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FOODIES

Unique le' Natural

 

March 31, 2017

A rare moment of rest for Brian McCollaum

The most diverse farm I've seen so far in Aztec is Unique Le' Natural, owned and operated by Heather and Brian McCollaum. The McCollaums started five years ago with a few goats, a couple of sheep, a few dogs, a couple of cats, and some chickens. Between increasing demand for products and a soft spot for rescue animals, their farm has grown in numbers, production and diversity. In addition to the former, they have added turkeys, ducks, guinea fowl, and now quail to their ever evolving farm.

Heather started by making goat milk soap, deodorant, shampoo bars, lotion, and two balms, Lazarus and Everlasting, that are about the best things I've ever used for rough skin, back aches and overall soreness. Using a combination of ingredients from her farm, like herbs and milk, and the highest quality oils available, she produces soap and skincare products that are free of harmful chemicals and harsh detergents. Heather is continually researching ingredients with healing or calming properties, and luscious aromas, always striving to offer a hypoallergenic, worry free alternative to mainstream hygiene products.

"I started with the idea of offering a natural product that was safe for everyone to use and this process has led me to the business of offering the same with food," says Heather. "I think the current issues with commercially manufactured food tell us it's time to really reconsider the source of our food and where we place our trust," she says referring to the many recent recalls of food that is supposed to be safer, because it's industrially produced and inspected.

At the time of this interview, Sargento had just recalled some of its cheese products due to possible Listeria outbreak and today, "OK Food Inc. issued a recall for nearly 1 million pounds of breaded chicken after a handful of consumers found metal objects in their food." Mary Bowerman, USA Today Network (3/28/17)

Heather and Brian sell fresh farm grown, free yard, chicken, turkey and duck, as well as eggs from all of them. Ever had a turkey egg? Me neither, but I'm willing to try it and I'll let you know what I think. As soon as June, they may have quail and quail eggs for sale. These eggs are ungraded but who cares since you can see how big they are and you know where they're raised. "We have a garden, so for the most part, they eat what we eat," Heather remarks, matter-of-factly.

I've had chicken and recently a turkey from Unique, and they are the best of each I've ever tasted. The turkey was huge, and ended up feeding myself and friends who all commented on the great taste and how different it tasted from commercial turkey. No broth solution, no sodium inoculation, just turkey. I roasted the breasts which I used in sandwiches, tacos and salads, and then I cured the rest with a Cajun dry rub and smoked it over willow and cherry wood. Delicious!

Chef Amber Michelle

Freshly roasted turkey breast

As if farming wasn't enough work, there's researching products and law; New Mexico follows federal guidelines for fowl production and processing and requires registration with the New Mexico Livestock Board. (Per Guidance from NM Environment Department re: Farmers Markets). Finally, there's selling, which means more education and classes on ordinances, money handling, booth presentation, signage and new this year, worker's compensation insurance. We are six weeks away from Durango Farmers Market, eleven weeks from Farmington Growers Market, and fourteen weeks from Aztec Farmers market. Unique Le' Natural has a presence in Durango and Aztec for the entire season which runs through October.

The last few weeks at Unique Le' Natural have been about ramping up for the season, producing an abundance of products to hit the door running, kidding, literally, and reworking their schedules to accommodate the markets. "We're looking forward to a great year," Heather anticipates. "I love the markets and all the people I meet, the sense of community, and the feedback from clients." I asked her where she sees Unique in a few years. She replied with a calm knowing and a little smile, "I'm not sure, I'm just trusting the plan."

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