the milk so the yogurt will gel more easily, boil the mill until it foams and rises. To retain the complete enzymes and bacteria of raw milk, heat the milk to your desired temperature. Remove from heat.

2. Let milk cool until it reaches 120°F. I use my fingers – when I can stick my fingers in the milk for 2-3 seconds until it’s too hot, then it’s ready. Inoculate the milk with live active cultures. This means, mix in about 2 T of yogurt for each quart of milk. Mix a small amount of milk with the yogurt, whisk well to remove any lumps, and then stir this yogurt mixture back into the warm milk.

3. Pour this inoculated milk into your incubating container. This should be some sort of glass or ceramic container with a top – it is not necessary for the top to be airtight, so you can simply set a plate over the top of a bowl if you like.

4. Incubate the yogurt at 105-110°F for 6-10 hours. The longer you incubate your yogurt, the thicker and more tangy it will become. Keep the temperature as consistent as possible during this time, and try not to jostle the yogurt. There are lots of methods of incubation, and it may take some time to find the best one for your lifestyle and environment, but here are some ideas:

  • Wrap your yogurt in dish towels and place over the pilot light of your stove.
  • Heat hot water, pour it into a cooler, place yogurt in the hot water, and close the top of the cooler.
  • Wrap the yogurt in an electric blanket or heating pad.
  • Heat a pizza stone, place it in a warm oven, put your yogurt in, and close the door to retain the heat.
  • During the summer, it may be possible to make yogurt by just leaving the jar on the kitchen counter, perhaps in the sun, for longer than 10 hours. Be patient – I have met a few people on this trip who incubate their yogurt at a lower temperature for 24-48 hours.

5. Once your yogurt has reached its desired consistency, place it in the refrigerator and keep it chilled for a couple of weeks. It will leak whey and become more sour as the days pass, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone bad.

6. To learn about straining yogurt, read this post.

Payne Family Farm

9 Sep

I rolled up to Scarlett Payne’s farm and she greeted me with a friendly “You must by my biking friend!” Her mother was there to get some goat milk for a baby llama, so we headed out to the barn with Radar the dog and her daughter Tiffany to milk a couple of goats.

Scarlett is a Certified Natural Health Practitioner, and a big believer in the importance of drinking milk raw, complete with its natural enzymes and bacteria. Therefore, she runs her farm as a goatshare program, so people sign a private contract, essentially paying Scarlett to take care of their goats so they can consume the milk they produce.

She raises her animals without hormones, on hay raised on the farm with no pesticides, and with no organic certification. Although everything she does is “organic,” and she has plans to install a Grade-A pour-through milking system in her barn, Scarlett has convinced me that state and federal regulations are what make farming so expensive, and especially dairy (or meat) farming. She raises her own hay, composts her manure, and rotationally grazes her goats on pasture. Without having to pay extra for certified inspectors and processing fees, Scarlett sells milk at $3.50/quart, and profits from these sales – from milk from only six goats – has paid for their hay, grain, and significant farm upkeep and improvements.

Worldwide, goat meat and milk are the most consumed of any dairy animal. They consume vastly less energy and food as cows, and produce much more milk than sheep, and they can survive in much harsher environments than other species. In addition, goat milk is healthier and easier to digest than cow’s milk – many people who are unable to digest cow milk are not lactose intolerant at all. Goat milk just digests faster than cow milk because the protein and fat molecules are smaller – it makes sense; goat calves are much closer to human baby size than cow calves are. Goat milk is also high in organic sodium, which maintains the body’s pH and makes the stomach more able to digest proteins.

See, I learned a lot from Scarlett! And, the goat milk was so tasty I have no reason to doubt any of it. Her goats are almost all Saanen goats, which are the best milkers. She also has had La Mancha goats and crossbred Nubians. Right now she is milking 6, but her dream is to have 20 milkers, producing 20 gallons of milk a day. She also raises turkeys and chickens, I mobile cages that she drags across the grass every day with a two-wheeler, leading the clucking birds to fresh new grass that they gobble up eagerly.

I had never made goat yogurt before, and the goat cheese we made at La Chevalerie was “goaty” enough that I would never have expected a creamy yogurt to result from the milk. Scarlett’s milk proved me wrong, however – the taste was sweet and delicious, smooth and drinkable. It wasn’t like the thick yogurt that I try to make with cow’s milk, but it was delicious, and if I can get my hands on good goat milk again, I certainly will jump on the opportunity!

Day 26: Granville to Gambier, OH

9 Sep

I’ve been waiting for this day for a decent while now – my first return to Gambier since graduating in 2007. I also knew it would be the hardest day of riding yet, and I wasn’t looking forward to compounding that with a weary cold. Per Bill’s wise suggestions, I took Hwy 661 north out of Granville, and was promptly stopped in my tracks at least 3 times by terrible Ohio hills.

It’s oh so gorgeous, though, if I weren’t sniffling and pedaling a hundred-pound bicycle rig.

See those fall colors emerging??

I visited Scarlett Payne’s goat farm along the way, ate lunch next to a cornfield, blew a spider out of my nose and into my handkerchief after much painful sniffling, and decided to explore a detour on my way up to Mt. Vernon. Since this was Ohio, I was hopeful…but after a mile or two of struggling through patches of gravel, I returned to the busier, but much smoother, Hwy 661. And I was rewarded! – with beautiful Knox County barns.

Before the last push up the Gambier hill, I pulled off the beautiful Kokosing Gap Trail at the Brown Family Environmental Center for a memorial photograph and brief doze by the fishpond in the butterfly garden.

Hello Kenyon!

Days 24 & 25: Worthington to Granville, OH

8 Sep

I left Worthington on Tuesday with a hint of a cold, a new spoke in my rear wheel thanks to Baer Wheels – open on Labor Day – and a good night’s sleep with Paul and John in their fine house, which holds the most books I have ever seen in one home.

The ride out of Columbus was surprisingly pleasant, and I made it to Alexandria for a “picnic” lunch in front of a storefront I found myself strangely coveting.

Midwesterners are so patriotic.

I arrived in Granville in the mid-afternoon, marveled at the picturesque town center, and drank hot tea until the farmers market started at 4:00. Larry, the market coordinator, kept apologizing for the sparsity of the Tuesday evening market, furthered by its being the end of the season, but I was happy to be there after the size of Dayton’s Saturday market.

Gil, who sold produce with his wife June, was my biggest Granville fan – he spent years running a big dairy farm, and he told me some incredible stories about his time in Biarritz and on trains throughout Europe during the war.

Storm clouds threatened for the entire time I was there, and the wind picked up as the hours passed. I left a little early, afraid I was going to get caught in early darkness or rain, and pedaled weakly up the hills to Bill and Kathi’s house. I had been warned the driveway was steep and gravel. I had not, however, counted on loose gravel on a curving driveway, and thunder rumbling ever closer. I started pushing my bike up the hill, but my feet just slid down with each step I took. I made it about 30 feet up the hill, gave up, and turned my bike perpendicular to unfasten the cart and do it in two turns. It was hard enough to drag both parts of my rig up the hill, but I made it, and less than two minutes after I had brought all of my gear in the front door, the skies opened up and the rain poured down.

Wednesday I woke up in the thick of a cold. Good thing I had planned for a rest day! I did emerge for a couple of hours in the afternoon, however, to do some demonstrations on the Denison campus. I had tried to contact their sustainability office, but had no response, so I decided to test my luck like I had at Earlham.

I was told, with both sympathy and threats, that security would be forced to ask me to leave campus because I was not sponsored by a campus organization.

I had biked all the way up that enormous hill, more ominous than Gambier’s, only to ride down again. I blew my nose a few times and began the descent.

Day 22: Yellow Springs to Columbus, OH

5 Sep

Riding 50 miles and then eating Mexican food is not such a good idea. But I did it, and most of the day was on bike paths, again! Hooray for Ohio!

Mary Beth made absolutely delicious blueberry pancakes for breakfast, and Dad and Gary and I set off on the road, covered in long sleeves to guard against the cool autumnal morning.

Gary led us through Clifton, home of the admired Clifton Gorge, which we did not visit, and this quirky “garage” next to the Clifton mill, which we did visit.

The rest of the day passed in tailwinded, perfect-weather pedaling, completed FINALLY by a long-awaited ice cream stop at Dairy Queen on the outskirts of Columbus.