Monday, October 19, 2020

Ready for Snow, Almost!

I'm writing you from the laundromat while I wait for 4 loads to spin dry. Shannon is home waiting on our second firewood delivery. Soon as it is stacked there will be three cords of good, dry, hardwood here for winter heating. Only one more is needed to be 100% okay but this is a fantastic place to be before Halloween. There are about 80 bales of hay in the barn with another 75 on hold for in reserve to deliver when I am ready for them. I'm a little worried about how tight the barn is for hay storage, but I reckon I'll find out soon. Going through 2 a day for the horses and flock right now, all of which are still grazing while the grazing remains. A few frosts hit the mountain but nothing hard killing, and this week is going to be oddly warm with nights in the 50s and days nearly 80 and I, for one, will be enjoying every minute of that.

It feels like most of winter prep is under control now, if not completed. And this morning I called my bank to make the September mortgage payment. The farm is still technically behind, but owing the payment for the month you are currently living through feels a hell of a lot better than being 3 months behind and just paying to fend off foreclosure. I feel like I'm on ground I can stand on. I am glad I didn't breed the ewes this year or add any new animals before frost besides the stray chicken clutch of eggs hatching. The meat birds are in the freezer. Pigs are in their new homes for freezer camp with new piglets raising for the next lot of owed shares. The horses are growing winter coats already. The humble butternut squash harvest is in and stacked in the kitchen. 

I make no goal to pay the October mortgage before the end of the month. But at least I can earn towards it while stacking firewood and beginning some winter goals like moving the chickens into the meat bird coop and letting the new brood take over the smaller coop near the home. 

This is still my favorite month, most of it flying by with beauty and work. Some high points are the small rabbit and squirrel hunts I have gone on. The work of training Hamish to be a hard working and healthy hunting partner. And the feeling of that first snowfall hitting the farm with a fat pile of wood, hay, and clean blankets like the ones I am bringing home in a few minutes. 

A normal and quiet update today. I wish the same for you all in these odd times.

P.S. Thank you so much for the outpouring of kindness in emails and through social media. I read them all, and I'm happy to report only two people told me I was going to Hell for my homosexuality but even those folks wished me well, so I can't complain about you readers at all. Thank you for the kindness. It meant the world to me. 

Picture of our hand-painted Voting pumpkin by Miriam Romais!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Dark Sides

When this blog started I shared everything. Every victory, every failure. Every single stupid mistake I made learning to farm as well as every happy little triumph. Posts about first eggs laid by hens I raised from chicks were side by side with stories about being thrown off horses or a sheep dying of some unknown disease. 

I mean, that is what farming is, folks. It’s a gamble of hard work, luck, loss, and hope. You go out there and try your best but regardless if you are raising sweet corn or Cornish Cross - shit happens. I didn't censor myself. It felt important to tell the whole story. 

When this blog started I was a new farmer, a single woman, and without support of nearby family and friends. I thought sharing my trials would be helpful to others trying to learn as they go, just like I was. And you know what? It was. It clearly was! I got such an outpouring of support and care and did everything from hosting workshops and farm festivals to publishing 5 books about my farm and animals over the past decade. I regret none of it. I made lifelong friends, learned from every mistake, and now looking back the farm I have in 2020 is beyond the wildest dreams I had as a hopeful traveler after college. The pasture is the healthiest it's been in memory. The animals are so healthy and well. My freezer is full of food I raised with my friends and partner. My cabinet stocked with preserves, candles, tinctures and syrups from friends that barter and share with us. It's a small economy of trust and mutual respect and worth between neighbors and farmers. This place is so good, and while it can always use improvements and repair... It is so, so good.

This past weekend was so magical. The kind of magic no adult can really comprehend. The kind of magic this farm rarely sees. My sister, her husband, and two young children came to the farm in all its October Glory! They played in leaves and carved pumpkins. They held baby chicks, met a hawk, went on pony rides and hikes. We told scary stories and ate smores around the campfire, all bundled up as the sounds of distance sheep and horses played background ambiance to our legends. They ate bacon and eggs I raised, and pancakes fried from the same recipe I have always loved. Seeing my work of years reflected in the eyes of a six and eight year old was amazing. Like seeing my farm for the first time again. My home was a place of natural wonder. And my heart was so full a flash of light from a struck match could've split it open. With my girlfriend beside me, my family all around me; I can’t tell you the love and happiness I felt for my life at that moment. I didn’t think about money. I didn’t worry about bills. I just felt the love and the light of having made it through (and to) a place worth fighting for. I’m 38, in love, doing what I love. Not a bad life. Not at all. It's all any of us can ask for.

But there’s a real dark side to all of this. And over the years it has torn me apart. It has made me scared of inviting strangers back to the farm. It’s had state agencies and police at my door. It’s had me up all night with anxiety. Emails and threats and weird letters sent to my home from anonymous online trolls who have convinced themselves this farm is a horrible place and I am a horrible person. 

And even though it is just a few individuals they have made me want to stop writing entirely. They made me want to disappear because of how afraid I became of them. Which is of course, what they want. They want me and my farm to go away. 

So now I try to share what is going on here without going into too much detail about my personal life or the farm’s animal life, which is the opposite of how this farm and blog started. It’s got to the point where if I post any image of any animal, in any season, trolls look at it for any reason to call the authorities on me. Here's a list of recent reasons my town’s tax dollars had to be wasted to send police or animal control or other state agencies to my door. 

I am “garbage feeding” my swine. What was the evidence of this? I posted that a friend that bakes weekly donates day-old donuts they can no longer sell from their stand on the side of the road. This happens once or twice a month, tops, and is one flour bag of donuts. The state was told (anonymously) I was feeding trash to my pigs and so authorities were sent to do a swine feeder check. When the Veterinarian came for that surprise inspection he and his partner apologized profusely and were upset as I was they were called to the farm. Garbage feeding means literally opening bags of plastic-wrapped breads and foods from supermarket dumpsters or restaurant waste also filled with napkins, plastic utensils, styrofoam, etc. I was feeding a sack of day-old donuts by hand once a month and since I wrote about donuts online the state was at my door. Fun.

I posted a picture of my older black horse, Merlin, on Instagram. He was laying down in the snow on a sunny winter day with his gray face showing. These same trolls called animal control saying my horse was sick because only sick horses will lay down in the snow. The gray on his face - not white hairs from a 26-year-old gelding, but rain rot from my nefarious neglect. The animal control and state police showed up. 

Trolls also told these same officers that my horses didn’t have a shelter since one wasn't in the picture. (They do, a pole barn 40 yards from where the picture was taken.) And that since there was a fresh pile of manure in one corner of another picture I was turned in for  "feeding my animals food on top of their own waste" - Horses poop. It happens. In winter they don’t graze and walk around as much as summer and instead eat hay out of one feeding station near the gate so their waste area is more concentrated. Imagine posting a picture of your horses with a poo in the corner and having the authorities at your door. That is my new normal.

I once posted a 10 second video on my Instagram stories of one of my dogs with its head out the window while an Avett Brothers song played. We were on a backcountry road in Shushan, NY going 10 miles an hour. Later that week a police officer approached me in town and asked if I was Jenna Woginrich? She told they got an anonymous call I was driving around my town videoing people’s property?! Oh, and it’s illegal for a driver to operate a device. I explained to the officer what actually happened, and why this was happening. She was so sorry to hear it and have bothered me. 

I’ve had complaints to the DEC about my hawks because sometimes I post pictures of them inside my home. That is because falconers often bring their birds indoors for short stretches to get used to being hooded around the fuss of human voices and animals like dogs padding around or barking. On very cold nights, like below -10° I always bring a bird indoors. They complained to my my hunting license department I was conditioning my bird to be used to indoor temperatures and therefor hurting its chances to survive in the wild.

Online stalking has risen to the point where certain accounts of mine need to be private. If a fellow friend or farmer publicly shared they liked me, my farm, or my work or animals on social media an anonymous email would appear from a fake name explaining how I am actually a horrible person with links to "proof" of my scandals like a blog post where a pig got shocked by an electric fence. I guess these people don’t know about electric fences on small farms? I don’t know. 

When I started dating someone serious even she got this email. She's a private person with private social media accounts. Trolls still found her contact information online and explained to her (the woman that loves me!) why she shouldn’t. So this isn't about animal welfare from zealous animal rights activists. This is about hate. It's about making sure I am not happy or safe in my home. 

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. It’s exhausting. The local authorities are exhausted and sick of this. Animal control has actual animal abuse to deal with. And it doesn’t matter that Google had to remove one hate blog about me for harassment or that every single time the authorities are sent here nothing happens because there is nothing wrong: it will keep happening. And you know why?

Because I’m a woman living the life she wants publicly.

I don’t know if other farm bloggers or authors deal with this? I don’t think so. I think the combination of being one of the early big farm bloggers and a young, single, naive woman was the perfect storm of attention and parasocial relationships. I was telling people I never met my every thought, dream, desire, and hope. People felt they knew me. But that relationship was entirely one-sided and not real. But it felt so so real, because like turning the page of a diary people learned so much. And when that same attachment and one-sided care feels betrayed - like I made a choice they didn’t agree with, or spent money the wrong way, or didn’t know what to do in a situation they would - people felt angry. It wasn’t like watching a movie with a character they no longer liked. Their “friend” Jenna had become a villain not listening to their advice as they screamed shaking their computer screens from another state. So a small group of fans turned into stalkers. And they haunt this farm every day, and have for years.

I don’t know what the future of this blog or farm will be, I never have, but I do know that I am not going to stop writing. I am working on a book that is about what happened to me in the ten years between 27-37 that changed me so much for the better. That turned me into a woman that no longer hears those critics I never met but strongly heeds the advice of friends and neighbors. And when that book comes out it will deal with a lot of what fear and anxiety strangled my heart forcing me to want to quit every day. But that never won. Anonymous fear can not beat real human connection, love, support, and work. This weekend proved that to me. This doesn’t have to be a place constantly worried about the next officer showing up at my door. It isn’t a fortress to protect. It is an open-gated home where a scared girl became a strong woman. 

And I will carry on. And I will farm. And I will write.


P.S. If you have ideas or thoughts on this, please do send an email or messgae on social media about how to best deal with it. Or simply a kind word of support would be so welcome at this time.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Onward to October

It's a rainy and damp morning here, much needed and much appreciated. It's been so dry that the lawns have burned brown from sunlight, hay has grown slow, baes becoming scarce, and the creek is dry in places. Not anymore. Over an inch of rain slammed into the county last night. No damage here though, not even a power outage.. Besides a poorly-working tarp in the barn wetting some bales - most of the farm is dry (those bales are going to be used FAST though...) Can't complain. The coffee is hot, the dogs are toweled dry, and every animal on the farm is sun and safe. Colder weather is coming by the weekend but right now it is nice to know we don't need a fire to stay warm, we can cuddle beside the jackolanterns.

I am working on what is in store for this winter, which is my main concern. Still have a ways to go on hay and firewood, and soon as I can afford another cord I will order it. But in the meantime I am working on selling pork shares, logos, the usual. Sales are slow but not dead and it's encouraging enough. I didn't end up making the September house payment yet but hope to before mid October. If I stay frugal and keep things close to home it should be possible. All of this keeps me going. 

I got to ride Merlin solo up the mountain yesterday. The leaves here are in full color in some places and the winds with the pre-rain bluster were downright magical. It felt so good to run up those paths, the old boy still has it. And if there are ponies to ride and leaves to feel rushing past your face in the wind, I will be here to do so. Onward into October!




Wednesday, September 23, 2020

New Birds!


A few weeks ago one of the Buff Orpington Chicks we raised in the spring went broody. It was a pleasant little surprise after both another hen and the little flock of geese didn’t hatch a single egg during their incubation attempts. Nine little homebrewed chicks were born and we brought six indoors to brood ourselves and are leaving three with the young mother to raise outside. It’s so nice having a little brooder in the living room again. At night its warm glow and the soft light of the evening fire in the wood stove has been making the entire home feel more comforting as the nights grow colder. Already there has been two frosts here. Walking outside for morning chores means sweaters and hats, soon gloves. 

That isn’t my only bird news, either! I was able to trap a small male red tail hawk in Salem, NY a few days ago. He’s been doing so well! I never get tired of training a new bird and the journey we go on from strangers unsure of each other to friends. We are just in the first days of learning to eat, live, and walk together but at the rate he is learning he should be able to fly free well before Halloween, and that is very exciting for me! Lots of pictures of him on Instagram and Twitter!

The farm isn’t yet at the place it needs to be for hay and firewood to exhale with a safe feeling of completion; but there are 80 bales in the barn and a cord and a half stacked outside, and that isn’t nothing. I am hoping to order more hay and firewood soon. It all depends on sales, but the August mortgage was paid and slowly I am working towards September.

So things are slowly getting there. New lives and friends and fire stacked for the cold nights. I am happy I didn’t breed these ewes young and their only job is to eat and be fat and happy all winter. The little goat Cade isn’t so little anymore, but is a sweet addition to the herd and loves scratches under his chin. It’s not a bad life, folks. Not bad at all.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Pork Shares for 2021! Reserve Now!


Offering shares of pork for 2021! Limited quantity available for next summer and early fall. Selling shares in advance helps this farm plan it's year ahead. I offer a flat rate that includes butchering, smoking, vacuum sealing of meats in 1/4 and half hog. Please email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com to get details!

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Winter Prep Update!

With September well underway this farm is slowly meeting its winter preparation goals. There are around 75 bales stacked in the barn, lining the entire base floor of the small structure. This is the most hay I've ever had in that little barn because in the past I only needed to store a max of 40 or so bales at a time since I could constantly resupply that same space from hay banks around the area. Now with being in charge of an entire winter's worth of hay I need about 200-250 bales to get through the winter. Possibly more. But I want the lion's share of that stacked and dry by the first snowfall. 

There is still a cord and a half of wood stacked and under cover, and I will want another 2 cords or so by end of October. But I have a dependable and trusty wood delivery guy and time to accomplish that. Even now, just that small bit of hay and wood is a comfort. It's paid for and stacked and waiting for use. 

My days here are good. This is the first winter I am prepping for not to spend alone with the animals, ever. The needs of another person need to be figured in and letting go of preferences that don't serve the whole of the farm fam need to be let go. So I am learning to adjust to all of it, and very happily so! When you're stacking wood to keep someone you love warm, you stack better. Simple as that.

The farm's gardens are small and fighting their own battles against groundhogs and other pests, but the squash seem to be doing well enough and there's a nice little crop of butternut and pumpkins coming along. There's also herbs to dry for winter herbal teas, seeds to save, animals yet to butcher and sell. But it all will get done. So far half of our meat birds have already been harvested and we are hoping to sell a good amount both to get a return on investment and make some freezer space available for pigs this winter. This has been the most successful meat bird year in memory. No losses at all to predators and the birds we already harvested... shoot, some were nearly 8lbs! We have the first chicken feast on our own kale, potatoes, and herbs coming up with friends this Monday. Pretty excited about that!

Falconry season is coming up, fall and winter. I don't have a bird yet but have been trapping whenever I can find the time. So many juvenile red tails and kestrels are out and about! It's been a whole new experience trapping with someone who has never seen the whole process of making the trap to getting the hawk to starting training that same night you bring it home. Lots of trial and error on this hawk trap (I have never made my own trap until this year and just learning some of the skills that make it work was a bit of a challenge. I had to follow directions, which I am horrible at. Don't try anything I bake that requires measuring.) But just seeing so many birds out is comforting and encouraging! Soon I'll have a new charge on my gauntlet. Exciting!

I'm still slowly working towards the August Mortgage. I hope to take care of it soon. It'll take a lot of frugality and luck and planning to pull it off, September's house payment, butcher bills, hay and wood... but so far I am okay. And as long as sales keep coming in I should be. I can certainly eat here at the farm for next to nothing, and eat like a queen this time of year, and I'll tell you that for free. It's a grand way to save money - eating your own butter roasted squash, potatoes, and chicken!

So that is where the farm is at. I'm slowly getting in hay and wood. I am behind on the mortgage but not scary behind. I am excited about small things like birds and foliage. I am worried but optimistic. I'm in love and hoping for a calm and gentle winter, warm and safe. I wish the same for you all. 




Friday, September 4, 2020

A Small Adventure


Monday night was an evening I'll never forget. One of those perfect little trips that make your heart whole again after a hard few weeks. I got to get outside with everything I needed to be safe, warm, fed, and comfortable in the wilderness alongside my Love and my two very good dogs. We hiked in cool late-summer weather and spent the night without wifi or cell service on top of a mountain. The Japanese have a phrase for this sort of medicine. It's called Shinrin-yoku, to us, Forest Bathing. And if a regular walk in the woods is a bath, then we had a soak in Nature's most glorious hot tub. 

This was a short escape. We planned our freelance work around just 24 hours away from the farm. We left around noon on Monday and were back by noon Tuesday, but in that time we managed a small six mile loop backpacking trip in the mountains of Vermont. We had arranged for the permit and farm sitters in advance. We planned our gear, meals, and the needs of two very happy dogs (who carried their own packs, might I add!) and we set off into the wild. Just driving away with your backpacking gear loaded up and a plan to be outdoors all night fills me with a quick rushing happiness. And once our bodies start huffing and puffing with trekking poles in hand and muddy boots beneath our feet all the worries about money, the farm, anything but that night's home and dinner fade away. It's primal. It's good.

What I love about backpacking is it is right here. It's nearly free. Our permits to camp at that amazing spot were $5 a person. The gas was already in her car. The gear and the food already in our home. The gear I have nearly all was on sale, slowly collected over the years. Some of it I got for gear tests for magazine articles. But even if you wanted to buy gear today online to backpack, you could do it for far less than a weekend in a nice hotel and reuse it over and over. Since I had what all four of us needed, all we had to do was arrange time to get away. We did. Forest Bathing, here we come!

We were so lucky to have the trails almost entirely to ourselves with the weekend folks back from their hikes and many kids back to school. So we talked, walked, sang, and listened to podcasts as we carried our heavy loads up and down trails and along gorgeous views of the Green Mountains and Adirondacks. When we arrived at our campsite it felt almost too good to be true. The campsite jutted out like a little peninsula of earth high in the air surrounded by sweeping mountains on all three sides! The site had a picnic table and room for our three person tent so we rested with happy hearts and shaky legs. We were both of tired from the day's work both at the farm and on our feet, we enjoyed the most beautiful sunset of my life and ate a warm meal of potatoes and stroganoff as the sun melted away into the sky.

It was such a reminder how lovely this world is even during all this hardship. I hope you are all finding time to do what you can with the resources, energy, and space you can give your heart. It does us all good to get away a little when we can.

And since home, it's back to winter prep and hoping to cover August's mortgage before mid month. One day at a time. One hope at a time. One amazing view at a time. 



Monday, August 24, 2020

Rolling With It

It’s going to hit near 90 degrees today, but with a hay delivery around dusk and the first birch leaves falling off the trees… It feels like the start of fall. I know I keep writing about that, but weather really is the biggest news around here. Yesterday was so humid and after my walk with the dogs I took Gibson over to the river to cool off. If I took a picture of the families with beach chairs and swim suits you would swear it was a 4th of July picnic, but like I said, that tired light doesn’t lie. The sun is growing weary and even these last throes at hot days feel half-hearted. But I swam with my old boy and fetched sticks and it felt good, like a last hurrah of August. What a thing!

Hoping to trap a hawk this September and get started with a new bird. I so miss having one to train and hunt beside. This time of year is all about preparing for it and all of that work is almost done. The equipment is ready. The hawk trap and bait ready to set. The mews painted and cleaned and the weathering yard prepped. The freezer is loaded with hawk food and my glove will be oiled tonight and all I need is a bird to go with it! Exciting!

I am feeling good this morning! Like good things are on the way. I don’t know what or how, but my heart just simply feels lighter. There is no special event planned for today. I am sitting in the living room now waiting for some artwork I painted to dry so I can ink it after some outside work. I have a small pile of soap orders to mail. Besides another small delivery of 25 bales of hay I have no plans beyond a trip to the post office. But something about the morning light and how the trees are mostly all still green and the heat of the grass under my bare feet has me smiling. Like things are going to be okay.

So I’m rolling with it. Feeling positive about the day ahead. Feeling like good things are coming my way. Which I will prove in moments by pouring myself another cup of coffee and heading outside to grain the fat happy ewes on the hill with that silly goat. And feel glad that I have working limbs and eyes and a heart to do so, and let that be a morning prayer in motion that carries me through the rest of the day I am lucky to have.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Grateful

One of the things I am most grateful for about being a homesteader right now, is winter prep. The work of hay and firewood, saving money and stocking up on winter goods is a timeless and necessary tradition. I know it’s the 21st century. I know that I can order a can of crushed tomatoes on Amazon and get it shipped to my door in days. But the work of growing tomatoes here, harvesting, preparing them, and setting up in the freezer in marked bags feels like panning for gold. It feels like the entire process is safe, because it is mine, done here, and stays here. There is nothing wrong with cans of tomatoes from the store in your larder. Nothing at all! But to be making lists, stacking bales, ordering firewood, and planning sacks of flour for winter loafs is the distraction that has grounded me and became a salve for uncertainty.

So many people are learning to make this winter one to prepare for. Between the pandemic, jobs lost, climate change, and winter storms - all certainly going to complicate things. But here at Cold Antler Farm, I’ve been dancing with uncertainty since 2012 when I left the office and became a full time freelancing farmer. And if you’ve read along that whole time you know how hard and long that road has been at times, how scary, how lonely…

But I made it through. And I’m heading into this winter with some of the earliest prep and the lightest heart I’ve had in years - despite the pandemic and continued uncertainty. Some of that is falling in love and knowing I won’t be going through it all alone again. But mostly it’s the ten years already passed, all of it. The good, the bad, the mistakes, the success, the friends, the trials, the animals, the weather. When you’ve tested yourself and remained in the life you’ve wanted to live, year after year, there is a hard-won confidence in that. Not an arrogance. Not an expectation. Nothing like that. But the constant sting of tiny proofs you can do this, that you did it with a harder lot, that you made it through all that. I will again.

If the hay delivery comes today it’ll be the third 25 bale order this August. Slowly that barn is getting more and more full of that saved green grass. The meat birds we raised as chicks are ready to fill our freezer, and soon a second freezer will join the farm (I hope)! So many summer squash, beans, peas, and other garden goodies have already been canned or frozen. Firewood is stacked for half the winter, and soon as I can swing another order I will. My goal right now is to may the August mortgage soon as possible and then focus on more wood and hay. But progress is coming, and the work of making this small place safe against a scary world is the distraction I need from it. It’s given me a sense of purpose, power, and control in a world we have very little of any of those things. So I am grateful I’m a homesteader. I’m grateful I’m still here. I’m grateful you are reading.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The First Tired Light

I know when to expect the first hints of fall. It isn't when I start stacking firewood or hay bales. It has nothing to do with Halloween candy at the pharmacy or Pumpkin Spice at Starbucks. It'sa much older, truer, method than agriculture or candy. It's when you first notice that the light changes. That what used to be powerful, harsh, and demanding July sunlight has lost its edge. It's older now, the summer I mean, and it feels tired. The pace of the light's run is slower, if that makes sense? Like it's the same strong beast, but carrying a full pack uphill. And on mornings like this, these weird in-between moments, it is both beautiful and terrifying. Last night, really just a few hours ago, I was watching piglets in the dark for my night rounds on the farm. I could see my own warm breath filling my headlamp beam with smoke. I was chilly, wrapped in a flannel shirt. I just checked the weather. A small heatwave is coming back. Temps may even get back to the 90s?! But it's an old man's punch now. It's tired. Fall is on the way.

I am happy to report some good news for this farm. I was able to pay the July mortgage and right now, as I type, the month I am earning towards paying for is the month I am living in right now! Do you know what a relief that is?! To not be trying to catch up and pay for the past while worried about making the future? It is a gift beyond measure. And also, there's a cord and a half of firewood stacked under cover and nearly 50 bales of hay in the barn! I know I am not even close to what I need but compared to even a few weeks ago this is progress. My goal is 100 bales stores, not used for current feeding, by October 1. Along with three cords of firewood stacked and covered. I am halfway there and making it while earning this month's house payment. As horrible as the news is, as scary as the pandemic is; I need to realize among all the anxiety that things are better than they have been in many August's before this. And I made it through those years, too.

So this is good! There are 11 days left in this month to still make this month's payment, to save towards hay and butcher bills. The garden, orchards, larder, and freezer are packed with amazing good food I can prepare here in this kitchen. I don't need to commute to a job off farm today. I don't need to go to some gym. I can run up and down these hills, eat the food I raised, shower with the soap I made, and find peace with the choices that created this life. And I will do in this tired light. I will do so with hope of a farm on the mend, slow as sauce stuck in the jar but irrefutable in it's promise.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Love is a Barter Economy

Good morning from Cold Antler Farm! Things here are slowly working towards a safe and warm homestead for the winter. As you know, I am building up firewood and hay deliveries as I can afford them. I have 25 bales stacked and 5 set aside for current supplemental feeding. I’ll keep building this up as I go through the late summer and fall, with the goal of 200+ bales in secure state for winter. I will need more but that is a good start.

I am also about halfway through August and still trying to pay the July mortgage. My fear of falling behind is amplified by the cost of firewood and hay, and the gamble of not buying in advance all that is needed to make the regular bills on time (or close to it) in hopes that there will still be hay and firewood available to deliver in November, Jan, and March. I think we all know that bet is a foolish one. Between Covid, the economy, and the drought this area has dealt with all summer - there is no certainty of hay as supply and demand are laws as old as rust. And since I can’t depend on a hay bank like years in the past (where I had hay waiting for me in a large local barn stored safely to buy as I go) I need to plan for extra expenses.

So! I can sit and worry or I can ask for help. I am asking for help. The way you can help is to consider (if you are able to, want to, and it doesn’t harm or hinder your situation in any way!) to buy a pet portrait, a logo design, a batch of soap, or a share of pork to pick up or donate at a time in the future to a local food bank. I am trying to drive for sales now so I can not fall behind while preparing in advance for fall. And if you simple can’t do any of that, please consider sharing what this farm has to offer on social media.

I hope all of you are safe and secure in your own homes and farms. I hope no one you know is ill or fighting off this pandemic. I hope we are all in a state of nervous preparations for the winter and not in a state of mourning or loss. But I know that all of us are waking up and fighting for our own lives and battles. If there’s a way I can help, please let me know. I don’t expect you to just support this farm. If you can’t afford a design but could really use a tee shirt for your school - ask me. If I can help I will, for no charge. If your farm needs flyers to stick in mailboxes about egg deliveries - ask me! OR! I could design things you can print and use! I want to be as helpful as I can, be it advice or resources, work, whatever. I want to help the way you have always been there for me, sending encouragement and kindness. Love is a barter economy.

Okay, I am heading back outside to see to the farm. I hope you are able to reach out if possible. I encourage it. You can always email me at dogsinourparks at gmail dot com, and you know where to find me on social media like Twitter and Instagram (No facebook). Thank you for following this story, this farm, this life. It means more than you will ever know!

Help and Subscribe!

Readers,

Every once in a while I will suggest you consider subscribing to this blog. It's entirely free to read the posts, see the pictures, and share the adventure. It always will be. But all authors, artists, musicians, and creators depend on the people who appreciate their work to be patrons on some level.

If you own my books, thank you. If you share my blog posts, thank you. If you have come to a workshop or event here, thank you. And if you simply want to kick in $5 a month towards feed and hay - I thank you. It's a small way to both encourage me and help keep the lights on.

Like NPR stations, I'll be here to tune into whether you wish to subscribe and be a patron or not. But I do ask if you enjoy what you read here and do not already subscribe - to consider it. Please only do so if you feel the writing has value (as entertainment, inspiration, etc) and you can manage it.

Thank you,
-j

Want to make a one-time contribution?
https://www.paypal.me/JennaCAF

For a monthly contribution to the blog and to be a regular patron:


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

25 Bales

It's a start. 25 bales were delivered today and put up in the freshly cleaned-out and opened spaces in my small barn. I have another 175 to go to feel content going into winter, but if I can swing a weekly order of 25 for $145 and keep putting them up - I will get there by October. It felt good, regardless of the amount, to be stacking hay in the barn. I was dripping with sweat but smiling like a wolf. Winter will come and slowly I will get ready for her.

Between running, barn mucking, and stacking wood and hay bales I end my days with a cold shower, sore muscles, and a nervous but content smile. I am learning to appreciate my body in a new way. I used to curse and despise myself for not looking like the tall, thin, brunette Carhartt models in the magazines. Not being like those women who managed to look stunningly feminine and beautiful in a loose braid with a bale over their shoulder. Now I know the braids are extensions, the images and photoshopped, and the bale is a prop that weighs fifteen pounds. Their job isn't to do my work. It's to look good pretending to do it.

But this little hobbit body! HOO! This body woke up and ran five miles in a heat wave. It moved hundreds of pounds of muck with a pitchfork. It stacked a quarter-hundred bales. It carried 80lbs of water a turn, uphill, over and over, and did it all for me and my dreams. I may be fifteen pounds heavier than I was this time last summer, but I am fifteen times happier. Part of that is also ending my day patting cellulite and telling her she's a very good girl.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Autumn's Urge

The farm is in full winter prep mode, which always hits hard around this time of year. It's encouraging and bittersweet. Encourgaing to keep moving forward with the plans and preparations needed to get through winter, there's a sense of promise and hope in that. I like stackig firewood, putting up bales of hay in the barn, and starting to plan cider soaked pork roasts and applie pies. Fall is my favorite time of year and always has been. Hell, I already started making pumpkin spice soaps and listening to spooky podcasts of ghost stories and folklore. And while I know it is summer still, and I am currently sitting here by a 1940's Westinghouse fan as I type during a literal heatwave... all I am doing this morning is worrying about winter. Because unlike every other winter since I worked full time on the farm - this winter I am without a hay bank. In years past I could buy hay as I went, getting 20-30 bales at a time. That was a standard truckload and easy to manage as one person loading and stacking small quantities like that of square bales. But this year I need to buy in hay in bulk, pay for it, store it, and do it all soon as possible because there's a shortage from the dry summer. My prices went from $3 a bale I paid as I went to upwards of $7 a bale plus delivery. Now I don't have a lot of critters to feed, but I need about 200 bales to get through the worst of the winter and that is daunting. MY current hay guy has quoted me at $365 for a delivery of only 50 bales. Yikes.

So that is the hay situation. The other situation is firewood, which is at least coming along. I have a cord and a half already delivered and being stacked. Now that is promising! And my firewood is being supplemented with wood from some fallen trees from the summer storms. I am not worried about that, not so far. My goal was to have 100 bales of hay and 3 cords of firewood stacked and ready by October 1. I still plan on that. I just need to ask around, network, figure out possiby some partial bartering. But that is what is at the front of my mind. And once I have those things taken care of I will feel a lot better going into my favorite month. It just means a whole new level of luck, frugality, promotion, and hard work. I basically need to make money every day, spend very little, make up for every loose end, put off anything new, and figure out how to keep juggling thirty balls in the air if I want to keep the home and life I love. Well, can't say it ever gets boring!

So let's look at this positively. I have half of my firewood goal met! I have contacts and emails out for hay! I have the skills to make soap, logos, artwork, teach classes and hunt, forage, grow, and keep plenty of my own food. My work now is to literally keep the lights on, fires stoked, and animals safe and fed. And while this blog seems to only be about barely making it work every month and the stress of doing so - I hope you find encouragment is how I am still here. That in over ten years of uncertainty I am still here. That I figured out how to be a stronger woman, find my footing, learn and grow, be honest with who I am and even found a spark of love that heads me into winter with a little ember in my pocket. And I write about all these worries becuase I feel there's a magic to it. That just putting down the words that I will make a goal and here you all are, my witnesses, that it helps make it come true. So I will keep you up to date on the wood and hay. I will do my best to get that July mortgage payment in ASAP and start saving for August. I will figure out all the bills and stories and find a moment to sit back with a slice of apple cake and run not to relieve stress but feel joy. I will do all the things.

I just need to figure out how.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Claws Deep

If I know you. If I can picture your face, know your house from the street, have talked to you in person for hours... I am thinking of you a lot. I am hoping you are okay, safe, healthy and warm. I hope you are loved and cared for. I wish I could invite you over for breakfast and board games and stories of hunts and hawks and horses... But we are in a pandemic. And I have seen 10 different people, and that's it, for the last 6 months. So know I am thinking of the brewery faces and farmyard luck slingers. I am thinking of trail riders and dice throwers. I am thinking of new moms and fetus landlords and people hoping for love and luck. I miss you all.

If I don't know you. If I can't picture your face, or your home, or have never talked to you in person... I am thinking of you a lot. I am hoping you are okay, safe, healthy and warm. I hope you are loved and cared for. I wish I wasn't so scared of strangers anymore. I wish I could invite you all over again for workshops and campouts. But we are in a pandemic. And I have seen 10 people, and that's it, for that last 6 months. But there are emails I know like song lyrics. And kindness I remember like forehaed kisses. I am thinking of you all. I miss you all.

And while I cannot throw a Lammas bonfire party on my pasture hill to welcome this new moon and month - I can let you know you matter and I hope we come through this softer and stronger. And always, message me if you need to talk. Love is more powerful than many horrific things. Hold fast and claws deep.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Whip the eggs enough

One of the things I have never fallen out of love with regarding farming, is the constant flow of small accomplishments. The tasks that seem so small on their own—a bucket of water carried up a hill, a few minutes of weeding, a bit of fly ointment rubbed on the cheak of mare—that all lead to a morning of chores completed and a small menagerie calmed and cared for. This morning I was able to do those things while thunder rumbled in the distant and the clouds swirled dark. We needed the rain. I was happy to hear it, even as Gibson shot looks of worry my way (he hates storms). And right as the last swim suits drying on the post were brought inside and car windows shut tight; the torrent of rain exploded in the sky. It was a gift to the squash and the tomatoes, and to the dry land all around where farmers worry over hay and I do too.

It's a cloudy morning now. Breakfast is sitting light and bright in my belly. All four of us (two women and two border collies) had some very fluffy Japanese meringue pancakes with my farm's eggs and her farm's honey. Berries picked earlier in the summer were defrosted and heated on the stove with sugar to make a light syrup with some powdered suger. It was a delight to make! And while serving the chubby cakes to my girl and collies (a rare but appreciated treat for Gibson and Friday, though theirs were sans berries) I couldn't help but be flushed with the happy thought that I am the wealthiest broke person I know. I may be strugglng every month this pandemic (Let's be honest, I've been struggling way before!) but as of this morning the lights are on. The food is good. The farm is sated in all the ways - fed bodies and wet soil. And I have kind dogs and a beautiful woman to wake ip beside. Adding fluffy pancakes feels like a criminal level of happiness, a whipped cream topping on the day. What a treat life can be, when you whip the eggs enough.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Three Times

I came home from a run yesterday bolstered and feeling amazing. I had stopped at the bottom of the mountain to talk to friends, Shelly and Iggy. They are remodeling and cleaning out an old farm house in stages, building their homestead a piece at a time. Shelly is a large animal vet and her husband runs his own small restaurant. I have known them as neighbors since I moved onto the mountain and watching their gardens, goats, and home grow permanent has been a lovely addition to our little mountain community. I felt glad to have such great neighbors and made my way up the mountain at a brisk pace.

When I came home I wanted to do something special for my late lunch. I took one of the firs zucchini from the garden and sliced it and diced it up. I added it to a hot skilled with some olive oil, garlic salt, and pepper and Italian sausage from my pigs. I cooked it all up and put it in a nice little bowl with some hot sauce and ate with chopsticks, which is how I like to eat every meal if I have my Druthers. I felt good. My body was starting to loose its winter layers, finally. I was running daily. I had this small farm, which fed and fueled me. I had pastures, horses, vegetables, eggs, livestock, and a woman I can not wait to hold again. I had less than $200 to my entire name. But! Only because I was able to pay the June mortgage on July 14th, which means now I am at least earning money to pay for the present month again! I am still here, and blooming, and eating very good sausage on a sunny day. Wealthy as can be, regardless of the bank account.

And then, as all farms do, humility was thrown down on me like a hammer. Sometimes things simply go wrong, regardless of preparation or efforts to do your best. With the help of three other farmers, the internet, and some phone calls I still wasn't able to save a small new spark of life. And even after all these years it still hits me. It hurts like hell. It doesn't feel like guilt or shame, not when you try and do all you can. But it does remind you that when you're playing with agriculture sometimes you roll snake eyes and there's nothing you can do but nod and try not to cry in front of the dogs. You keep going. You learn. You move past it so you can focus on all the other animals that make up this farm. You can not lose sight of the whole. That is how homesteaders fall apart, give up, give in. The farm is always bigger than any single part of it. Always.

Which also includes preparing for winter. I am saving up for the first delivery of firewood, a cord and a half cut small enough to fit inside my Bun Baker woodstove. It's $350 and I hope to have that set aside as soon as possible, while still earning towards the mortgage. I can't just wait until I have the mortgage paid to buy and stack wood. Seasons do not work that way, neither does my wood guy. You get it when you get it, and have it ready for winter by October nights. But I am adding to it with the fallen ash tree that friends helped me cut down. I am hoping to add a half cord at least from the tree to stack first, hoping it is dry enough by late winter to burn in 2021. Friends will come today in the heat to help chainsaw and arrange rounds so I can start chopping and stacking. They say wood heats you twice, but when you work in a heat wave I say it heats you three.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Lucky Number 13

I woke up when the world was still caught in blue light. In the cool bedroom the world seemed tame and easy. Friday stretched out beside me, her paws pressed against the headboard as every inch of her spin gently curved and she yawned like a lioness before smacking her lips and kissing me on the nose. Gibson was on his back on the dog cushion beside the bed, paws up in the air. I said good morning to him and when his tail thumped against the old planks I felt it in my ribs. You can’t not smile at a dog like him. Gibson has spent nearly every day of his last ten years beside me on this farm. He’s watched it rise and fall and me do the same, in the joy and excitement of new books and horses and hawks and the despair of busted pipes and loneliness and fear. But it is July and the sun was rising and we had happy work to do. We still had time to stack firewood. I was only a few weeks behind on the mortgage instead of months. There was an entire farm waiting on us to be fed and start the day and they were stirring awake, too. So I got dressed and took us three border collies outside to see our world.

With the sun just starting to rise we walked outside the farm house and made our way to the chicken coop. Not the Eglu, not the small chicken tractors, but the proper coop. The building made for chickens that was used for storage these past three or four seasons, mostly because of a raccoon that got in one night and killed and panicked so many birds that none of the survivors would roost in it again and it was abandoned for the pig barn by the flock. But the 30 meat bird chicks inside don’t know that story and their first few weeks of life have been nothing but lovely in the remodeled and reinforced chicken coop. It felt so good to open the old red wooden door and see all of them bright and chirping, excited for their breakfast. I don’t know if I’ve been as excited about anything as those babies were for mash and well water.

The coop and the meat birds inside are just one of the improvements and additions to the farm this year. The whole place has a new life in it. I don’t know if I can convey how much life by just popping in here to write about it a few times a month, but if you walk across the lawns and pastures you can feel it. In my tenth year farming basically the same few species - sheep, goats, horses, pigs, and poultry — the lessons of the decade have created a happy home for the current stock. Everyone is bright and hail. The horses are lean and strong and ready to be saddled and ridden by riders of all experiences. The ewes are meaty and calm. The laying hens raised from chicks during snowstorms this spring will be laying their first eggs in about six weeks. The gardens are the most complex, healthy, varied, and productive this place has ever seen. There is a specialized herb garden, a dipper gourd garden (the gourden!), a pumpkin and potato patch. There is a kailyard behind the farm with lettuce and tail that has yet to bolt! There are jars of strawberry and raspberry/blackcap jam on shelves. There is meat in the freezer. There is a promise of a winter spend curled up against the woman I love more and more each month.

This morning marks my 38th Birthday. I wrote Made From Scratch and started by blog at 25. Thirteen years of farming, and as a Swiftie that makes year 13 the luckiest. I can’t argue with that science, because despite the usual anxieties about making bills and preparing for winter there is such a swell of goodness about this coming year and what it could hold. I have a book in me. It’s a very important and personal one. I have a farm to grow and shelter into snowfall. I have a body I need to learn to accept and love regardless of my size - which tends to fluctuate with daylight hours (the less light the more cheese) and I have a lot to give back however I can. This farm only made it ten years because of the support of readers, neighbors, customers and community. It remains only because of these things. Some of you have known me nearly 15 years now, have watched me go from a terrified naive beginner with too much confidence and a shaky seat to a strong woman comfortable in her own skin, sexuality, and saddle. It took a farm to get me here. I want to help others find their stirrups, too.

There is no party or big celebration today. After I post this I am going into town to use the laundromat and wash sheets and towels and muddy clothes. When I come home I have weeding, watering, and mulching to do. There is a battle between myself and the cucumber beetles. There is a dead woodchuck somewhere in the weeds I need to find and bury before the heat of the day sets in hard. I have soap to mail, illustrations to work on, and animals to tend. But if I can make time later today to go to the river and cast my line for some trout or perhaps set up my hammock among the jewelweed behind the barn and sway - I will. And I will do so with the gratitude and exhaustion of a farmer in July trying to figure out her entire empire inside two dirty palms.

I couldn’t be happier with how it all turned out. Here's to luck, and love, and a safe Autumn and warm winter, all.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Carry On

July has come into the farm like a thunderstorm, beautiful and a little scary. The days here are so full with the work and animals. Mornings are about moving chicks onto new grass, graining the fat lambs, weeding the garden, training a pack goat, and working to repair and recreate this farm once again.

It's all been lovely and the long summer days are bringing rides with friends in the mountains on the horses and meals pulled from the meat and veg this farm produces. It's the dream I dreamt. I'm still here. And for the first time in years places are being dusted and painted and revived thanks to love and time and someone here who believes in me and this farm. I'm a very happy woman. I hope that is coming across well in this blog, even if the posts are scarcer as the work gets busier!

July has brought river swims and fly fishing at sunrise. It brought swaying above my entire valley in a hammock on a hiking summit. It has brought neighbors and friends onto this farm to help remodel the old chicken coop and get it set up for a winter's worth of chicken dinner futures! It has a new breeding flock growing fleece and sass up on the hill - which is no longer eroding soil or overgrazed by too many hooves. This woman and her farm are healing. I am falling in love with it all over again!

The scary part is keeping it from falling back behind. June came and went without a mortgage payment and soon the July one will be late, too. This means doing what I can to catch up and stay solvent. Mostly it means hunkering down and figuring out how to remedy this. And it means planning expenses like firewood, or ways around expenses like firewood through barter or work-trade. So this morning while I am sitting with my coffee and writing in my notebook the plans and goals of the day, I need to focus on just the day I have, each and every day. I can't think of too much ahead of me because it can seem like storm clouds, looming and dark. But if I spend today just focusing on the $200 I hope to make in soap, meat, logo, or art sales. If I take care of the animals' needs and carry today's buckets of water without thinking of the thousands of gallons ahead I could never hold... I can get through this day. Build up myself the same way I am building this farm.

I hope to keep you all posted on the healing and relief this farm is giving and receiving. I hope you are all healthy and safe from dangers of the pandemic. I hope you find the peace in the routines of weeding and milking and canning and mending old clothes - the chores and work that has fueled civilization since long before any of the banks threatening this farm had a chance to blow down doors. And I hope you are all able to take on today, with hearts full of warmth and care.

Carry on!

Monday, June 29, 2020

Babes and Beans

It's been a week of babies and gardens at this farm! A trio of Yorkshire piglets were delivered and are settling in just fine. They are small and too new to be set into the pig pen, so their short quarantine is in another pen where they are set up with good food, a small shelter, and fresh well water to learn to be a Cold Antler Farm Pig! You can see them here piled up on some hay in the old dog crate that used to be Jazz's (my passed Siberian Husky I adopted in Knoxville) with a MY GRASS IS BLUE bumper sticker fading and flapping in the wind. They are sweet babies and will eat strawberries right out of the palm of your hands! My girlfriend was here for their delivery and helped carry the squealing babes to their new quarters. I don't think she was prepared for how loud they can get when they feel confined! But glad to have some new blood on the farm with a proven breed that delivers the bacon.

And the gardens are doing so well! Already enjoying sides of green beans in butter and diced basil over goatcheese! Peas have been coming in strong and so have all the lettuces and greens in the kailyard! It's been a good year if you remember to water, the strain of the drought is making some of the blossoms wither but the fruits like tomatoes and berries should be strained enough to be extra flavorful if they don't drown or dry up.

Went to a local You Pick for strawberry picking on Saturday. For $3 a quart it's hard to say no and together we made jam, canned it, and froze two big bags of ripe berries for the winter. It feels good to start putting up for the cold months already, though it does make me nervous about firewood - which isn't brought in or started yet. One stress at a time. I need to also enjoy settling in piglets and jam on the end of a spoon or spread over some homemade bread!

Still haven't made the June mortgage. It's a little scary, and I am constantly worried I'll fall back behind but if I stay relentless in my promotions and emails and work and hustle I know I can make it soon. Sometimes all it takes is one really lucky break in sales to make an entire month's goals. And with 2 days left, I can still make this month happen. Gods willing and pigs squealing, may it be so!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Summer Light

Breakfast around here is never complicated. Most mornings it's just coffee. I am not the kind of person that wakes up hungry. And since right after that first cup is consumed there is usually a lot of physical work to be done — I get right to it. But yesterday started with rain and I slept in an extra hour, lulled by the sound of it against the box fan in the window. When I woke up I had that magical cup of coffee and I wanted breakfast. I knew I wouldn't be heading out on a run in the rain. I knew the chores could be done a little slower. So I grabbed two fat eggs off the spiral rack in the kitchen and a large slab of bacon end in the fridge. I sliced off a few pieces of bacon off the pig brick and set them into a skillet to fry. In a large mug I whisked the eggs with cream and added a little salt and pepper as air filled the eggs, promising a fluffy scramble when it hit that sizzling fat. Once plated and doused with enough sriracha to cause concern - I sat cross-legged in the living room to enjoy it the way I love best - in a bowl with chopsticks. If I have it, I throw on a dollop of sour cream to cut the heat but this morning I just poured my coffee over ice. That was a fine summer brekky. My farm's eggs and bacon, fueling a day of work indoors and out. It still hasn't got old.

They say you don't realize you've been in a slump till you're out of it. That's true for me. The second half of winter is when I stop running and hiking. It's when I just want to eat cheese in the dark and fill cold days with comforting meals and eating becomes less about fueling the day mindfully and more about an anxious response. But with the sun bright and running nearly every day I am starting to feel more like the summer self I crave all March. A body that has no problem running six miles in the heat after a mug of coffee. Skin tanned, scarred, and bitten by bugs but bright in its own way. And this farm...

Guys, I don't think she's ever looked better.

Maybe part of it is falling in love? Maybe it's looking at this house and land with the fresh eyes of another person? Maybe it's finally trying to figure out how to pay this month's mortgage instead of trying to stay no farther than three month's behind? Maybe it's just eggs on a rainy morning... but I feel out of the slump. The farm looks it, too. The place was never without care. Even at my saddest moment's the grass was cut and the sheets got washed, but right now walking around the farm feels like a team of professionals helped plan it. The pasture is green and lush and the lambs and goats are romping along in it. Their electric netting stops a few feet from the garden where it meets the horses' gate so moments happen like last night - where I walked outside to check the garden at dusk and just beyond the hanging snow peas and tomato blossoms a fat ewe ripped into grass to the sounds of owls and crickets while a horse beside them nickered for hay. And those horses look so good and have been ridden so much! Everyone on the farm is being active! And with meat birds and piglets on the way (having piglets delivered for winter shares) there are projects and meals to come!

I'm not out of the woods. There is still that forever anxiety of making the bills. I know I write about money a lot, it's because it's the thing I worry about the most. I have my home. I have my health (so far). Figuring out how to make a living every month is the low-grade panic I still have. But it's the kind of panic that helps more than it hinders. It makes every morning a mission, every day a set of goals to make to keep the farm moving forward and feeding people. Sometimes people write me and tell me not to talk about money. That people don't want to hear about it. Well, until I don't have to worry about it you're gonna hear about it. Best you find another farm blog, as there are thousands. This one is about just making it and being grateful as hell I did. And that gratitude makes the reins on my pony feel magical and walking out to the chicken coop feel like a red carpet. The struggle sweetens the pot. Hunger is a good sauce.

I still have a ways to go to make this month's bills, but even if they are late I will be just a few weeks behind and not months. Outside dapple light is falling over the pumpkin and potato patches. The lawn is freshly cut, making even the dandelions and plantain look elegant, all cropped neat. After this coffee is downed I'll finish up the late chores (bedding replacement and fences get worked on after animals are fed and watered) and then hit the pavement for a solid run before heading to the post office to mail out soap and artwork. My girlfriend will be here soon and I am so excited to spend time with her on this piece of land in the mountains. She makes my home feel like something more, something safer. I feel like when I am around her I can actually relax. She calms me like a shot of whiskey, just as fiery.

There's a lot to do today. A piglet hut to construct. An old coop to clean out and prepare for twenty meat birds. There's gardens to weed and early crops to harvest. It's the time of year where trips to the market are for four, butter, seasoning, garlic cloves and olive oil. Everything else is in the field or freezer. I know I'm still trying to make the month but this feels insanely wealthy, it always has. And with over a decade of farming in my bones now, it still fuels me to keep going and keep up the work of this place.

Bowls of eggs with a side of iced coffee. Who knew it had the power to rocket hope?

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

June's Almost Over!

Hey there! Do you like having a body free of germs, gently moisturized by a 3-ingredient bar of pure handmade goatsmilk soap that also keeps a woman in her home with working utilities!? ME TOO! June is almost over and this farm has yet to make this month's mortgage before falling back behind, something I do not want to do, at all. So! Offering a sale on soap bulk orders!

SALE ON 10 BAR ORDERS! Usual price for 10 bars and shipping anywhere in the US is $75. Soap is $6 a bar and shipping in a medium flat rate priority mail box is $15 - now on sale for $65! I still need t sell a lot of soap but all sales help pay the bills, the mortgage, and keep dog food in bowls and lights on in this farmhouse! Message on social media or email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Quick Update

June is already heading towards a close. The days are long, the fireflies are flashing, the days are hot and I am up at 6AM for chores, coffee, and a run. There isn't much new to report outside of a few young meat bird chicks and moving sheep fencing around. Lots of sun and not a lot of rain so buckets are carried to the gardens and the horses are drinking more than their usual amounts but they seem otherwise unbothered! Lots of time in the shade swishing their tales. I get it. My hammock is the embodiment of a swishing tail in the shade.

No mortgage paid for the month yet but I am getting there, with bills taken care of through most of this month I am about halfway and hopeful. Part of me is very scared of getting behind again, it was such a hard few years being always scared of foreclosure. But another part of me knows all there is to do is keep doing what I can, be smart as possible, and keep trying. So I do.

Hay was delivered yesterday to patch up the holes where pasture is lacking. It is mostly to supplement the horses, but the pigs also like to chomp on hay every few days and I like to add a little variety their diets. Pig feed can get boring, even with the occasional baked good or kitchen scraps.



I am grateful I am back to my regular running, sometimes more than once a day. It soothes me so much. On hot days like this is reminds me how warm my body can get and still be okay, and that metaphor helps when anxiety feels overwhelming. It forces me to be tired in the right ways, which I am very grateful for.

Hoping to update soon with good news and good tidings. With a paid June mortgage and miles on my shoes and stories of campfires and trail rides and dreams of a September hawk and October perfection. Right now it's about making it to Sunday. And that is fine by me.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

One Short Life

The last few weeks have had this farm looking the best it has in years. The lawn is mowed and the fields are lush; so grass is growing and being thwarted in all the right places. The lambs are hearty and hail and my little pack goat is fitting in like a gem. They are all enjoying the portable fences, which have replaced the old woven wire that was sagging and useless most of the time. I don't have to worry about them jumping out if I leave the farm. I don't have to worry, at all. The horses are sleek and shiny and more friends are joining me for rides on the mountain. It's been so nice to share them and use them, which the more and more I meet people with horses around here the rarer that seems to be?! I don't understand why you'd want a horse if you aren't going to ride it, but then again there are people who furnish entire rooms they don't use in their home so whose to say. Around here, we ride.

The good news is that the farm is healthy and so am I. I am heading out on a run soon, about 5 miles, a favorite summer activity after chores and coffee. After that I am packing soap orders and working on some logos for clients before heading to the snake ridge, possibly, for a hike with Friday. It's summer so I want to move. ten or fifteen miles a day across the landscape, especially while hiking, is a joy I can't get enough of. I am grateful all the things I like to do around here are free, at least once you have the sneakers, boots, and fishing license.

Haying season has begun! Over 400 bales lifted this last week, getting it up in the barn with neighbors is a good feeling. I never mind the work, but I always mind the people who volunteer to help and complain the entire time. There's always one. But grumps aside, I was able to hay alongside my girlfriend this year and I have to say I prefer sharing a load. Creating a mountain together, what a thing. What a thing!

The truck seems to be running okay, but I know she is on her last legs. Rust is getting worse. She needs new tires. I am pouring in oil every week to make up for the leak that has been repaired three times now. But I can't think about a new vehicle until I get through some basic bills here. Once the (LAST!!) payment to a credit card is made this week and my truck insurance is in I'll be back to a double digit bank account and building up the mortgage, feed, groceries, gas and such from there. It is always scary not being sure how this farm will make it. IT is scary not being sure if I can manage to keep the mortgage up to date and not fall behind again. The faith is in the work, the continued trying, the proof of ten years of making it so far and the blooms in the peonies along the yard's edge. There is much to look forward to. A whole summer and I refuse to let money be the thing that turns every month into a slog of fear instead of gratitude just to be able to run and walk and enjoy this one short life in this one short body.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Something Good

June has become all about the weeds, as it has been since gardeners ever planted the first seed. Mornings are about waking up, coffee, feeding animals, and then WEEDS. I like it. Time in the garden slowly weeding is a meditation and a time to focus on something else, like an audiobook or podcast and mindlessly pull out baby grass shards and jewel weeds while learning something or getting lost in a story. I'm not the best person when it comes to details, so I set a timer for each bed making myself stay put for at least ten minutes in each smaller 6x6 garden area to really focus. I use a weeding hook I hold in one hand and crouch there like a cat about to pounce. If anything, it's good for the butt to squat and crab crawl around so much.

And weeds aren't the only garden battles to fight! The beetle problem seem to be falling away but new challengers arrive like curious chickens, snapping geese beaks over the fences, aphids, groundhogs, and other various thieves in the forms of wild birds and vermin. Little things are done to deter them. Dingle Dangles that clatter on the fences. Diatomaceous earth helps protect young plants from beetles and bugs. Soapy water on leaves can deter the aphids. A plastic hawk set up keeps the little birds away and confuses the crows. It's all a distraction from the larger world which feels like it's falling apart. This small space I can at least pretend to control. I can water and weed and care for it. It's something good in all the madness.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Scared of Heights

Here's a lesson for sheepdogs everywhere: don't climb up into the hayloft if you're afraid of heights! Which was what Friday learned when she came along with me to get hay yesterday at Livingston Brook Farm. She usually has zero issue leaping up hay bales, but yesterday was different. The usually packed loft is a city of hay. You could leap off the loft and land safely at any point. But this is right before the first cutting of June, and all that is left in the loft is the stragglers of last summer's hay. So the loft is barren with a handful of bales making a smart little step ladder up to more in the loft. Friday came into the barn with me, and watched me scramble up the simple narrow (2-bales wide) steps to the second floor and I thought she wouldn't follow. After throwing my third bale out of the loft window she was beside me. I laughed and applauded her bravery and together we looked out the barn's high door to the green and lush farmland around us. Grateful for this chance to get the last of the hay, and looking forward to filling the barn up again in a few days time.

Then it was time to leave. So I easily walked down the happy stairs and Friday just watched from above. I patted my leg and called to her, but she laid down on the loft's floor watching me with her little eyes and ears over the edge. She didn't want to come down! This was not a mighty height, just a few stacked bales, but something about the once-filled hayloft being empty and seeing all those hard planks below kicked in her self-preservation. She wouldn't budge.

I ended up having to sit beside her as she belly-crawled, on her own, down each of the four bale stairs to the floor. It was hard not to giggle. The steps were safe as could be but for her, it was a moment of having to trust me and face a fear and when all four paws hit the planks she lit up and smiled back at me like a wolf. "That wasn't anything at all, Lady!" as she trotted off to see what the barn cats were up to outside. What a little firecracker.

I am in spring cleaning mode. Friends that recently painted a room gifted me their leftover paint and are teaching me the right way to paint a room, which in my case is the bathroom. Taking off baseboards to paint and learning to work with electrical outlets and such. It's been a wonderful lesson and really makes that room look brand new. It's something I wouldn't have been able to do without the offer of paint and now I am learning some new homeowner skills. Lord knows this place needs a woman's touch.

Besides hay and paint: things are pretty standard around here. The fireflies are out early and the barn owls hoot into the night. I am still worried about making the month and falling behind. The farm is settling into June under unsteady footing. Yesterday I was able to sell some soap which got the farm out of the red, but just, for the first time in this month. Now my mind is set on making daily income goals and keeping things safe and sound. I did make a small donation of $10 from the sale to BLM as I said I would every day this farm makes sales. I know it's a drop in the bucket, but every drop rises the level.

Luck to all the brave ones today, fighting for a better tomorrow.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Bright Red

It's the first day of June and everything feels like it's on fire. America is at a turning point, a time when you can stand up for equality and fight injustice, or sit still and do nothing.

My platform is small. My audience is small. But I do have a few thousand people I can reach through social media. I am trying to use my voice there for good. But most of the time I feel helpless in how I can help affect change. But that shouldn't shut me down, or give me the lazy permission to give up. There are places and people I can donate to when I am able to. There are books, authors, videos and lectures I can educate myself with. There are everyday conversations with everyday people I can speak up in. There are things I can do, that you can do, that we all can do to help change the system in America that feeds racism.

I am trying to figure out how to do that and how to simply pay the bills around here. But every single time I post about something this farm sells, something made from a white woman safe from pandemic and prejudice, I feel like an ass. How insanely unimportant I am in this, my farm is in this. But the reality is we all have to keep paying our bills and figuring out how to keep our banks accounts in the black. I am not there today. This farm is starting June in bright red. I need to fight my own fight just to keep this place from sinking back into delinquency or danger. And I will. But keeping my farm above water isn't exactly the most pressing issue in the world right now.

So I will be donating part of what this farm earns this month to Black Lives Matter. I will be using my voice on social media more to educate and make people in my position (the majority of us white, female, farmers or future farmers) aware of how they can help as well.  I will still be running my one-woman business and hoping to have luck there just staying safe. But not without bringing attention to resources and voices more needed than my own.

I will still be sharing stories of the farm, hiking, nature, gardens, and the work and animals around it. I will be spending a solid 4 hours today just weeding. I will share the story of a giant ask tree that fell in a storm a few days ago and how my friends came together to help repair this place and even secret a little firewood. I will talk about dealing with internal and external struggles, as I always have. But I will also talk about what is happening outside this farm. In places my old pickup can't carry me too. And the people who don't have the luxury to write about weeding and tree removal because they're in the ER with tear gas complications.

And it is also the first day of Pride. June is the monthlong celebration of gay pride parades, events, celebrations, parties and city streets painted in rainbows. As a gay woman, that is practically Christmas and I love seeing my Instagram feed filling up with online gatherings and events and every company under the sun celebrating civil rights for LGBTQ folks when just a few decades ago you'd never even imagine a Fortune 500 company saying a single word in support of queer people. But you know what brought on that change... Stonewall. Riots. Fighting for civil rights. It was mostly people of color in the queer community that stood up against the corrupt and demanded visibility and freedoms other citizens took for granted. As a lesbian I can't imagine celebrating pride and ignoring what is going on in cities across the world today.  Remember, and note, it was after the 6th day of riots in 100 cities that the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1968.

I encourage you to use your own voices I your own families and communities as well. Don't discount the power you have. Don't forget simply standing up in a conversation where someone says something racist or untrue and saying, "I don't think that's correct. Why don't you explain what you mean?" usually shuts someone down who doesn't want to admit the reasoning behind and off hand comment that drips of racism. This is no time to be shy, or meek, or want a break from the news and conflict. This is a time that every one of us can stand up for peace and equality.

Move forward in love and kindness. Take care of your and others. Stand against hate. Open your arms and hearts to different views and lives. Don't assume the worst. Be open to hope.


Saturday, May 30, 2020

Few Pork Shares Left for Winter!

I have 2 shares of pork left for winter! If you are interested please send an email to me soon as possible to reserve them. Sales are really needed and I would love to start planning towards the fall months. Full details available via email for prices and how it all works when you co-own an animal on a CSA model like this for freezer meat. And if you want to support the farm and can't pick up a meat share there are meat donation options, too.

Friday, May 29, 2020

So Many Gardens!

The last few days have been a delightful preview of summer. The days reaching the mid eighties and the humidity I so miss all the drab winter returned. Moss covering rocks in the brook glistened in the mountain sunlight. The local bird population erupting with the color of oriels and buntings and warblers. And of course, everything is so amazingly green. The kind of green that shouts JULY not May and that had me mowing the lawn for the first time this season!

All the animals are well and the gentle progress of the spring moves into summer grazing. I am rotating pastures regularly for the sheep and Cade the goat. I am weeding and planting like mad, which is part of the influence of my girlfriend who has promised to assist me in weeding (which she will certainly regret). I put in a patch of Holden pumpkins yesterday with a broken hoe and had to electrify the kailyard because of a family of groundhogs. Cucumber beetles are overtaking my zucchini and butt nuts and that won't do. So measures of all sorts of warfare are happening in the gardens and that is a happy complaint because I daydreamed of these issues in the dead of winter the way we think about being grounded in our childhood bedrooms. Sure, it sucks but what a time of wonder in our lives.

I am still trying to move pork. I am pretty sure there won't be any government assistance coming in the mail this June and that is what covered last month's mortgage. A loan covered the back months before that. So I have to start earning to keep ahead of trouble and soon. I'm promoting the soaps, meats, and logos online and hoping to hear back from some people who sent me queries but most people back away when they realize the cost of a quarter pig or owning a professional logo, but not all. Enough are supporting this farm so far to cover the farrier and hay and feed and butcher bills that ended May and if I remain diligent and a little lucky I will make it into June and past it.

I am really excited about this summer. Just the heat and days of it. I know there will be a lot of work outside with the herb garden, dipper garden, kailyard, pumpkin patch, and the kitchen gardens and potato patch (and possibly sweet corn too?!) but that is still happy work and even better meals ahead.

All the lambs have dropped their tails. A friend gifted me four pounds of espresso. Another friend is helping me repaint my bathroom in the ongoing attempt to make this bachelor pad more suitable for a woman (which has taught me how dusty the tops of picture frames above my 5'2" reach can get in a decade.) But the point is things are slowly repairing, decluttering, improving, growing, hoping and changing. My little hobbit body is getting more time out hiking and running and that feels lovely, too. Right now just 5 and 10ks but a start into my summer of running - which feels great, is free, and rewards me with stronger lungs and legs and a killer farmer tan!

So here's to all that. I am trying. I am still here. I am hopeful.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Oink to the Future!

As the month comes to a close I am in the process of figuring out what is ahead. Right now all the money I have in my bank account has to go towards bills and fees not related to the house or household at all. Things like hay delivery, a farrier visit, feed, butchering, etc. Planning the June mortgage without any sort of luck like that stimulus check that was delivered earlier this month means a brand new act of faith. But the difference between now and every month in the past few years is I'm no longer fighting to just avoid threats of foreclosure and staying just ahead of the banks. I'm trying to stay solvent, on top of things, figuring out the best ways to be frugal and sane and save amongst a pandemic where people are not thinking about archery lessons or pet portraits. They are thinking about meat but my shares for what is available right now are sold out. So I am going to start selling shares for the winter/fall soon as I figure out some pig futures.

I think pork makes sense for this small farm. I eat it. Neighbors eat it. And with meat shortages a coming thing and customers willing to co-own the animals and receive a 1/4 or half share of the meat helps stay small and solid. If you're at all local and interested in a future meat share let me know. These sales help pay for piglets, feed, and the farm itself to move safely forward while securing good food raised on a small scale without antibiotics. Consider supporting if you can! If you are not local and want to support by buying a share for a local family let me know!

In non-pig related news - I got to get outside yesterday for a small adventure! I was driven north into Vermont by some local quarantined buds for a hike up into the White Rocks National Forest! We hiked 6.5 miles along the Appalachian Trail in Vermont until we took a side trail towards a beautiful view looking over rolling mountains as far as I could see. My hiking boots finally died, the leather ripping from the sole, but I'll get a new pair soon and they are fixable right now with gorilla glue. But just to be outside seeing trillium and trout Lillies and watching waterfalls and feeling the harsh trails and soft spots make my whole body expand and work felt amazing. And there is no place in the world that makes a snickers bar taste better than the top of a mountain.

This is what I am talking about. I want to move forward with things like this. Time hiking and backpacking in this region of the world not far from the farm, not spending money on tickets or planes or admission but just a little gas money and shoe leather. My goal in life is simple: live the creative and independent life I adore on a small farm. Keep writing. Keep exploring. And find joy in things like long hikes and mornings on the trail and then returning home to a farm that needs my care and love. Today I'll be watering the gardens (four different ones this year!) and if I can find the charger for the electric weed whacker - do that. Lots of cleaning indoors - spring cleaning. And if I am lucky sell some pork. Then the farm moves forward into June. Hopefully safe. Hopefully healthy. An hopefully all the things I need to keep the dream alive.