Saturday, September 19, 2009

good morning from the farm!

This was the first day that required mittens with the morning chores. I'm back inside now, about to dive into an omelet and pumpkin coffee. Green Mountain Coffee puts out this Pumpkin Spice flavor that I look forward to every year. And Wilcox (our Manchester-based ice-creamery..which i think is amazing) has pumpkin out for sale in the grocery stores. Both make the end of September a holiday. I like how these pumpkingy things are showing up as my own are turning orange on the vine. I can not wait for October.

As for this giant omelet: I used the last of my humble tomato crop, homemade cheese, a local dairy's milk and my hen's eggs. Together, they sing. Every bite has a history. A hen, a seedling, an evening stretching curd. I'm hoping to find a big steel pot at some yard sales today for more cheese making. I think I'm hooked.

Today's a big day. I have errands in town, but then this afternoon a few folks are coming buy to help put up the new fencing for the sheep pen. I also have a cord of fire wood to stack and need to clean out the garage for winter hay storage. So it'll be a big long day (thus the giant breakfast) or running around and working, but hopefully by the end of this weekend there will be new strong fence and a garage stacked with hay bales. So here's to a crisp morning, hard work, and a warm breakfast.

Friday, September 18, 2009

woodsmoked life

There are things I do all the time on the farm, mundane things, and I can still remember the first time I did them. I have yet to lose that beginners rush. Pouring the scratch grain into a big metal 50-gallon container and mixing it in with the layer crumbles. (My recipe for warmer birds: more fatty corn in colder weather.) Watching the deep yellow pieces of cracked corn mix in with the lighter layer crumbles still looks beautiful to me. I swirl them together with my hands and feel the tiny grains slip through my fingers. A rush of sensations. Every time I bury my arms elbow deep in the concoction to really get it all mixed up. When you get a buzz from mixing up corn in a bucket—I think that's a fairly good sign you're supposed to be living this kind of woodsmoked life.

They want tonight to dip into the thirties. Tomorrow they want frost. I hope the pumpkins hold their own. They're starting to turn a loud orange and I can not hide my shit-faced grin everytime I see them. This is the best crop of pumpkins I have ever grown, some so large I doubt I'll be able to pick them up without help.

Anyway, this cold streak—it's a fluke early bite. By Tuesday night the weather report has nights back in the fifties again. Regardless, it'll inspire most Vermonters to continue stacking wood and ordering winter fuels. I'll be filling up the cabin's oil tank and am stacking up my second cord of firewood, just dropped off today. Someday I'll be on all woodheat and electric, but for now my rented cabin has a 275-gallon oil tank to keep the place snug and pipes from freezing when the nights drop below 0. I can't believe it's time to fill up already... Fall is certainly at our doorstep. That's a fact no longer up for discussion. I am thrilled to welcome him home.

I bought a new black and white checkered flannel shirt on my lunch break. There is nothing quite as glorious as a new flannel shirt on a crisp night outside. It's a men's medium and literally comes down to my knees, but it is so soft and warm. It's like being wrapped up in someone's arms. Soon as I pulled into the farm I changed right there in the driveway, and did my evening chores wrapped in it. I didn't even need a jacket.

I have 330 feet of field fence in the back of the pick up and hopefully I'll get it up tomorrow so the sheep will finally have a fence I can be proud of. I put up the last fence by myself but that cheap garden wire but it's nearly falling apart. The hot mess is being held together by bailing twine and luck. I put up that monster alone, (but those cheap welded wire rolls didn't need to be loaded into the back of a truck with a forklift...) so I'm hoping some friends come to help tomorrow. My friend James did offer to help next weekend, so maybe fence-redux will be postponed till then. I'll play it by ear.

Some friends invited me out for drinks but I don't think I'll be heading into town tonight. Between the long work week, a stalking fox, and the promise of a warm fire I think I'll be in for the night. (I blame the shirt.) It's one of those nights where you pull the dulcimer off the mantle and mindlessly pluck away at it while you watch a favorite movie. Tonight I'll watch Cold Mountain. If my father was visiting he'd demand an apple cake be baking on a night like this. If I had some apples, I would, just for the aromatherapy of it all.

photo by sarah stell

late notice: help wanted

Anyone in the area with nothing to do tomorrow? I need help building a new fence for the sheep shed. If you have two hours and can come by the farm please email me at and come on over with a tool box! Sorry, no kids. If Maude isn't behind a fence I don't want to risk her head-butting a toddler. Adults with gloves welcome!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

the end result

my first mozzarella!

Today a package of homesteading supplies was delivered to the office, and inside it contained (among other things) everything I needed to make homemade mozzarella. It was a success! There in the photograph you can see the fist-sized ball of fresh homemade cheese sprinkled with seasoning and a sprig of basil from the garden. It took me about 45 minutes and all I needed was a gallon of milk (any milk will do that isn't ultra pasteurized) a pot, and a thermometer. Right now the oven is baking up a small pan pizza made with my own cheese, crust, and veggies. I'm really looking forward to sitting back tonight with a movie and enjoying this first foray into the dairy world. From the smell of this kitchen, it looks like it's going to be a hell of a good meal.

And a few updates: The fox is still at large but hasn't returned. Last night's stake out just left me looking foolish and cold in the 43-degree dark waiting for a date that never showed. He stood me up. I should've been wearing a prom dress. On a happier note—the truck was returned from the garage yesterday with a new front end and brakes and she passed inspection today with flying colors! I now have my own pickup outside, and every step from the handshake deal to the final inspection has been cleared. My first debt-free piece of anything. (I'm proud of my Bess.) I was also able to pay off a small credit card this month, and while it's not going to shoot my credit score up into the stratosphere - every little bit helps and gets me closer to my farm. So cheese isn't all I celebrate tonight. This September is a month of small victories.

P.S. I have two spots paid and reserved for the Cluck n Strum, and awaiting payments from a few others. Not sure what the final head count is but I hope at least five of us will be there. So far there will be three of us for sure!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

at dusk

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

he's back

Last night while I was at the movies something happened in the chicken coop. A fox (or something like it) snuck in and took the silkie bantam chick. No other animals were harmed or are missing. I know this because I noticed the missing bird last night when I returned from town. Every night I do a count and check on the birds and the little black hen was gone. Today while moving the fences my neighbor Roy came out and announced he heard a big ruckus around 8PM.

Tonight I was inside watching a movie and decided to take the dogs out for a bathroom break. The speakers on the movie were dimmed and I looked to Annie who wasn't interested in the word "walk" at all. Her head was cocked to the window. Outside the geese were screaming. It was 8:30.

I threw on my boots and ran out towards the coop only to catch the red flash and tail running into the darkness. From the glow of the coop, the only light in the Sandgate black, I saw what had to be the largest fox in all of Vermont. It was possibly a coyote. Seemed to stand about 18-22 inches tall but was a dark brown/red. "AWAY!" I screamed, as if it was a border collie I wanted to flank, "AWAY!"

I ran back inside to get Annie and Jazz like a small canine police force. The three of us ran out into the night and walked around the coop. I made sure both dogs left clear and present danger right where the fox stood. I'm hoping my screams, the visit of dogs, and the thick smell of their markings and post-kibble will buy me a night without casualties. But one thing certain. Our friend is back. Guess what I'll be doing at 8PM tomorrow night...

Stake out.

you are what you eat

Last night I went to the Manchester to see Food Inc. (which was wonderful) and engage in a group discussion about food economies. Now, I knew I was going to the movies, but I had no idea when the film was over there would be a stay-in-you-seats discussion over community action. There was. I love this state.

A local group called Manchester Transition (a local environmental issues group) hosted a post-film talk. The MC walked with a mic down the rows, asking about changes that could happen in our area to help solve the problem. I was with my friends Phil, Sharon, and Jessie as an audience member. (I am certain no one knew I was involved in this life in anyway.) And I listened to the local organic and small farmers take turns talking about their issues. Horror stories about trying to sell to grocery store chains, the struggle to get apathetic people involves. We passed around the mic and when it got to me I had one question. "How many people in the audience have a garden?"

Everyone shot up their hands. We were preaching to the choir. We needed to get someone to see this movie who never would unless someone asked them too. That's where you come in. Go see this movie and take someone who doesn't give a damn.

The problem is that Americans have convinced themselves that cheap food, a seasonless selection, and endless variety are their rights—not healthy food, in-season crops, and correct variety. Some folks say a local organic diet is an elitist goal. That regular folks can't afford it. (Then you learn that only counts for prepared meals. We'd rather watch TV than cook a meal together). We've bought the lie that eating whatever we want of lesser quality is a good thing. Because it's easier. Because we don't have to connect the cow with the burger.

This is scary to me. Really scary.

Ask the average American if they'd rather buy feeding lot chicken that comes with a death warning then drive to a farmer's market down tha block and pay a dollar more a pound for a free-range disease-free bird. Most will prefer the healthier option, but few choose it. One hilarious section of the movie interviewed a well known organic farmer who was almost shut down for processing his poultry outdoors near the fields they free ranged on. So he sent a large sampling of his stock and sampling of the same sized animals from the grocery store shelves to be tested for bacteria. His came back ridiculously healthier and his animals never went through chlorine baths and a packaging plant. It's how the animal is raised, son.

I understand that we have a world to feed. The movie wasn't so much against industrial food as it was against the lack of regulation, safety standards, and lack policy. Food Inc. didn't want everyone to boycott the grocery store, they wanted you to change what's inside. Buy voting with every purchase for healthier food. Buy local, organic, and do your best. Not everyone can afford this, but most of us can afford one local meal a day. Experts say if every American ate one meal within 100 miles of their home a week the food industry would be forced to change dramatically. The organic wouldn't be expensive, it would be normal. Get some oats at the farmers' market and you've just eaten a breakfast that can change the world.

The base problem is most people don't want to think about where they're food comes from. They don't want to buy healthier meat for more money and eat it less. They don't care about local farmers, poisoned peanut butter, and salmonella outbreaks have become nothing more than background noise on the evening news. They have jobs, lives, and families to take care of. I get it. I have a job too. But I'll be damned if I'll sit back and watch the food my family eats hurt them. We may have our disagreements, even about blog posts like this, but they can count on me to produce meat, eggs, vegetables and energy that won't put them in the hospital.

You are what you eat. Be something better.

Monday, September 14, 2009

going to see this tonight

listen to this record

Sunday, September 13, 2009

in the shop...

There's Finn, checking out his new ride. Or probably his reflection in the back of the cab. He was actually pretty calm up there. I suppose growing up from the age of two-weeks-old in the back hatch of a station wagon helped...Finn's still small enough that lifting him up in my arms isn't a problem, but I imagine those days are over soon. You'll have this.

The truck had some drama. It's now registered, has shiny green plates, and the taxes are paid. It just needed to get a state inspection to make it road legal. So yesterday I took it to a mechanic to get it looked over. Turns out it didn't make it fifteen minutes into the inspection before the guy told me the front passenger side wheel was loose. It was a hazard and it needed to be fixed before Vermont allowed it on her roads. I contacted the dealer and they're picking it at the office tomorrow and repairing it on their dime. My friend and coworker Eric is going to take me back up into the 'Gate. Hopefully in a few days it'll be back to work. With jobs like fence reconstruction, winter hay buying, and trash bags needing to get to the dump... I need this truck. It can do in one trip what the Subaru can do in five.

Oh, I finally picked up that issue of Urban Farm magazine. If you live in a suburb or city, it's a must have for the resource lists alone. And the articles on beekeeping, goats, chickens, canning and small-space gardening are great and beginner friendly. Not too shabby for five bucks.