Friday, February 19, 2021

The Best We Have

Much has happened in the last few weeks, and almost all of it has to do with moving across the landscape! I’ve been walking and running, and it feels good to get some miles on my running shoes again. Yesterday I was able to run my first 5k without needing to stop to catch my breath or walk, just three solid and slow mountain miles. It was slippery and icy and 22° but I still made it out and back and I’m hungry for more. I wish daylight didn’t have so much to do with my running habit but it does. Once the days grow short I have zero interest in moving. I only care about eating cheese and hibernating. So to feel my body stretch and move has been crucial to feeling better and hopeful about spring.

Besides my own movement I am still on the lookout for a new (to me) pickup truck. My budget is under 3k so you can imagine there hasn’t been a lot of luck out there. But I am hopeful, and friends are on the lookout for a suitable replacement. Right now we only have the one vehicle, a hatchback, which isn’t idea for moving livestock (though we certainly have!) and so the hunt is on. If you are local and see one of good repute, do let me know.

Besides my running and the lack of a truck that does: mostly we are getting through a very hard winter. Hard in the way that the plumbing entirely stopped draining and it took 2 visits from a professional team of plumbers, my own work of digging out the septic tank from frozen ground, and a really hard thaw day to remove the clog. But now we have a shower again and that feels like a real lifestyle upgrade. Firewood and hay both also had to be bought in this month, that cost with the plumbing bill was a real smack to the moxie but I can’t tell you how much a hot shower helps you lick your wounds.

And I am working daily on a new, very personal book about what happened to me over the past ten years. I am proud of it, though progress is slow. I am writing it for women like me, or really anyone who had to work hard to figure out who they were. The intro is entirely about possums so look forward to that.

Spring seeds are ordered. We got a pair of breeding meat rabbits in barter! And chicks will be chirping away any week now soon as the feed stores stock them. Our sturdy meat birds had their best year ever last summer and I think we may double our efforts there because of friends and family interest. I am already dreaming of hiking, river swims, casting dry flies, and sandals in the grass. What a gift warmer weather will be!

That’s all for now. If you don’t see many updates here you can always hear me yip yapping on Twitter or Instagram and emails are always open. I hope all of you are safe and with loved ones through what I hope is the end of this pandemic. Find healing and solace in community, farms, friends, and kind dogs. It’s the best we have.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Keep on Truckin'

Yesterday a pair of gentlemen came to the farm to check out Taylor, my truck. She’s been for sale a while and most emails and calls about her were dead ends. It was looking pretty hopeless but then this past weekend a deal was made ($400 below the asking price, but what can you do in the dead of winter in the midst of a pandemic). We shook and soon they will be taking her away to become the engine and cab of a truck they are working on together.

It’s so bittersweet. After those guys left I couldn’t help tearing up. So much of that truck was wrapped up in my own story of coming out and finally allowing myself to be happy. If that seems overly simplistic, it is. But I firmly believe chapters of our lives are marked by vehicles. The single lad goes from a sportswear to a family minivan. The gal fresh out of school buys her first hatchback with her first real job. You get it. And that truck was the first time I was buying exactly what I wanted to drive, for the exact life I had created. Vintage, thrifty, sturdy, Farming. Ugh. She's leaving a rusty hole in my heart!

Also, the memories and timeline of having that truck perfectly correspond to my own memories and timelines of coming out and starting to date women. It felt like being 15 again, or 22, or whatever Taylor Swift song I was scream-singing from the cab as I rolled through the Battenkill Valley carrying everything from livestock and hay to firewood and feed. I had friendships, lovers, dogs, goats, kisses, nerves, first dates, adventures and picnics in that truck (not all at the same time but plenty of overlap). It was so associated with me in this town folks waved from their porches when I drove by. And now she’s off to become an organ donor for a sweet young man who is as enamored with old Fords as I am.

It’s the end of an era. And here’s to being able to go more places and see more things in 2021.

If you’re local and have a 4WD pickup in need of a new home, send me a note.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Winter Together

It feels like a new farm and a new life around these parts. Having someone else here to help when things are particularly hard and celebrate when they are good has changed the entire vibe of this gin joint. For example, this morning chores went by in a literal flurry! Chunky patches of happy flakes filled the air as we split up the morning work of feeding and caring for the animal crew. I went out first with the dogs and let them romp about in the snow (Friday especially loves catching snowballs in the air) and together we open the coops from the night before and get to the morning grain feeding. The goat and sheep get their feed, the chickens get theirs in their respective coops. The geese are let out of the barn and the pigs get their feeders filled. Horses and the flock get hay, filling the nets Shannon tied by hand here in the farmhouse. Once everyone has their fill of grain and grass we move on to carrying buckets. Indoors while all this is going on the percolator is churning out a thick espresso.

Once chores are done we have our own little family rituals and order to the day. Coffee and a board game are always a pleasant start on a snowy day if we have time before Zoom calls or to-do lists start. That was today, since we have the awhole snowy at home to work on our freelance, soap making, and art we sat down with hot mugs and played a game. We put on an ambiance channel on Youtube (today was spring birdsong as if it wasn’t a snowy morning in February) and took in our caffeine out of steaming-warm mugs while songbirds tweeted. You need less sugar in your coffee when that is how you start the day.

By midmorning chores and coffee are done. We slide into our separate work lives and office spaces here in the farmhouse. Shannon has a lot of conference calls and meetings with clients. I have soap to make in the kitchen, orders to pack, and illustrations to work on while podcasts play the news when we can listen. It’s a happy routine, and a lot gets done before noon every day. With our evenings usually set aside for evening chores with the animals, yoga, and cooking a meal together, it feels so nice to have the bulk of office work behind us before sunset.

It’s been lovely. Despite some hardships this old house always sets up: like frozen pipes and bad winter drainage (we do need a plumber for the drainage but I DID fix the burst pipe last week myself!) and weekends in deep cold mean adapting our routines and the house (like staying up all night with wood stoves and dripping pipes) but together we have made it. And there are more good memories this winter than bad, despite the horrific news and the fears of the pandemic. We are lucky to have this place and have it together. The animals are well. Friends have been amazing, kind, and we are all on call for each other in this quarantined time.

Speaking of which, my neighbor and large animal vet, Shelly, has come down with very complicated health issues this winter and needs help. If you can share this on your own social media, or even possibly donate, please do. The link is here and every dollar can help a local family here in Veryork get through a very hard time.

Be well. Be safe. Be kind.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Truck for Sale! (and updates)

Well! There's a lot to update you on round here! Starting with my heavy decision to sell my beloved truck, Taylor. She's a 1989 4WD F150 and my main ride the past half decade. Besides repairs out costing the expense of a newer, used, truck - I simply need a more reliable vehicle. I am hoping someone who needs a trusty farm or plow truck will buy her. I'm aslig $1200 and hoping to make a sale soon. So far, no luck. But who knows? Maybe one of you need a slightly rusted red farmhand? Email if you do!

The farm has 2 new additions, a pair of meat rabbits gifted from a friend. They are being given their own run near the chicken coop and will be moved outside once the polar vortex taking over this week blows past. Not sure exactly of the breed but they are blond with brown eyes, clearly stil babies, and we think they are Palaminos. Excited to have a small rabbitry back on the farm! Shannon and I both love rabbit and it's been lovely sitting down at night with a rabbit in our laps. Really keeps the chill off!

And speaking of the cold: this farm is READY for it! There is wood stacked higher than my head in the mudroom for the back woodstove. There's a warm place by the fire. The dogs have coats, one that was my high school dog Murray's that my mom mailed me in a care package for my pups and the other is an Orvis coat I napped at the outlet when I worked there. They hate them but Friday does seem comfier with a coat on, so when it's 2 degrees in the morning they may feel silly but be a bit more comfy. Same with the horses. Same with us! Everyone is bundling up!

I am looking to expand the garden this year, really expand it. So seed catalogs are piling up like happy reminders winter doesn't last forever and I am extremely excited about putting in a 3 sisters patch. HIgh Mowing Seeds in Vermont will probbaly be our go to seed company. If you have any tips share them, please!

Stay warm out there, friends.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Fences and Forests

Homesteading has given me a life outdoors, but not the life most people think of when they hear that. Most people think of the "Outdoors" as a place for hunters, hikers, explorers and camping. But those of us in gardens, landscaping, farming, hell even working road construction or surveying land are working outdoors. What I mean is a life not sitting at a desk. And in my personal situation a life with domesticated plants and animals constantly rubbing up against the edge of wilderness. 

When I started farming I saw wild animals like foxes and possums as the enemy of my efforts. Now I see them as neighbors. I look forward to coyote calls and have learned the names and calls of songbirds and raptors. I train and work with hawks. I hike and backpack more than ever before. I find myself more attracted to reading Gary Snyder than Joe Salatin and I find myself planning hikes the way I used to plan going to rock shows. The real entertainment, the real experience, is in wild places.

Which is not meant to knock farming. Farming is my life and my love. It's my wife and my dream. But to go on tiny adventures or weekends away is a larger goal of mine. To get to spend time away and bring that love of farming with me on the trail, part of what I carry in my pack. To learn to let go of my worries about the farm and its safety. To get away for more than 2 nights a year. Not vacations. Not silly wastes of money or resources. But seeing small things with friends and when the world is more open than it is now. 

Thinking about all this today. About how excited I am to go on future hikes and how much I can't wait to plan a larger garden, too. Home and Wild, what a place to find a love affair with fences and forests. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

Happy New Year!

Throwback to snowy day's past!
The holidays came and went in a blur of snowfalls, ice, good friends, and warm fires. For the first time in my life, I woke up on Christmas morning with someone beside me. We had a feast of roast venison and homemade pierogis (my family’s tradition) and spent the oddly warm day sharing gifts with the only two people we have been quarantining around since the Pandemic started. But there was still a bit of snow on the farm, and twinkle lights, and warm fireplaces and wood stoves. We danced over and over to The Wren in the Furze by the Chieftains and drank nog and wassailed and watched the snow fall. The dogs and cats were all kissed (regardless of mistletoe) and I can’t remember a better holiday! Maybe it’s being isolated without guilt of travel. Maybe it’s her. Maybe it’s just feeling a little more grounded and certain. All in all, this is a happy and good place tucked up and into a mountain.

Things here at the farm are better than they have been in a long time. The hay and firewood is holding strong. The sales from soap and pet portraits have carried us through another month. Still behind on the mortgage, but only by a single payment instead of several. We are both lucky to be healthy and safe, so far no sign of Covid and cases in Washington County have been rare, but not non-existent. Lots of masks, small gatherings if any, and quick trips to town and back is all that is happening. I hope none of you have fallen into the conspiracy theories or Youtube rabbit holes that have surrounded the Homesteading community out there. Wear your masks, be safe, be smart.

P.S. I loved all the cards! Some of them were so touching we just read them together out loud and teared up. Thank you for sending them and I hope the mail got some of the postcards through! I am sending the soap and book out later this month to the winner! Enjoy it!

Friday, December 18, 2020

Gail Force


A few days ago the weather forecast said there was a 30% chance of snow with only light accumulation. Over the next 72 hours I watched the forecast slowly grow in percents and inches. The night before it snowed, there was a suggestion of up to 9 inches would fall in the night, with another 4 the next morning. And that is what I thought I was waking up to.

Instead the lowest point of snowfall was 25”, with drifts well over 4 feet tall. We got SLAMMED. And yesterday was the hardest day’s work I have ever done on this farm. And thank a thousand tiny gods I wasn’t alone. We started digging paths to move around at 8:30. We dug out every coop, barn, and made sure every critter had a path from their shelter to their food/water stations. Roofs were raked. Chicken waterers brought inside to thaw by the wood stove. And by the time I realized we needed to stop for a breakfast break it was already 1pm.

Shoveling snow like that, across acres and standing on roof… It completely drains you. Total body exhaustion, but by the time we were having dinner we had that perfect knowledge that all the work we did was necessary and important work. Both of us felt it was a great day. Outside, using muscle and hope, dragging snow off barns and cracking through icy covers over drinking fonts. It was the kind of work that feeds you. And I am reminded again why I chose this life. It’s never boring. Each day brings work, adventure, and import.

That work was appreciated again today when watching the sheep walk down their tunnel to their water and grain, when the dogs zoomed around our ant colony for morning chores. When the horses got hay safe and warm in the morning light. It’s easy to feel fulfilled when the entire morning is being of use, even to an anxious dog nearly tripping you as you balance buckets on lumpy snow.

Happy to report that 41 bales were delivered hours before the snow fell. The barn still needs more but this is a nice band aid on a bleeding cut. Having that hay put up and another cord of wood stacked while still burning the first feels safer, and better, than years earlier.

I hope you guys are safe and warm in your own homes. Looks like it’ll be a Winter Wonderland for Yule!

And now for a -2 degree night! Wish the pipes luck!!!

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Hay Shortage

There's a serious issue happening around here right now, a hay shortage. And by here I don't just mean Cold Antler Farm. The oddly dry summer in Washington county meant grass simply didn't get enough rain to grow well. Hay wasn't is now rare and expensive in these parts; when and if you find it.

The 130 bales I set aside to get a jump start on winter feed are nearly gone and it took a lot of searching, calls, favors, and luck to find a possible hay delivery for the farm this coming week. I am optimistic but I don't like to say this farm is okay till the little barn here is back to full capacity (100-130 bales).

Hay is something the horses and sheep need here. So that is some good news! That I was able to find someone to deliver around 100 bales within the next two weeks. The problem is that it isn't enough so I am not sure what the next steps will be. Either way I will be using all the money I have to buy in that hay and hope to earn it back soon as possible. Or I need to sell livestock.

It's a problem that is being addressed fast as possible. We have a lot of farms like mine in the same boat. People who don't have storage space for hundreds of bales and buy as they go, planning ahead a few weeks at a time. I am hoping that people either ship in hay from the south or west, or maybe go in on big loads? I'll keep you posted but wanted to share this story in case anyone local has a hay source or some to trade or sell?

That is the biggest news around here right now. The farm's mortgage is only paid through October so I am still tryin to cover last month nearly halfway through this one. It's frustrating and a little scary. Not overly so. Like I said, I'm trying to be optimistic. But a lot of change is possible. Keep me in kind thoughts and stay safe out there!

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Welcome December!

The first week of December brought snowflakes and real cold to the farm. Tonight the lows will reach the teens and the pond is frozen with a banket of flurries making it appear like a perfect piece of broken glass in the barren woods. During morning chores, while cracking through the ice in the pigs buckets, I noticed how instense a cardinal looks under a gray sky and leafless bush. What an amazing gift of color and sound. The night are growing darker and it feels like midnight at 6PM every day, but if you look for it the frozen ponds and songbirds bring promises of light's return. And in the meantime if you can focus on the care and comfort of animals, making the home cozy and safe, and eating more than your share of cookies - you'll make it to the solstice just fine.

It's a weird holiday. Not as sad as ones in my past but the pandemic makes it feel like a holiday trapped in the snowglobe, and not in a cute way. We are all so sepeatated from each other. I have been getting so many cards and hanging them in the window on strands of twine. Shannon too, she gets cards from friends and family and we string them together like reminders we're not alone in this season. But the pandemic makes everything feel tighter, a little scarier. In rural America there's a figth between people who still don't believe Covid will ever hurt or touch them, and those terrified to go to essential work every day. I am grateul to be on this farm and able to make soap and work on art from home. It's been tight, but sometimes a big sale or luck comes through and it's enough to order some gifts without guilt and still pay the electric bill and that is the real light of this season - to still be making it. The OCtober morthage is paid and I'm savig for the Novemeber one and I hope to mail it off soon. That's a bit of good news. Hoestly, all of us still living and whole right now have good news.

I'm trying to practice yoga daily, which has been amazing for my anxiety and heart. Stretching went from a chore to a release and the best massage I can give my body, inside and out. I look forward to the yoga mat now. Shannon is the reason. Her practice slowly became mine. And I can tell you how much easier it is to lift my leg over fences or stand on one foot to scrape poop off my boot. Little gifts can't be discounted!

I hope you are all safe and sound. I hope your holidays are kind and small. I hope you find warm light and promise of another spring not too far off. Be kind and open and gentle with the world right now. We all need it more than ever.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Card Exchange and Book Giveaway!

Hey all! If you want to help spread some cheer up here and get entered in a raffle for 6 bars of soap & a signed hardcover of One Woman Farm - send a holiday card to:

Jenna Woginrich
Cold Antler Farm
Jackson, NY 12816

Because I love mail and you love a free book! And I will also be attemption to mail back little hand-made postcards in return to cards sent! It is something to do on these long nights and we need a happy post office, too! Get those new livestock conservancy stamps and spread the cheer!

Monday, November 23, 2020

I haven’t written a lot lately.

I haven’t written a lot lately. Not much of anything, anywhere. I have been meaning to. There’s a few chapters of a book sitting on my desktop; a book proposal too. And this morning, I realized for perhaps the 4000th time, I need to just make myself write this book about the story of the last ten years. But you know what? Sometimes there’s a really good reason to put things off. Sometimes a writer needs to stop and realize the book you were going to write is no longer your story. And instead of mourning the unwritten, allow the new story to unfold, live it, and write about that.

Which is exactly what I am doing. Living my life in a way that isn’t constantly shared or public. And learning to relax with that.

This blog came from two places. The first was the need to share the experiences with other people, even total strangers. The second was my love of writing. I wrote because I was compelled to do so, a lot. I was madly in love with the idea of becoming a Farmer.

I capitalized that because it really is a proper noun to me. Farmers, especially women working outdoors on their own smaller diverse operations—they were another species to me! A wilder, wiser, more grounded and hardworking version of the person I was at the time. And as someone who has struggled with her weight, body image, and eating disorders most of her life - seeing women dedicated to ethical foods felt like salvation. I could make my life about being free, eating better, and being healthier in every way. And letting people in on my dream was a way to find support outside the traditional sources. I had no partner. My family was not on board with my choices. If I wanted to share my excitement about the person I desperately wanted to become I needed to farm that validaton as well.

And it helped me. Not the farming, but the hero status I gave women farmers. To be more interested in being outdoors, with the seasons, working for your meals in the most primitive way possible felt like the closest thing to a genuine human life to me. Primal and perfect. And seeing those women as role models slowly took my horrifically low self-esteem, naiveté, and self loathing and turned it into the fuel that ran Cold Antler Farm. I decided to jump into every passion without looking back, even if I was unprepared. What I got out of that was a rough and scrappy homestead, amazing friends and mentors, animals that showed me how to be a better person and experiences that forged a scared girl into a strong woman.

There is no question that “coming out” as a farmer was crucial to coming out as a lesbian. I needed to show the world (and myself) that I could change my life from what was expected of me into something I truly was. You all watched a young woman leave a corporate job to start working on her own land. I saw someone learning how to find my own identity. Fighting to prove that changing who you are seen as, is possible. And not only that (because there’s not a lot of weight on any label that isn’t a tombstone) but to remain here. To figure out how to pay the bills and keep the feed bags flowing even at the worst of times. And the consistency of simply remaining in this house, on this land, and keeping a fulfilling and feral creative life has been the work that turned me from a fan of strong women into one.

I have been here farming alone for ten years. I am strong as hell.

Horses helped. Hawks helped. Dogs helped more than you will ever know. But ten years into farming I am learning that the story of struggling alone isn’t the best story. It got me this farm, and I am grateful for it, but that book I was writing was about learning to be brave through fear. At 38 I am learning that running from failure isn’t fuel enough to lead a good life. It’s running towards love. That’s the better life.

This morning it is raining here. I’m writing beside a roaring fire. The chores are done. The coffee is still perking. And this house is no longer just mine, but the place I am building a new story and partnership with a woman who also left behind who she was to live in her own truth in a wilder place. And while I know damn well no relationship can or should be a saving grace, it can be an offering of gratitude. It can be the woman who carries water to your horses when you are hurt. It can be waking up warm and safe in someone’s arms. It can be collecting seed catalogs and mucking barns beside each other to improve and repair the life I was barely making work alone. That is the story happening now.

And I don’t know how to share it while keeping it ours. Keeping it as magical and healing as it needs to be. So I may not be writing much at all about her anymore, but I will update you on the farm and this new story. You will certainly read more about that book, and hopefully have it on your own shelves not too long from now, but right now the stories are those pages are being lived. The emotions, realizations, prayers, and tears are happening. Changes in body, lifestyle, and my goals are happening. It’s a happy little chrysalis, this house. And while there are still the fears of losing this home, they are battled and shared with a tiger by my side. A woman so strong and talented and real sometimes I just cry when I realize for the 400th time she is real and here.

So know that I am well. So far, Covid free and just six weeks behind on the mortgage instead of three months. So far still planning pork shares and soap orders and doing my best to make it through a day one check-list at time, but with my gaze not on the small goals but the sighs ahead. The snowfalls and sunshine, the chicks and the omelets, the procrastination and the publishing. It all will happen. And at least now, it’s happening with someone holding my hand.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

So, so good.

November is trucking ahead and so are we! With the barn loaded with hay, the wood pile now at 3 cords, a full larder, AND the mortgage only one month behind…. It feels good. It feels so much better than this time in previous years, where something was always missing. I’d have the hay and wood secure but me farther behind in bills. Or I’d have bills and hay figured out and wood still being delivered into December. But this year, before the first real snowfall, we have managed as a team to figure out things far better than just me balancing on branches into Autumn. I’m so grateful to have her beside me, planning and farming and hoping. Still a lot of shit to get together around here, but I see a lot more light going into 2021 than I did going into 2020! (Literally, Shannon has set up so many lamps.)

And acquisitions aren’t the only news. My girl has taken on some light construction work around the farm, including part 2 of the chicken coop renovation! It is almost ready to rehouse the entire flock (currently either sleeping in a smaller coop near the house or in the barn). When it is ready it’ll be a fully functional multi-flock coop with areas for brooding chicks, roosting layers, and a floor space for geese. While she’s been working on that I have been ramping up soap and design/illustration work as much as humanly possible for the holiday season. Selling my mint chunky bars into Yuletide means taking orders now and making, packing, and mailing every day. If I am lucky with sales and keep pushing them on social media I may be able to make a payment before end of next week. Not ideal, but going into December only owing November is a huge milestone for me. I can’t tell you how many Christmas seasons have came and gone with me gulping as the clock turns to month twelve and I still owe the October house payment. I’ll take whatever small wins I can get, and they are only possible with a second person here. At least for the energy 2020 has in me. It’s been a hell of a year.

Also, Madam Vice President sounds so, so good!

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!