Monday, July 11, 2011

let's play a horrible game!

Guess which one of your favorite homesteading bloggers needs a new roof?!?!

supper club giveaway!

When your grow your own food, join a CSA, or eat from local farms: you start spending a lot more time in the kitchen. When you start spending less time in supermarkets, it is bound to happen. Going from take-out to eating at home forces you into the transition from the land of processed into the land of ingredients. This is a wonderful fall out.

Cooking has become a huge part of my life now. Something I enjoy almost as much as farming the ingredients in the first place. When you pull a roasted chicken out of the oven you raised yourself, crackling over homegrown potatoes and carrots... you taste everything, you savor that meal in such a bath of gratitude it becomes a 6th taste.

And all this stuff I grow, the majority of it gets cooked in cast iron. I use my skillets to seer steaks, scramble eggs, bake bread, and melt butter. I use it for everything dang it, and when the power goes out, that skillet goes right on my wood stove. I'm a fan.

So in celebration of cast iron (and cooking at home) we're going to have a recipe swap. I'm calling it the Supper Club, because hopefully we'll all be copying each other's skillet recipes to enjoy all through the year. Share your favorite skillet recipe for summer—from meat rubs for the grill to fancy desserts—in the comments section of this post. Once your comment is in you will be entered to win a brand new limited-edition Lodge Skillet. And not just any skillet. You're getting a CAF approved Tennessee Flat Top biscuit baker. That's right, a guitar skillet! It's small, but cool. And not a bad thing to bake a potato in or heat up BBQ sauce over the stove. A second runner up will get a year's subscription to Cooks Country magazine (not a bad second fiddle).

Winners will be picked Friday at Supper time!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

take a look around

thrive and carry on

I love sitting with the spectators at a sheepdog trial. I think I have as much fun explaining the course and teaching the lingo as I do watching those teams run. It is not a complicated game, so within a few dogs even a first-timer can start commenting on a nice outrun or a decent pen. They learn what to clap for, pick up the jive. I get shivers when a new fan is born, explaining to her husband the difference between a fetch gate and drive gate, how scoring works, and what the Judge is looking for. It's a drug dealer's high, seeing people eat up the thing that makes you tick and come back next year begging for more.

With my dog by my side, my NEBCA pin on my shirt collar, and my eyes on the field I must look like a competing handler to the new folks in the crowd, but I am nothing of the sort. Gibson and I are rookies in training, just learning the basics and soaking up the conversations by proximity. But damn if it doesn't feel good to sit with your border collie at a sheepdog trial.

Experience aside, I was beginning to feel like a part of the club. I may have never entered even a practice trial yet, but I was no longer the new kid. I had taken lessons from people under that tent with me, drove to clinics, bought a ram lamb from one and was picking up ewe lambs from another. I talked with people I knew about sheep, dogs, and past trials. I knew a lot of folks' first names now, and had handlers I cheered for with gusto.

While sitting there, taking in the big show, I was trying to remember what brought me to herding? At what point did passing for an Open Handler to second-home owning tourist become a huge boost to my ego? I couldn't place it. Like mushing, dressage, and draft horses: this was working with animals. And I don't mean "working with animals" like vets and dog trainers work with animals: I mean physically laboring beside them, doing work a human can not do alone. That teamwork is timeless and perfect. It is what built and created civilization and culture. There is no place a road goes through that didn't once know wagon wheels. To do the work that connects me to my past, to animals, to other people: this was what I wanted to spend my life doing.

Wanted to, being the key phrase. I realized anyone with huskies and a sled could give that a go, and horse stables with lessons are all over the nation....but I didn't realize civilians could get into sheepdog trials. I thought you had to look like James Cromwell, wear tweed, and live somewhere along the Devon Coast. But as it turns out, you just have to be a little crazy and not mind driving. Last year at this trial a handler ran her dog wearing a maroon and gold Sunnydale High t-shirt.

It was at that moment I fell in love with the sport.

It's certainly not the competition that intrigues me. I could care less about winning, but entering, now that gets me going. It's the inclusion in that community, that feeling of being on the team bus again. Sheepdog Trials are a sport, however eccentric. It has its own subculture and quirks, but I adore the history, the individuals, and the variety of people it brings in. The parking lot has Mercedes and Mechanics in it. Hard Scrabble farmers, affluent hobbyists, and dreamers like me make up the scene. All of us dedicated to our dogs, agriculture, and dreaming of some day walking off that field with a smile so big on our faces no level of self control could hide. Today I watched a man score a 92 (out of 100) with his dog and leave the field calmly. I would have been doing a touchdown dance with Gibson circling around me barking. Then picked him up, hollered, and spiked my crook. Not because I wanted to boast, but because I can not fathom that sort of thing ever happening. If it did, the sky might open up and a war dance might be the only thing that could tame it.

I was asked to scribe today, and was thrilled to do so. For those of you unfamiliar with the parlance of the sheepdoggin' world: scribing is a fancy term for score keeping. It puts you in a folding chair right next to the judge. For me, this is like taking the wide-eyed kid with the giant foam finger out of the cheap seats and planting her in the announcer's skybox. While each dog runs the course, you run the stopwatch, mark down the points removed, and listen to the judge's comments. Sometimes they'll make kind conversation, and encourage you along your own path in the game. The judge this weekend was a woman from North Carolina and friendly as hell, explaining new terms to me like "ran across his work." She judged the trial with her clogs off, eating an apple in unshod glory under a big straw hat. Thems my people I said in my head, channeling the last Michael Perry book I read (which was also propping up my plastic chair on the unlevel ground). I had a fine time under that tent.

After scribing, lunch was a godsend. Pulled pork and cole slaw, fire-roasted corn brushed with a buttery herb coating, and vanilla ice cream with raspberries and maple syrup. If maple syrup does not sound like an ice cream topping to you then you are in for a pleasant surprise, son. The three flavors were perfect: creamy, sugary, and tart.

The whole day was familiar and happy. This sheepdog trial is mine. It is the first ever shepherding event I ever attended, and this weekend made it my fourth year. It's become a Holiday to this farmer, and it has always fallen on my birthday. I look forward to the Haflingers and big draft horses. I like catching up with Jim McRae who always does the shearing demo (and is also the CAF shearer).

Things have changed since it started, but all for the better. The crowd keeps growing and the food is now beyond the ol' burgers and dogs. They opened the Sap House to be a farmy craft mall. Come to a sheepdog trial and leave with artisan cheese, yarn, hooked rugs, sweaters and knick knacks. There was a silent auction, syrup tasting, and kids in a big field playing game outside. Not a bad way for a family to spend a Saturday.

During all this hootenanny I saw a pair of little girls run up the the sheep shearing demonstration—each with a stuffed sheep under their arms. Those toys might as well have been Mickey Mouse dolls as they scrambled to Space Mountain. It made me grin, seeing a bunch of kids psyched about a sheepdog trial like that. And let's be honest...Space Mountain only lasts a few minutes. This sheepdoggin' thing scoops up whole lives.

May those plush-sheep-toting rug rats thrive. Thrive and carry on.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

merck and masala

My friends Jim and Wendy just left. In celebration of my birthday they brought me a huge Indian buffet, beer, and a sheet cake with the cover of Barnheart on it. We ate, talked books, houses, horses and music and after our stomachs were full Jimmy taught me Ash Grove on the fiddle and Wendy soaked up the music. It was fantastic. The perfect way to end my last day of my 28th year.

I'll post a proper account of my day at Merck Forest's Sheepdog Trials soon, but tonight I will just be posting this video of the country this sporting event resides in. High up in Rupert, Vermont is the site of this contest. And before the horses were out or the place was packed with families and spectators, there was just that vista. The camera does not do it justice. You stand there and only see mountains and forget things like plastic and Velcro exist.

in the fields!

Big goings-on around here this weekend! I'm about to head out the door to the Merck Forest Sheepdog trials. But there's other stuff happening as well. Jon has his book reading at Gardenworks today in Hebron, over at Common Sense Farm they are doing a farm tour/herb walk in their fields. And In Manchester the Vermont Horse Show is cranking up. Quite a day to be outside and about. For being in the middle of nowhere: some times it feels like it's the center of everything!

Tonight my friends James and Wendy are bringing me dinner: Indian Food from Saratoga. What an amazing treat! Nan, chicken masala and lamb samosas after a herding trial. Do the wonders never cease?!

Hope to see some of you out in the fields!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Want to Make More than a Banker?
Become a Farmer!

If you want to become rich, Jim Rogers, investment whiz, best-selling author and one of Wall Street's towering personalities, has this advice: Become a farmer. Food prices have been high recently. Some have questioned how long that can continue. Not Rogers. He predicts that farming incomes will rise dramatically in the next few decades, faster than those in most other industries — even Wall Street. The essence of his argument is this: We don't need more bankers. What we need are more farmers. The invisible hand will do its magic. "The world has got a serious food problem," says Rogers. "The only real way to solve it is to draw more people back to agriculture....."

Read the rest of this article from TIME

American Meat

watching the flock

Thursday, July 7, 2011

...or is my driveway just happy to see me?

Yesterday was a day of preparation. 150 gallons of oil were dumped into the tank, and two cords of split and read-to-stack firewood was dumped at the end of my driveway. I don't care what anyone else tells you: two cords of wood is a mighty pile. The chickens climbed up to the top of Mount Sawdust and looked proud. Gibson slinked around it looking for the garter snakes who slithered right under it soon as it was dumped. I am beginning to really appreciate the snakes around here. There are so many it is shocking. There's the little garter snakes that hang around the garden and sun themselves on the rocks. There's the big milk snake, Trevor, who keeps the barn fairly rodent free. And there's a black snake I saw the tail-end of in the barn as well, scaring every rat within 200 yards of my chicken feed bins. I like my snake crew. They make me feel like I have my own rodent security force.

Shortly after the folks from McRae's Tree Service headed out and the snakes were happy in their new lair, CAF reader Gordy and his kind wife backed into the driveway with a load of Locust rounds. Holy Crow, it was a whole other cord, waiting to be split! We chatted for a while, and I thanked him with some preserves and a book and was happy to meet him. Seeing a stranger unload a cord of seasoned hardwood because he found you on the internet is quite the sight. Such a primal gift, from a couple who discovered me in such a modern way: online. I like it.

So as of last night I have a good chunk of winter under my belt. Heat is no small thing around here, something to covet. I still have to find a way to get that woodstove in the living room up and running, but I will figure something out. By fall there will be two warm fires in this little white farmhouse, and smoke will puff out of chimneys as the Days of Grace come back. Before you know it, it will be here. And I can look towards that date with a slightly less-anxious smile.

Here's to seasoned wood, kind strangers, and future chimneys.

auction

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

the new guys

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

a methed-out bison

My riding lesson tonight was clunky, off kilter, and hot. I was sweating and unfocused, and so my mount wasn't in the best of hands. My uneven reins and poor leg yields made for a wobbly-trot and crisscrossing of the arena that made me look like I never sat in an English saddle before. Hollie was positive, patient, and when I did something right she let me know it "Now THAT'S how you make a corner!" but despite her outlook, I felt like a sack of potatoes on a mule tonight. It is time to get serious about my body and mind. Time to get them holding hands again.

Truth is, my body is perfect. It's not, you know, magazine perfect but everything works and nothing is too shabby, diseased, or falling apart yet. I am not down on this mortal coil, but it could use some polishing up. I want to feel amazing in the dressage saddle, and comfortable sprinting up hill to pull Ashe's head out of the fence hole when she cries. I want to be comfortable with myself, and that means putting as much love and attention into my body and mind as I do to this farm.

I came home and leashed up Gibson and we went for a mile run. I wanted to feel my heart again, know it was in there. My three-mile adventure yesterday made it easy to run the first 1.5 miles (the first mile is all downhill) but on this short jog we headed down the mountain, and then turned around and finished going up. My goal was to just keep going. Don't walk, don't stop, don't you dare stop. I slowed down to an 82-year-old's waltz, but I never stopped lifting my feet. By the end of the mile I was pep-talking myself to the finish line.

"Come on, girl. You just cantered (accidentally!) a 15-hand thoroughbred without falling off. You shoved dewormer down a ewe's throat. You earned a paycheck in corporate America. You can make it another 30 yards....right?"

I finished the mile like a methed-out bison and sat right down on the side of the road near my bass pond, sucking air and sweating worse than that trotting gelding. Gibson (who was not even panting) decided I just started my ground game and pounced on me with licks and the kind of wag that moves his hips. I told him he was a failure as a stoic hill dog. He could not have cared less.

Wood is being delivered tomorrow, possibly three cords, and that's a fine start for winter. Saturday and Sunday are a big holiday around here: The Merck Forest Sheepdog Trials and I can not wait. If you're new to this blog, go back to that July 2008 post and read about my first year there, and how it sent me onto this collie course. This will be my fourth year going, keeping score, and chatting it up with the NEBCA scene. Come see Gibson and I, say hello. It's a fun day for the whole family with draft-horse shuttle carts, shearing demos, food, merchandise, crafts and hikes for the kids.

Plus, Sunday is my birthday. Talk about the perfect way to spend it.

author crush


I have a huge crush on Michael Perry now. Damn.
What a writer, what a life.

Monday, July 4, 2011

1, 2, 3, 4

One warm loaf of bread, pulled from the oven on this Monday morning. Independence Day, indeed. How proper to have it on the first day of the work week, and to be free of the office on this blissfully humid day. While it was rising I grabbed a fistful and turned it into pizza dough for my first meal of the day, lunch.

Two hands on the black leather of Jasper's reins. Running from his bit, to the shining loops on his surcingle, and then back to my hands. We have much to learn together, but he still lets me harness him, lead him, and walk behind him.

Three miles jogged along country roads, soaking my water-wight logged body in new sweat. To be honest, it was more like 1.5 miles jogged/1.5 miles heaving at a fast walk, But I will get there again. The body learns to heal itself. I am too stubborn to stop running when I know I can get where I am going long as I do not stop.

Fourth day of July. A day to celebrate history and the kind of country that allows a middle-class woman to buy and run a small farm with the aid of luck, hope, and a few good dogs.

I ate fried chicken and strawberry-soaked shortbread tonight. The chicken was the one we had butchered for the workshop in early June, and I learned tonight I am a better roaster than fryer, but it was my first time. I ate the delicious drumsticks on the porch (even if they were a little over-cooked) and watched the new chicks run around the lawn with their leghorn mama. Small batches of new life are showing up everywhere, this small farm is thriving in many ways. I spent the entire day at home, not even leaving once to run down to Stewart's for some ketchup. No sir, this independence day was spent on a small mountain homestead, all of it. I ate food I grew and baked myself. I worked up a fine sweat. I took a long nap out in the yard to let the sun touch me, and did it where no one could see me, and felt scandalous while audiobook stories were whispered into my headphones.

During evening rounds, I heard sighs of thunder. Some storm far away and not really near this mountain, and I liked it. I came inside for a cold shower and mint soap and came out 20 degrees cooler. I poured myself a glass of wine, hugged my black dog, and rested into the arms of the daybed for a movie. Something epic and long, something to make my humble day seem peaceful and sacred in a world turned around by wars and heartache.

The fireflies came out, and they were many. In the recent past those thunder exhales stayed with me as I watched them bumble clumsy. This was my type of fireworks: thunder and lightening bugs. The correct mix of light and sound for a day we all can sit back and be grateful. In 1860, the people in this house were probably full of worry. Same for 1916, and 1944, and 1969. But we can relax here tonight, no children are off to war in this house tonight. No children even exist. A thing that makes my mother sad, but I can only handle so much livestock at once. Plus, I am hoping that's a two-person job when such things come to this red door.

Tonight, just thunder and fireflies, a black dog, and a glass of red wine.

I hope you spent the day with the ones you love, and find yourself tired and happy by the time you hit the sheets. I mean that with all I've got. And for those of you who have served, or have children in far away places tonight: you have my thoughts and prayers, which isn't much from a homesteading Buddhist, but she's all I've got.

happy independence day!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

drunk and lovely

The fireflies are getting heavier. I can tell by how they dance. In mid June they filled the sky and flashed like someone had strung faulty Christmas lights all over my Mountain, but now they seem to all be carrying quarters, moving slower, flashing dimmer. Drunk and lovely, they carry on.

hospital

I checked my watch. I was certain it was past 6, it had to be. I had been working out the sticky-wet all day between storms. At 9AM I loaded up the Dodge at Tractor Supply with new t-posts, wire fencing, grain, and chicken feed. I had bought electrolyte boosters, syringes, and a new bottle of Safeguard. The plan was to spend the day creating a small sheep pen, laying it down with fresh bedding, green hay, grain, and vitamin water and then somehow catching Lisette and her lamb and sticking them inside. Once inside they would get an oral helping of dewormer (If I could catch them and hold their mouths open long enough to take it) and spend a few weeks in their own spa. It was a last-ditch effort at recovery and well-being, and when they were both healthy and good—sell them off or give them away as pets to folks who wanted heritage-breed lawn mowers and had no interest in keeping them for anything else. These were not to be returned to the gene pool.

It was 2PM.

I was shocked. The timelessness of the gray sky made all day feel like 4PM on a Tuesday. I had just finished setting up the girls in their private Hospital, both let me give them fresh dewormer without fuss and catching them was luck and ease. If these two were to be on the mend, this was step one. Isolation, medication, and plenty of clean water and good feed.

To get to the point of nursing required hours of removing good field fencing from around a dump pile, replacing it with a lesser-quality (but equally deterring) garden fence, and then pounding posts and staples, hauling water and hay, and wrangling sickly sheep. I already felt like it was time to quit and it wasn't even 2:30.... I must sound exasperated, but this is a great thing. To realize that I had more daylight, more time, a whole afternoon to clean up, read, grill, and know the entire farm was running on the right train schedule. If this was a regular workday I would be contemplating afternoon iced coffee and chatting in our bistro. I stood in my lawn, heaving, but smiling. No one ever told this new agrarian that you get more minutes out of your hour on a farm!?

So the big work of the day is done, and so I am retiring to an afternoon of reading, relaxing, and grilling some leftover veggies from yesterday's kabob fest. A good meal and a cold drink, a few chapters of a good book, and I am born again.

P.S. Did anyone get their swap books yet?

medicine to me

Yesterday afternoon I fell asleep in the pasture by accident. I was up there reading, soaking in the view of the mountains between pages. At some point the book was set down so I could shut my eyes for a minute. I lay there, exhausted, taking in sounds of the stream and songs of birds. All the sheep were in the shade of their sheds, far away from where I was resting. Jasper was down by the gate, drinking water farther away than that. I stretched out on the blanket, turned over, and within moments was fast asleep.

I was awoken by the strangest sensation. The grazing of a hoof across my ankle, barely using any pressure at all. It did the trick all right, startled me into consciousness and there standing above me was Jasper. (He looks bigger when you're laying on the ground below him.) The 500 pound pony could have crushed my leg with a hoof and he simply touched me. I sat up, but didn't get up, and he pressed his head against my shoulder. I feel comfortable and safe around this small horse. I know him like I know my dogs, Sal, Maude, and coworkers. He is different than the horses I ride at my lessons, and for this reason. I am with him everyday, we are always together in the pasture. He lets me harness him, lead him, and he will show me how to get around this world with the original horsepower. I regret nothing. He is joy, and when he runs across that acreage, hoofs pounding and head high I feel like I am part of something wild, magical and timeless, a girl who hatched a dragon egg.

I had fallen asleep out there because the day was hot and busy. Meredith, a day intern, came and we threw ourselves into work. We cleaned out the chicken coop, poured a concrete slab, changed out rabbit bedding, ran errands and had an amazing meal of grass-fed beef kabobs with glorious fresh peppers, squash, and sweet onions onions from the farm stand down the road. We worked hard, and ate well, and by the time she left around 4PM I was spent. With the farm recently wound to the correct time: I was looking forward to a book on the hill.

I realized up there that the entire time we were working together I had not one passing thought about anything negative. The work becomes a meditation, and the chores dissolve into the next one. Conversation was light, positive, and happy. Through laughter, sweat, and joint work I felt the same cleansing emotional jog I got building fences with Brett and Diane, pounding posts with James, Chris, and Steve. It is medicine to me, a combination of a light hoof and hard work.

Many have emailed or commented thinking I was talking about my job in that earlier post. I was not. Things are fine there, far as I know.

Plans for the weekend changed. The guy who I hired to deliver me my first full cord of wood didn't show up. Or perhaps he did, and I was on an errand and left. Either way, wood wasn't stacked. And the Pony Cart Pickup of 2011 was moved a few weeks down the road because of a child's birthday party at the location, a blessing actually. Now I have two full days without much plans, save for rehabilitating some weaker charges.

Today I might build a small fenced area for Lisette and her ewe lamb—both are sickly and need special care. Lisette was recovering from her rough Ketosis lambing season, but now has returned to a fame of nothing but bones and skin. Yesterday she was so hot and weak I could walk right up to her and touch her face, feel her weak body, and I had a serious internal discussion about putting her down. Then, at dusk, she was on her feet grazing again. What I do know is she is not a breeding animal any longer, and her lamb, Pidge, is runtish and always ill. On a working farm, even a small one, it is foolish and dangerous to keep animals in your bloodlines. Pidge is always either coughing, gasping, diarrhea-spewing, or slow. She has been caught and medicated, treated, and evaluated endless times with no results. So I am separating them from the flock and getting them both on a course for health. I will have the vet evaluate them and do my best to bring them back to good. But neither will be staying here after they recover. Pidge will mostly likely be slaughtered in the fall and Lisette, if and when she recovers, might do better with a pet flock without the rigors of being part of a breeding flock. If anyone out there wants a sweet Scottish Blackface ewe, let me know and wish us luck.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

home

Friday, July 1, 2011

trotting south

The solstice is now trotting south behind us, and each day it gets darker a little sooner. We're in a mild spell here, days in the low 70s, and at night I wear my dad's old cotton sweater in the farmhouse. I am being reminded daily by light at texture that October isn't just a noun anymore: he's on his way.

Last winter was bad. Poor preparation, bad decisions, a snowfall that made Idaho look like the Swedish scene on the It's A Small World ride. It's July 1st and I have already ordered 2 cords of wood (first coming Saturday), and set aside funds for the chimney installation for the new wood stove. I now have a 4WD truck. I will be going into the winter with a small emergency fund, a barn full of hay, a new stall for the pony, and a rebuilt sheep shed for the new flock. A lot has to be done, but it will all get done. After all, this time last week my entire hoofstock had a half acre and hay. Now they have a wilderness.

On a totally separate note:

While this blog is a very personal story, it certainly isn't the whole story. I keep a lot of my life off the blog, and sometimes it gets bigger than even this farm. I'm in a bit of a rough patch right now. A lot of changes are happening at once, all of them making me seriously consider what the next steps should be. I can feel myself getting quieter, gears grinding, mind reeling. The emotional stress on top of feeling more tired than usual has me learning to slow down. I am trying to make a new rule for myself about one day a week of rest, no farming beyond basic chores and no travel. I am so grateful for this work when I feel down like this. In a world where uncertainty seems to be the rule, knowing you have to feed a ram lamb at dawn is a nice way to fill up your dance card. Keeps me level. Keeps me busy. Keeps me smiling.

Anyway, all this will pass. Winter will come and i will be ready. I'm going to bake a pie in my living room while snow falls outside, you just wait and see.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

360 chickencam

three-day weekend coming right up

This weekend has a lot in store for me, all of it good. Three days away from the office, a luxury that is planting a seed in my little brain. There's a lot to get done, and the bulk of it will be accomplished with willing help. Saturday a woman is coming from out of state to spend an entire day on the farm with me, working, training jasper, taking care of the stock, running to pick up hay, the works. She's never spent a day working on any sort of farm, and this one will certainly offer a wide-range of activities. Day internships are a new thing here, but should be a hoot.

Sunday is a road trip east into New Hampshire for a pony-cart pickup. Gibson and I will travel across Vermont, through new country for us both, and then back home to store the buggy in the barn until I can coax my neighbor (technical/vehicle genius) to show me what needs fixing. I can handle wood, nails, and paint. But other things might require a pro... By the fall workshop it should be ready to see in action!

Monday is a Holiday. It will be treated as such. No plans but grilling and rest. I look forward to a day on the farm with the truck parked, feet unshod, and fiddle at the ready. Everyone, have a great and safe holiday.

P.S. has everyone contacted and shipped their books for the swap? remember that it is your responsibility to contact the comment below you to gather their email address, don't wait for someone to contact you first! And if you can not take part, please let the person know.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

talk about a project....

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

greener pastures

i'm going to be a keynote speaker!

tired pride

Every single one of us snaps at some point. Stress, heartbreak, fear, rawhide—a trigger sets us off like buckshot. For Jazz and Annie it was a coveted piece of wet, masticated, slop they both desired to digest and the fur flied. Within minutes of bolting in the door from their morning walk, both dogs had their jaws clamped firmly on the other's left wrist, a wolfy version of No, it's MINE. Gibson, thinking this was the most exciting thing to happen since sheep, ran around them in circles, barking. The place was insane. I got Gibson out of the way (certain he'd be collateral damage in this war over natural resources) and then separated the snapping dogs. Not even into my first cup of coffee and the world is full of yelps, blood, and limping combatants. I threw the rawhide out, turned up the air conditioner, and told everyone to stop being assholes. Jazz and Annie slinked back to their respective places and Gibson held himself up like a sphinx, moon-faced in his crate.

I had no time to deal with Dog Wars. In a few hours my good friends Brett and Diane would be here from their respective homesteads to help me install 300 feet of fencing. It was past time for this work. The pasture needed expanding as soon as possible, since the half acre I did myself was eaten down to putting-green status and would be nothing but clay without some space and seed. So I bought all the t-posts and fence I could afford and Brett offered to bring his strong back and a come along. Diane offered the same, for her it was going to be as much a lesson in Fence 101 as it would be an opportunity to help a friend. I was armed, ready, excited for the day off work and in the field.

Brett showed up first, and within 45 minutes we had slammed in all the t-posts, and were (well, I) was huffing like mad. 83 degrees, full sun, heavy things to carry...I was feeling more out of shape than I felt all year. When we finished with the first phases, Brett said he wanted to pace out the perimeter to see how far we could go with the remaining supplies. As he hiked off into the waist-high raspberries and phlox, I tried not to throw up. 20-pounded posts and a half-mile uphill hike into the mountain forest wasn't exactly Jillian Michael's 20-Minute Shred. Jillian would've be ready to throw up too.

Brett came back with equally jarring and exciting news. "If you had another roll of wire, and another 20-or-so posts we could fence in this entire thing, the whole thing" he said, gesturing to every scrap of pasture I had left on my property. I looked up the hill at the acre and a half of open land, wild and un-grazed.

You're kidding me.

"Are you sure about that?" I asked, not really comprehending the work or land. We didn't have a tractor, or an ATV to haul things. Hell, I don't even own a garden cart yet. I thought we'd do a few hours of work, grill, clink beers and head back to our own farms. The sheep would have a little more grass, Jasper a little more room. But he was sure. he said in a month I'd be right back to where I started, and doing this all over. Why not just get it all done now?

He convinced me. With varying level of excitement we headed back in the Dodge to Tractor Supply for double the gear, my savings taking quite a hit. His motto was Buy Once Cry once—suck it up and get it all done while you had the people and plan to do half of it anyway. A little more money, a little more work, and the entire CAF pasture would be fenced. Two and a half acres for a dozen sheep and a pony to roam. Hot dang.

From 11AM till 6:30PM we ran over 650-feet of fence around an acre and a half of new pasture. I sweated in places I didn't realize could sweat, like between my fingers and the sides of my nose. Walking around was a test of endurance, since it is a brushy opening carved into a mountain side. Everyone worked hard, without complaint, and tempers remained calm and pleasant. I was amazed at their charity, and their kindness. If any of them ever need a fence, I will be there in a homesteader flash (meaning so as I find someone to watch the animals). The day was long. Between the work, heat, and landscape all of us were ravaged, Brett especially, who by default of size and woodland education was the one doing the hardest work of us all. My hero.

When we were done, we didn't release the flock and Jasper just yet. We discovered dumps of old nails, hardware, and long-forgotten projects and trash amongst the new grazing space. These had to be fenced off from the sheep and pony, less they die of punctures and tetanus. So that project was put on hold for my own time, and the three of us headed down the mountain back to the farm house. Dinner was well earned. I was so hungry I shook.

We ate grass-fed burgers, milkshakes, and I clinked those wonderful dark ales. Brett stretched out under the sun. I strummed a few clumsy banjo tunes and Diane enjoyed her shake. I couldn't pay them, but I did give her one of my roosters for her own flock, an Ameraucana named Upset. Brett would go home with a large Bourbon Red poult. I now live a life where farm birds are well-received gifts of thanks.

Diane and Upset drove off, and Brett and I headed up to give the herd a shot at their new world. After some fencing work around the danger zones, we opened the gate and Jasper trotted up, almost shocked at his luck.

He galloped as fast as he could, throwing his head. I had never seen a pony so damn happy. Brett and I watched him, both with joy and worry. We had all found a few trip-ups out there, and I had done my best to note and cover holes, but it wasn't perfect. But Jasper was fine, more than fine. He ran with such perfect pace he looked like a wild mustang in the Rockies. "This looks like some wild horse running around Montana?!" Smiled Brett, both of us looking at the wide space, and how much more now belonged to the farm. The sheep all around us ate mouthfuls with bliss, and would continue to do so for another hour before they returned to their pen to save them from bloat or lameness from gopher holes. I lead them all back to their night keep, swelling with tired pride. This place, was becoming more and more to be. More than a farm, more than Montana.

It was becoming home.

wait so long

a long day

Yesterday started with a dogfight and ended in Montana.

I will go to work with a body so sore, people will ask me who died.

It was wonderful.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

book swap!

Hey folks, I have an idea. I want to do a community book swap. The theme is how-to-farm. All the books shared in this swap should be useful information on how to grow food: be it animal or vegetable. It'll go like this. The first person to comment (with their email address) will be emailed by me tonight and I'll get their address. This week, I will mail a book from my library and it is theirs to keep. I'll include a letter about me and my farm, telling them about my own dreams and goals. They will in turn contact the second person to comment in this post and do the same for them. And so on.

Everyone who comments on this post with an email address, saying they are in on the gift-giving will receive a book and a letter from the commenter above them. It is your responsibility to email the person after you to collect their mailing information, and perhaps ask what they need information on? But all of us will take part in sharing information and our dreams. It's an exercise in hope, faith, and goodwill. The last person to comment, I hope, will send me a book. This way the circle is complete and all of us can look forward to a happy package in the coming days, a letter from a fellow sufferer of Barnheart, a friend. It's what the mail is supposed to be used for.

break a seal, hold a blossom

I spent most of yesterday in the kitchen. It was a warm, sticky day. Outside was overcast and calling for storms but inside the house was thumping with good smells and work. I was canning strawberry jam and dill pickles with Cathy Daughton and her three boys, who had driven up from their stead in White Creek to help out with the effort and stay for dinner.

I had made plenty of jam in my day—and have a killer fridge pickle system that produces crisp, sweet pickles overnight—but this was my first time making dill pickles and canning them in the water bath canner. I'd like to thank the people at Ball, who made a pre-mixed dill pickle packet which I picked up at the IGA for two dollars. I poured it into a saucepan with 6 cups of water and 2 1/2 cups of white vinegar and brought it to a boil. Then we simply poured it over the just-cut cucumber spears, sealed the tops with the metal rings, and let them boil for fifteen minutes. That was it. Mix, boil, cover, seal, and can. It made jam making sean like advanced chemistry.

While we chatted and the canner bubbled in the hot kitchen (nearly 80 degrees compared to the rest of the farm house's 68) I slid some bread in the oven to go with the meal I had started preparing at 7AM. After morning farm chores I had set a pork loin in the slow cooker with apple juice, bbq sauce, and honey and let it go all day. For ten hours it simmered and the meat went from red to white and then red again from the sauces and juices bathing with its own fats. It is almost July and I am still enjoying that winter pig who lived a happy life in a warm barn while the worst winter in years slammed the north country. We butchered her here at the farm on a mild January day under the big maple tree. The white snow was stained with blood and gore, but now it is a green, lush place where I sit with Gibson and read. You might think you slipped into another dimension, seeing those two scenes side-by-side. On this small farm it was nothing more than a sharp, cold gasp followed by a sigh. Life and death are what keep a farm's heart going.

So Pig cooked while my homemade bread rose in the oven. The kitchen smelled like heaven. Butter-topped loaves, simmering pots of sweet strawberries and tart dills, and a porker bubbling under a glass lid. When the work of putting jars up for winter was done, we cleaned up the kitchen and then handed out plates. Now it was time to dig in. Cathy had brought lettuce from her garden and made a salad of her Buttercrunch that was good enough to be a meal alone. We sided our plates with the so-tender pork it fell apart under our forks. We buttered bread out of the oven, slapped some jam on it for good measure, and drank down cold well water or iced tea. It was an amazing combination. Slow cooking a tender piece of pork at low heat had made it taste so amazing right then and there I decided for certain I would be getting another Yorkshire come fall. I went back for seconds.

It was worth skipping lunch, and without realizing it the meal spanned three seasons of work on a small holding of land. It included all the people who were part of the life and death of one Pig I scratched on the head every day. It included Cathy's garden, which she raised from seeds on her own land. It included hand-picked strawberries and cucumbers from the farm stand just down the road. There was King Arthur bread, Cabot butter, and honey in that pork from local bees. I am savoring and adoring this local food month. It has stopped me from ordering Chinese or Pizza in town, even at my most-weak moments. It has included more meals with friends, more time refining skills, and trips to farms and dairies all over my adopted county.

We talked and laughed, then when all were breathing a little deeper and hunger gone, the boys helped clean up and then we all went out for evening farm chores to the sound of distance thunder. We fed the sheep and Jasper, took care of all the souls in the rabbitry (now 7 adult rabbits and 7 kits), fed and watered the chickens, and came inside just as sky started seriously considering a storm. We ate warm strawberry pie (collateral damage from having extra defrosted berries and some pie crust from last weekend's quiche in the freezer). As wind picked up and the hour hit 6 (late for a family with a flock of chickens— garden, a hive and a beef steer to tend too—we said goodbye and I thanked them for their help and company. The Daughton's left with ruby and green jars and some young sunflowers I planted from seed.

Put up food and the start for a big yellow flower... talk about optimistic gifts. Those of us who grow food expect to be around a little longer. Every canning afternoon or seed in the ground is a prayer for time, silent in voice but screaming in action, a happy, little desperate plea to stick around this place long enough to break a seal and hold a blossom.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Amen

Some nights it is one dinner that makes an entire year's worth of work totally worth it. Tonight was one of those nights.

five more are coming!

Swedish Flower Hens are becoming a favorite around here. Gentle, kind, quiet, and striking in their appearance, these medium size laying hens from the land of tiny wooden horses are just darling. Five more are coming to live at Cold Antler, a barter with Greenfire Farms down in Florida. So these imports are joining us in the North Country, and I can't wait to get the call from the post office. They always come during the work week to the Arlington Post Office near work. My boss is so used to me heading out at lunch for livestock pickups it no longer even raises an eyebrow. Not a bad trait for a homesteader's manager to have. Not bad at all.

Here's more on Swede's from the Greenfire Farms website:

At 2:35 in the afternoon of June 17, 2010, a jumbo jet from Stockholm landed at JFK airport in New York carrying in its vast metal belly a most unusual cargo: 15 Swedish flower hens. This breed, for more than half a millenium isolated in small villages in Sweden, had made the leap across the Atlantic for the first time as part of Greenfire Farms’ ongoing program of introducing rare chickens to America. Until now, very few people in the world (including most Swedes) have ever had the opportunity to see living examples of this breed, let alone the ability to own and raise them.

Swedish flower hens emerged as a landrace several hundred years ago, the product of a now forgotten mix of primitive breeds that were brought to Sweden by settlers and conquerors. As a landrace, this breed was not intentionally created by a breeder carefully selecting birds as part of a structured breeding program. Rather, this breed was created through natural selection and random pairings as the breed adapted to the climate and conditions of the Sydskånska Plain in southern Sweden...Read the rest at GFF

i loved these books!

There are a lot of different directions you can take homesteading, but all of them require some sort of livestock. To me, it is the animals that turn backyards into farms and suburban back lots into homesteads. Without the heartbeats you have a garden, and that is a beautiful thing in itself, but a homestead is a little scrappier, a little louder, and it comes with feathers, hooves, paws, and fur.

The Backyard Homestead's Guide to Raising Farm Animals is becoming a favorite around here. I got it because I wanted to see how it would be different than the original Backyard Homestead (the book it's a spin-off of) and was so happy with it. I think it's a fine introduction for anyone jumping into this life and already has a crate of chickens in the back of their sedan. But who I really suggest it for, is you dreamers out there—folks who have never held their own chicks or put on a bee veil. This explains in friendly detail exactly what goes into starting with poultry, cows, goats, rabbits, sheep and pigs so you have a really good idea what you're getting into. Illustrated, charted, and with plenty of easy-to-read sidebars it's what the beginner needs to digest information in understandable doses. Also, you can read it as several smaller books by animal. Not into pigs? Fine, skip to the sheep chapter. Allergic to bees? No problem, you don't need to read it to get what it takes to raise fiber rabbits. Grab it.

Another book I want to mention, for those of you who have near-Amish dreams of off grid living is Back to Basics. This book has been around forever, originally a Reader's Digest Compendium, but now it's back and better than ever. When I was ten-years-old my grandmother had a copy of this in her house and I used to page through it totally enthralled at people making maple syrup and working with horses, but after a while I would put it down and join her for tea and The Golden Girls. Flash forward a few decades later and my editor finds the same book at a book sale, and sends it as a gift. My heart melted. I made black tea the way my grandmother made it for me (two scoops lemon, two scoops sugar) and sat down to page through it again. My heart then beat like crazy. This book I read as a child, like a picture book, was now showing me things I was doing everyday of my life...

Back to Basics is out again, a newer version but the same rectangle and illustrations it always had before. This is a big ol' bible of serious homestead living. I mean, it teaches you how to make roads with a draft horse and an old metal barrel. Roads!?! I mean, what back-to-the-land book covers road construction via horsepower? It explains searching for and buying land, building a dulcimer from scratch, and how to chop up a lamb shank (and a lot more). It's another seriously great book for those of you dealing with a very primal diagnose of Barnheart. It's not anywhere near as detailed on animals as the title above, but if you're just looking through it as a catalog of inspiration, you gotta have one. Check it out from your library, or better yet, just check your grandmother's bookcase.

Friday, June 24, 2011

ashes to fences

Last night was one of those nights that work rolls off you and just happens. You start one task, then another, and then in the middle of task A you see a bucket and start filling it with water so you can add task C (bring Jasper fresh water) to the original two. Before you know it, you've gone through several alphabets and it's dark.

I came inside muddy and sweaty, but ready for a beer and some time to unwind. I was tired, just a couple hours of sleep the night before and a full day of office, ending with a fever of effort. Time for bed.

I was in that blissful state of "almost", not awake or asleep, when I heard my least favorite sound of June...

AAAGGGGHHHHHHHHKKKKK!"

It was Ashe, the ewe-lamb born this spring right after Knox. She's one of the two ewe lambs here, and not anywhere near as savvy as her peer, Pidge. I knew it was Ashe soon as that bleat hit the farm house window. Ashe has somehow learned to open her mouth before baaing, which removes any sort of "B" sound to the beginning of it. Instead she belts out a long, alto, cry with a light middle eastern accent. It's her voice. No one else's. I know that flock. And I knew she was stuck. "Get yourself out this time" I mumbled into the covers, exhausted as sin. But the bleats kept on coming, each one more desperate.

She's at this weird age where her head and horns fit through the fence, but she doesn't know how to back out. So she sticks her Cocker Spaniel sized head through to eat grass, and then tries to back out and her horns won't let her. You're left with a confused, moaning, sheep. She needs me to walk up there and pull her out.

So I get out of bed, get dressed, and look for a flashlight. I slide on boots and tell the dogs to relax and walk over to the first gate. There I unplug the fence, vault over, and walk up the steep hill to the high gate, where I walk through and Jasper comes trucking over. He has watched me do this so many times with Ashe he could do it himself. I gently pull the horns through the wire and let her go, what a racket.

So tonight when she got stuck again (and this will happen until she outgrows it or finally gets zapped from the charger) I decided she would have to pay for her bail out. So when that loud AAAHHK came in through the window I went to the fridge for the dewormer and an oral syringe and after her rescue dosed her with the first of three days of worm treatment. I'm rewiring and building more pasture area Monday, so timing is everything. Three days of stuck heads and three days of deworming. So it goes.

P.S. If you're in the Veryork area and have time to spare Monday, there will be a work party that day for certain. Fence building, pasture expanding, electric wiring...come learn all that stuff from the person who's already made all the mistakes. I'll cook a chicken dinner with Saranac beer and serve ice cream with my own strawberry sauce. Email if you can help, from 11AM-4PM.

moths and mud

Discovered this fine Luna Moth when I stepped outside this damp morning. Last summer it seemed as though moths were legion around here, but this was the first large moth I've seen this year. Where did they go?

I have a lot of news to share, all of it good, but I need to wait to make it official. I have plenty to keep me busy till then. I have to start some serious work on the pasture, which is starting to worry me. Yesterday's rain storm was so violent it sent streams of mud and topsoil down the hill in the sheep pen. It needs to be reseeded, and while I know it's too late and the wrong time of year to do that, I don't need grass to feed a nation: I need grass to keep the soil in place. So the only option I have within my budget is to move everyone out of there, set up a fence and portable shelter, reseed HQ, and expand the pasture even more to allow more grass to keep their minds and mouths busy while nature heals up. This is a monumental task. I'll need help pounding fence posts and setting up the new fence, not to mention at least $400 dollars in supplies. To me, this is a huge amount of money. I have it, but it comes out of the chimney fund.

This post sounds heavy, but don't think grim thoughts. It will happen, the work always gets done. Slowly, surely, one task at a time. I can buy the t-posts this paycheck, and a big bag of seed, and have it paid for and ready to use as soon as tomorrow morning. When some more cash comes along: I'll buy the 300 feet of field fence and have it forklifted into the back of the Dodge. Strong hands will come out of the woodwork to make part two happen, or maybe Jasper can drag it for me to the top of the field and I can do it all myself over a full weekend instead of three hours with three grown men helping...

Anyway, it's not a matter if this big pasture project will happen, but how.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

i've got worms!

My red composters came in the mail today! Yes, you read that correctly. I ordered a box of worms (500) mailed from a worm farm for the purpose of turning food scraps into soil faster. Time to set up my Worm Factory and get them working on some kitchen scraps. More soon!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

a community of wet

I left work in a hurry. It was pouring rain, the steady kind that had no plans of letting up. I drove home, Gibson standing at shotgun, and did my best not to speed. A big red truck in front of us was so impatient it sped up in a roar and passed two cars ahead of him in an angry jaunt that made me nervous. He was passing them on a sharp turn he could not see around in fair weather, much less a downpour. I looked over at Gibson, who was amazed at the noise and splashing ahead of us. "Someone better be dying or being born in that truck...." was all I said. Gibson lost interest as it pissed ahead.

I got home and pulled into the driveway, greeted by my two mallards. They were splashing in the big pool puddle they love so much. A place I suppose many trucks parked over the years. I honked the horn and they waddle-bitched away.

Wanting to get my hands dirty, feel sweaty, and be of physical use after a day of sitting at a computer—I went inside for my boots. I was wearing Chacos, my three-season footwear of choice, but I learned a few years ago that rain chores in Chacos just left you feeling the definition of squalor. Inside were wool socks and Muck boots. First good decision of the day.

I walked the dogs, fed them their kibble, and headed back outside to do the rounds. The rain kept slamming, but in a windless, empty way that didn't make you move any faster than usual. So I fed the wet pony, dumped more feed into the chickens' big feeder, and refilled all the rabbits' water and pellet holsters. I checked on my first doe's litter, the kits were about ready to be weaned. All seven were plump and happy, looking wonderful. I had some brand new WARE metal cages to move them into a pair at a time, and would allow them to range on grass soon as I figured out a movable contraption. Here, it is the best way to raise meat rabbits, on grass. I'd figure the logistics later.

I turned around in the barn to check on the Pumpkin broody hen in the wooden baskets. She was sitting differently, hovering? Chicks....Has to be chicks. I thought to myself and lifted her up as she snapped at me. Under her were two just-born babes, still damp from the egg. One light and one dark. The fact I was finding them after a day in an air-conditioned, sterile, office was not lost on me. Balance is everywhere if you take the trouble to notice it.

Chicks under wing of their mother, it was time to feed the stars of Cold Antler Farm. The sheep would get a bale, of course, but I wanted to walk it up the hill and feed them in the shelter of their shed, which is now falling apart in ways I can not repair. I think I will have to build a new one, or get an expert on hand. But for now, it stands strong and I hoisted that bale up over a shoulder and carried it to the flock. Using my own technique of removing twine without cutting any, I freed the hay and scattered it in civil piles. The front wall fell down, the particle board rotted off the nails, my double coat of paint was useless. It was covered in mud and sheep scat, but I lifted it up and set it against the back wall anyway. The chompers didn't even crane their heads to watch me vallet their new three-sided shelter.

I was soaked, but smiling. My hands covered in mud, hay shreds, sheep poo and dirt. I had accomplished my sweaty goal, and took a minute to look outside the barn door at the rainy place I was not only living in, but a member of. We were the community of wet. I was happy. I had waited all day for this.

I thought of coworkers coming home from the office and making that silly sprint indoors to avoid the rain. Rain was an inconvenience, something that ruins plans and makes for bad hair. I was thrilled the already over-grazed pasture was getting some water. I needed the grass to not turn to dirt for just a few more weeks till I could buy the supplies and start pounding fence posts. I thought about this as I wiped the sheep crap on the pants that not an hour ago rested on an ergonomic desk chair. I was more than embracing nature. I was practically compost.

Going through this list of repairs, witnessing births, planning deaths, and building fences in my head: I thought about a few recent conversations me and my friend, Jon, had been having. We've been talking about who we were, and how we're perceived. Jon thinks that above all, I am a writer. That if the farm was gone, I would still write, always write. I insist I am a farmer, and that if given the task to write forever and never raise food again, I would shrivel up into a miserable snakeskin in the fetal position. "Farmer" regardless of your stipulations or definitions of the term: was who I needed to be, who I already was. My happiness is tied to self-reliance, growing food, and raising animals best I can. But how I sing about it, is writing, and he's got me pegged there. If thrown into a jail cell I would write about that.

He's right. I am a writer. I'm right, too. I'm also a farmer. In that cell I'd also be hoarding food scraps to make compost, drying tomato seeds on the windowsill, and making pots out of plastic cups. I'm both, and will remain both long as I have any say in the matter. And I say that with a big ol' swollen heart, barely kept inside if it wasn't for the fiddle strings, baling twine and crow feathers keeping it politely behind my ribs.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

unshod

I think it's equally fitting and sad that Microsoft Word did not recognize the word farrier.

checking in on eating in

Not a bad crop of potatoes on the way! My late-spring afternoon of humid-weather hoeing and planting has brought quite the bounty of happy little potato plants popping up. Their garden is crude. A chicken-safe boundary of leftover electric fence posts, chicken wire, and a piece of old metal roofing for a door: but it is serving me well, aesthetics aside. By late summer/early fall the leaves will start to wither and below ground will be a bounty of fresh taters. I can not wait to enjoy them new and put the rest up for winter. Not a bad outcome for the spuds I bought in the grocery store and forgot to use and left to seed. Harvesting these will be a good day!

My month of local eating has been quite the experiment for me, and so far I'd say it's a success. I have been happily busy planting, growing, and harvesting my own vegetables and animals as well as making trips to other farms and farm stores for things I can't/don't produce. It is taking more time, money, and effort than conventional eating, but worth it. Hands down, worth it.

Hell, it just plain tastes better!

I haven't been a purist. The things I "cheat" with are exotics like coffee and spices, or basic condiments. Also, food presented to me by guests or hosts. For example, I ate some homemade mac and cheese with local cheese and non-local pasta when friends brought it to a cookout at the farm Saturday night. I had organic veggies at a friend's BBQ that were not from around here. I will never turn down what the guest/host offers based on proximity, but these events are few and far between. So for the majority of the food I have eaten has been from Washington County, and I am in awe of the variety and reasonable prices if people are willing to seek it out and cook it at home.

This week I made a small pizza with onions and garlic from the garden, Cabot cheese, and artisanal sauce from New Hampshire. I made free-range beef burgers last night on the grill. I have fallen into the habit of making double everything, so that I can stock the fridge with leftovers for the work week. When I forget to do that, I'm left eating local jerky and a piece of local cheese from the gas station for lunch, (not the healthiest option). Today we're doing some rogue grilling outside the office, and I brought a big burger I pattied up last night with my own onions, garlic, eggs, and some Veryork breadcrumbs. It should be pretty tasty. I'll eat it between two pieces bread I bought from Wayside. The ketchup will not be homemade, nor the mustard, but the bulk of the meal will be. I'm not into the details, but the spirit of the venture is to make the main course as local as possible.

So why am I doing this? Jumping through all these food hoops? Because seasonality has become sacrament to me, and it is how I want to live my life. I don't want to import my meals from far away, I want to savor what home tastes instead. There is honesty in eating the food that is produced around you, that rises and falls with the turning of the year. It is an agricultural economy that needs our help, and supports our neighbors and landscape. It is how our grandparents ate before the world filled with fluorescent-lit supermarkets selling contrived food. (That's not too strong a word either.) It is wholesome in a world who bought the lie that convenient was more important than anything else. In truth, convenience is killing us.

I like getting my haul from the farmers market and cracking open cookbooks or combing the internet for new recipes. Some things are becoming ritualistic: like the love/hate relationship I have with zucchini and the inevitable batches of Zuc chocolate chip cookies that come out of it. Same goes for the pumpkins on the vine in July turning into jack-o-lanterns at the great Holiday, Halloween. I want to know the stories, history, and folklore around the food that fed the people of this part of the world and soak in it. I want to be a part of the heritage. It's mine now too.

Monday, June 20, 2011

tired

Finally inside from an evening of work that started at 5:30 and kept me going nearly four hours. Nothing of great import went down, but it sure was a lot of maintaining and everyday business. Hay was taken off the truck and set by the side of the house, out of any possible rain. The fence was acting wonky, so I walked the line looking for places where metal might touch electric wires. Water was taken to nearly-empty tubs, lawn mowed, hedges trimmed, dinner was cooked on the grill. I have been getting into this routine of non-stop work in my waking hours, and it seems to be the only time I truly focus when I'm not writing. I do the work, and when I step back onto the road and look at the place, it looks like sheep eating by a fence, a truck parked, and a normal lawn. I wonder if people driving by know it takes an army inside a woman to keep it from tumbling into a wreck.

Very sore and tired tonight. Looking forward to a good night's sleep with my black dog.

P.S. Thank you Brett, I must say that was the most unique gift anyone has ever sent me for a pre-birthday present. I'll put it to good use, eventually!

Come to Sheep 101 this September!

Sunday September 4th, the Sheep 101 workshop will be held here at Cold Antler. It will be a full day on the farm, from 10AM - 3PM to talk about the basics of starting a small flock for spinning, meat, or both. It will be geared towards the small scale shepherd, and really help those of you just considering a small flock. Come and learn about first and second cut hay, feeding, housing, fences, and resources for livestock guardians and herding dogs. We'll talk about our own farm goals and dreams, swap stories and recipes, and you'll get a chance to grab some wool, learn to trim feet, and learn about the shepherd's year. All meals are catered here at the farm with fresh, local, foods and the environment is casual and friendly. I hope you can make it! Sal is waiting to meet you.

Coming from out of town? Contact the Cambridge Hotel for lodging!

For details, email jenna@itsafarwalk.com

Sunday, June 19, 2011

working with jasper

When people find out I have a pony, I am always asked why I have him. As if owning a pony is as ridiculous and random as telling people I just made my first down payment on an underwater trampoline. I happily reply, "He's a cart horse!" and while I'm standing there, beaming like a new mother, the person who asked me what the hell I was doing with the haysucker in the first place just has more questions... What do you mean by "cart"? Does he drive you around town? Is he like one of the Amish buggy horses? Are you one of those Peak Oil Survivalist types? Do you still have a car? You do know you don't have to feed a garden tractor, right?

I stopped telling most people I have a pony.

So what am I doing with a small horse? Jasper is here to be my equine ATV on the farm. He'll haul firewood and help with some mild logging work. He'll cart sheep manure and other unsavories on the back pasture to be turned into new soil. He'll be a way to drive down the mountain into town on a Sunday, maybe. But above all that he's my introduction to working with real horsepower. Someday I will be plowing and harvesting behind large Shires, but I'm not there yet. One day I'll drive my own horsey version of an F-350, but right now I need to learn now to drive stick on a used Geo. So it goes.

Jasper was great. He let me fumble through the harnessing without complaint. He stood still while I buckled and snapped, noticing what needs to be tightened, re-tooled, or replaced. He's an odd shape. Taller than most ponies but slighter in frame. So I did my best to mimic the book open on the grass next to us. Farming with Horses, which tried to explain how a basic driving harness should fit a pony. You know you're new to driving when your how-to books have hoof marks on them...

After a few trips walking on lead in his halter under the weight of the harness, I attached a light weight to it. (A small log held to his traces with baling twine.) He drug it like it was nothing at all. Feeling brave, I ran the reins through the loops in the surcingle (new vocab word for me too) and walked behind him. I clicked my tongue and asked him to walk.

Wow.

To stand behind any horse in harness, feel the leather reins in both hands, and be pulling any sort of load was nothing short of magical. A comfortable, oddly-familiar, magical that felt normal to me. Like something I was always supposed to do. We walked straight across the pasture a few times until Jasper realized he didn't have a bit in his mouth, and then walked pretty much wherever he wanted. So I stopped the lesson shortly after this video was filmed. No need working on bad habits. But hot dang, what a rush all that was. There will be more to come, and when I can save up the coin for a work wagon, you'll really see something!

easy strawberry jam

Yesterday morning I was out in the fields of Clearbrook Farm in neighboring Shaftsbury, Vermont picking berries. U-pick operations are fairly popular around here, and for localvores there is nothing better than hopping in the car and ripping your produce right off the stem. It was a muggy, overcast morning, but a lot of folks were out. All ages and shapes were among those red rubies, some filling their baseball hats and others like me loading up cardboard flats. I had plans for jam. That afternoon I'd take these babies and cook them over a sweet-smelling stove top. Mmmm.

Making Strawberry Jam is easy. You just need a package of powdered pectin (you can get this at the grocery store), lemon juice, sugar, and 2 quarts of strawberries. You fill a saucepan with the de-stemmed berries, and mash them with a potato masher till you have a lumpy goop. Turn on the stovetop and add in your package of pectin, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and stir it together. Let it rise to a rolling boil (stirring occasionally as you get there so nothing burns to your pan) and once it's boiling add your sugar a cup at a time. I add 3 1/2 cups and mix it in till it feels dissolved.

Once all ingredients are in, and the sugar got a good minute at a full boil, I move it off the stove and ladle it into sterilized jars. They are boiled in the canner for ten minutes and then pulled out to cool on a cloth on the stove. When you hear that loud POP of the lid sealing shut, you know you did it right.

The whole process takes about 40 minutes, and I made 5 pint jam jars with those 2 quarts of berries. That's a lot of jam, folks. That's like picking up 5 jars of smuckers at the grocery store and putting them in your home cabinet. I bet you wouldn't go through that all in nearly a year. Not a bad deal for $6.50 in organic U-pick strawberries!

For detailed instructions, go to freshpreserving.com, or pick up a copy of the famous Blue Book of Preserving, at any hardware or farm store. It covers everything and only costs less then a box of jam jars. Enjoy!

what a haul!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

faking it

Ben Hewitt, the homesteading author of The Town That Food Saved, posted this on his blog yesterday and it is wonderful. A perfect example of the kind of perception many small-scale food producers get from larger operations. I liked his take on it, and wanted to share it.

Faking it By Ben Hewitt
Not so long ago, I was at the home of a real farmer. I know he was a real farmer, because he told me so. The implication, I believe (though I can’t be sure) was that I am not a real farmer, because I do not earn all or even the majority of my living from a farming enterprise. For what it’s worth, this is not the first person I’ve heard articulate such a belief. Or even the third.

Leaving aside the question of why it even matters who is and who is not a real farmer, and why anyone would feel compelled to claim such a title for him or herself, I couldn’t help but ponder what factors must be present to make a farmer real.

I’m pretty sure our neighbor’s definition is income-based. That is, if you make your living “farming,” then you are a “real farmer.” Fair enough, I suppose. But I know this person’s enterprise pretty well; I know that his family purchases the vast majority of their food at a retail outlet. I know that they don’t keep a garden, or process any of the milk they produce into butter or cheese or yogurt. They don’t raise their own meat. What they do, basically, is specialize in the production of a single food (milk), which they primarily sell in bulk. This arrangement provides them with the money necessary to purchase the essentials they do not produce for themselves. This is, in his mind at least, real farming.

Last year I was at a book talk, and someone asked me how much of my income is derived from our farm. “Oh, not much,” I answered, because it’s not. Most years, it’s not much more than 15%.

“But did you include the food you grow for your family in that figure?” He asked.

Well, no, actually. I hadn’t.... Click this to read the rest on Ben's Blog

eating in, while eating out.

Dinner parties in the country are a little different, at least in the circles I frequent. Today after work I was picking up my host's gift for the kind invitation, but instead of staring at a wall of merlot, I was standing in a drizzle outside the Stannard's Farm stand looking at dwarf fruit trees. See, the Daughton family famously abstains from the hooch, and for the same price as a 2009 bottle of wine I could buy them a Cortland Apple. A bottle of wine lasts a night, but an apple tree is something their grandchildren could scuttle up into and eat in pies. What can I say? I'm in it for the longevity. Sold.

I loaded the tree into the back of the truck with some help from the woman running the market that day. We got the tree in, in no time, but stood back and watched the storm rolling in together. Chatting about weather, her kid's school field trip, watching the low clouds swirl into the valley...gorgeous Eventually I wiped the scruff off my hands onto my pants and said something about feeding the animals. She gave me her blessing "you better rush home before they're all to scared to eat from this storm" and we parted ways with waves and thanks. I bought a pint of Battkenkill Valley's chocolate milk for the hell of it. Delicious.

The Daughton's live on five acres in the nearby town of Whitecreek. Their home is nestled in a series of rolling hills along the Vermont border that make it look more like Western England in 1876 than modern America. They live across the street from State Line Hill Farm, a sunflower, corn, and alternative energy farm where the man who runs it works on various Biodiesels. I'm making none of this up. In their backyard are gardens, a beehive, a barn, a beef steer, 14 chickens, and they recently had a horse until they sold it. Quite the enterprise!

Tim and Cathy, and their songs Holden, Ian, and Seth have become close friends. We met last fall when Tim, Holden and I went with our mutual friend Steve out to go pheasant hunting along route 313. After that, I babysat their cow Tasty when he was just a small calf. From those two encounters, a mutual love of farming brought us together. Since then Seth has taught me how to play marbles, Ian and I have traded livestock tips (Tasty is after all, his project), and last night Tim and Holden helped show me how to load and fire a 12 gauge shotgun safely. Next pheasant season I will be using my own gun.

I didn't ask, nor certainly expect, that they would prepare a local meal based on a girl's internet promise, but they were entirely into it. In celebration of my local food month, they put together an amazing early summer meal. We feasted on grassfed beef kabobs from steers that ate pasture the next town over, spinach salad from their garden, strawberry's from Clearbrook Farm, Local bread, and a summer berry pie from Grandma Miller up in the Green Mountains near Londonderry. It was amazing. Cold well water was the only drink during the meal, and it was perfect too. After dinner we sat on the porch with coffee and Tux (their neighbor's cat) and took in the day. A perfect way to start the weekend. I'm so grateful to have these people just a truck drive away.

Today the Eating In challenge continues, and the mission of this lovely Saturday is Strawberries. It's the first true fruit of the Upper Hudson's season and there is a U-pick operation literally two miles down the road. I plan on getting a haul of fresh berries off that farm, and then taking a trip into town to get some new glass jars for canning. I'll be canning enough jam to last the year and still give away to friends. For a few dollars a pint (of berries, cents per jam jar) I'll have my fruit preserves set aside for long as I can stand them. (More on this easy recipe and canning later today.)

I will be explaining all the reasons behind this, but first I wanted to suggest some group reading/listening. Either by paper or audiobook: Barbara Kingsolvers Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the story of one family's year of living entirely local. (Makes you think very differently about bananas...) and the other is the famed Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, which follows the story behind four meals. Both of these books (which I listen to on my iPod all the time still, while outside on the farm or in my truck) have been huge influences towards starting this farm. I didn't read either until 2009, but have had them sitting near me on a shelf ever since. If you haven't read them, start, you'll be glad you did. And if you're like me and have about 40 minutes a day you can actually sit down and read, load them into your MP3 players and take them on your farm chores, runs, errands in your car, or whatever. Barbara and Mike know their way around a garden, that's for certain.

Friday, June 17, 2011

my haunted farm house?

I live alone, and that usually that doesn't bother me. I like it. But living alone in an 1860's farmhouse can sometimes be creepy. I am a fairly superstitions person, and a lover of all things myth. I own more books on folklore than I do on dogs. It's in my blood, too. I hail from a Gypsy/Slovak bloodline. As a kid I devoured ghost stories. My brother is a professional Horror Movie Critic.

My mother is the same way. When I was buying the house, my parents came with me to check it out, during the tour my mom leaned over to the realtor and asked, "Is this place haunted?" She was serious as a heart attack. To her, it was as practical a question as how old the roof was. He assured us he never heard about ghosts in the house. Pass.

Regardless, buying an old house means you inherit a lot of history, a lot of stories. One thing that bothers me in the room I use as my office, upstairs. Too small to be a bedroom, but too large to be a closet: I made this room my writing space. Just enough space for my grandfather's old desk, a drafting table, and a dog bed. The window from this room looks over the pasture too, so inspiration is a 18--degree turn away. But what creeps me out about this room is this: there's a boarded-up hole in the wall, poorly replastered, and a lock on the outside of the door....

So no, I have not opened the hole, and I have no idea why it was made to shut from the outside. I don't want to know.

One night I got the scare of my life. I was outside on the sheep hill, up by the sheds. It was too dark to do anything without a flashlight, so I was using a headlamp (tip from you guys) and grateful for my two, free hands to lug hay flakes. From that stately vantage point I can look down on my farmhouse and see second-story windows with ease, look right into them. While I was up there placing some fresh bedding in the sheep's keep, and the beam from my headlamp was panning around the small structure.

The headlamp made all the sheep's eyes turn into that eerie green animals eyes shine in the dark. I thought it was cool, adorable almost, to see those ghostly eyes and hear a loud BAAAHHH coming from them. Nothing that baas is scary to me. Nice try.

So I was feeling pretty content up there, and I liked moving the bright light from my head all over the place, like a little agrarian ray gun. Until I looked back towards the house. Up in the second story office, a 6-foot tall figure of a man, all black, was standing there staring at me. When you are a single woman in an old house, this is unsettling, at best. I tuned my beam to it, and the eyes glowed back. Holyshitholyshitholyshit I panicked to myself, grabbing a hold of Sal for some sort of stability. The man kept staring, and like a drunk, waved his upper torso back and forth, leaning into the windowsill. Was my place haunted? Whatever was in that window, it wasn't human. It was solid, but slinking, and easily six-feet or taller. I watched it slowly tilt its head, the eyes glowing as they turned at a 45-degree angle. I almost peed.

Then the ghost barked.

It was Gibson. He wanted to keep an execetutive eye on me watching his sheep. So he ran up the stairs to the office, jumped up so his feet were on the windowsill and his paws were on the sash, and balanced himself there like a creepy-ass acrobat. Without any lights on, save for a dim hall light, his upright position on two legs and black coat easily made him appear to be a dark, 6-foot-tall person. I felt like a moron, but laughed all the way down the hill.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

30 days of eating in: the rules

I'll be eating in, and writing about it, for the next four weeks. I'm doing this for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I would like to make this change permanent, and want to give it a dedicated jump start to see how much effort/extra money it might cost me. So for the next 29 days (yesterday was my first day) I will be The project entails the following rules.

1. Eat only local meats and vegetables.
2. Bake your own bread from locally-milled flour.
3. Drink only locally roasted coffee
4. Source local dairy products
5. No soda, candy, or any sort of junk foods.
6. Eat three meals a day.
7. Condiments, cooking oils, and spices are permitted.
8. Drink at least 60 oz. of water a day.

Today I had some granola for breakfast, a cookie and two VT beef sticks for lunch. Tonight I planned for pizza and was excited about it. I found sauce from New Hampshire, and cheese from Vermont, and the crust I would bake right here and cover it with basil from my garden...but the oven caught on fire.

I didn't have the energy to clean it, and then cook from scratch, so I am making a dish out of what's left of my homegrown new potatoes and leftover meat from last night. I'll drink it down with some Woodchuck hard cider, and call it a night.

dispatch from bedlam farm

Jon Katz, nearby Washington County author and dog man, wrote this about me and the farm last night. It's a friendship I hope will continue to grow. There aren't a lot of shepherding, blogging, authors around here.... I read this and I was touched.

He says I need to slow down, and I agree. I can't wait to slow down. But right now to get where I need to be I have to push a full canter. I'll trot and walk when I can see that pretty goal not far from my saddle.

The following is from bedlamfarm.com
. The photo of the pony is his as well.

"Stay Tuned” for a life affirmed. Cold Antler Farm, Jackson, N.Y.

Jenna Woginrich and I share the realization that in this country, you just have to be crazy to go and buy the farm.

I almost cried when I watched Jenna Woginrich’s beautiful little video of her year struggling to make a go of Cold Antler Farm and I would highly recommend it for many reasons. For people who dream of a farm. For people who struggle to live on one. For people struggling to live their lives and fulfill their dreams in a country driven mad by greed, fear, insecurity whose political system seems spent, whose spiritual life is drained, and whose national ideology is now protecting Corporate Profiteering.

I didn’t cry for the country, or even for Jenna, who will, I am sure, succeed in her dream – she has the strength, drive, creativity and craziness to do it – but also for me, because talking to Jenna the other night (she is a fellow obsessive and came over for dinner and to obsess on sheepherding with her rocket-dog Gibson) reminded me so much of my first years on Bedlam Farm that I almost couldn’t bear it. I too was alone, knocked on my butt by a brutal winter, broke, overwhelmed by a surplus of energy and a lack of common sense or sanity, and an appetite for chaos and drama that left with with a divorce and a world-class nervous breakdown. I can’t imagine how or why I survived.

I am surely not saying this will happen to Jenna who seems to have a near genius for doing way too many things well at the same time. That can lead to big trouble. Jenna’s experience – and her endless rushing around to more things than even she can remember – hit so close to home that I avoided her for a couple of years, I’m embarrassed to say. Everything I heard about her made me very nervous.

When she talks about her tough years, I just shiver. I mean, you just have to be crazy to do this. We both laughed at the idea that we have found Perfect Lives. People always say that about me, also, but I don’t see too many people bonkers enough to do it.

I’m glad Jenna and I got to talk. When she left, Maria and I both turned to each other and wished aloud that Jenna slow down soon. She is a treat to know, even though she makes me feel glad I am not young anymore. I am so glad we connected. She is smart, funny, and a really fine writer. She will make it. We share another trait: we are ferociously determined. I told her that I know there are many writers much more talented than I am, but not too many that are as willful. It matters.

Jenna has a crackling, popular blog – I heard about it all over the country on my book tour – and this she put up a beautiful video of her tough year at Cold Antler farm in Jackson, N.Y. handling sheep and a full-time day job and chickens and a dog and pony and being nearly done in by a brutal winter. She is a homesteader and a fierce advocate for the life of the individual. This is something that bonds Maria and I together. We both know that it is a hard path.

Jenna writes about a lot of things for a lot of places, has a genius for inspiring people and pissing them off (bless her) and has already cranked out two books (a third is on the way) about her life on Cold Antler Farm. So many people seem nearly dead in their lives. Jenna is alive.

Her blog will touch a familiar chord for those of you who have suffered me for more than a few years. Give me the shivers, gives me the chills. We are very different, we are very much alike. We have both brushed against that dark place that Joseph Campbell writes about, when people set on on their Hero’s Journey and head off into the wilderness and defy almost every conventional expectation about life in America. She probably won’t have any money in her retirement fund either. It’s a good thing. Looming disaster encourages productivity.

Good for you, Jenna. At 28, you are just getting cranked up, and you will learn to slow down and focus or you will not. I think you will. I will surely be nagging you, rooting for you, and giving a shout out to you for living your life, standing down some nasty fears, working brutally hard, following the great American tradition of Thoreau by showing that individuals can still live in America outside of the Corporate Gulag, and shining your light for everyone who hopes to live out their dreams in a world sometimes shrouded in fear and confusion.

Check out her video. You won’t regret it.