Saturday, August 28, 2010

he's back!

big day!

Big day today. In a few hours cars will be pulling into the drive for the fiddle workshop and one of those cars will be holding my goat Finn. After months of foster homes and moving drama I am fenced and ready for my little pack goat. So I'm going to start a loaf of bread and get a quiche in the oven and coffee on the stove and prepare for my guests. It should be a grand day of music, food, and if the fences hold: dinner with friends at the Washington County Fair. Photos and stories to come.

I can't wait to see my boy.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

washington county fair




snyder farm: a backyard put to work

Snyder Farm is what I call it. It's a small hidden place behind a sidewalk along a road in a small town. You might think when you pass by that it's just another suburban house but then you might find yourself making a double take as you notice the landscaping is all...well, edible. My friends Zach and Shellee live on an 1/8th of an acre in the small town of Bowmanstown, Pennsylvania.Their house takes up much of that space, but what backyard is left has been transformed into a farm. This is the Snyder's first year gardening outside of the occasional container adventure, and it has certainly paid off. Now what was once a lawn and above ground pool (Zach ripped out the pool for gardening space) is a cornucopia of production. They grow salad greens, tomatoes, potatoes and cabbage. They've pulled turnips, scallions, beans and beats. They have corn rows and pumpkin patches. All of it on land that once hosted flip flops and swim towels. I consider this a vast improvement. So do they.


The Snyder's are an average American family. Shellee is a stay at home mom, Zach works as an antique dealer in a home office and holds a part-time night job as well. They have a little girl named Madeline, a pair of dogs, and a cat named Mojo. They pay their taxes, go to church on Sunday, vote and love Netflix. There is nothing all that different about them from you and I. They simply made a choice to grow what they could and step back a little from a culture obsessed with consumerism. They both agree the work has been worth it.

They added some angora rabbits to the mix this year and use them for wool and tea compost, both of which help other aspects of the homestead. They plan on chickens eventually if they can butter up the idea to the town council woman who lives across the street... big plans on Snyder Farm, that is for sure.

here is a list of what they Snyders have grown from 200 square feet of town backlot:

Kidney Beans: 2.5 quarts dried ~ 5 quarts soaked
Pumpkins: 1 dozen jack-o-lantern size
Pickling Cukes: 25lbs
Horseradish: 2 large plants/roots
Eggplants: 1 dozen
Bell Peppers: 20lbs
Basil: 5 full mature plants
Peas: 1-2lbs
Corn: 60-70 stalks with 2-3 cobs/stalk - we lost most to rot because of the weird weather we had this year. These will make good compost though
Broccoli: 10 full heads
Cabbage: 10 green, 6 red
Garlic: 15-20 bulbs
Onions: 10-15lbs
Scallions: 4 large freezer bags
Turnips: 3lbs
Carrots: unknown - they were a bust
Potatoes: 15lbs
Tomatoes: I have no clue. I'm pulling a plastic shopping bag worth every day or two and have been for a while now. We've pulled easily 40-50lbs with no signs of letting up. We planted Better Boy, Beefsteak, and Romas (25 plants in all) and have cherry tomatoes in the compost pile :)
Strawberries: all 20 plants died



Zach says this about their year of food so far:

We were able to grow quite a bit, because our last frost date was earlier this year. We were able to grow turnips, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, and onions, and then pull them to put in our summer plants. I pulled some of our summer plants and put down cabbage and broccoli. The cabbage got eaten, but we have about 6 heads of broccoli still kickin'.

We built all of our beds from recycled deck wood from the pool we took down. Any fencing we used was acquired from estate sales or yard sales. We said very early on that our garden needs to be practical. The whole point is to be more self-reliant, not to see whose beds look the prettiest.

We did not spray anything or use anything unnatural. We used our own homemade compost and compost tea. We started our compost pile last August after we moved in, in order to have rich compost for this year. The rabbits are really helping build our supply. We fenced anything that the wild rabbits would bother. Other than that we did things like plant basil in between tomato plants to cut down on pests (it really works well). Also, we let the dogs pee around our raised beds of kidney beans. I read about this in See You In a Hundred Years. They emptied their camber pot around their corn to keep rodents away. We let the dogs go around 3 of our 4 raised beds. Sure enough, the rabbits/squirrels/etc only ate out of the bed we didn't let the dogs near. We were told by a neighbor to brush our dogs and put their hair around our beds to keep rabbits away, but we haven't tried it yet.

We started with 4 small 8x4' beds and grew from there. I read You Can Farm, per your recommendation, and he says if you can't make it in your backyard, you won't make it on 20 acres. We took that to heart and had at it. We still have to be careful, because we're in the middle of town and it can't look too wild, but by letting passersby take a walk around and look, giving neighbors fresh peppers and tomatoes, and talking garden with the Bowmanstown Lifers, you'd be surprised what they'll tolerate.

The difference this garden has made on our grocery bill has been and continues to be amazing. To be able to cut an onion from the braid, pull peppers from the freezer, and snag a tomato off of the plants really adds up.

Next year, it's on like Donkey Kong.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

pasteurized reading

chuck klosterman is back...

Yup. One of the surviving pullets is not a hen, but a rooster. A white, black, green and gold rooster exactly the same breed and size of Chuck Klosterman. God laughs.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

the sacred 45

Gibson woke me up to go outside sometime around 4AM. My alarm goes off 45 minutes later, but those are a sacred 45 minutes. Sleep is something I want more of but my body seems to disagree. Without fail I get up every morning around 4:47 AM.

I like my early mornings. I wake up to the pre-dawn light (now almost dark again as fall creeps in) and see the world before most. I take time to listen to the farm wake up from my bed. I cab hear the young roosters moan and the shuffle of Maude as she shakes out her wool and starts rooting for apples that fell while she slept. I know every sound and where it comes from.

Gibson usually sleeps right till I get up but today I was ready to go outside early. So I wrapped myself up in a blanket and took him outside to pee. We came back inside and he ran fast as his little legs could carry him back to my bed. He was curled up and eyes closed in moments. I sighed. Some battles are not worth fighting. I found a place for myself and he sidled closer to me. He placed his head in the crook of my arm and scootched his spine back into my belly. He was snuggling and then fell alseep. A puppy out cold. I whispered to him the same question I ask all my dogs, "Are you getting all the love you need?" and set a hand on the side of his dear head. He turned onto his back, stretched out his long paws and then collapsed back into a heap with a sigh, like he gave up on the effort of the stretch. I took that as a yes.

We slept for 38 more minutes like that. Crates be damned.

Monday, August 23, 2010

i barely put a dent in that box...

jackpot

The Stannard Farm stand is just down the road from Cold Antler and I love it. It's a small farm in south Cambridge that produces meat, eggs, and vegetables. The stand sells all their food and also carries local cheeses and milk. It's kind of like having a farm-fresh mini mart a bike ride away (exactly 1.8 miles from my front door). The clientele up here in Jackson isn't interested in five dollar cartons of milk or over-priced organics, so the food is priced to move for the locals. This crate of slightly over-ripe/bruised tomatoes was $5. I almost fainted when I saw the sign. Jackpot.

The woman at the counter said when the fruit goes slightly past its prime it's perfectly fine for sauces and canning, but not for commercial sales so they box them and sell them to canners. I told her I could make a pot of sauce and freeze it tonight, to hell with canning on the fly. (My canning pot is used for chicken scalding...so I need to get a new canner before I start preserving this fall.) She smiled at the ambition, but seemed to think all the people snatching up the five dollar cartons were crazy. She could think whatever she wanted. A twenty-pound box of locally grown tomatoes for a Lincoln was worth rolled eyes. And I bet if you asked around your local farm stands and growers, they'd sell you their over-ripes for a song as well. Worth a phone call anyway and that homemade sauce defrosted and poured thickly over pasta is going to taste just as amazing when the first snow falls. Think ahead a little and savor in advance. That's what I say.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

lanky defined

hudson valley saturday night

Kinderhook Farm is beautiful. That's really what this comes down to. I was sitting on Lee and Georgia's porch last night with a slew of their friends at dusk, drinking Saranac and watching their flock of Dorper/Texels half a mile away munch on their new pasture. It was a scene right out of a story book. The kind of farm we grew up thinking all farms were based on songs and illustration. I drank my beer and smiled. Right before I arrived they had moved the entire flock (without a dog) by Georgia simply sweet talking them through it. No grain, no yelling, just a new fence on fresh grass and the request to follow her. I heard it became quite the stampede.

Kinderhook Farm is in the heart of the Hudson Valley. It's a haul from Cold Antler, almost an hour and a half drive, but lazy and fine. I always opt to ride down 22 instead of the highways. It takes an extra fifteen minutes but instead of whizzing down the interstate I can weave the truck through old towns and farms. When I hit 295 I head west through Chatham and then a few county roads later you find yourself coasting along a series of fences and hillsides. Black cows eat happily on what seems like endless pasture. (At 1200+ acres endless isn't exactly accurate, but you get the idea.) Keep driving and you'll come up to a red barn with an old restored GMC truck and a restored barn that doubles as their farm store. Exhale and grin: you've reached Kinderhook Farms.

I pulled up to the farmhouse and let Gibson out on his leash. Louie, their handsome boxer, came rushing to play with my pup. It took Gibson a while to realize the gentle giant wasn't going to eat him and then his tail came out from between his legs. In a few hours Gibson was with us at the kitchen table, playing with a little girl named Meg who took to him like a pair of old roommates. She walked him around the farm and yard. They were a happy pair.

I had first met Lee and Georgia at the Greenhorns event they hosted this past spring. I wrote about it on the blog and Georgia read it and got in touch with me over email. We chatted and emails started back and forth. She liked what I wrote and I loved their farm and thanked them for hosting such an inspirational day. I mailed her a copy of my book, and we said eventually I'd come down for dinner. Last night they held their promise true, and we had an amazing meal of Red Devon burgers, potatoes, glazed carrots, and a chocolate soufflé-type dessert with cream and berries. Fresh pressed cider (hours before was apples) was made by Shaun, and I was proud to serve my own bread and honey as an appetizer.

The meal was amazing, that goes without saying. Eating anything that fresh and clean, right off the farm, is an experience that changes how you understand a meal, what a meal can be. But food aside: it was the farm itself that wowed me. Just walking the miles around the main horse barns. Checking out the moving layer flocks and meat birds. Watching the lambs follow their mothers, bleating as we walked by with Louie trotting ahead like a carriage master. At night before I left a crew of us young guns went out with flashlights to close up the birds and settle in the farm for the night.

Night rounds are my favorite of all farm chores. I walked through the fields with the others, following erratic flashlight swerves and thought about closing up Diana's farm in Idaho. I remembered how we'd go out to close up the chickens and feed the cattle after a few drinks and dinner and then come back to her warm house and family with that satisfying feeling of safety-granted. That sense that everyone outdoors and indoors was okay. I did the same with my small Idaho farm, and then again in Vermont, and when I drove back to Cold Antler I would do the same. Across years and this nation: putting chickens to bed connects me to a place in a way an address and electric bill can't. Taking care of future meals, keeping them safe as possible, collecting eggs and saying goodnight...it makes a place home, for all species involved.

After the farm was put to bed, I was ready for the same. I thanked my hosts, gave Louie a kiss, and drove north up 22 to my own warm comforter. Gibson breathed slowly at my side, asleep on a sheepskin as the first drops of rain started to hit the windshield. My stomach was full, my nostalgia fresh, and my body tired from walking and driving. Tomorrow I'd pick up feed and t-posts and start planning fall work parties, but as I drove all I thought about was this culture of food and people I have been so lucky to have fallen into. I have fallen into it, sure, but it is there for anyone with a container garden and a canning jar. It's there for anyone who opts for the farmers market or a chicken in the backyard (even just once in a while) over the grocery store. It's a club, but it's not exclusive. It's for anyone who wants to know the story behind the recipes and sometimes those stories come with chicken lullabies and full stomaches.

I sighed, smiled, turned on the wipers, and headed home.