Saturday, December 19, 2009

losing my religion

I'm hitting a point in my life as a small-scale producer that makes me question certain things. Since I started raising my own vegetables, eggs, baked-goods, and learning to source my dairy closer to home—I realized there is another abundant source of healthy natural food I've been ignoring: meat.

I've been a vegetarian for nearly a decade. I became one because it seemed like the logical and responsible personal choice after learning about the factory farm system. I didn't want to be a part of that, so I stopped eating all meat altogether. Honestly, I never missed it. Some people go vegetarian and start crumbling at the knees at the smell of sizzling bacon, but not me. Sure, I get a little nostalgic, but never had another bite after that choice was made. This made so much sense to me because all the meat in our stores was shipped from Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) but now that I'm living in the rural Northeast, and have so much local, grass-fed meat around me—I am beginning to wonder about that original decision's validity.... Within ten miles of this cabin there is free-range beef, lamb, and poultry. There is a rabbit farm, a thriving trout stream, and a freezer full of all these things wating for me at Wayside. Have I been avoiding meat out of plain old habit, or worse...pride? Have I been selfish, and wrong, to buy organic tofu from California trucked on a oil-guzzling rig all the way to Vermont when there was rabbit stew a walk down the road waiting for me?

Catherine Friend (the author of Hit By a Farm, a beginner shepherding book I adore) recently published a book called The Compassionate Carnivore, and it is amazing. Written by a small sustainable farmer in Minnesota, Catherine raises her own poultry, lamb, and beef. She spends an entire volume talking about the kindness for animals (and activism) local meat entails. I know to some of you that may sound batty. Some vegetarians will never look at eating any animal as compassionate - but hear me out. Her reasoning is solid.

Friend's argument for grass-fed, humanely-raised meat is simple—if you care about animal welfare, support the system doing it right. If you think the factory farm convention is cruel, don't put your money into that business. As consumers our dollars are our voting ballots. Paying for local, organic, meat shows the industry we not only refuse them, but will reward the farmers we feel are doing things better. This is simple business. The factory farm industry exists because it makes money. Personally, I don't care if they change their practices because it's bad business to mistreat animals, I just want those pigs out of those steal cages. When the big wigs in the meat packing industry see droves of people going back to their neighborhood farms...things will change. So will the lives of pigs. Catherine made me understand that eating happy meat makes these changes happen. I'm starting to doubt my old food religion. For me, it makes less and less sense.

You can eat all the veggie burgers you want, but buying fake meat makes you no longer collateral damage to the CAFO business. Vegetarians, by refusing to assist the small organic meat efforts, are simply quietly sitting out the controversy in this particular aspect. This is not an attack on vegetarians! This is exactly what I am doing! But you must understand that this persona decision to return to meat, as a future meat farmer, feels right. I want to support the farmers in my community letting their cows out on grass and letting their chickens dance in the sun. Actually, It seems ridiculous not to take part. I think I'm just balking at change. It feels like such a huge step after such a long time. What is it with me? I can move cross-country but eating a slice of my neighbor's cow feels like a major life change? Jeesh.

What do you folks think?

Friday, December 18, 2009

feast or famine?

anyone want some music?

I'm offering the farm's iPod up to the farm cause. It's a fairly new, silver, 8G iPod classic. It has over 600 songs loaded on it and two movies (Spinal Tap and a Wilco Documentary) and has plenty of space left to fill it up. It's also plumb-full of farm photos and a great chore playlist. Since my phone plays MP3's I don't need a double, and I'm happy to offer it to any music-loving reader who can't get enough Iron and Wine (live shows on here as well). If you're interested email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com and let me know your offer. Highest bid gets the prize. I'll throw in a Chuck Klosterman tail feather as well.

UPDATED: Sold! Thank you barb!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

the greenhorns!

dark mornings

I woke up to the sound of wind and coyotes. I pulled the covers up over my head and reached under the pillow for the knit hat and wool socks I put on before even getting out of bed. Jazz is aside me, and always seems bigger in the morning dark. I feel his fur and hear him sigh and feel warmer so I get up. I put on a the percolator, and the red kettle for my oatmeal, and turn on the radio to hear the news. Congress just passed the jobs bill. The dogs are both up now. I leash them and we go outside.

It's cold. Really, really cold. I'm wearing layers of wool, canvas, and an old fur musher's hat. Jazz and Annie pee quick then rush back inside for round two of their morning nap. I too go inside to fill up the chicken's water font I'd brought in to defrost late last night. When I go back outside it feels colder. I trudge through the icy slick to the coop. My flashlight scans the snow around the hen house for coyote prints. I'm relieved to see none. The birds their feed and water, and I return to the porch for a flake of hay.

I'm walking back to the cabin and see the porch light and stop to look. I realize how comforting this place is and for a moment feel warm. My little rented house is like a hot coal dropped in the snow. What a blessing to know I'll be back inside soon. I grab an armful of hay and head back out into the dark, but do so knowing breakfast and coffee are mine soon. I then realize another thing: I can't wait for the solstice. Dark mornings are grand in their own way, but I find mysself whispering Goethe's famous last words as I walk to my sheep...

"More Light."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

chance and slumber

I've had a bit of tunnel vision lately and for that, I apologize. I feel like the blog has taken on this manifest destiny of finding and buying a farm. Since Thanksgiving it has been a pretty chaotic sprint, but I'm starting to settle back into old routines and learning to just enjoy this place again. For a while the cabin turned into a problem that needed a solution. Now I've accepted that all I can do is, well, all I can do. For tonight this place is mine and the fiddle sounds just as sweet as it always has by the fireside.

Outside isn't as welcoming... The wind chill is supposed to drop to -10 and a steady light snow has been falling since I left the office. During my night rounds I tied an old blanket to the coop's chicken wire door, creating a windbreak from the snow. Winthrop watched me from his roost like a benevolent dictator as I struggled to do this before my hands went numb. That chicken always makes me feel like he was once Canadian Royalty. I guess it was nice of him to allow the help.

When the birds had fresh corn scratch and the door safely shut, I walked over the the sheep to make sure the defroster was earning its keep. The water wasn't frozen and no snow dared to set on it's rim. I felt like I won something and gave the flock their hay.

I used to get really stressed out and I'd call my friend Raven to talk me down. The best advice she ever gave me was this. She'd say, "Jenna. There is nothing else you can do about it tonight. You can't fix all your problems, or even begin to fix them, in one day. Just know that you're moving forward, did what you could, and nothing in the next twelve hours is going to change. So go make some tea, read a Harry Potter book, and breath."

And that is exactly what I'm doing. Well, almost. I'm reading that Five Acres book, not Rowling, but you get the drift. Sometimes you just need a friend to whack you over the head with the obvious so you can get a decent night's sleep. My teapot is on the stove heating up as I write you. After this long day, I'm resigning the next twelve hours to chance and slumber. This is what it must feel like to be a cat.

Jazz is with me, breathing heavy and asleep. He seems more tired lately. I try not to think about him growing old. I know how foolish that sounds. I only try.

winthrop

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

hive minded

Bees have been on my mind a lot lately. Late December is the time beekeepers start getting contemplative. We all know January is just around the corner: and that means it's almost time to order new nucs and dust off our gear. We become hive-minded, letting our thoughts turn to clover flower seeds and letting the back field get overtaken by dandelions. Our apiary's number is on the fridge. Our catalogs are on the coffee table. Our smokers and hive tools are down from the shelves. We're beekeepers and we want to keep some bees, son.

Yes, honey is on my mind... But with such an uncertain future ahead of me - I don't know what to do with these thoughts. I want to place my winter order and start preparing for a fresh hive but I have no idea where I'll be living in the summer, and that means a little extra planning if I want to start the early stages of my next hive.

I talked to my friend Roger today, knowing he may be able to shed some light on the predicament. He's a like-minded coworker if there ever was one. Roger works with me all day as a designer in the office, but goes home to his chickens, gardens, and bees. His wife and daughter are just as involved and excited in their backyard homestead as he is. We alays have something to talk about when we catch each other in the halls. So I felt like I could swing a deal his way. I asked him if he'd be willing to home the hive if I couldn't? Would he take the bees if I was in an apartment in the spring?

He gladly obliged.

I left the office today knowing I could order my new colony. If the bottom dropped out I could keep them at his place. He said I was welcome to stop by and tend them as needed until I could move the whole establishment to my own farm. I don't think he had any idea how happy that simple offer made me. I did a little dance in the snow walking out to my car. I can get bees again, even with the question marks. Hot Dog!

When you're living without a net you take these gifts as they come. I hope I never forget how good grattitude feels at 5:06 PM on a Tuesday.

Monday, December 14, 2009

books and boys

Everything outside is wet, slushy, and yucky. The beautiful snow that fell Sunday afternoon turned into rain, which turned the already fallen snow into mush. Now the farm is in a muck of dirty white and chicken tracks. If a snow cone machine threw up on a pile of mud—you'd be in Vermont.

I match the weather. My cold turned into a cough and I actually left the office at noon to come home and sleep. Which is exactly what I did. A long rest in front of the fireplace and a quart of downed orange juice later and I already feel better. I won't be succumbing to scurvy, anyway.

I'm reading a book many of you may already be familiar with: MG Kain's Five Acres and Independence. It's a handbook for managing a small farm, written for folks before they actually acquire one. It starts out by saying there are two types of people with the small farm dream: those who are sure to fail and those who are destined to succeed. (A 50/50 chance is pretty good odds!) The point of the book is to help new farmers figure out the messy stuff and all the pitfalls that go into buying, starting, and living on a small plot of land. So far it's brilliant. And I'm looking forward to diving into the renting vs buying chapter. I also got a used copy of Joel Salatin's You Can Farm which I look at as part two in my winter small farm home study program. Reading and notes is something I can do to now. It's information I need and helps me feel like I'm working towards something, even if all I'm doing is sitting up in bed with a husky head on my stomach. With Finn, the rabbits, goslings, hive and garden gone I feel like I have so much time now. I fill it up of course. There's always something to do. It just feels emptier.

On a totally separate note....I have a question for you guys, and when I say that, I mean it literally. Are there any men out there? I feel like the overwhelming audience of this blog is female (which makes sense, so am I) but us farm girls can't be the only clicks around here? I feel like the things I write about: farming, livestock, trucks, music, electric fences, dogs, killing roosters, etc are pretty macho. There's got to be some dudes reading this and just not causing a ruckus on the blog. I'm just curious if you're out there gentlemen? If you are, you should comment and say hello. If you don't I'll assume it's just us girls and start writing about eyeliner and tights on sale at Banana Republic.

hiking with jazz in the smokies

Sunday, December 13, 2009

homebodies

I was outside early this morning. Part of me was fighting off cold and the other part was working on the sheeps' water tank. I had bought a defroster the day before in Bennington and was trying to read the installation instructions while crouched down near my munching flock. All three of my sheep were on the other side of the fence chewing the hay I just plopped at their feet. Occasinionally they'd lift their head in my direction as I mumbled between box, paperwork, and contraoption. When the defroster was installed and no one got electrocuted in the process: I considered it a small victory. No more cracking hooves through ice. No more dumping heavy rubber containers of igloo bricks. A little civility was delivered to the farm today.

After the water tank was set I headed over to the coop to grab the big white plastic bucket to refill the chicken fonts. Cyrus and Saro (who long ago learned what the white bucket stood for) followed me, waddling in the hard packed snow. I filled the bucket and set it aside for them to dunk their heads in and drink while I stacked more cord wood on the house pile. They drank and preened and I went about my chores. Then, overhead a flock of wild geese broke the quiet, causing a ruckus as they flew. I looked up but couldn't see them. They had to have been above the gray clouds. Then I looked over at my pair of geese and watched them react to the sounds of their wild cousins. Sometimes I wonder if they too want too take off? Cyrus looked up sideways, tilting his head at the sound, not moving or drinking. He seemed to be considering his options. I watched in anticipation. After a brief pause he dunked his head back in the bucket with a loud splash. I laughed and smiled as I went back to the wood pile.

Travel isn't for everyone.

etsy, snow, and books

I opened up my old Etsy shop again. It has everything from knit hats to headdresses, farm-recorded music to original watercolors... It showcases characters from the farm and songs on my dulcimer, banjo, and Irish Whistle. All proceeds go towards my future home. So browse away! There's a link on the right side of this blog.

I'm about to head into Manchester to do laundry and meet up with some readers at the bookstore in town. They are calling for icy rain and snow today, so I'm hoping to be back here at the farm before dark. If you're braving the weather to join me around two of my top three (Coffee, books, and dogs) you'll be a welcomed guest. Stay warm!