Saturday, March 13, 2010

i have a confession to make

When I come inside from morning chores, and I crave iced coffee instead of stove hot—I know spring is here. These past few days have been balmy, muddy, and wet. The trees are barren. The sky is gray. The ground is brown as a paper bag stuck under a tire well. Outside the snow that remains lives in little angry islands covered in dirt and dog piss. It's not pretty out there, that's for sure.

Listen, I have a confession to make. It may shock you. I hate spring.

I know, I know... Homesteaders, gardeners, shepherds, and farmers alike should be over the moon that winter is finally over, but I can't stand spring. The whole season makes me edgy and miserable. When it kicks into high gear (April being the worst) I just put on my running shoes and jog through it, hoping the whole month is washed away in sweat and miles.

I find the whole season creepy. People are so wrapped up in the abundance of new life they forget how short life really is. Folks turn into distracted avatars of their old selves, more engaged in riding mowers and patio furniture than each other. And why be grateful for life when there is so much of it around you? It's like saying grace is a grocery store. Our guards are down and our hope is replaced by expectations. It's too much. It seems a gluttony.

Now, all that said, there is a side of spring I adore. I am excited about the farm work, and everything falls out of my head but that addiction. I can plant any size garden I can muster. I can fill my coops with new chicks and poults. I can arrange for lambs and kids and god knows what else. The place is thriving with life and I am the queen of my own empire. It goes to my head! Grass starts to turn green and leaves bud on the trees and before you know it I am surrounded by so much creation I am drunk on it. I too think this bursting of life is the new normal. I sit on my laurels and breath it in and feel like I will live forever.

However, I am not the type of person made happy by immortality. Like too much money, too much life corrupts. In April I forget I'm a dying animal. It turns me into a distracted, selfish, person. I get annoyed standing in lines, and let small things upset me. I snap at friends and loved ones, assuming I can apologize later. I get materialistic, wanting seeds and fences and new clothes and tools. I am so wrapped up in the possibilities I forget the probabilities. I don't like the immortal me. I start living like a person with a lot of time on her hands. It's the worst way to be.

I know my dislike of spring has a lot to do with my love of fall. I'm never farther away from holy October than I am in the bacchanal of April. Some would say that perception is wrong, that harvest months are the time of celebration and abundance, but that's not really true. At least, not to me. With the somber holidays of Autumn, I are reminded about my mortality, but not in a bad way. Halloween makes me feel so ridicuoulsy alive. So grateful to be among the living I shake. I am at my knees in appreciation for the life I have and reverence for those I lost. You don't get that in April. You get mud.

October, god bless it. If you live like I do you know that autumn is the real show, the real time to relax and reflect. The work is done and set aside. The days are shorter and darker, but to make up for it the sunsets are five-alarm fires. The trees around here burst into fireworks too, making the whole northeast into this gorgeous land of orange, yellow, and red. The whole season looks like a sunset, and one you can stretch and feel your thinning ribs from the hard work you put into your life. You smile, and lay back onto a wool blanket under an oak and know it.

You spent months working and now the whole season celebrates with you. Like you, it's all going to die soon, but not at the moment. When you are on your back under a blazing fall oak—you are both so alive. Soon that tree with be barren, and soon I'll be buried under one, but for the time being we are both here and have a little time to make music, or children, or stories, or love. That understanding softens me. It makes me appreciate long lines as a chance to gather thoughts. I listen instead of waiting to talk. I am kinder, happier, and aged a lifetime by my sping animals and summer gardens.

I don't trust people who are ignore the grace of fall. They're worst than dog haters. At least hate usually has a motive, ignorance is just a pain in the ass.

7 months, and counting.

Friday, March 12, 2010

holy crap!

I got approved for the home loan!

doug's office: wayside country store

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

cold antler is on twitter

Yes, finally, I will be tweeting. I think it'll be fun. It'll be more accessible to me than facebook and I'm into the brevity. So far I've updated about signing up for a sheep shearing class. Those are the tasty nuggets of information you'll see on that little site. You can subscribe for my jabs and updates here:

a movie and some books

I'll be presenting Mad City Chickens at the Williamstown Farm Feast Film Festival this weekend. If you're in the area, come by and join me at 11:30 for the movie and a book signing at 1Pm after the show. It's part of a giant farm film fest, showing movies like Sweetgrass, Fresh, King Corn and many many more. There are also all sorts of community events like a Greenhorns panel for young, new farmers and a mixer called Carhartts and Cocktails where local foods and sustainability are the main points of conversation. Should be a big time.

Check out all the events and details here:

Photo courtesy Jason Houston

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

urgent help needed!

Finn, my goat, needs a place to be boarded at while I get ready to move. His current foster home just isn't set up for a goat. He's been jumping over the alpaca fences and breaking into the chicken coop. He needs a place around here to couch surf just until I can get him back—which is as soon as I can set up an electic fence at my new place. May 1st should be the very latest he'd have to stay with you, and I will of course pay for the food, space, whatever it takes.

If you live around southern Vermont and have space for a goat, please email me at

mud season

Monday, March 8, 2010

long deep breaths

The farm does not care about bad days. It simply does not allow them. If all I want to do after work is crawl under the covers, cry, and fall asleep to a Gilmore Girls marathon and Tylenol PM—I can't. My emotional state is of no consequence to sheep that need hay, eggs that need collecting, geese that want feed, or dogs that need a walk and their supper. You can't take drugs that knock you out in case something goes wrong in the night, life a fox in the coop or a coyote near the flock. There is no elbow room for selfish acts like broken hearts, office stress, or celebratory nights away in hotel rooms. There are also no snow days, rain checks, or even the occasional sleeping in. The farm demands I am the best possible self I can offer, at all times. The luxury of a personal life is useless.

I am so grateful for this it shocks me.

I had a horrible day. Sometimes the stress and responsibilities of a raw life still in the furnace cake like mud and I can't get clean. I'm not a manic person, and am pretty level in my emotions, but some days the world's too big and I'm too small. That's what happened today. I sat at my desk in the office and plowed through as much work as possible, then ran as fast I could in the company gym. I sprinted for nearly half an hour trying to beat the funk in a race. I got back to my desk and listened to my favorite music, emailed my best friend Kevin just to talk, and planned a special dinner for no reason at all. Nothing worked. I was a slow dog. I had been defeated in honorable combat. 5PM came and I had to fight back the tears as I walked to the truck in the parking lot. It was complete exhaustion. The house, deadlines, stress, money, movers, car repairs, mistakes, loneliness, confusion, distractions and reminders... I just wanted to go hide. I wanted to be useless.

But the farm had other plans for me. I came home to a mud season sunset at a place that needed me. Had I any doubt s about my necessity I could just close my eyes and listen to the bleats and crows—animals needing care. Within minutes my mood started to lift. I went inside, kicked off my Chuck Taylors, and changed into rubber boots. I grabbed the leather leashes and called to the dogs to me. They sailed from the other room, tails wagging and heads buried deep into my chest. I hugged them like I had not seen them in years. I don't know how any of you are getting through this life without dogs. I don't want to know either.

We, a scrappy pack of three, walked the muddy roads of Sandgate. They sniffed and searched the trees for crows and I took long deep breaths. I returned from that walk feeling a little lighter, my lungs less shallow. I fed them a supper of kibble, eggs, and some cheese curds and returned to the yard for wood chopping and afternoon rounds. I carried the sheep their new mineral block and heaved it like a bowling ball into their pen. I dished out scratch grains and hay, replaced water, and collected nine brown eggs still warm from the hen I rudely set aside just moments ago. Soon I was figuring out plans to move them all to the new farm, getting lost in the future of Cold Antler. I forgot everything else that seemed so important an hour ago. As I caked real mud on my boots, the metaphorical kind fell off. I smiled a little. I couldn't help it.

Had I not had these hungry mouths and trotting paws I would have came in the door, fell onto the couch, and decided I was too tired to be of any use to the world. Instead I was thrown into action and sunlight, forced to care for others and come out of my shell. The farm abhors self pity, ignores anxiety, and refuses to condone depression. A few chores and I am fine. Get me in the fresh air and around a community of my animals and before you know it I am picking up my fiddle and cooking up a dinner fit for a queen. I ate with gusto. I drank one granny smith hard cider for the hell of it. No regrets.

The place heals me because it needs me. In the end, that is all any of us want.

winthrop howls from the porch

Sunday, March 7, 2010

like tailgates

I was driving around Washington county today, my possible future home. I was on an errand to Nelson's farm to buy hay. Annie and I were in the truck, a Bobby Hicks CD was in the stereo, and I was having a one-sided conversation with my dog about why Whiskey Before Breakfast may be one of the greatest fiddle tunes ever written. The sun was out, the windows were down, and whenever Ann wasn't hanging her front arms out the window, my arm was around her as she sat shotgun. Dogs, like tailgates, are a necessary truck accessory.

I drove through Cambridge, Salem, and then Hebron. Three towns with thriving farm communities all connected by route 22. It's just a few miles from the Vermont State line, but the sense of the place is totally different. Vermont, god bless her, is a woodland wonderland of ski resorts, bed and breakfasts, mountains, rivers, and the occasional small farm tucked away. But upstate New York is 100% farm country. You cross the state line and you are out of vacationland and into productionworld. Rolling fields of corn and silos, dairy cows and giant barns—the place is a postcard for the American small farm before it got turned into multinational corporations. As I drove up 22 I passed tractor dealers and Agways. The signs for each town have RIGHT TO FARM pasted right under the welcome signs. I love Vermont, but Washington county loves agriculture. I think I'll fit in just fine. Maybe even find a fella to buy me coffee. We'll see how it all plays out.

Someone asked me in the last post what my plan B was. That answer is easy: I don't have one. Sorry folks, I just plain don't have enough cash or wits about me to try and buy more than one place at a time. And the Jackson farm really is the last best hope for making a place on the earth my own, right now. Listen, this is going to work out. It has too. If it doesn't then I need to just take a deep breath and scramble to find a farm to rent. If that happens then, well frankly, that sucks. But the bright side is I have the entire home-buying process under my belt, self taught and understood. If the bottom falls out there will be other farms and future plans. But for the sake of keeping it all together: let's just humor me and hope for the best?

P.S. I have CDs, watercolors, and prints getting printed. If you ordered something from the etsy drive a few weeks ago you are not forgotten. I'm just the busiest I've ever been in my life. My boss quit at work, so his work has been handed off to me and a coworker. The move, the house, my job and quivering social life all have me stretched a little thin. (Okay.... I'm exhausted.) I just want it to be May so I know how this chapter ends. Anyway, you'll get the goods soon as I can ship them. A few go out this week. Thanks for the patience, it's worth more than you know.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

hope and force

Spring is starting to hit Vermont, slowly but surely. The days are getting sunshine and creeping into the 40s. Snow is melting in the valleys and ice fishing is becoming an extreme sport. Mornings like this are met with frozen outdoor faucets and require hats and gloves—but my noon everything feels like it's trotting into spring. My farm-mind is on delay: knowing I can't order spring poultry or start staking out garden plans because of the coming move. But a delay doesn't mean pause. I think about what's ahead this summer constantly. Trying to map out plans for everything from hen houses to rotational grazing aparati.

Pablo Neruda wrote in the Song of Despair "Oh the mad coupling of hope and force...." That line is always humming inside me. While Pablo is writing about love, it sure as hell can apply to the feelings I have about finding my own farm. It perfectly sums up the emotional situation I find myself in now. Strung between wanting something so bad I can already feel my bare feet in the dark garden soil—and knowing the effort, expense, and grit it's going to take to get me there. Hope and force, indeed.

I'm starting to get excited and nervous about the Jackson farm. So far the home buying process has gone smoothly, but it's not a done deal until the USDA confirms the mortgage. As I write you, the loan is getting underwritten and the house has been appraised. All that's left to do is wait and hope all goes as planned. I should know within the coming week. Soon as I hear word, either way, I'll let you know.

Friday, March 5, 2010

on my mind

I love a waltz. I really do. I bet if you pressed a glass to my sternum you'd hear my heartbeat in 3/4 time.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

sometimes i get emails like this at work

subject line: RUNAWAY SHEEP!

Hi Jenna,

Someone just called to tell me your 3 sheep are heading west (toward Kimballs) on the West Sandgate road. Do you want me to try to retrieve them?

UPDATE: I went back to Sandgate as soon as I got this email, and when I returned so did the sheep. They walked to the end of town on the dirt road, got bored, and walked back. When I pulled into the drive they were in the chicken coop eating scratch grains and making chickens angry. But I got them back in their pen, repaired the fence, and went back to the sanity of web design.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

turkey tracks

That sunny afternoon I was basking turned out to be a bit of a stretch. Yesterday morning I woke up to snow. Not a lot, mind you, but indeed snow. It was a good slap in the face. A wake up call that winter was far from over. Welcome to March! I was outside feeding the chickens when I noticed new footprints in the freshly fallen snow. These weren't from the flock, these were a different bird. These were turkey tracks, and I could see the path of a parade of wild hens I must have missed in the night. I was surprised how nostalgic it made me for raising turkeys, something I never thought I'd miss. But raising a poult here on the farm a few springs ago and seeing him through to a friend's Christmas table was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had on Cold Antler.

I want a small flock of turkeys again. I think Midget Whites. Even if my family won't dine on them there are plenty of folks at work looking for a naturally raised free-range bird come the holidays. It's something to think about if the Jackson house comes through. Unlike sheep or gardens, the birds wouldn't need the capital and fences up front like a flock of shetland or scottish blackface ewes would. I could raise ten turkeys for the price of one registered sheep and use the cash from selling the birds at Thanksgiving to put into a farm fresh savings account. It's time to start planning for the future of this place as a working farm and not just my own personal supermarket. If you have any suggestions for cottage industries like that, fire away in the comments. I'm all ears.

Also, and this is just a PSA. I got a catalog from Gardens Alive yesterday, and there was a coupon on it for 25 bucks off my first order. No catch. If I ordered something under 25 it was free! This place sells everything from kitchen top portabella mushroom kits to giant compost turners so if some of you want a free start to this spring's garden seeds, vermicomposter, or bat house—look those guys up. Call and see if you can get the same deal.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


high spirits. low bars.

What a difference a day makes. Friday night I was shivering in the dark under a blanket and today it's a balmy 40 degrees and sunny as hell. The power came back on yesterday afternoon while I was in town. Coming home to a warm cabin and an armload of clean laundry was downright decadent compared to the days prior.

I felt good this morning. Really good. I woke up and took care of the morning chores, and then hopped into the shower before a truck trip. Annie and I had a date with the feed store and some groceries. Two girls, the open road, an orange truck and the sun fighting off the wet flurries that the morning teased us with. What a fine feeling that was. I turned up the music and put my arm around my dog, kissing her on the forehead. Damn, I was happy. Contentment belongs to those of us with high spirits and low bars.

We loaded the truck with straw and feed at Whitman's down in North Bennington, and then stopped to pick up some groceries. I wanted to work on my cheese making in the afternoon so I was kinda pumped to see that organic whole milk was on sale. I grabbed a gallon and put it in my cart. I could nearly taste the salted warm curd, grinning as I strutted m cart past the eggs. I don't think the other shoppers in Bennington had any idea I was off to turn my kitchen into a dairy. I'm a little embaressed to say I strutted as I wheeled my cart down the dairy isle past the five-dollar-a-carton brown eggs. Not only did I remember to put on mascara and was having a crackerjack hair day—I don't buy eggs. I got my own supplier. Twelve hens in the backyard.

It's the little things.

I just came inside from checking on the chickens (egg production is through the roof!) and realized I was over dressed in my thermal shirt with a flannel over top. Standing there in the sun, I looked around at the melting snow and bleating sheep and for the first time really started thinking about watermelons.

Yes. This will be the year I slice into my own Moon and Stars heirloom watermelons. Every year I try and something goes bonkers. I planted them in the wrong spot, the chickens pecked them to pieces, or I finally got an orb started on the vine and killed it with a hoe by mistake turning over the dead snap pea vines... But this year I'm doing it. Mark my words: come August there will be melons.

I'm off to make cheese, play guitar, and write about some music. You folks behave yourselves. Don't let all this sunshine go to your heads.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

i'll be there saturday

dispatches from a blackout

That's the round table in the back of the Wayside Country Store in West Arlington. It's my home away from home here in Vermont. I stopped in this morning, barking for coffee, and ended up getting a home cooked breakfast from Nancy, the owner. Knowing I was without electricity, heat, and water—she made me a four star breakfast while I sipped my dark roast. We sat at the back table, talking about the storm and past storms. Telling stories about the 50 mile per hour winds that rushed though town, ripping out the power lines the night before. Folks came in the store, wiped the snow off their jackets, and stopped over and chatted with us—asking about older or otherwise susceptible neighbors. Everyone was watching out for everyone else. It made Nancy's scrambled eggs and cinnamon buns taste better.

I'm writing you from the office now: showered, warm, and with a full stomach. I came here to use the gym's shower and check my email/recharge my phone. I woke up a few hours ago in the cabin, a little cold but otherwise okay. Last night the candles and fireplace did their job keeping me and the dogs warm. I stayed up reading and playing guitar until my hands started to get clumsy and slow. The dogs eventually left my side around the fireplace and made a nest on the couch on a pile of sheepskins and quilts. I joined them. I have no qualms laying down beside wolves. We stayed warm, thanks to each other and the balmy 34 degree night.

I'm off to Manchester to do laundry and possibly buy a new pair of wool socks. I'm a very exciting young person.

Friday, February 26, 2010

out of power

There's no power in Sandgate thanks to the wicked wind storm from last night. I'll be home, but unable to update the blog till it comes back on, and I'm not sure when that will be. So, I just wanted to check in so no one thinks Maude finally did me in.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

pre-coffee mornings

Some mornings I can go outside and tend to the farm without coffee. Some mornings I can't. This was a morning I needed coffee before carhartts. Winter here requires so much less work than spring and summer, but it's so much harder. There are no 4:45 goat bottle feeding appointments, mulching, weeding, chick bedding or rabbit hutch cleaning before 7 AM. Instead there are angry 15-minute rounds of raw essentials: food, water, shelter. Just keeping everyone fed, watered, and on clean bedding in a deep snow seems to be so much more effort than the hours spent in sunshine in May. The cold and below freezing temperatures make time last longer. You wake up to the kind of howling wind and sunless mornings that make you wish you had a woodstove right near the bed with four extra blankets and you never even heard the word "sheep" before.

With all that bitching said, I love it here. Honest, I don't mind it, specially when I'm finally suited up and outside in all my armor. But it has turned more than one person away from northern farm life. It's something to think about if you are starting up your own homestead. You need to love the cut as much as the scar. Even a backyard chicken hutch will mean you're walking out there twice a day come January. That means extra shoveling, glove liners, hauling bags of feed, and collecting eggs before they freeze. For some folks it's a deal breaker, and understandably so. But for me, it's the bitter mornings and trudging through snow that makes summer (and Autumn, espcially autumn)so lovely. Now that the snow is getting slushier, and the novelty of winter waning—I find myself paying extra attention for warmer winds and hoping for rain. I haven't heard a good rain in a long time. The kind that brings thunder and slams against the tin roof. I'm ready for spring. Yes, I am.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

barnheart shirts now in the store!

There are a few barnheart shirts and products in the dry good store. I thought it would be nice to make something you folks could wear proudly, as fellow carriers of the disease. The front has a human heart with a barn deep inside it, and the back has the definition of the disease. There are organic tees, jerseys, and water bottles. The design is simple, but gets the point across. Get them while they last and wear them with pride.

garage light at dawn

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

neighborhood #4

I looked down at Annie and she looked up at me, smiling. And why wouldn't she be? We'd just sprinted a mile from the cabin out into the blizzard. As soon as I got home from work I changed into coveralls and a parka and harnessed the dogs to the sled. We raced out into the blue dusk light, the snow falling fast. We're in a storm here. Already six inches have covered Cold Antler Farm and another two days of snow are on the way. It is beautiful.

This is what siberian huskies live for. Her and Jazz had been running side by side in harness, doing what they were born to do. I held on to the sled for dear life. The dogs were turbo charged tonight, inspired by the howling snow. I had to ride the runners with only one foot, the other dragging along the side for resistance as we sped down West Sandgate Road. Snow flew everywhere. I was elated. I wish dogsledding was in the winter Olympics. I'd watch them then.

When we got to the farm near Lincoln Lane we trotted to a stop. Next to us was a trio of bay ponies, they came to the fence line to watch us make decisions. I realized we were a mile from the cabin in a snow storm. It was time to turn back. I switched on the lantern in the sled bag, clipped a leather lead to the dogs gangline, and we walked back together side by side. My old dogs are nearing ten. Asking them to carry me uphill was too much. So we walked in the blue light back to our dinners. A girl and her dogs in a squall so thick I couldn't see the mountains a hundred yards away. We were panting and happy. Covered in sweat and snow from the run and watching the ponies watch us as we trudged away. There wasn't a car or unnatural light to be seen. Just us. I turned on the ipod and let some music walk with us.

I had Funeral on, the Arcade Fire's first album. The song Neighborhood #4 (Kettles) came on, and nothing could have been more perfect. A soft and rolling song with the sound of piping hot tea kettles in the background. A song I already knew by heart. I sang to the dogs as we headed uphill. I was already in another place, thanks to the music. I tilted my head over to Annie, who was watching me for some sort of direction. I gave her none, I sang to her instead:

...It's not a lover I want no more,
and it's not heaven I'm pining for,
but there's some spirit I used to know,
that's been drowned out by the radio...

When we got home the dogs shook out their coats and I removed their harnesses to let them rest and drink. While they stretched inside the warm cabin—I headed out back into the storm. Grabbing the lantern, my shepherd's crook, and an armload of hay I fed the sheep and chickens and watched the place in the dark. The farm turns into something else when it's snowing like this in the dark. Remember how it felt to make a fort out of blankets as a kid, and hide inside it with a flashlight and pillows? That is exactly what this place feels like with draping white pines and awkward lights. With the animals fed and on fresh straw—I headed over to the woodpile to stack the evening fire wood. By the time the animals were fed, the wood hauled, and the dogs served their egg, kibble, and lamb dinners...I was famished.

I have been making breads and fast meals for myself for years now. Within four minutes I had yeast bubbling for pizza dough and a dried onion from the summer garden pulled off the wall rack and caramelizing in a skillet. I whipped up a quick pizza and shoved it in the oven while the dogs chomped away. I liked that chickens and sheep keep them going too. I am always the last to eat here. I would not have it any other way.

Now It's evening and I am going to stoke the fire and enjoy a sinfully long hot shower before I change into clean clothes and sink into the couch. There I will play a couple love songs to no one on my guitar, drink a glass of red wine for the hell of it, and call it a day. I'm sore from mushing, thin from the snow, full from dinner, warm from the fire, and looking forward to tomorrow morning: hot coffee and reading with Jazz before sunrise. It's a thing I do.

This was the evening of a corporate web designer.
Our lives are just the sum of what we want them to be.

coop signs

Monday, February 22, 2010

giveaway today!

Every once in a while we do a giveaway on the blog. Today it's a brand new, redesigned copy of Savings Seeds by Marc Rogers. The book teaches you how to keep some of the fruits of your garden labors. How to harvest, dry, store and label seeds from your own backyard. It's going to be mailed to whomever wins the random drawing today. Which you enter by hocking the blog. It's funner than it sounds.

Here's the deal: to enter the drawing all you have to do is kick in with some grassroots marketing. Tell one new person (who has never heard of this blog but might like it) about it, and then post here about who you are and that you spread the Barnheart. The catch is that it has to be a brand new reader. If you told your cousin about it yesterday, no dice. And you don't have to walk up to strangers and start talking about Chuck Klosterman either. Write the blog address on a post it note in a feed store. Email a coworker with a copy of Hobby Farm magazine on his deesk. Leave it scribbled on your napkin when you go out to eat at a local foods diner. The idea is to spread the word about CAF to help the blog readership grow. The point being so I can keep writing here. A healthy readership keeps us writers inspired to keep things like this going. So this is my attempt to stir up the pot.

So post today who you told and you're entered. No need for names or any personal information, it's just to encourage others and for me to learn how the word is spread. Your comment today is your ticket to win. At the end of the day I'll pull a name out of the hat and announce it here in the comments. Then you email me and I send you a free book with a chicken feather bookmark and a copy of my farm music CD. Cool?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

i think he knows everything

a stuck truck and a new book

Every once in a while something happens here that makes me feel kinda tough. Something simple and dirty, but after it's accomplished I feel like I could sign up for a rodeo. This morning was one of those circumstances. I got the truck stuck. And I got it out.

I was so excited to meet the mortgage broker this morning I jumped into the Ford and pulled it into reverse. The snow had other plans. The slush got caught under the tires and turned to hard-pack ice. Suddenly it started slowly sliding sideways down the hill towards the trees. Before it got too far, I slammed it into park, and hopped out to see the damage. The car was fine, but really in a bind. The little 2WD beast had been buried in a drift up front, and the back wheels were spinning. Already late to meet my broker - I left it for dead and hopped into the Subaru with my file folders. I'd deal with it later.

Wayside was buzzing, as it is every weekend morning. A mix of farmers, skiers, and locals who were in to pick up their Sunday Times. I met James (the guy making this all happen) and we talked for a while. I asked a million questions and signed all the application papers at the old roll-top desk in the back the country store. The main table was full of familiar faces gabbing over the news, so they set me up in the small office section to do our business. It felt quirky, but fitting, to be applying for a home loan at Wayside. The country store has been part of my solid footing since I moved to New England. I've met friends here, brought dates there, cried, danced, and laughed I was signing the papers for my own farm loan. The 30-year USDA-backed fixed rate mortgage (which by law can't go above 5.5%) is what was at the end of that dotted line. I sucked in the air around me, exhaled, and signed away. When the paperwork was done, we shook hands and I headed home to a laid-up truck.

It was on. I was getting my girl out, and I was going to do this myself. I grabbed a shovel, rock salt, hay, sand, and the old tire chains my dad gave me as a teenager. It took some muscle (and considerable time) but after I dug it out and set up the back tires with the chains—I revved it into reverse and she popped out like the pin of a grenade! I hooted and hollered in the cab. I slammed my fist on the dash, laughing like a drunk. Rightly so, because today I cheated at my own game and won. I got myself into trouble, and then out. Just as recent as a few months ago I would've left it in the ditch till a neighbor could pull me out with his tractor, But today I wanted to save myself. Maybe it was the mortgage papers, or maybe it was the fact some of these neighbors want me gone—regardless, today I was my own tow truck and it felt damn good. I crossed my arms in the front seat, leaned back into the seat, and grinned like a fox.

Oh, Big news! A new book just hit the shelves called The Profitable Hobby Farm, How to Build a Sustainable Local Foods Business by Sarah Beth Aubrey. I bought it last weekend because I am in the beginning, business-planning stages of Cold Antler Farm. I want it to grow from a homestead that feeds me into another source of income. I want to market wool, eggs, and eventually meat and vegetables from the farm. This book seemed geared for people like myself: folks already starting out, but who need some guidance making a homestead into more of an income. So I bought it, set it on my pile of research, and went on with my life.

Then, the following week at the office, an email came in from Sarah Beth, the author of said book. She wanted to thank everyone who was a part of it, and to contact her if they had any issues or needed more information. Then it clicked: Holy Shit. I'm in that book! When I got home I flipped to the last chapter and there I was! Me, Sal, and everyone here at Cold... as well as interviews and stories about beginning my life as a small farmer. I had completely forgotten I was interviewed for the project (which then had another name: Town to Tractor). Now I'm on the books as a resource and example for folks who want to make a lifestyle change. How about that? An auspicious little nod for a girl on the way to buying her own chunk of earth to do exactly what the book's about.

There are a few mistakes in the book. For example it says Cold Antler is in Arlington, Vermont instead of Sandgate. And there's some section about dogsledding that wrote I hook up the dogs by their collars (ouch) to pull me on our kickled. (I assure you, we use properly fitted x-back racing harnesses.) And I think she thought Diana Carlin (my Idaho mentor) was also my landlord - but anyway, all of this is inconsequential to the intention. It's a fine book, and should be helpful getting Cold Antler off the ground and start helping make the future mortgage payments. Fingers crossed.

P.S. Now that I am in the home stretch - I will be removing the donation button from the blog. The point of that button was to allow readers to contribute to making Cold Antler into my own farm, and that is what is finally happening. I want to thank everyone who kicked in a dollar or two, and in some cases more, to help save for the future of Cold Antler. But I feel my savings are set, and would not feel right accepting any more farm-buying donations. Any gifts that were given remain in the savings pot, and were used for nothing else, but it's time to help someone else. It's not your job to help pay for painting the kitchen or putting up fences. We're here guys. We did it. I could not have gotten here without you. I thank you with all I am.

running to the morning hay

When I let the sheep out to their hay pile in the pasture, they tear off after it like dogs let off their leads on a beach. Watching them leap through the snow to eat their second-cut is a tiny joy this farm offers. It lasts seven seconds, but soaks in your soft smile all morning. It makes coffee taste better, sweaters heavier, the snow more potato flakey. It is good as the land.

The sheep aren't the only running animals at the farm. I went for a jog yesterday, the first in months. It was glorious. Jogging has a way of losing myself in focus that few other activities do. As I huffed down the dirt roads I felt my tension release, especially in my upper back. I could feel the relieved muscles exhale under the strain of the jog. Almost as if my body was happy to be used again. My upper back expanded as I ran, as if my shoulders had been held together by glue and toothpicks, and with each gasping stride they'd break apart or dissolve under my skin. I only went a mile and a half, but the effort was exactly what I needed.

I am at my happiest when I'm outside and tired like that. Perhaps my desire to farm comes partly from this understanding. The exhaustion from physical labor relaxes me in ways nothing else can, and the sweet laziness that follows it seems fermented by the action. I can do hours of yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises but none of that holds a candle to three sweaty summer miles in high humidity followed by a mint soap shower and a thunderstorm. Heaven is a the way it feels to be clean in a linen shirt, on a lightening splattered porch, with a banjo playing an old waltz. Your whole self feeling as if you could fall asleep in a hammock or go out for another run in the rain.

I don't know if I'll get outside to jog today. The snow that fell this morning is still coming down, covering the roads with a slippery layer of slushy film. But I will be heading out shortly to meet the mortgage broker at Wayside. Today we are meeting to go over the application and to hand him all the paperwork I'd been collecting on my end. It's just another step in the farm-buying process—but a step none the less.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

maude remembers

Maude will always be a little suspicious of me, and rightly so. Ever since the day she first arrived at the farm, we've been at odds. While the other sheep calmly exited the back hatch of the station wagon and walked into their new pen somewhat amicably—Maude nearly choked. Instead of exiting the car and bucking her head like the others, she decided to make a break for it. She soared out of the Subaru, causing her head halter to slip around her neck and tighten. It all happened in a flash and I remember the panic scraping at me like it was yesterday. As soon as her hooves hit Cold Antler dirt she was gasping. She fell to the ground and I raced to her side, instinctually flipping her onto her back (so I could help her without her fighting me) and trying to calm the wide-eyed sheep as I cut off the halter and gently moved her into the pen. Within minutes she was eating grain and batting her eyelashes. She was fine, but I felt awful. That was the only time I ever hurt a sheep. It was a complete accident caused by her panic and a loose halter, but it could have been avoided had I only been more prepared with grain bribery and better restraints. And ever since that day she's distrusted and disliked me. Keeping her distance. Watching me like I was a sheepdog myself.

Sheep remember everything. Anyone who tells you they're stupid, probably never lived with a passive aggressive one.

Weekends here are a mixture of intense work and equally intense relaxation. Mornings are met with chores the weekdays do not allow, and afternoons are dedicated to loftier tasks: like learning a new fiddle tune or writing a chapter of something. Evenings, however, are a little more tricky. If you want some sort of human entertainment out here in the sticks you need to do a little sociological excavating. Vermont is not known for its hip night scene. Hell, Sandgate doesn't even have a bar. The closest is the West Arlington, ten miles down a winding mountain. So, in lieu of being mildly pathetic and going to the movies alone—you hope someone who lives in a town will let you know when something is going down.

I got a call from a friend about a bluegrass band playing in Manchester. I'll probably hop in the shower sometime after dinner and get all gussied up to listen to some upright base and banjo. It'll be nice to be out around people and music, laughing and not thinking about egg eating chickens and mortgage brokers for a while. I look forward to leaning back into a bench with a Guinness and some good company. I'll raise my glass to their health and better fitting halters on future livestock.

Friday, February 19, 2010

and i understood

wide as the ring of a bell

I just walked out into the fresh morning snow to feed sheep and the opening bars of Sodom South Georgia sidled up on the playlist. I know every word by heart, and it is impossible to sing it without smiling, a bit of a canter in every step. Even the crows seemed to bob their heads with the lryics.

The day can't get any better.

hutch birds

With snow on the ground again, the chickens make their daily pilgrimage to the calf hutch: a plastic giant dog house next to the coop. I use the hutch now as storage for buckets and shovels, but the chicks seem to have other ideas for its use. See, inside the hutch is some of the only snow-less dirt on the farm—an oasis for dust baths and scratching. A place for a rooster to feel soil under his feet. I had originally picked up the hutch as a goat house, but now it just sits in the snow. (It's here if anyone needs it or wants it, and has a pickup to carry it home.) I like that my birds use this place as they see fit. Logic rules the mind of laying hens. I respect them for it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

like humidity

I think I just realized that this is going to happen. It's not certain yet, but it's going to happen. I am going to own a farm. In a few months a hoe will break into that New York soil and so many things will begin. There will be the chirping of chicks, and the moans of roosters. There will be bonfires, and bleating lambs, and a black dog. There will be food pulled out of the earth by the roots, and long jogs in the July night. There will be thunderstorms, and fireflies, and a black guitar that knew what Eisenhower sounded like. There will be pounding hooves, curling ram horns, and gardens so rich in food I will kneel before them. There will be sweat, and tears, and so many sore arms and backs that I will forget about all this joy and want to curl up in a bathtub in pain. There will be old records, and apple pie, and a white farmhouse that knew what General Grant sounded like. There will be pastures, and new lives, and gardens, and hives, and so much hope. Hope that hangs in the air like humidity.

And it is all ahead of me. Strum from E to E and know it.

I count the years ago on one hand that my life was completely different. I was living in a major metropolitan area designing for a television network—now I am weeks away from owning my own farm. I can't fall asleep at night because I am trying to decide between varieties of pumpkins. Because I know what it feels like to hold one you knew as a seed, and how the smooth, orange skin feels in your palms, and how the whole autumn world belongs to you while you touch it. Sometimes I think I get more out of pumpkins than some people get out of the whole world. I am so in love with this.

Happiness is understanding you don't want to be, can't fathom being, anyone else.

workshop reminder

If you are coming this Saturday for the Beginner Fiddler Workshop, please get in touch with me via email? If you live around the area and would like to join in, email me as well! It's four hours of lessons and instruction here at the cabin. A crash course in mountain fiddling, and it'll be a big time. BYOV.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

i'm such an ag dork

I'm a dork. I own this pair of gloves with directions for sheepdog work written on the hands. The point is for shepherds-in-training to make sure they are teaching their collies the right words for moving left and right. To make sure us dumb humans don't mess it up. I don't have a border collie yet (or, anymore) but eventually I will have a pup to raise with my life, and bring the flock to me. A border collie means this single girl can work a field of livestock alone. A good dog will make or break Cold Antler someday.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

never looked worse

One of the more unsettling conversations I had this winter happened on the porch steps of one of my Sandgate neighbors. It was right after all the controversy was unraveling, when animal control officers were showing up and phone calls from the landlord about removing animals were common occurrences. It was during this malay that I went to a few of the neighbors to talk to them in person, and see if they felt I was in the wrong trying to start a small diversified farm in their village. I asked one woman her opinion and she sighed, looked off into the distance, and said "Well, you know Jenna. The property has never looked worse..."

This absolutely shocked me. Since I've moved in I'd turned the overgrown backyard with an empty dirt-garden into a thriving small farm. I had made useless land into a place that fed, clothed, and filled me with joy. But what I had considered beautiful, she considered an eyesore. The sagging fences, the chicken poo on a stepping stone, the bags of feed behind the garage, the hay stacked on the porch....all of this was aesthetically unpleasing to the non farmer. I had turned a lawn into a pasture, an abandoned metal garden shed into a chicken coop, and a porch into am open air hay barn.

OKay. Martha Stewart I was not. The property had gone from domestication to production, and it wasn't what some of the locals preferred. I didn't spend the summer mowing lawns (what a waste of sheep food) or planting flowers. I spent it turning the one acre I had at my disposal into a place that could help sustain me. I planted thirteen raised beds of organic produce. I bred litters of Angora rabbits. I raised Thanksgiving turkeys, ducks, honey bees, and a pack goat kid. I sheared wool producing sheep. I raised egg-laying hens from chicks and even had one rooster in the freezer. How could all this been seen as ugly? Was Cold Antler better to the locals when it was just empty grass and a few tulips? I agreed, currently this place may never make the cover of Yankee Magazine - but it wasn't ugly. It was edible.

I recently read this passage in Joel Salatin's You Can Farm. The book explained this opinion as all too common:

"Ask the average person to describe a successful farm, and you'll hear about pretty fences, painted red barns, waxed green tractors and manicured lawns. Because people have a jaundiced sense of what 'success' looks like. they think the lean and mean, threadbare look of a truly lucrative far, indicates a lack of care, negligence, and poverty....Too often people get so bogged down in appearance and having everything just right that they never get the basic project underway. Trust me, the pigs are much more interested in feed than in whether or not the feed trough is perfectly square."

I'd been so deeply in love with Cold Antler, I didn't realize what it looked like to the manicured-lawn set. I saw food, and wool, and eggs. They saw muddy hooves, scrappy gardens, and a shed gone bad. They saw dead grass in the sheep pen, and the tall grass on the wooded hillside as unmowed. I had been so focussed on the productivity I didn't even think about these things. Apparently, others had. It was a reminder that not everyone (even people in the country) appreciate the idea of a homesteader as a neighbor. At the end of the day, most people want to hear lawn mowers and and smell grills - not hear roosters and smell wet sheep. Consider my eyes open.

When I made the offer on the Jackson farm, I had to sign a waiver saying I understood I was moving into an agricultural disctrict. That Washington county was a place of dairies and tractors and if you weren't prepared to live aside agriculture you may want to live elsewhere. When you cross the state lines there are signs posted saying "Right to Farm Law" and that's what it means. You can't complain about your cake and eat it too. I never smiled so much while signing a legal document. I'll fit in just fine over there.

Good news friends. I checked my credit score today. It went up 50 points! I am nearly home free in this USDA home loan process. My credit score is soaring thanks to that last paid off credit card. I have leaped the final personal hurdle and now I just need to pray that Chase bank agrees that I am ready to start planting on my own land. It is farming that gave me the drive to get this far. And if not mowing lawns means owning my own 6 and a half acres of hard-working land, may I never mow again. That's sheep work.

Life is happening so fast around here. I am humbled at the pace

back to two

Early yesterday morning a truck pulled into the driveway. A man named Chris was coming to pick up the goslings for his farm. It took a while to scoop the trio into his dog crate he brought along, but despite Cyrus's snapping bill and the freezing cold weather: I got them all safely off the farm. We're back to two geese again. The farm is a quieter place.

The home inspection was brilliant. It took hours, but the professional from Saratoga was thorough and picky, and tested for everything. I bought the most detailed package they had and he did everything from dancing on the old slate roof to crawling into the attic to decipher bat and mouse poo. There will be water, radon, septic, and structure reports coming in the mail shortly. But the man said he was impressed, that the house was ready to move into in his opinion. A weight was lifted, and a sigh released. Now I just need to get the mortgage....

Snow today, and by the looks of the 05250 area code on - a fair amount of it. Perhaps as much as half a foot by nightfall. We could use the insulation around here. We haven't had a decent snowfall for weeks. And to be perfectly honest, it just makes the farm look pretty. I like the look of a black lamb in a snow-filled pasture under the pine tree. It makes a smile wider.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

the jackson farm

Here are some photos of the Jackson Farm. I'm showing you the original house (built in 1866) and behind it is the kitchen addition. With the addition, and the basement, the house is a total of 1500 square feet. I think its box shape and small windows makes it look bigger than it really is. The ceilings inside are only 7 feet tall and there are only two bedrooms and one bathroom. The photos here show the farm, the leftover outbuildings, the pasture, and the living room. I would have taken more photos of the inside but I have two words for you:

godawful wallpaper.

The house is in far better shape than the barns and coops. And the pasture isn't fenced yet, but the cleared 2-3 acres of grassy hillside is just begging to be put back to work. The barn is crying for bales of hay, straw, and bins of grain. I can see the hive by the garden. I can picture a black and white flash of a young border collie running in an autumn windstorm, gathering sheep back down the hill to me for hoof trimming. I can feel the prickly tendrils of the future pumpkin patch, and smell the cornstalks in the winter air. This maple tree infested hillside farm will be throbbing with color come October. It was once home to sheep, and if it becomes mine, it will be once again. If this inspection and mortgage come through, I'll do right by it. I want to make this place come back to life again.

The weekend was intense emotional bungee jumping. I went from wanting nothing more in the world than this farm, to being scared at the notion of it. My parents were great. They liked the house just fine. My dad thought the 6.5 acres, pond, woods and pasture were a steal. My mom was happy all the wiring and heating was redone. And just being with them in general was nice. It was great to spend time with them here in my land of Veryork, and introduce them to some of my friends. They were in high spirits the whole weekend.

I'd however go from being thrilled about the possibilities to being terrified about leaving Sandgate and Vermont in general. It's such a huge step to wrap my head around. The only like comparison I can make is the first night I stayed in Tennessee. I remember laying in bed listening to a southern thunderstorm, feeling sick to my stomach with regret. I was certain I was making the worst mistake of my life. I ended up falling in love with that place is a way that makes my feelings about Vermont seem like a Jr. High Crush. Now just watching a UT basketball game in a sports bar with that blazing orange on the boys' jerseys makes my ribs hurt from missing the place so much. No part of me thinks buying this farm in Washington County is a mistake. But every part of me is scared of the big change. I suppose that's normal. We'll all have to wait and see.

so much to think about