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!