Saturday, March 20, 2010

it was amazing

Friday, March 19, 2010

almost a dozen a day

join the fray

Lots of scrappy talk going on here about the Hogget Cook Off!

just start

I found this photo from my first spring at the cabin. It was a weekend my friend Nisaa from Brooklyn came up to help me get the new chickens and first gardens ready. This photo is nothing special, a cardboard box with some started plants (mint and lettuce) and an empty carton of eggs. Yet what it lead up to was nearly three seasons of a working backyard farm. In the few years I lived here I grew gardens, raised sheep, bred rabbits, tended bees, lived with dogs, played my fiddle and banjo on the porch and fell in love with my guitar again.

Most of the time I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I learned as I went, picking up books and haunting web forums. I joined clubs, made new friends, learned to eat out of the dirt and farmer's markets. I cook at home now. Eating in is glorious. I can knit my hats, sew my bags, and bake my own bread and I still write about it all here. But the point is I made that first small effort, and it trotted me home.

Now, a few years later I'm nearly closing on my own 6.5 acre homestead and trying to figure out how to move sheep, a goat, chickens, and start a farmer's market garden. I get a dozen eggs a day. I know how to plant pole beans. I'm learning to shear wool and make lamb cuts. Every year I grow, thanks to the land I made mine.

A lot happens if you make it. And it all starts somewhere. Case and point: two plants and an empty egg carton on a cardboard box. Make this spring yours. Just start.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

jackson farm update

For those of you interested in how the new home of Cold Antler is coming along, all I can share is the mortgage was approved and is being underwritten. All the paperwork is filed and I am waiting to hear from the lawyers when the closing date is. Right now all I can really do is clean, pack, carry loads of stuff to the dump and start planning the move. My Sister and my friends the Snyders (homesteaders and future farmers) are coming up from PA to help me get the flocks settled and build shelters and fences. I'll let local folks know when that is and we'll have a work party at the farm.

sheep shearing 101

I signed up for the Sheep Shearing School and I'm more excited than any reasonable person should be. In a few weekends I'll be sitting in the barns at Shelburne Farms with a ewe's back against my stomach learning how to not clip nipples as I give her a haircut. I'll be one of many students, all new shepherds (or new to shearing) wanting a hands-on experience before trying it out on their own flocks. If I get good at it, it could be a skill I could build on and provide it as a service for other small farms around my area. It's hard getting a sheep shearer to come out for just a few animals, a lot of smaller and hobby farms have to wait until the popular shearers can fit them into their schedule. Perhaps I could make a little extra farm income shearing sheep in the spring? Anyway, it's something to think about.

If you're interested in taking the class, it's offered twice in April here in Vermont. Get in touch with the University of Vermont Extension. Classes are April 10th and 24th.

It is in the 60s here now and the weather is driving this gardener crazy. With the move in a few weeks though, my hands are tied. It would be foolish to start hoeing a place I plan on leaving so soon. I want to reserve my energy for the Jackson Farm and all the effort that will go into starting the year new. But hot damn, all I wanted to do this weekend was get out there with a shovel and prepare the ground for lettuce, peas, broc, and potatoes. To temper the anxiety, I started planting seedlings inside. I have a windowsill of tiny greenhouses of future greens, peas, carrots and broccoli. They started to sprout yesterday. Sometimes you just need to make things happen. I'm all for positive thinking, visualization, and all that. But I really think if you want an organic garden don't think about spring greens, plant them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

almost that time again...

Monday, March 15, 2010

the whole hogget

This weekend I'll be attending a Greenhorns event in upstate New York called the Hogget Cook Off. It's the first of a two-day event that centers around basic butchering education, but the buck doesn't stop there. Every aspect of processing the animal will come into play. The fleece will be shorn and cleaned for spinning. The fat will be turned into soap. The hide will be tanned and the meat will be eaten. All of these sheep adventures will be presented to a hands-on audience of scrappy young farmers who will be attending the event. Some will have land, others will rent—a brave few will have just started entertaining the idea of a grass-fed career and are following their gut to Kinderhook Farm on the official first day of Spring. I'll be showing up as a young shepherd chomping at the bit to learn.

To some it may seem odd, or even revolting, to spend a day centered around an animal's death. But this Animal Welfare Approved event isn't about slaughter—it's about community. The pasture-raised lamb (a hogget is a sheep under a year old that has never been shorn) will be treated with the utmost respect and gratitude from the lot. The crowd will be current and future sustainable farmers, people who strongly desire to opt out of the illusion that meat comes from the land of Styrofoam trays and shrink wrap. These are people (like myself) who are hoping to raise meat on their own farms. The point being to be part of the solution that ends the demand for factory farm meat. More farmers raising free-range animals means less assembly line lamb chops. Events like this area a wake up call to a culture becoming more and more suspicious of industrial food.

I was talking to a friend in the office about this earlier this morning, and his response was pretty common. He said being a part of something like that would surely turn him into a vegetarian—just the thought turned his stomach. I can see his point, it won't be pretty, but it will be important. What may turn one man into a vegetarian is probably what's going to turn me into a meat eater again. I mean that in the most best way possible. I'm a vegetarian that will return to local carnivory only when I am assured the animals on my plate lived the best life possible, on my own farm or at the farms of friends. The Hogget Cook Off is a practice of that life choice. When it comes to my food, I want to look it in the face before I sit down to dinner. I want to know how it lived, see how it was treated, and make sure other animals are given the same dignity before their own demise. It takes all kinds to make this world turn on a slightly kinder rotation, some of us just have sharper teeth.

It's a celebration of the Vernal Equinox, but it's also a celebration of a lifestyle. If not the life the greenhorns have, then the life they desperately want. Whether the attendants live in Brooklyn or the farm next door they're coming to Kinderhook, yes, to learn how to cut up a sheep, but also to meet other people who want to spend their Saturday learning how to cut up a sheep. It's not exactly a check-off option on e-harmony.

I'll be going to learn about processing animals. I myself raise sheep and hope to start breeding lambs for the table next spring. I'm looking forward to the hands-on aspect of the work. But more so I'm looking forward to the conversations and company I'll keep for those hours. A chance to stand outside in the dead grass among people who share your love of rotational grazing and heirloom beef cattle is a recipe for a very specific kind of happiness. It proves that even among twenty-something's Networking doesn't always require a Facebook page meet up and a drink at a bar. For some of the feral ones, it just requires a dead sheep. I'll take it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

goat at the door

tired and hoggets

Boy oh boy, do I have a lot to update you on.

In the past week I've found out I secured the mortgage for the Jackson Farm, signed up for a sheep shearing school, moved Finn into another foster home, and spent a long, wonderful, day at a farm film festival. Soon as I recoup from the weekend's non-stop pace, I'll fill you in on all of that... but tonight I am barely standing up. I got home from Williamstown around 1AM, and if it wasn't for the fine people at Subaru for making cars that handle snow so very well—I might not be writing you at all. I have never driven through such horrifying weather in New England; 70 mile per hour winds and driving sleet. It was a horror. When I got home to the farm I was so rattled from the drive (and excited about the people from the festival) I couldn't sleep. So I didn't. Insult to injury: today I loaded a calf hutch in a trailer, planted seeds in mini-greenhouses, re-homed my kid, and still managed to hit the grocery store and Laundromat. Time to sleep. I am a beat scene.

Before I do... This is happening next weekend and it is going to be awesome. I hope to be there, and if you're an up-and-coming shepherd, farmer, or into really local foods, you should check it out. It's a spring equinox festival where a lamb will be shorn, slaughtered, tanned, cooked, and then eaten! Casual lessons in basic lamb cooking and sheep stuff will be going on, as will (I hope) music, beer, and conversation with young farmers. Sponsored by the Greenhorns!

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.