Saturday, January 22, 2011

oil, buns, and radio shows

My mother is reading James Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency, which is about Peak Oil and how he predicts it will change the American way of life. I haven't read it yet, but have read his two novels about a post-oil world. She did as well, and after doing so was intrigued in her very curious way to see how Kunstler found his characters in such dire circumstances. It's been kind of neat talking to her about it. I never thought we'd have such light hearted talks about the supposed end of civilization, but we have. Those novels and that book seem to make having a daughter with a small farm a little more appealing, and for that I thank James very much. I asked her what she thought about the book so far and this was her response. "Oh, God, it's going to be awful. We're all going to have to live like you, but without a DVD player."

I love my mom.

Two loaves of bread are baking in the oven. This kitchen smells heavenly. Lord in heaven, do I ever love hand-kneaded bread. I love eating it, but I think I love baking it even more. The house swells with goodness and butter-drenched comfort. It's one of those homesteading experiences we can all share. From Boston to Bolivia: we can turn grains into nourishing food. It just takes some flour, a little yeast, and clean water. You can get fancy like I did today and mix in a fresh egg and some honey, but really that's just icing in the dough. A good loaf needs little but heat and good hands. Try it, you'll like it.

I'm really, really, interested in this wood stove called the Vermont Bun Baker. It's a regular wood stove, but the bottom of the stove is an oven, and the top is a range. I'm already thinking about adding another wood stove to the farm for next year since I found a farm in Cambridge willing to trade lambs for cords of wood. The amount of heat a second wood stove could crank out in this small house would be epic, and to have one that takes up so little space. And I like the idea of being able to have a hot oven and a second heat source if the power went out. (Up here in Washington County, winter power outages aren't exactly a rarity.) So I emailed the guys who own this company to see if they would possibly be willing to work something out in exchange for advertising. I have learned it never hurts to ask. All they can say is no, but thank you. And even if they don't agree, I still want to show off this cool find. Any baker with a homesteading itch can't help but swoon a little at things like this, can they?

Also, I wanted to share a radio interview I did on the online show Beyond Sustainable. Host and Homesteading Supplier, Jerri Bedell interviewed me for the hour-long episode about homesteading, getting started, and why I made the choice to embrace this lifestyle. You can listen to the show here, but keep in mind it's the third show in a three-hour long series of shows on self-reliance and various other topics. I'm not sure what the first two hours are about, but you can stream ahead to Jerri's show and listen in on some of Cold Antler Farm's history.

Cold one tonight, way below zero and possibly as low as -20 tomorrow. Not a bad time to stay inside and bake to the radio. Not a bad time at all.

joel salatin is my personal hero

on the article

In regards to The Guardian article: I did not intent to aggitate so many people. For that, I apologize. I could have easily added the sentence: If you are a vegetarian such as I was, and have no moral issues with eating meat but feel consuming it is aiding an unethical industry: have I got an alternative for you... and then went on to explain my fervent support of pasture-based meats.

I removed the post from the blog not because I was ashamed of what I wrote, or because I changed my opinion, but because the conversation was quickly changing from "Why do you eat meat" to just plain mean. One person even suggested I only wrote it as a publicity stunt. I have a pretty thick skin, but I'm not a masochist. It is saved in my post log, as are all the comments. They were all read. Some really hurt. I agree to disagree, with respect to those who were upset.

What was most unsettling about the whole fray wasn't the argument for or against vegetarianism, but the fact that so many people earnestly dedicated to animal welfare were fighting amongst themselves over which was "correct", including myself. I got defensive of my choice of farming, and my personal choices when it came to diet. It shouldn't be the grass farmers vs. vegans. It shouldn't be tofu vs. free-range eggs. It should be all of us working together to support better agricultural practices for the environment, human beings, and all other animals. If all people who act compassionately towards their eating choices—be it bacon or berries—joined forces for a better system we could move mountains, and Monsanto.

chicken 101 workshoppers?

If you are coming to the farm on in March or June, could you please post here and let me know your date? I think we might have an entire day open? So far most egg folks seem to be coming on the 6th? And I have a few openings for the meat bird workshop in June. Please let me know because I am ordering more birds tomorrow!

a useful space

There was this moment in the barn last night when my memory took a photograph. To see it properly in your own mind you need to picture the small space of my red barn (about the size of a generous one-car garage). Since the back end has been boarded off years ago for cock fighting tournaments, I am currently only using the downstairs front third of the small building. You walk into this scrappy two-story abode and you are met by a loft ladder just to the left. I'm not using the loft, but I like this ladder. It's sturdy. Stacked next to it are about twenty bales of green second-cut hay for the animals. The hay stack was once a small mountain but now it's more of a wall-hugging Jenga. Chickens (about seven refugees) perch and glare from the bale ends and I can just see them in the light from the pig pen. This hay/chicken structure, it takes up the whole left side of the available space.

About six feet from the door, dIrectly in front of me is the farm trike, protected from the elements near the ten rabbit hutches that line the main wall. Last spring these were all full, and now only two rabbits remain. One hearty meat doe that was born here in late April, and my Angora Buck, Benjamin. I had come into the barn to bring them water, and this has become an ordeal tonight since I had moments before watched the Doe's bottle crack in half in the sink from the cold. So we were down to one bottle shared until I could buy a second in the morning. (Leaving bowls out was pointless. They freeze in ten minutes and freeze the noses of the rabbits too.)

Pig has the rest of the space, and it's fairly generous. She probably takes up fifty square feet of thick hay piles, feed pans, and red water bucket. I still turn on the heat lamp for her when I am home, and she lays under it like a Diva. On her tummy with her front, dainty, hooves splayed on the hay and her back legs crossed like a 1930's cigarette model on a beach-side billboard. She sees me right next to the pen near the rabbits and starts grunting and nibbling my jeans. I reach behind me to scratch her ears and she closes her eyes. She's so big right now she doesn't even resemble the little gilt I brought back in a dog crate. She's easily 150 pounds, maybe more, and her back arches like the pigs on the old-fashioned meat cut charts. She looks like, well, like a pig. I made a pig in this barn.

So there I was, living in a photograph for a few moments. I was holding a water bottle for a thirsty rabbit in my left hand, scratching a pig's ear behind me with my right, and surrounded on all sides by leering chickens in various cathedral-heights of hay and some such. The only light was the golden glow of Pig's lamp and it cast dramatic shadows on the small space. It was beautiful. Not only in the light and animals, but in the intention. I was breathing deep and happy in a space that just a year ago was storage for large, plastic, outdoor Christmas decorations and a lawn mower—now it was feeding me. This barn, hell, the front section of this barn housed dozens of rabbits, countless eggs, a mountain of lamb and wool producing hay, a freezer-full of pork, and happy little meat birds. I never kept score of exactly how many pounds of hay, dozens of eggs, or rabbit and chicken dinners came out of the space, but it was substantial. Substantial for a chick with a desk job, at least.

A hundred square feet of wholesomeness on a winter night. A hundred square feet of recipes and stories, hay trips and tradgeties, of future stories too. It's a good barn. A useful space. And even in my hay and shit-caked Carhartts, I shine in it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

watching his charges

Thursday, January 20, 2011

it hasn't even started to to snow

I could have made the mixer. I could have made it there and back without a flake. Rats.

farm on

Saro is sitting on her eggs quite diligently, only leaving for a short few moments to drink some water or scoop up some grains with her bill. Cyrus has become High Protector, and spends just as much time guarding the nest as she does. I do believe there will be some goslings at Cold Antler. And she's not the only plausible mother in wait. My lone doe rabbit has been building a conical little nest in her hutch, possibly for kindling, but she seems way past her due date. Phantom nesting? Is there such a thing?

I am a bit worn down from the winter, emotionally and physically. It's not the work of the farm, but the juggling of the farm with the office, commuting, shorter days, and brutal cold. This January has been an onslaught of heavy storms, and it is harrowing at times. Weather is something I usually charge through, but all the cards in the deck changed, Losing the Subaru means spending a lot less time jumping into a vehicle for cavalier trips into town for ingredients or to grab a cup of coffee with friends. Storms keep me put now. It's not a bad thing by any means.

Well, sometimes it's bad. They want a storm to come in tonight and that means I can't head over the mountain to Saratoga to go to the Greenhorns Mixer. But these things are held every few months so I will make the next one. It's a small disappointment, missing the event, but chancing a shoddy truck in a storm for a two-hour round trip just isn't a good idea.

I got a call from Mrs. Frost last night, we have to reschedule Pig's harvest for another week. With temperatures falling into the low teens (as a high) working outside without gloves to cut and wrap meat would be a bad idea. So Pig gets another week of rolling in her hay pile. I think I'll bake her a cake this weekend.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

and I dreamt of that sound

Iron and Wine has a new album out in a few days: Kiss Each Other Clean. I can't wait to put that record on in the farm house. Since I first started listening to Sam Beam in 2004, I have been in love with his music. Songs like Upward Over the Mountain, Sodom South Georgia, and Faded from the Winter have shaped moments of my adult life, been engraved into memory in ways that still make me shake and smile. I have seen him live in Philadelphia. I was lucky enough to hear my favorite song, The Trapeze Swinger, for the first time live. I still can not hear that song and not well up inside. For years Iron and Wine has been on the car stereo, iPod, or in the background of every step of this journey. He is the soundtrack to this farm, and doesn't even know it.

Listen To Walking Far From Home here

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


So I came across this blog online and adore it. The entire thing is based on agricultural literature. A couple reads and reviews books about all the things we love: farming, livestock, homesteading, gardening, chickens, memoirs, etc. They recently reviewed Made From Scratch, which is how I found them. (Thanks guys!) But my review aside: this is a great resource for those of us looking for some winter reads that fuel our barnheart. Check it out, and then head to the library or bookstore to stoke the fire.

Monday, January 17, 2011

note on fridge

Stop at hardware store on the way home from work to buy roof rake. Come home from work. Smell poo. Hear Gibson crying. See diarrhea all over crate. Open Crate. Take Gibson outside. Gibson poos out pie plate bits. Sheep need to be fed. Gibson gets a bath. Gibson gets dried off. Place towel down in living room. Feed wet dog. Wash and scrub plastic crate. Bleach crate. Start fire in wood stove. Take out other two dogs. Start to assemble roof rake. Get a call from Shellee. Talk to Shellee while assembling roof rake. Still have to feed sheep. Use roof rake. Success! Talk to Shellee while raking snow off barn. Gibson barks at barn snow falling off roof. Rake breaks. Drop iPhone in deep powder. Curse, a lot. Have to feed other dogs. It is -3 degrees and a storm is coming tomorrow. Find frozen iPhone after fifteen minutes digging with flashlight. Fingers ache from cold. Phone still works! Missed three calls from Shellee certain I was covered in roof snow. Add wood to fire. Feed other two dogs. Phone starts acting funny. Go dig out trash can from snowbank to pull to front of house. It is heavy. Curse women's liberation movement. Still need to feed sheep. Still need to feed chickens, geese, rabbits, and Pig. Come inside. Drink coffee. Worry abour needing more heating oil. Check furnace. Down to 1/3 tank. Worry about paying for more oil after 600 dollars in truck repairs. Focus on soliciting ad sales. Go back outside. Feed poultry in chicken coop. Pour fresh water into their font. Go inside barn. Turn on heat lamp. Collect frozen rabbit water bottles. Feed Pig. Scratch Pig's ears. Replace her bucket with fresh water. Realize truck can't handle commute in storm. Call Tim Daughton about a ride to work tomorrow. Ask if Gibson can come too, and avoid another long day in crate. Apologize to Daughtons profusely. Haul hay out to sheep. Refill sheeps' water bucket. Haul 20 pounds of water through snow. Decide women's liberation movement is effing bullshit. Scratch Sal. Come inside. Add wood to stove. Pour stout beer into glass. Starving. Make ramen noodles. Laugh at irony of homesteader-in-training eating ramen noodles. Say grace for dark beer and hot food. Change into pajama pants and old NEBCA sweatshirt. Turn on heated Blanket on daybed. Turn on Part 2 of Gettysburg. Cuddle with clean dog. Too tired to understand movie. Watch it presently with aid of memory. Decide that this first winter on the farm is humbling. Turn thermostat down from 61 to 58. Worry about what to do with Gibson tomorrow. Gibson is already asleep on my chest. His breathing is slow and no longer dirty, scared, hungry or panicked. All the animals are fed and safe. House has heat. Fire burns. Blanket is warm. Day was long. Early morning tomorrow. Another storm will roll in with ice and fears. Start all over again. Note on fridge says "NO PIE TINS ON FLOOR PLEASE."

Smile. I wouldn't want any other life in the entire world.


I baked mini pies last night, and enjoyed one with my coffee this morning. When I was 2/3rds done I set it on the ground for Jazz to enjoy the rest. When Jazz was done, Gibson ate the pie plate....

Sunday, January 16, 2011

-11 tonight