Monday, December 20, 2010

maude at the gate

secret missions

There was a big vanilla sheet cake in the break room around 4 this afternoon. I checked to make sure no one was coming down the hall, and then wrapped up a giant piece about the size of my hand in paper towels. I stuck inside my sweater and snuck away with it like it was so sort of larceny. The cake was out for the taking of course, but not for what I had in mind. I put the paper towel wad in a plastic mailing envelope, shoved it into my messenger bag, and left the office like the secret ops smuggler that I was. I had a bounty of cake and I wasn't about to o home and binge either. I didn't want to eat it. I didn't want to save it. I didn't even want to compost it with a bucket of earthworms. I wanted to delight a pig.

And delight her I did. She nuzzled and chomped on the day-old baked good as if it was manna from heaven. Sure, I could have enjoyed the cake myself, but my own fleeting gustatory desires would have nothing on the joy I got out of watching my little girl root and lap up that frosting and yellow cake. It covered her snout and she sneezed to get it out of her nose. Then she ran ate the cake snot off she added to the feeder bin. I poured on some cracked corn and she squealed with delight. Her little curled tail wagged. Her little hooves lifted up and down. I leaned back against the stack of hay and looked at the Yorkshire shoat I was growing. She was easily as long as a Labrador now, and at least seventy pounds. In just a few weeks she doubled in size and her attitude around me has turned into a Labrador's as well. When I scratch her head she lays down in bliss and when I rub her tummy she kicks her legs the same way Gibson does when I hit a sweet spot. She's clean, tubby, generally quiet, and between the food from work and her few bags of feed: really inexpensive. So far there isn't even a hint of odor. She uses one section of the barn as a bathroom and since I cover it up with hay and wood chips, it never seems to fester. I'm actually shocked at how swell it's been going. Why doesn't everyone have one of these in the garage?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

a day at the market

The bell rang at ten on the dot, and I was still flustered. I had only left the farm an hour earlier (it is impossible to get anywhere on time when you are constantly monitoring 41 other lives) and had finished just setting up my display three minutes before the official start of the event. As soon as the bell rang money was passed and food was bagged. There was a lot of winter produce (shocking amounts), freshly baked breads, cheese, milk, soaps, meat, candles, and hand-knit goods. If I had the means (or time) I could have bought everything I needed to make pot roast, a green salad, mashed potatoes, and as many veggie sides as I wanted for dinner (not to mention rolls and dessert) from a 100% local selection. It was uplifting to see so many people producing food in the middle of winter. I was also impressed by how good it looked. Every winter squash and carrot was mouth watering. The heated greenhouses of Bennington and Washington Counties are pumping overtime!

So the market was a lot of fun even it wasn't financially successful. I didn't sell a single skein of yarn, but I did sign and sell a few books. And that managed to make enough money to cover my table, gas, and buy 100 pounds of cracked corn and chicken feed on the way home. Not bad for a first time out, certainly not a loss my any measure. Any you know what?I don't think this was the yarn crowd at all. The market seemed to cater to either the highest-end shoppers swinging by on their ski vacations for morning pastries or locals who simply ran out of carrots and wanted to get out of the house. I feel that yarn folks are somewhere in the middle of that spectrum: people looking for a certain product, not browsing. But I was happy to see my skeins were the same price as the other yarn vendor.

Someone asked why I even bother with a farmer's market when I could sell out of yarn online? My answer is simple: I want my neighbors to get to know me. I want local people who are stumbling by to say hello and learn there's a new sheep farm in town. I love and appreciate this online community, but I also want to get to know the people in my area who also share my interests and values and a warm market like this in the heart of winter is a great example to take a field trip from the farm and shake some hands. I spent the entire day talking to people with sheep histories, hearing stories from beautiful faces who grew up on sheep farms before the world changed. One European ex-pat woman named Viola told me (as she shook a skein of my yarn at my nose) to never to get married and to stay smart. Another woman told me about the cabin on her great grandfather's sheep farm with a fireplace just like little house on the prairie. A fellow who grew up with summer chickens talked about his old flock and a man who just got some pet hens bought Chick Days as a gift. And Holly, a woman with a small farm in Bennington whom I bought some birds from last summer was delighted to see the story of getting those birds in her house made page 56. It was a lovely day. I plan on returning with some of your fantastic ideas to help the booth in January. I'll have some hand-knit goods, pattern giveaways, and one of those digital frames of my best photography of the gang here. My goal for the next market: sell three skeins!

So that was why I did the market. Cold Antler Farm isn't just a new business: it's a community and a personal culture just peeping out of of the New York soil. I want it to be part of the local food and craft network and to meet people who had been doing this longer and far better. I could always come home and sell some yarn online later. So no regrets from this farmer.

FRESH

Saturday, December 18, 2010

the smallest table at the market

off to market

In a little over an hour the station wagon will be packed, the animals will be fed and comfortable, the coffee will be in the travel mug, and I will be on my way to my first ever farmers market. Butterflies are swarming inide me. To put it lightly: this is a pretty big deal for this little farm.

It's a small step, but as far as statements go it is huge. Sitting at a table with a sign and a product right next to other farms doing the same thing is a right of passage. It says I too am in this, I am trying to make a living as a small farmer. I'm in the divine brotherhood of folding tables and business cards set up alongside lifelong goals, dreams, and stories about land and animals. It will be a fine way to spend a Saturday.

I don't know how well I will do. People expect heirloom root vegetables and grass fed meat to cost more than store-bought but artisinal wool is not something people are used to seeing for the same price as a large pizza. So to invite people to the table (literally) I will have a wool carding/drop spindle demo ready to go and books as well. The goal is to earn enough today to cover the table and gas money, and spend the rest of the day chatting, knitting, networking, and meeting others in the market. Wish me luck!

Friday, December 17, 2010

sal on the hill

a free lunch?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

time to slow down

It's winter, and running a farm takes more out of you. The morning chores are slower, require more layers and effort. The night rounds are tricky, slipping on ice and carrying buckets through deep snow. So to make things a little simpler, I have stopped some of the things that pull me away from this fine work and require more of my time. I'm offering these as examples for some of you in the same situation.

1. No more classes or lessons.
Riding lessons are on hold, herding lessons are on hold, workshops, classes, and anything else extracurricular are on hold till the sun comes back. It's just too much to come home on a 12 degree weeknight, rush through chores, rush to the barn, and then come home around 8 panting with still more work to do. Same for weekend herding. Now is the time to read, study, write, and stoke fires. I am in a semi-hibernation.

2. Less Shopping.
I stopped carrying a debit card or credit card with me. I carry a few bucks in case I need gas or something, and the impulse to order online is fading as well. In an effort to start truly saving for the life I want: which is to say a full time farmer and writer, I need to learn to be frugal. Which my natural tendencies lean towards anyway. I buy used, I cook at home, I don't travel, I don't have cable. I do buy a lot of books, but in a way, I consider that okay. As a writer I want people buying/borrowing/reading books.

3. Learning to entertain myself

...with my own means. A fiddle, a novel I bought but never got around to reading, another day with the Lord of the RIngs on DVD instead of renting a new flick: all of this saves on energy and time that would go into buying, renting, or doing things outside the home. While the point is to stay put, not to save money, I have learned that in my own life leaving the farm is a way to ensure I'll lose money. But staying put is a way to ensure I'll either create, fix, or tend something. I am getting to the point in my life where those three things are all that seems to matter anymore.

4. Back to (Home) School.
I've learned that farming this way, which is to say mid-life with a full-time job) means I can't stop the train and become an apprentice. But I can dedicate my time to a chapter a night of a farming book. I can take notes, get videos from the NEBCA library, sort through back issues of Countryside, Small Farmers Journal, SHEEP!, and countryside to learn this life in the academic sense. With lambs just a few months away (the earliest drop date is March 19th) it can't hurt to re-read Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep (my bible), Living with Sheep, and the Modern Shepherd. I can watch some videos and read some of the stuff for free from the NEBCA library (Like Aled Owen's Time Well Spent) and start learning more about the partnership that is me and Gibson here at CAF. I don't expect him to be truly trained until he is 2 or three years old (long learning curve on new shepherds) but that doesn't mean I can't study up. And, in no way do I mean to diminish the value of classes or extension workshops (I will take one to learn shearing this spring), but there is nothing just as valuable a book, highlighter, and spiral bound notebook and pen can't teach you if you're willing to become your own teacher.

So what do you do to cut back and slow down in winter. Is it a time of study and reading for you as well? Or is it a time of planning, seed catalogs, and phone calls?

P.S. I emailed my editor about the idea of making this blog into a book. They are considering it. But if you want to urge them forward, send a note to Storey and let them know what you want to read from me!

snow march

tent city

Flying Pig Farm is just a six mile jaunt from my front door. Being a grass farm, they move their herds of heritage hams around their vast acreage, but I personally love the spring and winter when they are near the road that leads to Cold Antler. I pulled over my car on the way home at lunch and took a picture of a small section of their vast tent city. It looks like a group of mostly Tamworths were in frame. All of them trotting about to or from the food to their shelters. It reminded me of my weekend at Bonnaroo.

the flock

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

dinner guests

the one thing

Imagine a peaceful white farm house covered with snow. Imagine the smoke swirling from the chimneys, the sheep chewing cud on the hillside, and the sun setting over the mountains in a way that turns the whole world a rich purple and navy blue. Can you see the warm yellow light of the life inside? The glow of a wood stove, and the friendly face of a dog in window? Can you picture the way the snow has covered everything in a fondant of smooth frosting? Perfect as a wedding cake? Pure as a newborn lamb?

Got that scene in your head. Great. Now, imagine a pair of loud, honking, obnoxious geese carrying on in a totally illogical crisscross of paths, leaving giant green turds on your Thomas Kindadian Doorstep. Welcome to Cold Antler Farm: where nothing is perfect as it seems.

That doesn't mean it's not perfect.

Folks write me and tell me how much this place is something they envy, or something they wish they could have. I tell them if I can do it (a single woman on the equivalent of a teacher's salary with iffy credit) then anyone can. It takes some financial juggling, a lot of help from experienced people, research, and determination, but you can certainly get a little land and some chickens if that is what you want from the world. In the greater scheme of things, it's a pretty attainable goal. But I have found far above money, or location, or determination becoming a farmer requires one thing above all.

Love.

I have been told I write far too romantically about my life here at Cold Antler. Well, darling, that's because this is a romance. I am head over heals for this place. I love it. I love it and all its many imperfections, grief, and complexities. I love the beautiful things like a snow-covered farm and I love the messy things too, like those damned geese. I even love the goose shit they paint on my front step, because a life without goose shit would mean a life without geese, which is beyond comprehension at this point. I mean, how do people without geese even know when their mail's here?

And I strongly believe loving this lifestyle—whether that means a goat in your Seattle backyard or 40 acres in Swoope, Virginia—is the the only way to be successful. And by successful I don't mean a thick wallet, I mean a life that makes you happy, surrounds you with good food, and builds community and a sense of place. If you are truly in love with the idea of producing your own food and caring for your own livestock, then it will happen because it simply has too. You won't be able to be content until you do, you'll give up what you have to give up. You'll take the leaps and risks that you need to take, and you'll sweat and work until you can't see straight or feel your hands through the calluses. You'll do it because it sustains you. Because the lack of it will become a cancer.

I still feel it—from the moment I wake up grateful to the moment I fall alseep worrying—I am twitterpated. And as long as I'm in this relationship with sheepdogs and hillsides, chickens and fresh eggs, gardens and corn rows, and hats made from backyard wool: I'm going to let that undercurrent rise up. If you're in this too, then you can only understand. And if you can;t fathom how anyone could love goose shit: then make room for the people who do. They are legion.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

waking up to winter

Monday, December 13, 2010

narnia, ny: population 1

When I was about ten I was gifted the entire Chronicles of Narnia Series for the Holidays. I still remember reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by the time I went to bed on Christmas day. I devoured it in hours. I loved the other world, and I especially loved the idea of it existing alongside the mundane. I think we all strive for that in some sense. We know there's a world we can't change, but a home we can create. For some of us it's the stuff in our backpack as we hike the entire AT, and for other's it's a little farm in Jackson.

Outside my house is one lamppost. The Millers (whom I bought the house from), had connected it to the house so I can flip it on when I get home. I never thought much about it in the summer, but now that there's a heavy snowfall coming down outside: I keep thinking of Narnia. I keep thinking if I wait outside by that snowy lamppost in the woods a fawn named Tumnus will come out of the woods and tell me something important. Or, more lightly, a horned sheep who's hungry for grain.

It's really coming down out there. In a minute I'll suit up and check on Pig, close up the chickens, and walk up to see the sheep on the hill. I want to see if they are using the shelters yet, now that there's a driving snow. I know Maude, Sal, and Joseph are in theirs, but I am curious to see if this 3-5 inches falling tonight will get the Scots in their winter quarters. I'll grab a lantern and my crook and put on a hat with earflaps. Take that, fashionistas.

This place no longer feels like a stranger's house. It took a whole spring, summer, and fall but now that winter is here and I will soon have been in this place an entire year: it feels like home. It feels like mine. I pulled in from the white-knuckled drive in white-out conditions and just instantly went to the work of caring for the place and my animals. Got pots on the stove, got a fie going, put water on for tea, saw to the animals. When you come inside from all that, eat a meal, and sit down to read on a winter night you can't help but sigh. For tonight at least I am warm, full, and surrounded by my pack of kind dogs. I'm exhausted, but it's a happy tired. And older kind of tired. The tired that we all thought went extinct before every home had a microwave and a Tivo. I love this tired. It can eat me up.

Oh, and I did eventually get a chance to play a lead character in my High School's performance of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I didn't get to be a queen or princess. I played Fenris Ulf, the wolf.

Go figure.

want some of this?

I'm selling a few skeins of wool in bundles before the farmer's market this weekend—for folks that would like to buy wool but aren't in the CSA and/or can't travel to Vermont to shop this weekend. If you are interested in knitting some of Maude's angry wool (anger keeps you extra warm, if you're curious of its inherit benefits) please email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com for details on prices and shipping. I will warn you that entirely home-grown wool isn't cheap as storebought. Prices for bundles will cost what half a CSA share would cost since three skeins would be half a share upfront. I am only offering a few three packs so email quick and I'll package it up this week and you'll have it by Christmas!

bluster

Outside is a blustery and chilly day here in Veryork. It's freakishly warm in the high thirties. last night the temperature never dropped below 44, and I slept with a window open as the rain fell outside. It felt like April, not December. At some point in the night Gibson busted out of his crate (I have no idea how) and woke me with a wet nose and wagging tail on the edge of the bed. "Fine, darling," was all I said, half awake, and he jumped up next to me and curled up right near my chest, put a head on my shoulder, sighed, and fell promptly back to sleep. I placed a groggy hand on his head and told him he was a good boy. All was forgiven from Saturday's romp. He can't help himself. I can't help loving him.

I have never known a dog who needed to be close to me this much.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

to market, to market...

I just found out today that the board of the Walloomsac Farmers' Market of Bennington, Vermont approved my application for the winter market next Saturday! I'll be selling wool and signed books from 10-2pm on December 18th in the First Baptist Church on Main Street. Stop by and say hello if you're in the area, buy some angry wool of Maude's, or pick up a book. I'll be there (knitting, most likely) and so will other winter vendors with root vegetables, pastries, crafts, and grass-fed meats. There's plenty of local shops and restaraunts as well if you want to make a day of it. Hope to see you there!

the rookie

There was a point early Saturday morning when I was hunched over a large, upset, sheep holding her in place by the horns, panting like I just sprinted a mile. I was holding the new sheep between my knees, shearing-style, to slip on a makeshift halter. After which I slowly walked her through the snow back to the pen she had recently escaped from in a wild panic. We made our way past the dead garden (where I caught her), past the Subaru in the driveway holding a frantic, howling border collie who was ripping up the interior while I pulled one of "his" sheep away from him. All the while, I was trying not to slide or fall (again) on the slick wet snow covering the farm. Covered in sweat, heart-racing, I lead the sheep into the pasture and shut the gate. The ewe walked off to her friends who watched the whole adventure in quiet amaze. I turned around to face Gibson in the mystery machine. He stopped barking when I looked right at him, narrowing my eyes. He smiled that dog smile and wagged his tail, tongue out long enough to reach his elbows. Can we do it again, Lady? Please pleasepleasepleaseplease. He had no idea why I stopped all the fun short. I let out a long sigh, the kind that leaves a trail of smoke, grabbed my puppy out of the car and went inside. I was covered in mud, sweat, and lanolin and had not yet tasted my first cup of coffee.

One of those days, you see.

Yesterday morning was Gibson's first time with his own sheep. It didn't go as planned. I was herding under the influence, drunk on the excited of the event. I would be herding sheep today on my own farm, with my own fine dog, with my own stock. To walk out into that pasture with my collie and my crook, I felt like my heart was stitched together with wool and tweed: a hill shepherd to be. When you get glossy-eyed at 28 at the idea of a life of a sixty-year-old Scottish Farmer, you know you're in trouble.

I had selected two of the older dog-broke, Blackface ewes to work with, and had Gibson on a lead. We had been training for weeks, so I planned on doing what I did at Barb and Denise's farms, just here in the backyard. I walked up the hillside and Gibson seemed focused, but calm. When things seemed okay I let him circle the ewes, but that peaceful stride soon turned into an all-out chase. The sheep were running away from the young dog, who had no interest in hurting them but had a lot of interest in seeing who could win the race down the hill. He was right on their heels.

Oh man, was that puppy happy... Gibson was nothing but pure glee, running up and down the hill after one sheep at a time. I however, was not sharing in the euphoria. A sheepdog is supposed to be subtle, move the sheep with his eye, suggestion and what not. They can (and do),use force when needed but not on a small 1/4 acre paddock. Thinking my area wasn't that much larger than the training pen at Denise's Farm I foolishly thought I could control the situation like I did there with a trainer on hand. But this was Bedlam. Gibson was digging his claws into the ground with each joyous lope. One ewe flew past me and like a deer vaulted over the gate into the driveway. The other one slammed on the brakes in front of the fence and then turned around and stomped at Gibson.

I'd seen this before, and so had my orthopedic specialist. A knee of mine has been damaged by a sheep that stomped at a dog right before I shoved my right leg in front of the dog to protect it from a head butt when it was backed into a corner. Not wanting to repeat history: I told Gibson to stop, come here, and lie down (which he did, now happy to listen that one sheep was backed into a fence and the other was trotting around the driveway. So his work was clearly done). I shooed away the ewe, and grabbed his lead and stuck him in the back of the station wagon while I tried to collect my lost sheep. "That'll do." I told him as I shut the car door. He barked the canine version of a cuss word.

Seasoned as I was now at the antics of runaway sheep: I went right for the grain bag and decided honey would bring my a fly better than vinegar. So I filled a small wooden box with grain and tried to bribe her back into the fence she just vaulted from. She just looked at me from half an acre away. Just looked, then trotted away around the back of the fence.

Great.

Gibson cried and barked as I got more grain and convinced the other 7 sheep to join me for a nosh. This got the loner interested and she came around to about five feet away from me, a fence away from her friends and the free buffet. When She was between the garden fence and the pasture fence I decided my honey days were over, and jumped her. I pulled her rump and head the way I was taught in Sheep 101 from the Vermont Extension and flipped the horned gal on her butt. With one hand on her horn, the other on a dogsledding x-back harness I grabbed from the hutch of the Subaru, I created a halter and slowly walked her back with grain to the pasture gate.

Like I said, I still hadn't had any coffee. I was beat.

I came inside and Gibson drank a gulp and sprawled out on the kitchen floor, he was in pure Nirvana. I emailed my trainer and explained what an ass I had been, taking on too much work too soon. She explained that all Gibson did was exactly what he does at her farm: starts out frantic, but since he wasn't in a controlled environment like her round pen, he panicked the sheep and they fled the circumstances. I needed to be in control, not Gibson. I needed to be able to have him work for me, not me chasing him, shaking a crook in the snow. I simply expected too much. I apologized to Denise, Gibson, and the sheep and realized if I wanted to train my pup here I'd had to build a proper pen to start in.

The good news is no one got hurt. Not me, not the sheep, and not Gibson—and while it sounds like chaos it really was just a few ewes being scattered around for a few frantic moments and then fleeing the scene. Then it was just a hassle to get the world back in order again. But it's a good lesson, all this. Just because you have a border collie and a few sheep doesn't make you Aled Owen. You can't expect to have a great training session when you're new at this game, the dogs new at this game, and the sheep have only been here one week. But I am glad I gave it a try, that I know what not to do, and that while I was frustrated I'm not detered from training myself to train this dog. His father might have been winning Nursery Trials at 10 months old, but he was trained by a pro. My crook cost twelve dollars.

It's only up hill from here, right?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

to be continued

Gibson got a chance to herd his own sheep this morning. Well, two of them. I put two older Scotties in the main paddock and gated the others in the back pasture. I thought we could do some basic circling, practice balancing sheep, and work on our lie downs. I was so excited.

It was a disaster.

No one got hurt, and I'll share the whole story later. But let's just say there were ewes leaping over gates, me grabbing animals by the horns, a broken fence, a frustrated person, and very very happy border collie having the time of his life.

good morning from cold antler farm!

Friday, December 10, 2010

this is your brain on homesteading

This is a store-bought $9.93 "natural" chicken. This is a $1.75 home-grown, farm-harvested chicken.
Any Questions?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Giveaway winner is Pacy from MO!

Email me, at jenna@itsafarwalk.com for details on how to get your new Barn Light Electric Pendant!

some like it hot

It was 3 degrees this morning on the farm, and as soon as I went into the barn and turned on the pig's light she exploded with a grunt from her nest of hay, shook, and went right under it. She's learned that Jenna = food and warmth. I was thinking about warmth too. I was in my winter half-coveralls, wool hat, gloves, and vest. Man it was cold....She ate her morning feed while I brought her bucket inside to defrost. A good half-inch of ice set on top of it, even inside the barn. But despite the cold she was alert, warm, and frostbite free.

A happy pig, that.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

get your own copy

'Cause Gibson is hogging mine...Chick Days released today in bookstores. It's my new paperback on beginner chicken care. Think "What to Expect When You're Expecting" but with chickens. It's a day-by-day guide for the new chicken keeper. Starting with day one to laying age, it follows three birds from fluffball to bonefide hen with Mar's amazing photography and advice from my experiences at Cold Antler. There are also songs, recipes, stories, and more inside. This aint your grandmother's chicken book, son.

Edit: So I found out that the Release Date and Publisher's Date are different. The Release Date means the books are printed and on their way to stores and it's going to be up on shelves. It doesn't come out until Jan. Sorry, I was confused too.

our antlers are cold

It's a calm night here at the farm. I'm bottling Irish Stout and feeding the wood stove. I usually am at the stables, but tonight I canceled my riding lesson due to the temperature. It's twelve degrees now, and by the time we hit pre-dawn it may very well drop below zero. I wanted to keep an eye on the animals on this unusually cold night we're having. To make up for the low temperatures everyone's getting a few extra calories and a place to hunker down and stay out of the wind.

The chicken's wire windows have been covered in plastic and cracked corn has been added to their diet. I up their usual feed an additional third when it gets like this, and I do it for two really important reasons: a full chicken is a warm and content chicken. With snow confining them to the coop. close quarters can lead to fighting. So if everyone has enough, they tend to remain calmer and snooze instead of squabble. Also, extra fuel means extra heat. The birds are warmer with corn in their stove piping. The only other cold weather routines I have is plenty of fresh, thick bedding on top of older bedding to create compost and heat under their feet (a deep bed poo-composting coop is a warmer coop) and add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to their water (helps with the coughs).

The pig has her heat lamp still. She loves it like her own personal tanning bed. I turn it on and let her bath in it a few hours before I turn in. But by the time I do my last night rounds of closing the chicken coop door and turning off the lights in the barn: she's already under her mountain of hay. She's also getting some cracked corn in her pig ration, and all the extra human food I can manage. It's served her well - she's doubled in size!

The sheep remain sheep. No matter how cold it gets they seem to prefer the hill to the barn. The original three still use their small shed we built in Vermont, nearly three years ago, and the Scots seem to venture in and out but until the snow gets really deep or it gets really stormy: I think they'll remain outdoors as they like it.

Gibson seems all healed up. This weekend I will let him work a few of his sheep for the first time for a few minutes. I'm ready. He's ready. The sheep are ready. I know this because tonight when I took him out for an evening pee (his, not mine) he took a lunge at the flock from our side of the fence and all 8 took off up the hill in a fever. We felt both our hearts race, it was the first and only time I ever moved that many animals (even for a moment) with dog power. He saw them move and lunged at his leash to round them up. I told him a quiet, "That'll do" and brought him inside. He sat by the front door pouting for an hour. He now knows just outside the red paint is everything he's ever wanted, but he can't have it just yet. Love hurts, baby.

photo from http://www.oldtimefarmshepherd.org

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

the big day: part 2

By 5:30 AM this morning I had ten CSA orders filled, fed the sheep, rabbits, chickens, and pig, took the dogs out for their morning constitutional. After all that, I was quite ready for breakfast. I came inside from the 20 degree morning and cracked two eggs into a cast iron skillet. The plan: smoked-maple cheddar scrambled eggs to go with my coffee. I rarely make such a breakfast on a weekday, but I was starving. In yesterday's flurry of activity I forgot to eat dinner, and between a growling stomach, a morning of chores, and the fresh coat of snow covering the farm: I was ready for a warm meal. It was glorious.

Speaking of food...

I was prepping my kitchen yesterday for some cheese making with my friend Cathy when a large trailer backed into the farm's driveway. I caught a glance of it when I peaked my head out into the front room and saw through the windows a large, bulking, mass of metal making its way into the drive. I felt my heart race as I fumbled for my wellies by the front door. This is happening. Breathe. This is happening. Breathe. This is happening. Breathe.Gibson was right beside me. He wanted to see what all the fuss was about too. From inside I watched two women step off the rig and a flash of black and white jumped out with them. It's was Barb Armata's Meg. Daughter of her famed trial dog, Jill. They had backed the trailer close to the open pasture gate. We were going to unload straight away. With Meg crouched in their rear, and people on all sides, the five ewes darted from the back of the trailer into my field in about 90 seconds. I shut the gate. I thought unloading would be more of a hassle? Barb explained sheep like gates, and they like going uphill. Duly noted.

I paid, thanked, and waved the delivery crew off and then there was this moment when I looked at the turn in the road the trailer and disappeared into, and then over to the five new sheep, and then back to the road...and realized these were not rented. These were my charges. To have and to hold until death do us part.

I had separated my original trio of British longwools from the main paddock, moved them over to the other pasture and shut the gate.. I didn't want anyone knocking heads (or my knees) during that first unloading bit. But there wasn't any fuss. The Blackface ewes stayed in a tight clump and sashayed over to the fence line where Sal, Maude, and Joseph were. Noses met noses through the border. I was amazed watching Maude. She seemed to lose about ten pounds of anxiety. Finally, she wasn't the only woman on the scene. And Sal was so happy to see a harem I thought his curled lips would break the wire. Yikes, this might get scandalous.

I wasn't alone in all this. I was with the Daughton Family (Well, most of them). Tim was at the office, but his wife Cathy and her three boys were here with me. They arrived just as the livestock trailer was pulling in. I had asked if they wanted to come over to help with the new sheep (in case help was needed) and to learn how to make cheese. Cathy and I brought it up in conversation, but I thought a cheese making lesson would be a good excuse to have some familiar faces share in the excitement of the big day. I'd have some company, and we'd turn some Stewart's whole milk into mozzarella. It would be a win win.

...but right now the entire Daughton progeny (and their mother) were watching me climb the fence to let both tribes of sheep meet for the first time. I was hoping it wouldn't be violent, but expected some fireworks. I climbed the hill, opened the gate, and let my three good sheep meet the new kids. Scenes from Braveheart flashed through my mind. Would my Brits and Scots feel the need to reenact history?

It was amazing how calm they were. Both groups nuzzled and grunted, and that was that. No one butted heads, or hollered, or lifted a hoof to stomp. It was pretty anti-climatic acually. Within minutes the new girls were laying on the hillside like it was their home all along. Sal literally paraded around, in glory. The new ewes (newes?) didn't even bat an eyelash at him. They just sat down with their punk rock wool and acted like prep school kids being hit on by a pimple-faced barista. Or maybe it wasn't snobbery, but motherhood sinking in. They had no time to flirt anymore. They had big red and pink marks on their rears from recently being serviced by Barb's Blackface Ram. Proof positive there would be lambs in a few months.

As the day went on I got lost in sewing projects and cooking, but as it grew dark I turned on the lamp post outside and saw my new sheep all on the hill. As the snow and wind beat their faces, they just sat like great Buddahs. I worried they didn't realize they had shelter, so I bundled up and decided to give them a tour. I walked out to the flock with my big crook in my hands—a big, clunky, inexpensive, wooden job I bought for twelve dollars from Sheepman Supply—certainly not the classy ram's horn and cherry wood you see at the sheepdog trials. No, this was an everyday schlub of a crook and I was its handler. Together me and my humble crook walked up the slippery hillside (It was starting to really snow as the day grew darker) and I called the sheep over to me with some grain in a white bucket. All eight filed behind me, walking with their new shepherd in the lead. I poured the grain into the larger, new, shelter and when all of them were inside eating, I decided my work was done.

I walked down the hillside with my crook, a calm smile, and eight sheep behind me in a little brown barn. And that is how the first day of true snow on Cold Antler Farm ended.

And this story is just beginning...

Barn Light Electric Giveaway!

Barn Light Electric is giving away one of their beautiful Ivanhoe Sinclair Porcelain Pendants here at Cold Antler Farm. To enter, all you have to do is (starting right now) leave a comment leaving your name and state, and talk about where you'd love to hang this lamp in your home/farm. Easy. A random winner will be chosen from the entries using a number generator (so please just one comment per person). These are seriously good quality lighting folks, sleek and modern while retaining an industrial and agricultural heritage in the economy of design and brilliance of performance. Winner will be announced this Thursday at noon, so just make sure you comment on this post before then. (No email entries please. If you don't have a Google account you'll have to make one to enter, but hey, three minutes for a gorgeous pendant is worth the hassle). If you are the winner, I'll get you in touch with the fine people at BLE and they'll help you pick out whatever color and hardware they have in that Sinclair model to match your own home. Good Luck!

Here's a link to the lighting!

P.S. I was told they will ship to Canada if the winner will cover the duties or any excess taxes.

a useful dog

This is a wonderful video from this year's Nationals in Virginia. A great musical tribute to the sport of herding, and it ends with a very happy photo of Gibson's father after taking the title home. Certainly worth checking out, and maybe some day I'll get to watch these in person?

Monday, December 6, 2010

snow and hoof prints

It's snowing outside, a beautiful crystal-white snow that looks like glitter before it hits the ground. There are a few inches out there now, and every so often the flashing yellow lights of the plows fill the farm house walls. With the wood stove heating the downstairs, the Subaru finally registered, and the furnace repaired: I feel ready to take on winter as a first time home-owner. But there's also a reality that never set in before when I was renting or living under someone else's roof. If I get in trouble here, only I can get myself out of it. It makes winter a little less fun, and a little more like an obstacle course.

The huskies are beside themselves. (I swear they prance when they can't feel their paw pads anymore.) Gibson ignores it. I don't think Border Collies savor winter the way Siberians do. I took him outside in the dark, snowy, night he didn't even flinch at his first real snowfall around his white paws. To his defense, he was more interested in the eight sheep munching on hay just beyond the driveway fence. Honestly, So was I.

The flock is here. Finally. Gibson was just a pup when I went to pick them out this spring. I left a deposit of $200, and spent the summer mailing Barb checks whenever I could. Today I handed her the final check, that covered the sheep and the delivery cost. Handing her that envelope felt like a weight off my chest. My Scotties are here. Five beautiful ewes currently up in the shelter of the shed built for them just a season ago.

Why Scottish Blackface? Because they're a tough, foraging, heritage breed traditionally worked by border collies and raised for wool and meat. They do well on steep land (Cold Antler is on a bit of a tilt) and can handle harsh weather with pluck. They are naturally easy lambers, easy to handle, and responsive and ready to work with Gibson when he heals up. They're the perfect match for my life, goals, land, and usage. I can wear them, eat them, or sell their offspring to other area shepherds. And I think they have some of that feral and forgotten beauty of an older breed. They seem to be a small farm's perfect animal, with a hint of something wilder in their nostrils. I dig that.

Far as I know, we're the only breeding flock of Scotties in Washington County, but I could be wrong. I know there are some fine flocks south and west of me, but I didn't see a single SBF farm at the fair, or online, or through the grapevine of feed and tack stores.

So it might just be us in Jackson? I'm going to need some proper names. I already decided one would be Mary (Queen of the Scots) and another would be Narwhal (whoever she pushes around). Mary had a croquet mallet made out of a Narwhal's fossilized horn and she never lost a game with it. Sounds like a good name for the alpha and omega members of the new clan. I'm just not sure who's who yet. I'm just getting to learn their personalities, but one of the splotchy faced ladies seems to be running the show. She'll be Mary for sure.

I'll fill you in on the day of unloading, sewing, cheese making, and snow tomorrow. Tonight though, let us raise a mug of hot chocolate to new flocks, fresh snow, and debts paid.

the gang's all here




the big day: part 1

So I woke up and checked my email this morning, delighted to see a note from a Miss. Aileen McFazdean, Secretary of the Scottish Blackface Breeder's Association, the UK-based club I joined a few weeks ago for their resources, journal, email list, (and hopefully) advice. To get my first official club meeting notes and email on the day my sheep are being delivered, I thought, was a good sign. A little kismet on this very cold, very snowy day.

I've been up and doing chores since before dawn. Starting with Gibson and I hauling the truck to Stewart's to get milk and apple cider donuts for the delivery crew. Two members of NEBCA are coming to see the farm and unload the sheep. The least I could do is offer them some nosh for the ride home.

I feel like it's already noon. I've pounded fresh fence posts in the nearly frozen ground (no small feet), and have restrung and (am trying to) reactivate the electric fences in the main area for the new sheep. So my day has involved walking fence lines, hauling out fresh water, moving Sal, Maude, and Joseph into a separate paddock so they can all meet between a fence before they become one big flock. I got a new watering 16-gallon bucket that's electric and will stay warm without freezing. The goldfish from the Washington County Fair are still alive in the other stock tank. They grew up into some hardy fish, let me tell you. They are currently swimming under a sheet of ice. I think they have deserved a warmer winter condo. I can't believe they made it this long.

Cathy Daughton and her kids are coming up on this snowy day to help with the sheep unloading and learn to make cheese. We'll be making mozzarella and I am hoping, adding it to our own homemade pizza for lunch. Should be a fun time, and a nice way to stay warm while the snow falls (just an inches, if that) and the stove roars. I can't wait to post photos. Stay tuned throughout the day!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

so excited

tomorrow is a very big day....

all here

Something changed. I'm not sure exactly when it happened, or how it happened, but something changed here. For years I have been living this country life. I've had chickens, gardens, fiddles, and dogs. I've kept sheep, a goat, rabbits, I even have a pig in my barn now...but no matter how others saw it, or what it truly was—it always felt like some sort of feral and eccentric backyard. Not anymore.

Some time between packaging up the wool for CSA subscribers, and emailing back and forth with the Scottish Blackface breeder: this small acreage turned into a working farm. My entire mind shifting into accepting it, and shifted fast. Like a 50-pound bag of feed flopping over in the back seat of your car on a sharp-turn: the state of things changed. That simple. That fast.

Years in the making, months of hard work, days of panic and worry, and hours of prayer. This is my farm. You can argue with that, but you'd be punching underwater.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

beautiful people

giveaway next week!

Cold Antler Farm and Barn Light Electric are teaming up to give away this Ivanhoe™ Sinclair Industrial Porcelain Pendant. The winner gets to choose a color and hardware to match their own home. Get excited, cause I'll be announcing this event in the next few days!

a simple product

a modest saturday

I did something this morning I never do. I slept in long enough to wake up to daylight. I needed it. This past week has been an exhausting jaunt. It is a relief to meet a snow-sprinkled Saturday morning with the coffee pot and wood stove and know that for the most part: I have no where to be. I am stretching, sipping strong coffee, and enjoying that lull between feeding the animals and getting a shower. It's a wonderful place to be, that.

I toyed with the idea of packing up the truck and spending my day at a Farm Film Fest two hours south in the Hudson Valley—but last night after visiting one friend's new baby boy, and then driving to another friends place for music and drinks: I realized how extremely beat I was. A girl just can't go from 4:30 to 1 AM. Since our herding lesson was canceled, I decided to just spend the first day of my three-day weekend taking care of the farm, the house, and staring the first round of CSA packages.

There is a lot to do around here. Weekends are now the only time I get daylight outside, so I must take full advantage of it. Today I want to repair any weak spots in the fencing, defrost and replace all the water fonts, and get everything ready for the new flock being delivered Monday. The five ewes will arrive in a trailer, delivered by their breeder and a friend. Both ladies will be members of NEBCA, my border collie association and the group of trainers and mentors teaching me how to go about this new shepherding life. I want them to be happy with this place in every way. I know I don't need their permission, but I would like their approval.

I also plan on returning to work Tuesday with half of the CSA packages ready to mail. But that means I need to spend the weekend working on the welcome letters, price guide, expenses list, and projections for the fall. Each subscriber gets more than just a skein of yarn. They are part of the farm now, and in a way, investors. So to hold true to my word of 5-7 skeins a person (plus some raw wool) I want to make sure everyone has what they paid for, and understands what goes into the production of yarn at this basic a level. I figured if they saw exactly where every penny goes, an explanation of the shepherd's year, and plans for the harvest this spring: they would appreciate and understand this farm all the better. I also can not wait to see what folks create from my sheep's wool. I am fully prepared to be jealous of your knitting abilities.

P.S. I still have two spots left to fill. Waiting to hear from the people chosen (by lottery). Please let me know your decision soon as you can.

Friday, December 3, 2010

two new csa winners!

Moose Nugget (AK) and Meredith (VA)!

Two spots opened up.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

now that's a lot of yarn...

It has been a monstrous week. Trips to the doctor, foul weather, a broken furnace, and Gibson hurt his elbow and is on painkillers. He doesn't understand how to slow down and rest. I think for border collies, recovery is just Latin for "limp faster." When he started limping today I called the vet right away. I needed to know if it was anything beyond the normal wear-and-tear of an active farm dog. As my partner, and the power that will make this farm run smoothly: I need him to be healthy and able to train. Turns out it was good I took him in, because the vet said he could easily have torn something on a weekend herding lesson or jaunt with the other dogs at work. He's in elbow limbo right now, and too much of anything fun might tear what's already strained. So my very-active puppy needs to learn to heal, and is doing so. Slowly.

So the week's been hard on all of us, but it is coming to a beautiful end. Tomorrow is Friday, of course, and for those of us running farms while holding down a day job it means the holiday starts at 5pm. This weekend is a big deal, too. With the hard cider bottled and ready to drink, the wool shipped from the mill, and my fabric here from the online shop—I have a three-day vacation to farm, sew, prepare the first round of CSA packages*, and some how take the time to realize it is here. The farm is here. There are 50 bales of stacked hay, a fenced in pasture, a sheep shelter on the hill, and five new ewes coming in a trailer this Monday. There is wood stacked by the stove, and bills on the table, and I am looking forward to whittling both down to insignificance.

I'll give a proper update on the CSA soon, the wool, the whole experience of holding your sheep's fleece on a string. But tonight I am going to tend to my pup, watch a DVD, and get some rest before the weekend hits me like a ton of wool-felted bricks.

*If I don't hear from the folks listed below, I will draw more names. I only heard from half? Please email me if you want to keep your spot in this year's program?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

lottery winners are...

Trista Hill - Ohio
Bee in the Balm
Joy - California
Victoria, IL
Dk - IN
Jane - CA
Lisa

Please email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com for details!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

6 more shares!

Well! I found out today a total of 17 pounds of yarn will be delivered to the farm this week! A total of 68, 170-yard white skeins of 3-ply yarn will be in my hands soon. Since that already covers my first few CSA members: I will be opening up the CSA to six more shares. To be fair, we'll pick via lottery. If you want to get in on the CSA leave a comment here with your name and location and we'll make a random drawing Tomorrow at 5pm. That way everyone has over 24 hours to get their one (only one please) comment in for a share. The price of a share includes your welcome packet and first skein before Christmas and then next fall (or sooner) you will receive another 4-6 additional skeins of 100% wool yarn at 170 yards. And, a pound of raw wool to process yourself (if you want it).

Comment away to enter the drawing!

Monday, November 29, 2010

hey csa members!

I got the call from the Mill today. Looks like 17 pounds of Sal, Maude, Marvin and Joseph's wool will be here soon! Everyone who subscribed will be getting a package just in time for the holidays and depending on the haul, I may open up a few more spots for new subscribers (which will be picked by a lottery if anyone is still interested). I can't wait to see what folks knit from Maude!

the town that food saved

I'm currently reading a fairly new book called The Town that Food Saved by Ben Hewitt. It is fantastic. It's about a small, rural, once-industrial town in Northern Vermont and how it totally revived itself by creating a culture and community of local food. It's the potion of the combined efforts of farmers, compost centers, restaurants, CSA, markets and Co-ops. By creating a true community based on a local system, the little town of Hardwick is creating the most necessary model for America: a local economy focused on feeding itself.

What's so great about this book is that it is a living example of what so many of us are trying to create in our own communities, and instead of just another binding preaching to the choir about the importance of local and organic foods: Ben shows us how the practical application of so many efforts are working. It's 223 pages of walking the walk so many of us are just starting to talk about. It's comforting, hell, it's inspiring to know this corner of the world might change the rest of it.

You gotta pick it up.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

a little cheer

kings and chandeliers

King Winthrop rules his kingdom with a steady wing. He doesn't care if it's 18 degrees outside (sunlight brought some warmth to the mountain!) or 80. He's the same kind, fat, giant boy. He's the oldest chicken on the farm now, from the very first batch of chicks I raised that first spring in the cabin. He's never once so much as lifted a claw to me, and I can scoop him up in my arms like a kitten. He never takes a bite of anything till he shouts to his hens, and only after every hen has eaten, does he take a bite of any scrap from the kitchen pail. He's such a fine bird. Brahma roosters are just too big to be surly.

I spent the morning chopping and stacking wood. I certainly am keeping warm. With the wood stove going the kitchen stays at 60 degrees. If I stay busy in there, baking and fussing and cleaning, the oven, my body heat, and the activity make it as comfortable as any kitchen. I do want to invest in a pellet stove for next winter. I hear they are easier to install than wood stoves, and that they are pretty much the same as washing machines when it comes to set up. You can vent them right out the side of your house. Pellets cost around 200 bucks a ton, but that's less than a hundred gallons of heating oil! I try to always keep my winter heating bill under 800 dollars. It's not always possible, but I think with two good stoves I could do it, easy.

Today I might meet a friend for coffee, and start decorating the farmhouse for the holidays. Nothing fancy, but I think a little cheer is needed. My mother would like to know the decorations she sent up are being put to good use. She always made our home in Palmerton into a Holiday Mansion of sorts, she even got on a ladder and tied bows to every section of light on the chandelier. That chandelier in the foyer is a houseware she adores. She she took as a going-away present when she left the Hess's Department Store's Advertising office in the late seventies. I love that light. It reminds me of ice storms, another love of my mother's. I really miss her this time of year.

god laughs

Remember that really comfortable, idealistic, post I wrote yesterday about the perfect winter farmhouse? Remember that?

The furnace broke down again. It's 9 degrees outside.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

yuletide and holy barns

It is an ideal weekend afternoon here at the farm. Actually, the whole day's been ideal, like something ripped out of pages of some made-for-TV movie script sponsored by Hallmark. I started the morning with Gibson at herding lessons. He did well, better than ever before and so did I. We're a long way from being Jock and Wiston Cap, but we're learning how to become a team; starting to make sense of each other. Loading up back into the truck after our hour with Denise I realized I knew enough to start working Gibson with his Blackface ewes when they came. Denise encouraged it. She said the more he works, and the older he gets, the more dependable and mature he will be around the sheep. I drove away beaming. Gibson fell asleep passenger side within minutes, his head resting on my coffee mug.

We took the back way home. Instead of the straight shoot back to New York over the Green Mountains, we turned our wheels to make a loop that would land us in Manchester Vermont. I had some places I want to visit, to harvest ideas and pick up some important little things. I stopped at the Grafton Cheese Company and the Vermont Country Store. I wasn't there to shop as much as I was there to steal ideas for homemade gifts. I saw the idea of an Italian basket with homemade mozzarella, canned sauce, and pasta in brown paper, wrapped in a bow. A day of canning and some simple cheese making and thrift store baskets could easily whip up a beautiful artisan meal. I made a mental note for future dinner parties. I left with a small wheel of their Maple Cheddar, which might be the best thing to happen to scrambled farm eggs since cast iron. I swear.

Next stop was the Vermont Country Store. It was starting to snow as I pulled into the lot. The store was packed so tight you could barely move, but I did manage to get the one item I needed to send my sister as a belated birthday present. (I'd share what it is, but since she reads all this nonsense on here I can't spill it till after she gets my parcel in the mail.) Mission accomplished: I set out to the truck with my little paper bag and had to stop when the Season started to really hit me. Between the snow, the music, the smiling people buzzing for gifts...I got my first real taste of Christmastime. The yuletide spirit was alive and well in Weston, Vermont. I sang carols to my sleeping dog the rest of the flurried ride home.

I got back to the farm and tended to the animals. I am amazed at the productivity of the new hens I bought Thanksgiving morning. I collected ten eggs today, browns to white from the new Reds and Leghorns. I fed the pig leftover rice, tofu, and broccoli from last night's stir fry and she gobbled them up with her pellets and corn. I turned on her light and fed the rabbits as well. behind me the hay was stacked up twice as high as me. As I turned my back to the hay to feed the pig, a Barred Rock burst out from a nest seven feet above the barn floor. She scared me with her post-egg cackle! I thanked her for showing me the new cache of the day's eggs. (I had been checking that spot for a while now. Glad to see it finally was enticing some nesting.)

When I moved here the barn held a few garden tools and plastic Christmas ornaments. Now it was a living, breathing barn again. Lit up at night with a warm light while a pig eats her dinner, a hen lays an egg, rabbits chomp on their pellets and winter feed stacks above where my arms can reach. I look up at the cobwebs in the heat lamp's glow. At the fresh hay Nelson cut this summer, a July pasture caught in time. Every bale of hay is a still life. A memory of a summer gone, sustaining us till spring. I still touch them with reverance for what they do, and what they are. Above me the old wood sings stories about the barn's past. The Sistine Chapel has nothing on a this place.

The sheep got a bit of hay and fresh water, the snow hitting their backs and making them seem even warmer in their thick wool. Sal always seems to know more than a sheep should know.

Outside a light snow has covered the ground with a layer of harmless white. Just enough to make the naked trees look like they belong again. The wood stove is lit, and puffing smoke above the white farmhouse, making my little corner of the world comfortable to those who drive by up the sharp hillside road. There's a pine wreath with a red bow on the door, picked it up from a guy selling them from his pickup near Peru on the ride home from. Inside the oven is the big fat rooster I harvested when my friend Taylor came to visit a few weeks ago. The house is filling up fast with the smells of his garlic-herb rub and olive-oil soaked skin browning in the oven. Coffee I made for the road trip this morning is reheating on the top of the wood stove. Why use electricity for what's already free?

Tonight I starting a new memoir called Fiddle, by Vivian Wagner. The story of a woman who hit a musical-midlife crisis and decided she needed to learn to play this instrument. (I can relate to that.) Her story goes from inspiration, to lessons, to 8,000 miles of traveling America with her instrument. Visiting that fine four-stringed music everywhere from post-Katrina New Orleans to Appalachian music camps. I'm hoping Vivian's story lifts my own playing to a new level. And that I have to put down the book to saw out some Old Joe Clark. So here's to a night of good food, good books, good music, a quiet farm and tired and happy dogs.

Stay warm tonight, darling. It's cold outside.

roll call

Cold Antler Farm currently hosts: Three sheep (five more pregnant ewes delivered December 6th!), two geese, sixteen laying hens, five roosters, two rabbits (the doe might be pregnant?), three dogs, a hive of bees, a pig, and me on six-and-a-half hillside acres in Jackson, New York.

I do not have a gym membership.

Friday, November 26, 2010

a handmade nation, divided?

A few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to host a film event here in town. It was part of a local craft celebration, a night for artisans in the hood and surrounding countryside to show off their art, do some networking, make some sales and watch a documentary. The turnout was fantastic, and the crafts on display were gorgeous.

Folks brought handmade guitars, birch fishing creels, pottery, wool sweaters, and more all scattered around a table of books on how to do everything from brewing your own beer to making your own furniture. When mingling was done, Connie, the proprietor of Battenkill Books, announced the film Handmade Nation, and we all stopped chatting and plucking to sit and watch the big show.

When the hip little indie documentary was over, I got to speak a little about homesteading and then there was an open discussion about film and the modern state of Craft in America. One woman raised her hand and brought up an amazing point that hadn't crossed my mind. In the film, it was all urban hipster types, making hand-blown glass, letterpressed posters, designer embroidery, and apartment decorations. Even the items that were more utilitarian (things like dresses or quilts) were treated more as specialty designed artsy clothes more than what you'd wear to stay warm in. Yet all around our little Cambridge train depot there was only utilitarian items. The person who pointed this out asked why the crafts in movie, or the younger crafty folk in the film, where just making the knick knacks they would usually buy? Why weren't they making things of use?

I was knocked over by this question. She was taking a somewhat self-righteous stance, but her point was valid. However, all I could think about was my sheep farm and the platypus night light.

The movie did focus on the urban craft scene. It wasn't about traditional craft as much as it was about a consuming public turning into a producing public—trying to show us that a new generation was picking up their grandmother's knitting needles and working with their hands. So I was all for the documentary, in that sense. But it was a sharp contrast to the earth-toned pottery, undyed yarns, and wooden guitars around the walls of this particular crafting junction. Where even our hobbies shaped by the environment we live in? Was there something more to our traditional crafts as opposed to their anime-shaped dolls or tiles with owls all over them?

That said, I'm not knocking this modern crafts movement by any means. One of my favorite gifts I ever received was from a fair just like the ones featured in Handmade Nation. A small night light in my bathroom glows bright yellow and melted into the tile is a happy little platypus. My college roommate bought it for me the Christmas after I moved to Idaho. Knowing I was living in a rugged homestead and a proper gift would be an oil lamp or some chicken-encrusted mug she opted for the most ridiculous, most non-farming item she could find. I adore it. I have brought it across the country and it has lit up three happy bathrooms, in three states, for years. It is as knick-knacky as it gets. It may not be able to carry hot beverages, play a song, or cross-tie a horse in a barn but it makes me smile. It was made with care, funded a local Boston artist, and I have never seen another bathroom with one like it. What's so bad about that?

This Christmas my gift-giving won't be as grandiose as I once planned. The realities of being the sole breadwinner for a mortgage and a start-up farm means dropping a couple hundred bucks on gifts just isn't practical or, well, realistic. But I will spend a few hours making, baking, sewing, and being clever. I ordered some wool-blended flannel for 70% off online and between the discounts and free shipping was able to get enough fabric and patterns to cover my entire immediate family for half of what it costs for a sale sweater at L.L. Bean. Between warm pajamas, hats, and scarves and some homemade breads and jams, I think it'll be a nice handmade holiday. If I knew how, I'd make everyone glass platypus night lights but a girl needs to keep some goals a head of her. Gotta trot towards something.

free lunch?

I worked out a deal with the catering company at the office. I bring them a five-gallon bucket with a lid on it and they'll put their food scraps and edible trash inside it for me to take home to the pig. They get rid of their trash, and I get a free bucket of goodies for the pig. I told them as a barter I would bring back some of the USDA certified pork and they could use it in a few meals here for their business. They seemed delighted at the trade as I was.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

the roosting goose and turkey day

The geese are considering expanding their family. I know this because while I was getting ready for work this morning, I witnessed some nesting attempts for the first time since we moved to Jackson. Outside the kitchen window the usual collection of hens were thick into a conversation of coos and clucks on the stacked bales of straw. The Stacked straw bales are kind of like those bird feeders you see in gift catalogs that let you suction cup the two-way mirror feeder right to your glass so you can watch the birds. Well, this is like that, but with 8-pound chickens on hay next to my microwave stand/bookcase. They come right up the glass and peck at it. It drives Gibson wild.

Anyway, I was typing away mindlessly when I heard cackles from the birds and then saw what I thought was a chicken caught in a white paper bag. What it was, was Saro the goose flapping wildly, her white underside contrasting with her gray top. I was suprised. Saro never "roosts" anywhere. This was a good four feet off the ground, but she somehow clogged her tubby self up into the rafters of the bales and was making herself a nest. I walked up to the window (about 5 inches from her face, protected by glass) and she hissed at me. Geez.

So perhaps there will be spring geese? I would like to add a few more Toulouse to the flock, but I'm in no rush. So maybe those eggs will just be for baking. Goose eggs are amazing in cookies and breads. Something about their more jelly-like whites makes grains bounce, feel more filling. Like you already used the piece of bread to clean the edges of a cast iron skillet of stew, only without that meaty-after taste. Just more, is what I mean.

It's the night before Thanksgiving here at Cold Antler, and I am not driving back to PA. I will do my very best to get myself back to Palmerton for Christmas, but with the farm, car repairs, and a killer cold-snap (14 degrees tonight!) the pipes would freeze without the wood stove roaring and the animals need constant care. It's a trade off with many perks, but also heavy guilt and losses. I hope someday the family will be willing to come up here for some Bourbon Red, garden potatoes, and smoked pheasant but one can't get her hopes up.

Tomorrow I'll be joining The Daugton Family in White Creek for my meal. I have a chicken pickup first thing (down to just five laying hens right now, and just as many roosters!) but my afternoon will just be about joining the family of Tasty the calf (from earlier this fall) for some turkey. I was told I could bring a dog and a fiddle. These are my kind of people.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I'm grateful you check in on me.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

coldantler.com coming soon!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Em C G D

Sometimes a girl just needs her guitar.

sissy farmer

barter?

I need a camera with some video capabilities for the blog. I'd like to barter with the readers out there who may have a spare or used digital camera around? I could trade you anything from fiddle lessons to wool. I'm not interested in anything fancy, (my last camera was three years old from Target and cost 100 dollars brand new). Just something with a cord so I can hook it up to my Mac. My iPhone isn't doing the best job and my old camera died. Let me know if you want to trade?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

it works great!

over our heads?

Some one recently put up a review of Made From Scratch on Amazon and pointed out something I never really considered. There are a lot of folks publishing books and blogs on urban homesteading or small-farming adventures right now. From Barbara Kingsolver's family odyssey in rural Virginia to the authors of The Urban Homestead in California. People of all ages, locations, and interests are jumping into their own food production. But what this reviewer wanted to remind folks was that not many of this new crop of homesteaders are single. Certainly few seem to have off-farm jobs. In fact, she couldn't think of another modern homesteader with a book or blog that was going it alone. I thought about this and decided that can't be true, can it? Many of my blog readers are single, many have their own farms. But it does seem like the farmers in the lime light have a spouse or family in the picture.

I guess people assume it's too much? I think it depends on how much you love it though, and how bad you suffer from Barnheart. I don't think my life would suit a lot of people, simply because of the restrictions it puts on the single person. For me, the work of the farm is nothing compared to the social fall out of being a farmer. Dating is hard. Picking up to travel is out of the question. It strains on my family, work, and I no longer belong to a church like I did in Tennessee. But again, the good things about running a farm outweigh the bad ten-to-one. I mean, I think staying late at the office is too much, and yet there are people who practically camp out there. I think twenty minutes of algebra is too much and hard as hell, but there are folks who adore math and made it their careers. Which brings me to this question, which is much more interesting than the single-vs-team aspect of homesteading. Do you think people with no interest in farming are drawn to homesteading because it has become a green trend? Do you think folks who perhaps have no desire to take on that amount of work, and maybe aren't the best suited to country living, are jumping in over their heads? And if they are, do you think a handmade life makes them better people in the end, or just frustrates the hell out of them?

pie in a jar

A friend at the office forwarded me a link to such a recipe, and I loved the idea instantly. You can bake single-serving pies in little canning jars! These would make such fantastic desserts post-thanksgiving with pumpkin pie, or work as beautifully latticed tiny pies brimming with cherries, berries, or apple slices. I haven't tried it yet but Sunday's a long way from over.

Photos and recipe here