Saturday, March 27, 2010

meet some of the new kids

Friday, March 26, 2010

a new rabbitry starts tonight

Tonight I'll be driving into the town of Shaftsbury to pick up the four young rabbits Bean gave birth to this winter. I'm not sure if I shared this with you guys, but when I had to get rid of my Angora rabbits this past December, they were in the throes of their own drama. Bean was carrying kits, and while away from Cold Antler, gave birth to six bunnies (four survived). Now the young ones are coming home. For the meantime (possibly indefinitely) Bean Blossom and Benjamin are staying with the folks they are currently with, but the new kids are going to help me start a brand new breeding program at the new farm. The two does will become the new den mothers for my future rabbitry, and the pair of bucks will be given to my homesteading friend Shellee (she's just getting started on raising fiber animals in her urban homestead). I'll be on the look out for a new buck as well, hopefully up at the Long Trail Rabbit show in Rutland in May. I'm happy with the fact that rabbits are back on the farm again. I've missed them.

photo by t. bronson

Thursday, March 25, 2010

hurtin' for a haircut

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

good grief

I woke up to a farm covered in snow. What a slap in the face. See, this is exactly why I hate spring: it's a fickle bitch. I like the miserable predicability of a humid summer, the graceful decline of autumn, and the comfort of a long winter... But spring is all about torture. As April gets closer I find myself getting lost in thought, all the time. I spend the ride into and home from work trying to figure out my life, and fill all the empty spots. This post no longer has anything to do with snow. See what I mean?

They want real snow tomorrow night. A few inches and back in the 20s. Good thing I am moving, 'cause if I was living here I'd already have three raised beds in the ground and be scrambling to save them. Every year I know better, and yet every year I am out there in March planting like a moron with an addiction to top soil. I suppose there are worse addictions.

I'm all anxiety tonight. I wish it was May.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

night farming

Night farming happens by accident, and often in the spring. The warmer weather and extra sunlight trick me into staying out way past sunset. Early in the season I'm just outside because I can be, and later as planting time rolls around I'm out because I need to be. Tonight I was raking the lawn and stacking firewood and I didn't realize how dark it was getting. On days like this I let the hours fade into events. Starting with stopping at Wayside on the way home from work.

I stopped in after the office to return a rented movie. (New Moon, don't judge, I adore werewolf films...) Nancy and Nicole were at the front desk and handed me a big white envelope. "Here, this came for you today." was all the explanation Nicole gave me. It is not often I get mail at Wayside, usually only when delivery guys feel the notch is too scary for their trucks in the winter. (They just assume all locals end up at Wayside every day or one of their neighbors will drop it off. Which is true.) I was somewhat puzzled as I took the package. "No return address. Intrigue..." I mumbled. Inside was a large green handmade card with a deer, photos of the Jackson Farm, and "Congratulations!" written across small flags. It was darling but without a note or name? I think the postmark was Germany? Regardless, I was flattered. Somewhere on the other side of the world some one is following this life, and thinking about me enough to mail a card that took them some time to glue and mail. Shucks. I was a celebrity for thirty seconds, but then I had to move aside so the people behind me could buy milk.

Thank you, random sender of cards.

After that the evening fell into the usual routine. I walk the dogs a mile or two, then return home to feed them a big meal and hit the backyard. I let the sheep out into their small pasture of movable fence and throw down a flake of hay (most of the grass is still dead). While they eat I run back into the cabin, grab the egg basket from the kitchen lined with hay and raw wool, and grab the day's eggs. There were only eight today. I blame the rain. For some reason wet days mean less eggs than sunnier ones. I think because everyone is stuck inside and the stress level isn't conducive to creating life. It's hard to give pre-birth with a goose up your ass.

With sheep fed, eggs collected, scratch grains scattered, and dogs chomping away—I get to other work. I chop wood and stack it. I get water boiling on the stove for rice and plan dinner as I head back outdoors. I started raking up the leaves to make the place look a little less like a windstorm just nailed it. I get lost in the chores, and do all this with audiobooks or music on the iPhone in my pocket. I didn't realize how dark it was getting. Before I knew it I was night farming.

I grabbed the lantern and my 60" shepherd's crook and headed to the sheep across the farm. They need to be back in the safety of their pen come black, so I walked a football field's distance to get them settled in. The crook's purpose is to gather lambs and direct sheep, but I was using it to feel a little safer as I walked through the dark. I knew my crook wouldn't actually do much harm against a bear or rabid coyote (forgive my imagination) but just holding a big stick in the dark is a placebo I'll gladly accept. I held the lantern in front of me, and soon met my flock. I caught Maude off guard. (She stared at me long enough to let me snap a picture.) And before long got them inside with a bribery of fresh broccoli. With the wools safe and the world dark, I was going in to eat, write, and play some music.

Just a few hours since the office, and certainly nothing of consequence, but a fine day. My animals are well, my stomach is full, and my fiddle is lonely. I hope all of your day's were kind to you as well.

do you have a favorite post?

I'm working on a section for the sidebar of reader's favorite posts. If you liked a particular post and think it should be listed on the top ten, please let me know?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

the vernal equinox—greenhorn style

From the moment I pulled the truck into the farm's driveway I knew this was It was going to be a Saturday to remember—a perfect way to spend the holiday. The forecast wanted the sun near 70 degrees, and even in the morning wind I was comfortable in a light jacket and plaid shirt. The crowd was growing as more and more cars with New York plates piled behind me. By 10Am there were nearly thirty people, all farmers, food producers, or professionals in attendance. The secret worry I had of protesters was unfounded. Instead of an angry poster, the chef's boyfriend pulled out a 150-year-old banjo and started playing clawhammer tunes. A local organic nursery filled the folding tables with flowers, vegetables, and greens. The Greenhorns banner flapped in the wind and the lamb was on ice. This was going to be an amazing day.

For those of you concerned about carnage, know that no animals were shot or bled out in front of us. While most of the people and in attendance (including me) thought the event centered around the death and processing of one animal, that wasn't the case. The two lambs that were being butchered that day in front of a captivated, question-hungry, audience had been slaughtered Tuesday (the meat properly aged for butchering time). So no writhing death was witnessed and no one needed to bring a change of clothes.

There was no question though, this was the main event. The master of ceremonies was the young, Brooklyn-based, butcher Adam, who took our questions with eloquence and humor. For over an hour he explained each cut and what it takes to get a skinned animal to our civil plates. It was fascinating, educational, and even the kids seemed to want to ask questions as they ran behind him to get scones and jam off the workbench. I liked that children were here, unphased, seeing where the supermarket starts. I wanted to give their parents a high five.

The demonstration was two parts: on the table and on the rack. The first lamb was cut on a steel and the second was hund from a chain on a big green tractor. The butcher would be slicing through the hind leg flaps and say something like "See how easy it gets here, you can really just ride the membrane...." I turned to the designer from New York City next to me and asked, half jokingly "Does your usual Saturday morning have phrases like "ride the membrane" in it?" She smiled back at me and laughed. This was my scene. If there was ever any doubt before, it was shattered as I looked around the barn at my peers, the tables of fresh vegetables and herbs, and the giant map of the United States that stated SERVE YOUR COUNTRY FOOD. Yup, I was a Greenhorn.

As it should, the event completely centered around food. Everyone had a task to help prepare the meal. Some people held the rib cage while the butcher sawed it open and others started making sausage. A few ladies sat out on the sun and cut greens and herbs and others mashed potatoes or sliced bread. I stirred the localy-grown butternut squash soup for lunch, which we ate outside while listening to a lecture on local marketting of farm goods. People without tasks wandered around the wool or tanning demonstrations, giving hand carding or scraping a try. Some paged through farm books or merchandise on display. Others walked around the barns, coops, and stalls. It was a scene out of Currier and Ives if Currier and Ives condoned iPods.

It is not often I am surrounded by so many like-minded people my age. That was the real feast of the day. To be able to lean back against a fence and talk to my peers about compost, greenhouses, or the livestock they'd be raising this spring was a joy I didn't take for granted. Tee shirts with phrases like talk soil to me or illustrating butcher cuts on an old pig illustration were the scrappy/hip clothing. Others wore less snappy, but correct farm clothes (I was one of these cats). Lots of wool, denim, and rubber boots. Our similarities didn't stop at farming and attire either, and this is what made me swoon. There were banjos and guitars all over the place, musicians randomly jamming whenever a free moment struck them. There were dogs running around, smiling and barking. I was silently thrilled at all the young guys everywhere, happy and excited to be around women who share their love of the land. Farming, bluegrass, dogs, coffee, men in beards, chickens clucking in the background....dear lord in heaven what had I done to deserve such a day?

The new lambs of Kinderhook were just born that week, and so every once in a while one made an appearance in the arms of a Greenhorn. I got to hold one of these Dorper/Texel crosses in my arms and bury my nose in it's new wool. Every one of us holding the babe in our arms knew its fate, but were beyond okay with it. Animals at Kinderhook had nearly a year of lush pasture and fields ahead of them. This lamb would know what sunshine and rain felt like, would lay under elm trees and chase ladybugs with the other lambs. It would live as farm animals should and die as they should. The contrarian sequence of watching a lamb being butchered and then holding one in my arms was not at all disturbing. In fact, it was vindicating, and gave me hope for a better future for farm animals in general. This was how things should be done.

We planned to feast that night in a large pole barn. The same place the animal was butchered earlier that morning, but was now transforming from a work station into a dining hall. Long tables were set out with glowing votives as the main light, with centerpieces of eggs and expertly carved onions and turnips dividing the table. The place wafted of spit-grilled lamb, cooking herbs, and hard cider. Outside the barn the bonfire blazed and local beer was on tap at a keg. As the sun went down a game of capture the flag broke out and these twenty and thirty-somethings ran around like children, smiling in ways I'm not used to seeing parents and lawyers smile. All of us had chosen to take a day off from the city, or work, or our usual chores to come together to share the work of a big meal. There was no movies, computer, or video games—just new friends and lots of sunlight. No wonder a random childhood game broke out, we all felt amazing. We felt alive.

As the sun hid I found myself near the bonfire and the band. Red Rooster was there, a folk fusion band from the city. The banjo player saw my fiddle case and asked if I wanted to play a few tunes? Did I!? We played Cripple Creek and State of Arkansas, and other old time songs. I loved that he knew them. I loved even more that the guy stoking the bonfire who owned an orchard close by and the dude from Brooklyn tuning his guitar knew them too, and we all hummed along as the spit turned. The band broke out into songs and played everything from Sitting on top of the World to their originals. I was a pig in shit.

Then someone came down from the farmhouse kitchen with appetizers, small reddish brown balls of lambburger seasoned with herbs and spring veggies. Without hesitation I popped one in my mouth and sweet jeeesus nearly fainted at the taste. It was remarkable how good it was. I had never eaten meat so succulent. It literally dissolved in my mouth, a dance of herbs and juices and pure energy. No part of me felt weird, or bad, or nauseated like I worried I might. It was the first taste of meat in nearly nine years and it was lamb I helped prepare myself at the farm it was born on. I loved it. I was in love with the whole damn day. The food tasted like I felt and I was glad.

Dinner was amazing. You just can't know.

We all stood and joined hands (probably 60 people) and started with a grace thanking (insert your god here) for the lambs, vegetables, weather and community. We were proud to be celebrating such an important agragrian event in such a traditional way. Before us lay the most beautiful spread, all food from local farms inseason here in the Northeast. We ate lamb, of course (crowned and French-boned), mashed potatoes, spring salad greens, and freshly baked bread with homemade butter. Focaicca, scones, jams and apples lined the end tables. As I stood in the banquet line to fill my plate, I noticed it was our hero, Adam the butcher in front of me, now dressed in normal clothes and looking totally different. I told him his lamb was my first non-vegetarian meal in almost a decade. He set down his plate and hugged me like an old college friend.

We sat near each other at the table and I learned we shared similar backgrounds. Adam used to run a successful advertising agency in New York, but found it emotionally draining and pointless. So he gave up that life and went to butchering school at SUNY where he learned humane slaughter, anatomy, and chef-level cuts. Now he works at Marlow and Daughters in Williamsburg, hoping that by choosing to learn the trade he can now help local farmers process their animals outside of CAFOs and in their community instead. He explained he became involved in meat production to improve America's food culture and to help animals live better lives, sharing how the real bottleneck in healthy local meat is there aren't enough people trained in humane slaughter and processing reaching out to small farms, helping them do it right. He wanted to avail himself to those farms and fix what he saw as a dangerous problem. We were two ends of the meal's spectrum, a farmer and a butcher, yet had the same goal in our hearts and minds. I was floored. If he didn't have a wedding ring on his finger I would've stuck around that bonfire a lot longer, let me tell you...

It was the perfect Vernal Equinox. I spent the day with people who share my passion and appreciated their dinner in a whole new way. It was also the end of my life as a vegetarian, brought back into carnivory by the very animal I'm dedicating my life to. And don't worry, you won't see me running to any drive-thrus anytime soon. I vow to only eat meat I raised myself, or was raised the same way I would in my own community. So what does that make me? A Mortgagetarian? A nextdooravore? Anyway, this food choice may make dinners like Saturday's few and far between, but perfect and soooo appreciated when they do. Which is how people probably ate meat in the first place, before the assembly line was accepted as a way to end a life. I refuse to be a part of that. I also refuse to not be a part of what I think is the solution. I ate my lamb dinner happily. It felt right. It felt earned. I felt at home with my table.

Before I headed out the door, I stopped at Severine's table (Director of the Greenhorn movement) and said thanks. She thanked me for coming and waved goodbye. I then grabbed an apple from the bowl next to her for dessert on the drive home. She stopped her conversation with her neighbor, grabbed my hand, and serious as a heart attack said "Wash that. It's Conventional." I nearly teared up leaving the loud, happy, candlelit room as I walked out to the truck. Her words perfectly summarizing the entire day, our entire lives.

I found my tribe.