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.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

thirty days to howl

For breakfast today I had three scrambled eggs from my hens. I topped them off with a little bit of Cabot cheese. A dash of pepper and the bit of milk and I had a perfect start to my morning.

On the way out the door at lunch I grabbed a few strawberries and some snap peas from the garden and while at Wayside got a packet of Damn Good beef jerky and a small serving of cheddar.

Dinner was a small salad of greens from the garden, mashed potatoes, and skillet-cooked beef stew pieces with a salt and her rub. I used a little cheese on the potatoes too.) It was all delicious. I drank it with some cold, hard, cider and felt that buzz of protein and alcohol that wins highschool football championships.

So why am I telling you this?

Because today was Day 1 of my thirty-day eating local challenge. A personal challenge to eat all my meals (condiments and coffee excluded) from the Veryork area. It will involve a lot of cooking, gardening, animal harvesting, and more. I'll document it here, and be as honest as possible about the extra work of mid-week bread baking and garden panic (my lettuce has some sort of root rot from too-wet soil).

It'll also mean some sacrifices (good bye Diet Coke and Gummy bears). I'll be eating from my backyard (literally and figuratively) for the next thirty days, and not for the reasons you are thinking. local economies, peak oil, greener living, animal welfare...those are all good reasons to roast a backyard bird and plant a garden, but I have something else in mind.

More tomorrow.

stay tuned, darling.

A few photos by Tim Bronson, the rest are mine.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sheep 101 Workshop Has Moved!


This weekend's workshop has moved. I will not be going on this Sunday and instead I will host it in Septempber. If you would like to come to the farm and spend a whole day learning sheep care basics, wool processing, and catered brunch and lunch, let me know.

Only 10 spots left in the Fall Weekend Workshop. Please email me and make your reservation if you want to join in the party. I am going to try and collect musicians to play around the campfire Saturday night as well!

P.S. Ordered Jasper's harness today! Black leather!

Monday, June 13, 2011

buck

anyone?

Is anyone coming to Sheep 101 this weekend?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

eating out

This past winter was hell. But tonight it's June, and I got my chubby soul through the worst snow dump in a decade, through lambing, through a dead transmission, and a hells bells, I even de-wormed a pony today. A girl deserves to eat out!

Tonight I did go out, exactly 50 feet from my kitchen window. (I didn't feel like driving or paying someone for food.) Tonight's menu: CAF-raised accidental cornish hen with new potatoes, lettuce, and snap peas from the garden. Bird was defrosted yesterday, potatoes dug up from the raised bed at noon, and those greens picked and rinsed right before show time.

Next up: Pretty Saro will be fiddled to the fireflies. My favorite old time tune. I still sing it every time I walk Jazz and Annie through the woods. I have for years.

especially lamb masala

I got home from the herding clinic by 2:30, and that only left me a few hours to prepare for the party. A few weeks back my friend Wendy (whom I met at Riding Right) asked if she could have her birthday party at my farm? She promised me she'd take care of all the food and clean up, she just wanted to cook out and kick up her heels outside the city of Saratoga Springs. She said she'd invite a small crowd, respectful of animals and not bothered by sheep poo on their shoes, so could she do it? I was happy to oblige. It was kind of strange to become someone's celebratory destination, though.

So the party was that night, and with just a few hours till the decorating committee and musicians showed up, I had cleaning, cooking, mowing, mulching and other regular farm chores to blast through. In the rush I mowed the Crafstman push mower right next to the hive, thinking they would act as calmly as they usually do when I putz around the garden area. Instead of acting like a monastery, it became an aircraft carrier. a few guards shot out, and circled around my sweaty hands. I accidentally clamped down on one in my left palm as it squirmed between my fingers. It said goodbye to the world by shooting a stinger down into the tip of my middle finger. I cursed and grasped my left wrist with my right hand and shook it at myself. I held up the one sore finger to inspect it.

Oh boy...I couldn't help but smile at the prank. I stood there giving myself the finger on behalf of one pissed-off martyr. Talk about getting the last word...

By 6PM Wendy and Jim had set up their drink station, buffet, and people started showing up. Diane came with three Freedom Ranger chicks as a housewarming present and they went into the brooder with the turkeys. Folks took tours around the farm via Wendy. She seemed proud to be here, and was happy to show people around. It was touching to overhear.

We grilled burgers our Riding Instructor Hollie made from her brother's cows, and Jim made the kind of Mojitos you just don't forget. Diane brought a wheel of her 2-month-old aged cheddar she made herself. For this farm it was a high class time.

After we finished our dinner in the front room of burgers and jerk chicken, we all retired to the living room where Ed (fiddler) and Tom (guitar) were already playing some tunes. They were wonderful, and as the night got rainier, the conversation louder, and the sun set in the gray sky, we could still see the sheep outside the horizontal windows over the daybed in the background. It made all the preparations and stings worth it. Hell, Ed and Tom made this month's mortgage payment worth it! (If you click this link here, you'll get a to listen to a tiny bit of it) Wendy see,ed thrilled to have the friends, food, music and the farm all come together for her big day. Actually, everyone aboard CAF that night seemed to be enjoying the same relaxed grin.

Or maybe it was the Mojitos?

Writing this, I realize how perfect this life might seem to many of you. Some nights like last night, I get tricked into that too, but I promise you this place is far from paradise. I feel like a lot of you have been following this blog for years, and maybe you think this is the end of the three-part story? Girl gets in a tight spot, Girl freaks out, Girl buys farm. But I can't stress enough how far I need to go to get to my own goals, and how bumpy the ride is getting there.

There are serious problems here: issues with stress and anxiety, family expectations and support, financial woes, and also going through this whole adventure alone and not sure if that will ever change. It makes a girl tired. Very tired.

I don't write about these harder things as often, because honestly, I try not to even dwell on them. I learned a long time ago the only way to maintain this crazy dream is to inhale positive thoughts and ideal circumstances only. If I ever stopped to realize the risks, dangers, and irrational things that go into living this way: I'd never had done any of it in the first place. And I say that as a woman who has been knocked unconscious, rammed, sunburnt, cut open, and cried herself to sleep with worry more times than I care to admit.

But those bad things aren't the majority of my life. They're maybe a third? And usually I'm two busy with the rest of that fraction to give myself the luxury of much fear or stress. I learned if you stay busy enough, and put blinders on towards a goal, you will reach it and not focus too much on the possibility of negative outcomes. So I do that, and I pray that someday I'll stop working in the middle of the carrot patch, take a deep breath, and realize my twenties are behind me and I get over myself a little. Start lengthening my stride.

Cold Antler Farm is my refuge, my goal, and my motivation every day. It's my purpose and it's my responsibility, but you have to understand that as much as I love it, it isn't getting easier. But you know what? I don't think love is ever easy. Not if it's genuine and you're honest with yourself. Not if it's worth it.

Would I trade it all in to be back in Knoxville with just two dogs in an apartment? Never.

...But I do miss Indian food.

baby bunnies!