Tuesday, August 23, 2011

well, that settles it

I want to marry a cowboy.

Monday, August 22, 2011

a whole lot of random news

My turkey poult, the last one left, was killed by a weasel. Found him in the coop with two bite marks in his neck, taken in broad daylight. What a shame. There's still some hope for a trio of adult Bourbon Reds from a breeder here in town, but waiting to see if the flock gets over a bout of the sniffles.

This farmhouse is the cleanest it has been all year. I was on a tear this weekend, ripping out wet carpets, mopping floors, washing linens and appliances. It feels like a new space. Hell, even the shower feels new. Makes me feel a little more solid going into this fall. My house is generally clean, as clean as it can be working 32-hours a week and running a farm. I keep up with the dog hair and lawn, at least. But I'll never forget when my friend Wendy walked into my bathroom the first time and was shocked at how clean it was. "No farm bathroom is that clean...never ever" I swelled. It's clean because the dogs don't go in it, and only one person uses it, but still. I was proud as a mama hen 22 days into her nest.

Besides the dead turkey, things are quiet. It's a weird calm. In the next few weeks there will be so much going on, it is daunting to think about. A new sheep shed will be erected where the old one stood. The chimney will be installed for the Bun Baker in the living room. I'll be heading south to be a keynote speaker at the Mother Earth News festival outside Pittsburgh (anyone here going?), and it'll be my first off-farm trip since last Christmas! I can't wait to hear Joel Salatin speak....Then the Fall Festival (I'm calling it Antlerstock) will be here before you know it with folks from all over the country in attendance! Today I decided we'll all carve a pumpkin to light up the Saturday night campfire. Folks coming from the south or west, bring warm clothing! It might be in the thirties that night!

Tomorrow I head to the Washington Country Fair to watch the professional Rodeo. Cowboys strike something in me, that's for sure. A man who knows how to handle a horse is seriously worth paying the 10 dollar admission fee to watch. I am being shameless right now. I'm okay with it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

agri culture?

The weather report was calling for rain. A lot of rain. Reports from various sources varied but all seemed to have a window of sun and haze before the deluge set in. I decided to head up to Nelson's farm in Hebron to pay for some hay I took earlier in the month and bring home another load. The humidity and sunlight fighting through the liquid air was breathtaking. I love the world before a storm. I especially love it when its a morning occurrence, a rarity around here, and you start the day feeling like summer vacation and you're 7 years old.

This isn't related to hay, but the other night I headed over to Firecracker farm for dinner, and something strange happened. It was around 9PM on a Wednesday, and I was driving home in the dark from White Creek, 20 minutes south of home. They say smell is the sense that brings back memories, but it was motion that delivered back to the summer of 2004 that night. Driving under the stars, singing along with the music, just having left the laughter of friends...I felt like it was a weeknight in college. Still a school night, but free. Like my day would start at 3:30PM if I called someone for their Art History notes. The lawless, self-governed weeknight is what I felt, even though I still had to be at my desk by 8AM. I don't know what brought this feeling of youth and freedom, but it was thick. I was happy as as 1960's beach movie dancer about to pick up MoonDoggy for the clam bake.

I did get my hay, 17 bales. Nelson and I piled them onto the back of the Dodge with the help of two local guys. I got to listen in on a stellar conversation about hay and deer hunting. I told them I was going deer hunting but they just kinda smiled and nodded. This was a conversation among serious men, newbies and womenfolk, step aside. I smiled. I don't take offense when 80-year-olds in feed caps don't take me too seriously. Who knows, maybe I'll get the only 8-pointer on the mountain. It was good to fill up the barn with some more bales though. And stacking them in the barn right before the clouds broke felt like I won something. It is still raining out there but that hay is dry in the barn.

Tomorrow is the first day of the Washington County Fair and I might make it over that way for dinner. I'm excited! It's a great big Ag Fair, one of the largest in the state. And after living here a full round of the seasons I even know some of the farmers in the cow and sheep barns. It'll be a big time, and that ferris wheel at night is magical.

I was talking with a friend about the fair tonight and he raised a good point: why is it that in a farming region, there is nowhere at the county fair to buy local foods? Everything is shipped in and deep fried? I'm not saying there shouldn't be funnel cakes and pastry-covered Snickers, but why not a grass-fed burger stand or cheese tent? For a festival of local agriculture, where's the Agri Culture?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

the september issue

The September Issue arrived today. Yes, That September Issue. All 758 pages of it. Thicker than 5 Washington County phonebooks, the new plastic-wrapped issue of Vogue was delivered to a 6.5 acre farm on the side of a mountain. Sheep watched it slide inside the snowplow-dented mailbox. The person who pulled it out has holes in her cheap, black, t-shirt covered in hay flakes and sweat. I couldn't wait to open it.

Vogue arrives at the farm every month because my mother loves fashion, and loves me, and therefore she subscribes to it for me. She's certainly the one who practices what this book preaches, but I still read the gospel.

She doesn't know how I pour through every issue, that I love that magazine. I love the clothes, the people, the articles, the history of Anna Wintour and her empire. It is as foreign and exotic to me as Atlantis. Absolutely nothing I own could even be used to wash the windows at that Times Square office, but I am enthralled. I own eight pairs of shoes and one handbag. Two of those shoes are work boots and the handbag was made by a friend. I am not their target audience, but I still page through the tome. It is enchanting.

I love Vogue. I didn't always, but I do now. The people who put this magazine together do it with such diligence and careful thought I can't avoid respecting it. It is living sculpture, social comment, and moving art. We can knock fashion all we want as homesteaders and small farmers, but we can not deny these people are living their dream. Well, living their fantasy, really. To push so hard for a creative life like that is rare. I have no doubt that the people who run Vogue, if they had to, could run an amazing farm. Might be a steep learning curve, but no one that organized and on top of their game couldn't adapt. That farm would sing.

I'm still Jenna though, even when I'm sitting there on the daybed paging through the glossies. Ralph Lauren placed an ad right on the inside cover and it shows a pair of beautiful people kissing on horses in shoulder-high hay. I have ridden a horse through shoulder-high hay alongside my riding instructor at one of the best hunter schools in the country and it took both of us intense effort to keep our mounts from stopping mid-stride to snack. I moved up and down at a fast posting trot, reins ready, body tense as we moved across the field. These models were making out. Their horses placid. I try to tell if they are moving? Is the hay fake? How the hell is it fair a person can look that good and control a horse that well? Are they on cat tranqs? Inquiring minds want to know.

I sometimes wonder if there are people in those tall buildings in big cities reading this blog. Is there someone at Vogue who wishes he or she was on a farm? Does anyone at that Ralph Lauren cover shoot wish they could ride off on that fake horse? Probably not, they wouldn't be there if they weren't as in love with that scene as I am with mine. I read The September Issue, but I have no desire to wear the clothes or go to Paris. It doesn't mean we can't appreciate the other side of things. And it certainly doesn't mean a girl in Muck Boots can't wish she had somewhere to take a handbag and heels every once in a while.

And Mom, I might not own any new party dresses, but I don't even mow the lawn without mascara on.

You did good.

and the winner is....

Wendy from Wyoming is our winner!
She got the lucky straw!

Wendy, email me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com to get in touch with the Folk School! Congrats! You were the random winner out of over 560 entrants! Thank you to all who entered, and I promise we will do more as sponsors and gifts come forth! I chose a random runner up for a free pass to this Fall Festival here in Veryork. Kevin from Spokane was that lucky straw. Wendy and Kevin, get in touch. If either back down or change their minds, I'll draw again.

sweet august

Ah, sweet August. That time of year when a girl's fancy turns to green zebras, heavy books, and warm hats.

beasts and bookstores

When I stepped outside the farmhouse yesterday morning I was face to face with a larger, horned, animal. Knox, the once adorable little lamb, the first lamb ever on Cold Antler's soil, had somehow escaped. He was watching me from the wrong side of the fence. He is no longer little (he is however, still adorable), so this isn't as easy as it used to be. I had to get this horned beastie back into the fence, figure out how he escaped, repair the hole, and reset that holy electric wire that keeps all things civilized around here.

It took a handful of grain, a dramatic horn grab, and some dragging to get him back through Jasper's Gate, but all was success in the end. An entire hour went into repairing and replacing the broken wire. Between the sheep wrangling and fence repair I was coated in a sheen of new sweat. It wasn't even 8AM. The humidity was sucking down the day already. It felt wrong though, out of place. Technically, it's still summer but we're in Transition Time for sure. The weather and air still sings like river-drunk cedar waxwings but the crows are already talking about them behind their backs. Leaves are starting to fall down green. Nights are in the low 50's. I already saw my breath once in daylight a few days prior. Change is in the air.

Weather Report aside, the Wether Report data was updated. Knox was back with his family inside the fence. All was well again. This fence business was exactly the kind of time suck that would ruin a Friday morning a few weeks earlier. If I had to call into the office late, work longer to make up the time, and stress out the entire time I was at home with the animals doing whatever farm task could not be put off...I was miserable and emotionally torn by the time I got to my desk. Instead of all that, I was just grateful to have this issue happen on a Free Friday, the beginning of my new weekend.

"Weekend" is not really an appropriate a term anymore. Friday is just the start of three days of farm work and writing instead of the commute to Vermont to work at the office. I still work like nuts, just at home. I do like the cadence of this arrangement. The first four days fly and then these three seem to last for eight. It amazes me how much longer, and fuller, the days are when you spend them at home, outdoors. When you don't run off to spend money or get lost in a string of errands, but just work, weed, mow, stack wood, stack hay, or maybe make one trip into town.

Yesterday I stopped in at Battenkill Books to talk with Connie and invite her up to the farm. Here's why I like Connie so much. The first time I walked in with my border collie pup (the place is dog friendly) Gibson peed on a shelf. Connie did not get upset. She did not ask me to pay for the book he peed on. She didn't even ask me to leave. She just wiped off the shelf with some cleaning supplies she kept behind the desk, removed the book, sanitized the area and smiled. She just kept on talking about our conversation even through I was a blubbering jerk of apology. I decided to patronize that bookstore ever since.

So yesterday, when Gibson came along with me to the store (no accident this time) I didn't feel the slightest bit uncomfortable walking up to the desk to chat. She told me she pre-sold 18 copies of Barnheart and some other books as well. I was so glad to hear it. It's good for me, for the farm, for her store, and to readers who want a personalized book mailed to their house for twenty bucks. And to hear that you sold 18 copies of your book in one day when you aren't Sarah Palin or a NY Times Bestselling author, was so comforting. Sometimes this writing life is scary as hell. To hear you moved 18 copies is damn good news—a nice Friday affirmation that I'm getting somewhere. Even if I am standing in a bookstore my dog peed on with sheep crap on my cuffs...

Another note: those of you who are CSA members, I have some news. I got word from the mill. They are hesitant to make wool with the Blackface's thick locks. I asked them some questions and they are getting back to me. They will still make the yarn but I had to clarify some issues. They wanted to make rugs and I wanted a 70/30 blend of Blackface and Longwool yarn: a tough outerwear wool that kilts, tartans, and fishermen sweaters were made of—just like the original Scottish shepherds would blend. The folks at the mill aren't used to being asked for non-traditional wool yarns, so it's a bit of back-and-forth. But the good news is the first year's CSA members should be getting their yarn before October. I appreciate your patience.

Oh, and a winner of the week at the Folk School will be picked tonight! Check back at the blog later to see if it's you, and if it is, email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com to set up your vacation.

happiness is a warm bone

Friday, August 19, 2011

Order Signed Copies of Barnheart!

I have some good news for anyone interested in a personalized and signed copy of Barnheart. Connie Brook—who owns Battenkill Books in downtown Cambridge—and I had a conversation. She is going to pre-sell copies of Barnheart and deliver them right to your door. You can also get signed copies of Chick Days or Made From Scratch right now. This is a way to support an independent book store and get the book signed by the author at the same time. Because of the farm, I don't do a lot of touring for my books, so this may be the only way to grab a scribbled-on copy. I am thrilled to do it.

If you are interested, call or email Connie at the number below and she'll take down your information and requests. Then, this early winter when Barnheart comes out, I'll head down to the bookstore and sign them for you. Gibson possibly will too (if you don't mind pawprints on your books Title Pages) and you'll receieve them shortly after they hit the press. I thank you in advance, and hope she gets a stack big enough to inspire her to get those chickens she was talking to me about. Cambridge might be allowing the chooks in town, a big deal in this one-stoplight burg.

Battenkill Books
15 East Main St.
Cambridge, NY 12816
(518) 677-2515

Thursday, August 18, 2011

days of grace

My friend Paul used to run a dairy of considerable size here in the upper Hudson Valley. He sold the farm years ago, and has since scaled down to a single-family home in a genteel corner of Vermont. He may have retired from the life of Jersey cows and milking machines, but he still carries himself like a man who has land—moves through the day like at any moment a heifer could calf or a bale could be bucked.

His day job, like mine, is in a sanitized office. We work for the same company. Despite his proximity to toner cartridges and shiny professional title, he’ll never look at home in a conference room to me. No one does that knows more about tensile fencing than Excel databases. His circumstances have changed but the honesty’s the same.

Paul told me something one autumn afternoon that made me believe he never turned in his canvas for tweed. On a wet, depressing, post-foliage day in early November we were in a conference room waiting for a meeting to start. It was gray outside, the wind moving wet leaves around the precisely manicured lawn. He looked past the bleak weather on the other side of the windows and said with a nostalgic smile that these were the Days of Grace. I asked him what he meant by that?

He said the Days of Grace was what the farmers in our area called the time of year between fall’s fireworks and the first snowfall; a window of reverent preparation. The Days were filled with tasks like stacking cordwood and repairing tractors. Grain and hay were loaded in barns. The snow blower was oiled and ready to growl. Farmers who had sold their corn, composted over their vegetable fields, or had meat hanging in the walk-in had most of their work behind them. In a life that forces constant vigilance and resourcefulness, this was the time of year to finally relax. Weeds were long dead. Cash crops were sold. Wallets were fatter and mornings started a little later.

The Days of Grace were a holiday season, though you won’t find any cards at your local Hallmark store sporting greased cultivators whilst wishing you A Wicked Muzzloader Season. No, instead of twinkle lights and gift registries; the Days were a series of quiet thrills. Work completed, homestead prepared, hunkering-down may commence. The region takes on the calm veil of the shoulder season. And the initiated sigh. That secret sigh of their people.

This brick and soil holiday Paul spoke about suited me. It didn’t require belief in any particular verse, instead it demanded virtues I desperately wanted in my adult life: presence, belief, and devotion. Farming lit up and fueled a dim and hungry part of me. I was part of something again, a necessary tradition of growing food. Food is more than sustenance and recipes. It’s the one faith all humans belong too. When you wrap your life around the production instead of consumption, worlds open.

I wanted to be a part of these secret celebrations. I clamored for them. Hearing about them stirred painful cravings for the things I grew up with but no longer held onto: organized religion, the company of animals, and spending whole days outdoors instead of my relatively useless career spent in a swivel chair. If there was any doubt that I wanted to become a farmer, it melted away at that moment of conversation.

When November comes now, I sigh.

sunflower farm in white creek

Hipster iPhone apps make for instantly-nostalgic photos. I took thi last night while over at Firecracker Farm for dinner. I felt like every photo was a little time machine, all the saturation and flares. You won't see a lot of them on this blog, but from time to time, we'll all go back in time. I love it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Folk School Giveaway!

I am thrilled to announce this giveaway! Cold Antler Farm partner, the John C. Campbell Folk School of Brasstown, North Carolina is giving away a full week-long class, including boarding and meals, to a winner of this very post. Over 800 classes from basket weaving to writing, woodcarving to spinning, gardening to soapmaking, metal work to music. All of this in the amazing mountains of Appalachia. So many opportunities to dive farther into your homesteading passion, whatever they may be. You get to choose the date, and the class, and all you need is a way to get there. So pack your bags and throw that dulcimer in the back seat of the truck baby, you're going back to school.

So here's how you enter. Click through to the Folk Schools website at www.folkschool.org, and check out their course catalog. Then come back here and post with your first name and location, which class you would like to take. Once you do that, you are entered! Check back on Saturday night to see if you are the lucky winner. And, if you want to double your chances, you can enter a second time if you share this blog's link on Facebook. Just come back and say, "Second Entry: 457 friends notified!" and you are another hat in the ring for the random generator that will pick this contest's winner.

This is such wonderful opportunity for one of you. I hope a lot of you enter twice. You might be stuck in a small apartment or dorm room tonight, but later this year you could be waking up to your first ever blacksmithing class, sliding on that leather apron, and looking up at a rolling vista so grand it could break your heart. Or you could finally learn the fiddle, or take up harp lessons, or maybe you can start that first carpentry class or learn to light a candle you made by hand. So many skills, such a beautiful piece of the world, and the people taking classes and teaching will certainly get your desire to grab a work horse's reins or plant your own loaf of bread. My only advice: go in June, and watch the mountain fireflies dance. They change you.

I wish you all luck!

photo from unctv.org and northcarolinaartists.blogspot.com

big ups

Rainy Monday mornings do not have the urgency they used to. After three days at the farm I am slow to get ready. This morning, in a downpour, I carried the sheep their hay to the dry cover of their shed and made sure they ate in a place that would leave their meal salvageable enough to be picked at all day. Walking up the hill I noticed how much soil wasn't sliding down in angry trains. The grass I had planted had come up in shoots in scattered patches, and while no golf courses will be hiring me to manage their putting greens, it held the dirt in place. What a grin that slapped on my face. Even in a downpour being heckled by a dozen hungry sheep, you take your ups where you can get them.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

jasper's new digs

Jasper's new digs. Today I'm heading to the farm supply store to get t-post caps, some electric fence gear for a top line ran around that paddock, and some other odds and ends. Jasper will be living here in the winter, and I'm so happy it is finally done (well, almost). There's some adjustments and interior work to be done yet, but over all it is set up. If a snowstorm came tomorrow and the farm was coated in ice, Jasper would be safe and snug.

Folks have been emailing and posting comments with all sorts of advice and opinions. I read them all, and appreciate them, but they are starting to overwhelm me. Every time I build, acquire, or share anything on the blog I get a slew of emails, many with contradicting opinions on the "right" way to do something. I weigh them against my own experience, friends and local farmer's advice, and my own animals and situations. I won't always agree or follow your advice, but I do always appreciate it.

If you do have helpful advice or concerns, please email me about them. They are welcome on the blog comments section too, but it is hard to respond to them all. An email is something I can save in my inbox and easily refer to. I do my best to respond to them all, but again, sometimes they are overwhelming too.

P.S. Please don't stop commenting! I look forward to them, I just ask that folks who have detailed advice to email me so I can address it and write back!

potatoes and worms

I dug up those potatoes I planted, filled half a canning pot with them. Some were big as my fist and others were small as marbles. I probably only scored about 15 pounds, and for 85 seed potatoes, that isn't much. The reason for the slim pickings: their spot was too shady and they were planted to close together. (The deer and chickens getting in and eating most of the plants didn't help either.) In a lot of ways, this was a failure. But you know what? I have learned exactly what I need to do to easily double my spuds the same place next year. And a lesson like that is pretty useful. Right now I am not gardening to feed myself, I am learning how to garden here to feed myself in the future. This isn't the only place I get subsistence, but since my goal is to eventually pay the mortgage with words and work for all my own groceries, it was a hard lesson for future french fries.

Anyway, I won't be using that patch for anything but Garlic or onions from now on, I think. I have a new potato plot all picked out in the lowest pasture near the front of the house. That spot where hay and manure have been piling up for a year near the front gate. Instead of shoveling out that mulchy hay an straw to get the fence line higher, I am leaving it as is—fenced in with the electric and everything and simply putting the new fence 8 feet behind it— creating a fenced in garden! Another winter will make that a perfect pile of compost to plant potatoes in. It'll be fenced off from the sheep and the deer outside and involves pounding fences instead of breaking my back to dig out muck. Genius solution, and I can say that since it wasn't even my idea, it was Cathy Daughton's. That woman has vowed to never hoe up another garden bed again long as there's chickens or livestock around to make them for you. Smarter than I, her.

So, to figure out how to plant hundreds of pounds of potatoes in the future it took several people, a year of crap, and a bum crop in another location to ensure* results. But hey, 15 pounds of potatoes as a consolation prize....Not bad.

Another note altogether, I'm really excited about my worms. A few weeks ago I showed you guys the video of the worm farm in my kitchen, and they have kept at it. I'm kind of shocked at how efficient it is. It sits under the red table under the windows, quiet and odorless. The red wigglers inside have already started on their second level of food scraps, the bottom is so dark and fine I am worried it'll be too good to use, too strong on the garden! So I rewatched that video that came with the 360 Worm Factory and in it it pretty much said the same thing. Vermicompost is strong stuff. They only dug little holes in their garden boxes and filed them in with the worm's casting dirt kind of like filling up a tank with fuel. If you want to try one, and start making soil in your kitchen too, you can get one at UncommonGoods. They were the folks who sent me this box to test out. They have them in their Home and Garden section. If you grab one, tell them I said Hi.

Oh, and one last thing. Folks said they could not reach me at my aol email address? That makes sense, since I don't have an aol email address. But I realized on my profile my old AIM screename from 2004 was still listed, and perhaps it linked up to that old account. I'm sorry if you tried to contact me that way, but from now on just email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com - that is my current address.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

a pony winter

I would be lying if I didn't admit I am getting nervous about winter. Just a few weeks till November 1, and I still have a chimney to install, a new sheep shelter to replace the old one, a roof to repair, and heating bills and a horse to see too. Today at least, I saw to the horse.

Brett came down from his cabin near Saranac to help me build a stall and paddock in the barn for Jasper. As much as he loves romping with the sheep in the 3-acre pen—come winter that steep hill covered with ice and snow is trouble. Might as well break his legs myself if I intended to keep him with the flock. Sheep can handle a steep, icy bank. I don't know if Jasper could or not, but I'm not finding out the hard way.

So yesterday Brett and I headed to the lumber store and Tractor Supply and got enough wood and gear to create a stall indoors/fence outdoors for the pony (did you know dented gates at the Bennington TSC are half price?!). It's 10x14 inside, and larger outisde. I had already ordered a hay bag feeder, bridle holders, and other barn supplies to keep him happy. It took us most of the morning, and a bit of the afternoon, but we (mostly he) built a nice stall and paddock out of sheer will. It looks wonderful, and it makes me happy to see him munching on hay in his trial run this evening.

Other tasks like re-shingling holes in the barn roof and placing more support beams were seen too. Brett said he'd give the barn three more years and it would start to buckle. Not a collapse in a flash, or a danger to the livestock, but signs of replacement over repair would arise and the cost of fixing it would not make sense. Thousands of pounds of slate are on that centennial roof. It would cost more to replace that roof then build a new barn. I took this grave news best I could. But like most small farms, you have a running tab in your head of what needs to be done now, and what can last a season or two longer. This winter, we are looking safe barn-wise. I have a PHD woodsman carpenter's okay. I take that as a thumbs up for a pony winter.

Thank you, Brett.

Wood delivered: check
Jasper's winter stall: check
A bit of heating oil ordered: check
New sheep pole barn: soon, (still owe half)
Chimney installed: God, I hope so (also still owe half)
Roof repairs: planned
Blind Certainty I'll figure it out: check
Spots left for Fall Festival: 6
Spots left for Joseph's wool: 7

Friday, August 12, 2011

sweet corn cart

Meet Frank Thomas and his gelding, Bill — a pair of business partners here in Washington County. I met them at the Agway when I stopped for grain after having lunch with a friend at the Burger Den. Frank's a retired dairy farmer who still raises sweet corn for income. He used to drive it around in his truck, but decided he was done wasting money on gas. "Too much," he said, shaking his head and explaining the logical reasons for his new vehicle. The horse was not a statement, but a practical way to get to town. He drives Bill the 4 miles into Salem three days a week and sells his corn the old fashioned way, pressing the flesh, parking the draft horse in the shade, and enjoying the people and conversation. "People come to see the rig and Bill, and then they buy the corn," he said to me, beaming. This man had his market figured out. I sure bought some ($4 a baker's dozen, picked this morning), and we had a good talk about our horses. I told him about Jasper and he seemed to light up at the fact he wasn't alone working a cart horse (I felt the same way!) I asked if I could come see his farm sometime, meet his horses, maybe watch him harness and such? He said sure. We parted ways with a hug, and I left grinning. If there is any question the world is changing, there's proof in the streets here.

yesterday's evening view

Thursday, August 11, 2011

black sheep wool workshop!

I have an idea for a workshop I think some of you are going to love. If you're anything like me, you love the farm stories, and the pictures, but what you really crave, what you can't wait to feel...is the comfort. I would like to do a January workshop here at the farm. It is going to be a fundraiser for the chimney (which is 1/3 paid off but yet to be installed!), and here is my plan:

I am going to host a wool workshop. We'll all learn how to skirt, wash, dry, card, and spin wool with drop spindles. Then, after we have learned the basics of creating yarn out of sheep, we will sit down and learn to knit in the living room. With the wood stove blazing, baking us warm bread and apple fritters, we'll spend a winter afternoon talking about our farms, animals, farm dreams, and fears. It will be an interactive knitting circle, a catered affair of farm foods and three meals. The full day is about learning to make fabric, sure, but it is also about community, and new friends, and sitting by a wood stove in a warm farmhouse with a border collie in your lap. Learn a skill, see the farm, share in the conversation. It'll be the last weekend in January, and the farm will be covered in snow. Meet the sheep, help with chores, and wear a comfy sweater. It'll be great.

Everyone who comes will leave with a large bag of Joseph's raw dark wool. You will take it home and wash and spin it yourselves. You need nothing but a plastic storage bin and dish soap. You'll also leave with a drop spindle. Ideally, you will leave with the raw materials this farm can offer to help you create an extremely homemade wool hat from a sheep you will have fed hay that same day.

You need no experience whatsoever to come to this workshop with animals, or knitting. Come knowing nothing about wool and leave knitting your first scarf. No animals will be slaughtered and no sweats will be broken. This is a low-key, but highly inspirational day to hang at Cold Antler and smell that bread rising as you knit a row and the snow falls.

Email me if you're interested, Folks who have come to previous workshops and I know, are welcome to board here at the farm for an extra fee. Wake up to snow crows from Fancy the rooster!

Photo of Joseph (your future hat) by Tim Bronson

apple man

just as she

My day started digging a grave. I had never had to dig a hole that deep before. I dug on the far right side of the barn, back by an old outbuilding I never use that used to house fighting cocks a few decades before. Roots and rocks were born again to sunlight as I prepared to show this girl the earth.

This lamb was my first dead sheep, ever. I did it by hand, with a shovel and pick axe. I got down as far as I could, a few feet. My back was really starting to hurt. I went back to the barn and grabbed the dead animal by the wool, something I have done before in haste with sheep, but instead of pulling her mass towards me, it simply ripped off in my hands. I was stunned for a moment by the rush of decomposition. Grabbing at wool was how I caught her less than 24 hours before. Now it couldn't hold dead weight. I sighed, grabbed the back legs, and drug her 50 pounds to the hole.

She was buried, and then for good measure I covered the grave with large flat stones. I would be late for work. I still had the entire farm to feed and water and prepare for the day. It is an oddly warming thing to do, preparing the living after a morning of preparing the dead. Hopeful.

Losing the ewe, and two more rabbits to the wasting disease, had me so angry and demoralized. To remove three bodies from the world of the living to the world of the dead is not the best way to pick yourself up. I was able to save half the rabbits, and had plans to set up their mobile rabbit tractor that weekend. I needed to do something right then to lift myself up, out of this sad place. So I assembled one of the pens I had ordered from Critter Cages, and set it by the barn. I put in four black kits and watched them hop, drink, and devour the grass I would mow later that night. I decided not to mow this area by the barn, let them do it instead.

I was tired today. I had stayed up with the ewe lamb rather late, and then stayed up worrying even later. Between sections of Ken Burn's Civil War and walking back to the computer to read blog comments, I couldn't sleep. I ended up falling asleep around 3 and waking up around 5:30. It was not enough sleep to wake up, dig a grave, and put in a full day at the office. I went, and I did my tasks, and came home to the usual chores and such. I did them all and am happy to say I am going to sleep shortly without an alarm clock.

I would not trade this long day for anyone else's. It must sound awful, but it was not. I am lucky to have a lamb to bury, as dark as that may sound. I dreamed of being a shepherd for years. Today I was one, in the saddest sense. I am grateful for how it shows me the world. And how I am vulnerable to it, too. Just as she.

she died

I am sorry.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

a very bad night

Just back from the vet's gravel driveway. I spent dusk with the new lamb, sitting beside her on the ground with her panting head pressed against my chest, her feet curled in my lap. Too weak to fight, she curled next to me while the vet injected medicine into her neck vein. It was an anti-inflammatory, and Dr. Shelly said it was the quickest way to the lungs. The little girl had a bad case of pneumonia. Real bad. The stress of the move was too much and she went from plucky to panting in under 36 hours. It happened so fast. With sheep, it can happen so fast...

I had never had a problem with sheep being introduced to the flock before. Joseph came alone as a lamb and was fine. All the new Black Faces fit right in, but this little girl started spiraling last night, and I didn't realize how serious it was. It was hot out, she was new and I assumed it was just her getting used to the scene in my pasture. I thought her avoidance of the other animals was just her being new. It was how Joseph was, how the Black Faces were when they arrived - skittish. I thought a weak in the flock and she'd be an old pro. But when I pulled into my drive and saw her laying in the field, head down, I ran to her. She was so weak I caught her in moments, and felt a different animal in my arms. Thinner, weaker, and my heart pounded next to the hot body. I carried her to the barn, in the shade, and put her in Pig's old pen with cold water spiked with electrolytes. Soon as she was set, I called the breeder and the vet. I got the breeder's machine, but my neighbor the large animal vet was off work and told me to drive her right down.

I loaded her into Gibson's crate and we sped down the hill.

We arrived and I pulled her out onto the driveway. Shelly felt her body, took her temp (over 106), and listened to her lungs. The diagnose came quick. Soon she was given strong antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, iron, ProPen G, and a shot of dewormer. I wrote a check, shook her hand, and brought her home to a pen in the barn. She is there now, barely holding on. I can only hope what I did was enough to give her a chance. Shelly said her chances were around thirty percent, tops. Not the best odds. If she pulls through the night, her chances go up to 50%.

I am worried.

Yee haw

When I lived in Knoxville, my friend Leif worked at YeeHaw, the print shop shown here. I spent a lot of time in there, shopping, talking with friends. Their work is Knoxville to me, and taht video is a perfect representation of the vibe that down has. It's a brick and soil city, and I miss it everyday.

the 1899 horsey horseless

I ran across this yesterday while listening to my favorite podcast, Hometown Tales, and loved it. Talk about the original hood ornament! This is the 1899 Horsey Horseless, a car designed to calm the mostly horsey world around it. The designer felt cars were too different than the usual fare and could scare the horses pulling buggies around them in crowded cities. This was their answer: a tricked-out autocar with a fake horse head on it. I could only find illustrations, but would LOVE to see an original.

Anyone who thinks history is boring needs a slap.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

5:45 AM

I only counted twelve. I stood there, sometime around 5:45AM on the wooly side of the fence, counting over and over. Ten sheep were scattered around me, eating their morning hay. Sal and Atlas were up in the small pen, eating theirs. One animal was missing. and it had to be a lamb since the five original Black Faces were all around me and so were Maude and Joseph. That left one of the new guys. I listened, and then called, and got no response. A sheep was either hurt, dead, or ignoring me.

Little Pidge was at my feet, with her dirty rear end dry, but right near my knee. Knox was close, by his mother and eating more than his share. Atlas was in the Pen. That left Ashe, and the new girl I picked up this weekend. I noticed Ashe moments later, by Knox, like always. When I see those two side by side, I can't help but feel a swell of pride. The first two lambs ever to hit Cold Antler Farm soil and they are healthy as a team of oxen. All seven of my lambs are still alive and well, actually. Three remain here (Knox, Ashe, and little dirty-bum Pidge) and three are at Common Sense Farm. The last one is up at Brett's place near Saranac, and like the lambs at Common Sense, is destined for the freezer. I am proud to feet them all. Between the commune and Brett, over 60 people will take a bite of Cold Antler Farm lamb this year.

I still had to find the new girl. I hopped the gate and grabbed the crook by the front door. It is weather worn and gray now, but it is the same crook that hung on the cabin wall in Vermont. I take it for a lot of reasons, but mostly comfort. I might need to beat back brush, or snag a lamb, or help me hike up and over the hill to the far pasture 2 and a half acres away (about a half-mile hike from the house) but mostly, I enjoy it like good company. A crook is something solid that announces exactly what I am about to do, which is shepherd (the verb), as a Shepherd (the noun). I head over the hill at sunrise, calling for the missing lamb.

Calling, means Baaing. I literally make sheep noises. The current residents all know this means grain or hay, and even at 2AM I can stand in the light of the lamp post, cup my hands over my mouth and BAAAAAHHHHHAaaHHHAAAhhhh into the dark and I will get a stream of replies and soon all the animals I care for will be at my feet. But this new kid, she doesn't know this. Barb has good dogs and dignity, she doesn't need to bribe and yodel. But I try. And soon I am as far into the property as the fence allows and there is no sign of this new ewe lamb. Feeling scared, and concerned, I start walking back. Maybe I miscounted? Maybe she was behind one of the sheds? And as I walk back to the familiar places I hear a low bleat and a rustle of leaves and it is the dark-faced new girl. She must had made camp here in the outpost. Still too new to feel at home curled up between boney Lisette, Flamboyant Joseph, and angry ol' cuss Maude. I call to her, in low sounds and chortles, like a mother ewe and she emerges from the brush like the White Stag. I watch her walk. She isn't limping, or panting, or stressed. I walk away and let her back to her business. She will figure out her people in her own time.

I head back to the farmhouse to shower. My day starts shortly. I have to be at a desk in Vermont by 8 AM. At least when I sit down to it I will know the world I am responsible for is at peace. No one has been eaten, or hurt, or is missing in action. Everyone has food, water, and shelter. I'll go to the office and do the work I am asked, and hope when I return near dusk the place still has a strong heartbeat. But this place does makes it hard to take spreadsheet and coupons too seriously. No one is ripped apart by coyotes if I mess up at the office. At least not yet.

another way to eat rabbit

Monday, August 8, 2011

i'm on a such a civil war tear right now...

I heart Grant.

rabbit 101 was a hit!

I got a new percolator. I love it. Google Rapid Brew Stainless Steel Percolators and pick one up if you're looking for a nice electricity-free way to pump your mud. My old faithful (a little 6-cupper I bought at an antique store for eight dollars) fell into the garbage can that was full of dog hair and other vacuum debris. It needs to be bleached to all get out before I use it again (I know what happens on those carpets). So I found this replacement at the Vermont Kitchen Store in Manchester and while they are not in any way a sponsor of this blog, this thing is the bees knees. I sprung for the 12-cup model with the wooden handle and it served the workshop yesterday well.

I think every kitchen unquestionably should have two things
1. A cast iron skillet
2. A stove-top percolator.

The rest is just details.

Yesterday's Meat Rabbit 101 workshop went well. I had ten attendees from as far away as Brooklyn and as close as down the road. We had a nice time even though the entire day was a muggy heat squall, threatening serious rain. But it held off, and gave the lot of us plenty of time to walk around the farm and rabbit barn all day.

The workshop started in the farmhous, with quiche, coffee and donuts. Folks arrived in groups, bearing gifts like pie filling, honey, squash, and coffee (all ways to my heart). After introductions and some beginning words we all headed outside to the animals. After a sheep and pony show, we turned to the trio of rabbits in a wagon in front of the house. I went over what to look for in stock, from ears to topline, and signs of ill animals. Everyone got their hands on the rabbit, felt what was correct and healthy. (Everyone also got to see me getting scratched open from plenty of feisty animals.) There was a lot of notepads being scribbled, and I was pleased to see people truly diving in. No one was shy. Questions shot out like crazy.

There was also a live slaughter/butchering demonstration. It started with killing the rabbit, a small doe. It was done quickly as possible, using a method of instantly breaking the animals neck through a slip-knot noose tied to a door frame. One yank and the animal's neck is broken. I still shake when I take a life. It's not a shake of guilt, or sadness, but awareness of what I have done and how, someday, it will happen to me, too. I'm a farmer. My entire life is about dirt, sex, and death, now. You can church it up if you want, but the base elements of food and creation come down to that holy trinity.

Then it was hung from the barn door, skinned, gutted, and broken down into loins and legs. It could have went smoother, I didn't have a good skinning knife, but it worked and everyone got a realistic demonstration of the job. Ian, a 10-year-old of Cathy's, kept the pelt to tan at home. The meat is in my freezer.

Right after the animal was harvested, we all came inside for a late lunch and conversation. We ate rabbit Alfredo with over pasta (recipe below) and enjoyed everyone's gifts of food. It was so nice to see the farmhouse buzzing with conversation, from rooftop bees in NYC to how one person manages a market. Everyone seemed to already have their foot in the farming door. One woman was changing her father's Dairy farm into a small homestead. A fellow who came with his girl, ran a cafe and wanted to see how to incorporate sustainable rabbit into the menu. These parts of workshops are my favorite. I savor a house full of farm talk.

got an email from Cathy and Kylie saying they had a good time and learned a lot, and Meg over at Brooklyn Homesteader is having a naming contest for the three rabbits she bought from me at the workshop. I was just happy to see that folks were interested in driving out to the farm, sharing stories, food, and coffee and willing to learn about a not-yet conventional type of dining.

Which, far as I'm concerned, is a shame. Rabbit is a wonderful, clean, meat that tastes great in roast, fried, nugget or pasta forms. It makes stews that summon spring and a family can produce 70+ pounds of meat for pennies per pound. You do have to get over that whole eating-Thumper mindset. I mean, lets be honest, America has been eating Bambi for years without qualms...

Easiest rabbit recipe in the world
take one small rabbit (2 pounds) and place in a crock pot. Cover it with a 20oz bottle of regular Coke. Add three chopped carrots, and three chopped potatoes. Turn on low and let it go all day. 8 to 10 hours later you will have a white rabbit meat so tender the meat will fall off the bone, and when it does, you know it's ready.You can eat it right out of the crock pot as a light stew, or if you are serving it to folks who might be new to rabbit, I suggest you cut off the meat and then flash brown it in a skillet with olive oil and some garlic salt. you place it over pasta with the carrots and potatoes and cover with a white sauce (I used Alfredo). It is a rich, filling, meal. Tasty and easy too!

photos Flickr's Jacob...K and Meg Paska

Sunday, August 7, 2011

what a day

I never nap. But this afternoon, I napped.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

That'll do, horse. That'll do.

she is woman, hear her baa

He didn't even see it coming. With the reflexes of a jungle cat on phentermine I spun around 180-degrees and grabbed Atlas by the horns. The young ram bucked and carried on, and then, realizing I was pulling him uphill by his skull, sunk his legs into the ground cartoon-mule style and refused to budge. It was raining pretty hard at this point, but I didn't mind. I was already wet from giving Sal his antibiotics (he started limping again yesterday) and feeding everyone enough grain to get them back to the main pen. It was the grain that hazed Atlas's awareness, and while his head was down snarfing some up I pounced. What he didn't know was my secret weapon is stubbornness, and I would not let go of those grand horns. In the end, I won. I got him in the pen where his baby-maker was safely tucked away till Guy Fawke's day, or later.

I have learned that when it comes to sheep subterfuge is the only way to go. I trick, bribe, and pounce before they have much time to react. If you walk nervously into the pen with a syringe, pacing about, and holding out a handful of grain all you've got is a bad plan.

This is my first year breeding my own lambs (well, pimping my own lambs) and I had been worried about this ram-removal for weeks. Tonight I decided was as good as any night to fight an ovine. From the office window I hear the sounds of gentler rain, his bleats to be let out, and the cries of the new ewe lamb on the hill. She is sitting under the large apple tree, too scared to join the scary new sheep of Cold Antler. She'll come around.

Tomorrow a bunch of folks are coming to the farm to talk rabbits. I'm looking forward to the entire day—from farm tours to recipes—it'll be an big time with livestock and like minds. I'll post photos from the workshop, and announce some winter ones in the works. Oh, and is anyone planning to come to the fall Sheep 101 class? Some folks backed out, others swapped plans, and others just aren't sure. Please let me know.

Coming soon: A chance to pre-order signed copies of Barnheart from a local bookstore, more giveaways, farm gossip, and workshops.

I told you I grabbed the ram by the horns.

riding in cars with sheep

photos from the field

Had a great lesson today with Gibson down at Taravale Farms in Esperence. Since I was already heading down to pick up the first of two ewe lambs I was getting from Barb (replacing Lisette and Pidge from this year's breeding) I decided to take in a lesson with Gibson. It went so well. He is really starting to come along, to think before he charges in, to pay attention to the human on the scene. We have a long way to go, but we are certainly getting there.

and the winners are....

I'm happy to announce that the winner of the New England Illustrated contest is Devon! And she'll be getting this original ink sketch of a dear on a Deere from Shawn Braley's sketchbook (which I'm mighty jealous of). Shawn will also be mailing her a full set of 24 note cards. Congratulations Devon, and thank you to all who entered. I plan on having a few more giveaways through the fall, so stay tuned and keep entering. You could win next time around... Also! Shawn sent me an email saying I could pick 5 other random runners up to receive a 4-pack of the note cards I showed on the post (draft horses, clotheslines, green tractor, and fat cat). Those winners are:

Farmer Jenny

If your name was selected, please email me at Jenna@itsafawalk.com and I will put you in touch with Shawn to arrange your delivery.

Friday, August 5, 2011

breeding trio

I'm excited about this workshop on Sunday. A lot of folks are coming to learn about meat rabbits and see the farm. Today I'm testing recipes, planning the menu, and getting the farm all ready for visitors. I hope they aren't expecing a Martha Stewarty farm. Folks, there will be chicken poo on the walkway and dog hair blowing 'round the floor. I do my best, but the place just isn't a homemakers home. Be kind.

I stopped at Wanabea Farm in Manchester today to talk rabbits with Bruce and pick up a new buck for my herd. I was able to get a gorgeous New Zealand (4 pounds at 14 weeks!) for my own lines, and a non-related breeding trio to sell to any workshoppers who wanted to leave with their own starter livestock. I'll have two does and a buck, two new large 36" cages with metal trays availble for purchase if anyone is interested in leaving with the trio. I also have three beautiful Silver Fox/Rex kits from my stock ready to wean and send off as little buns. Not sure of their sexes yet, but the point is there will be livestock available tomorrow if anyone is interested. Please email me if you'd like to arrange it at jenna@itsafarwalk.com

P.S. Still time to enter the giveaway below! Winner will be picked Tomorrow night!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

New England Illustrated Giveaway!

A few months ago I got a card in the mail from a reader. It was a beautiful illustration of a farmhouse with a clothesline. Simple, comforting, rustic and elegant. Inside the card was a magnet of a blue early 1980's pickup truck. I kept the card on my typewriter and the magnet is on the fridge. That artwork always stuck with me, though. I picked up the card often, trying to figure out if it was ink and watercolors, computer-generated, or both? Had I seen this house? I swear I knew this place? And then a few weeks after getting the card I noticed that I had seen his work at one of my local bookstores, Northshire, in Manchester Vermont. Well, boy Howdy! Now I knew what was so familiar about this cards, he drew what he lived around, which was Veryork! He was a local artist, right here in my hood. His prints, posters, sketches, and cards are all farm-related images with a touch of humor and a lot of kindness to them. Familiar and happy, all.
And, speaking of happy, I'm happy to announce that I contacted Illustrator Shawn Braley, and asked if he would like to support CAF and have a giveaway on the blog. He obliged! He has an ad up on the blog, which will run all year (and that has helped me pay off the sheep shed)! New England Illustrated has teamed up with CAF for this amazing giveaway. Leave a comment in this post and you are entered to win a complete 24-pack set of Shawn's beautiful note cards, and an ORIGINAL sketch from his own sketchbook! Random winner drawn Saturday Night!

This kid is going places, and that sketch might be worth a lot more than a comment, folks. I strongly suggest you enter! And share this post on your Facebook page as well, please! To see the cards, and more about Shawn, click on New England Illustrated, tell him "HI, and thanks!" from me!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Why Are Young, Educated Americans Going Back to the Farm?

Originally published on Turnstylenews.com, a digital information service surfacing emerging stories in news, entertainment, art and culture; powered by award-winning journalists.
By Nelson Harvey

I am a 25-year-old college graduate with a degree from a fairly prestigious eastern university, and I pull weeds for a living. At first blush, you might think I'm overqualified, and after four hours of weeding the squash beds, when the stiffness begins to set in, that's what I start to believe, too. In fact, nothing in college prepared me for this. My only credentials are the past two summers, spent learning by doing: planting, thinning, trellising, fertilizing, tilling, harvesting, washing, packing and, of course, weeding.

I am a farm intern, and to me, the only thing more remarkable than the fact that I have spent much of the past three summers happily stooping over vegetable rows (I am 6'4'') is that I am not alone. Across the country, college students and graduates like myself, many with little or no farming background, have been flocking to small farms in droves, shacking up in old farmhouses, trailers and tents, and working for free or for peanuts, all in exchange for a little instruction in the fine art of running a farm.

"It's almost like a third education after college," said Kelly Coffman, 30, a second-year apprentice at Rain Crow Farm in Paonia, CO. Coffman studied at Prescott College in Arizona and Naropa University in Boulder, CO, and worked in the California state park system and as a kindergarten teacher, before deciding to work on farms. "When you have [a liberal arts] education, you get to a point where you realize wait, I need to have a more basic fundamental education about being human. Food, water, shelter...these things are important," she said.

Read the rest on Huffington Post

Photo Credit: Nelson Harvey/Turnstyle

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Good news: the permit finally came to build the new chimney, and I was able to send the deposit on the parts with the folks at the Stovery, thanks to a new partnership with a popular artist (more soon), your workshop donations, and a renewed ad from MyPetChicken.com, I scrounged up enough to cover the half-cost of supplies to secure a chimney installation! Now I have to gather together what it takes for the other half and labor, but just having made that deposit and holding the pink paperwork in my hands feels more than halfway there. I know I can pull these fall projects together.

Just two hours of sleep last night. I feel dizzy. Heat lightening kept me up. But I think a calm morning and iced coffee will set me right.

beans, beer, and sick bunnies

That there is a hill of beans. Well, a sprawling vista of beans, at least. This weekend I was able to put up four quarts of beans (blanching post coming soon), and brew two gallons of all malt stout for the fall. These are the first greens put to the freezer, and it was nice seeing some veg next to all those packages of chicken, duck, rabbit, and pork. A little something, something for the side. I hope to get more so I can add to the freezer bounty. I don't have a pressure canner so it's the only way to preserve these types of veggies. I might even freeze some of my tomato sauce to be safe this fall. Do you folks can, or freeze your harvest/CSA/market greens? What else are you putting up?

On a sadder note, the first litter of kits has come down with the same disease that took out most of last year's young. I'm not sure what it is, but I do know the only surefire way to stop it is to get these guys out on green grass, pronto. So at the first signs of showing ribs and diarrhea, and grinding jaws, these guys hit the grass. I hope it's enough.

Not to sound crass, but jeesh, of all the luck. I deal with a rabbit epidemic days before the meat rabbit workshop. I suppose this is good in some respects, as workshoppers will see how to spot failing health and how to deal with it, but it also has me worried. I want these kits well, and producing into fall. The good news is there are no rabbit diseases a human can get through ingestion (really) and so if they do recover by fall they will be fine for the table.

This morning everyone was fine but still sluggish. Every kit that was in a hutch was put outside. The rest of the herd is doing well in the comfy shade and hay-lined goodness of the barn. My plan is to get a hutch without a bottom I can move it around the lawn and keep them in one safe spot. They will recover, I just need to be quick about containment (of them) and healing of their woes. I am grateful to have the experience to deal with it swiftly.

Oh, and if you're coming up this weekend for the rabbit 101 class, email me for directions and supplies! Looking forward to meeting you all, several from the city!

Monday, August 1, 2011

are we there yet?!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

the map

This weekend I was out in the barn sorting through the two dozen large boxes that had not been touched in over half a decade. They have remained, like a very personal, very short-term, time capsule in storage across four states, since they were originally packed up and moved from the apartment Jazz and Annie and I shared in Tennessee. Some of the items have not been held, smelled, or seen since I graduated from college in 2005. One in particular sliced into me.

I found the Map.

The Map is exactly that, a little piece of oddly-specific, emotional cartography. I painted it during my senior year of design school. It is not a pretty painting, nor would it mean anything to any other person who looked at it, but at one time in my life, it meant everything to me.

I took a large canvas—about four feet long and two feet high—and painted a map on white gesso in black ink. It was not to scale. (I abhor details.) It showed my college campus at Kutztown, the buildings, the field, the farm behind my dorm where I rode horses, the town, the graveyards, the train tracks, and a very special hill in the middle of nowhere.

The only color on the black and white map is a splattering of dots. Each close friend had a color, and when something happened I wanted to remember I painted their color on the map where it happened. By graduation the entire thing was smattered with four years of nostalgia. Friday morning when I opened the brown paper, and uncovered the map, I cried for a very long time. And I cried because of the three dots painted along hillside on the far edge of the map.

One night my best friend and I drove out into the countryside and the stars were astoundingly beautiful. He told me to pull over, and park my red Jetta on the side of the road. We hiked a half mile up a large, rolling green hill. At the top was two copses of trees, and when we reached them, we sat down and took in the whole world, heaving. I'm not sure how long we sat there, on this vista that looked more like a Microsoft screen saver than reality, and just stared at the void. It could have been twenty minutes, or it could have been hours. We ate a light snack of good chocolate, a cold water. I remember feeling safe, and lucky, and how grateful I was that he was in my life.

A few weeks later I convinced another friend to go there with me. I wanted him to experience what I had felt, what me and this other person had shared. We drove out there on warm night, and even made it a third of the way up the hill. But he stopped and turned around. He didn't want to be up on that hill alone with me, and made up some excuse about the police taking his car from the side of the road. The drive back to our college town was heavy and awkward.

As if this all happened yesterday, I am flush with the smell of wet, dark grass and heaving up a hillside in the dark. My eyes dart all over the map and I realize out of all those colors I only talk to one person now, and rarely. Maybe this is just growing up, this growing apart, but it pained me to see a wall of fading memories. The people I hiked up to that hill with were the most influential and deeply-loved people in my life. Neither of them talk to me anymore. Both accounts are my fault.

Some things can not be helped.

I kept the map, and stored it in the attic. But piles of old issues of HOW, Communication Arts, ID, and Readymade were tossed out. Long-ruined art supplies and musty clothes molded and trashed. I saved all the antiques, gifts, and family items of import but all the paperwork, old college assignments, resumes, and design stuff were useless. In the bin went one lifetime to make room for another. This quieter, dirtier, life on a mountain in New York. It is just six years and five hours away from the last but I might as well be in a crater on Jupiter for how familiar it no longer feels. When you are tossing away your old portfolios to make room for your winter hay and a pig, life has changed.

I moved the Map outside, and went back about the business of sorting antiques and possessions. When I went to open the door of a 1960's Westinghouse cabinet, inside was a photograph of that hill. It was water damaged and beyond help. I closed the door and left it there. Some things were so real to you, the actual proof that they exist makes them feel contrived.

Seeing that map, or that photo, did not make me feel like my life here was a mistake. The tears were tears of lost friends and lost time, but not of regret. I can't imagine living the lives of so many of my old peers, in cities or traveling around the world. It is not what I want, or what I envy, but it doesn't change the fact that I miss them. I wish that everyone on that map was coming up here for Thanksgiving. I wish Kevin and Josh, Erin and Rikki, Raven and Nisaa, and and so many more were going to show up at the farm with hot dishes and warm smiles and tell me all about the big wide world, and how it all works from 30,000 feet in the air or an ocean away. I want to sit on the floor of my living room, Gibson at my side and hand-knit hat on my head and listen to stories of dinners in Tuscany and slamming on breaks down the Autobahn. I can see them all here, happy, smiling, all having learned and seen things far beyond my own slight wisdoms. Some have children now, some have been divorced, others have been mugged in Spain. Life has done a little two-step for us all.

I want to hear all this, sip some hard cider, and see everyone from Typography II again. This can not happen, but for what it's worth guys, the invite is always open.

Maybe I'll start a new map, with new colors. I have new people in my life, some very important. I'd like to think I now know who does and doesn't belong on the Hill. I know who I would take by the hand, and share chocolate and the sky with and who I would not.

I think that is progress.


When I bought Jasper in late April he was not the same horse he is today. An Amish reject from the auction house, bought by a man who trades in ponies in Hebron, and then sold to me based on a gut feeling and my amazement at his good nature. The day I shook the man's hand and put down my deposit) Jasper was dirty, wet, scrawny, and shaggy. It wasn't the trader's fault. He came from a place that fed him as little as possible, and it was the muddiest time of the year. Because I was just amazed that I was buying a horse to begin with, I didn't see his poor condition clearly. I thought he was great. But as friends, blog readers, and fellow equestrians pointed out his overgrown hooves, poor coat, and desperate need of de-worming.

With help from friends, green grass, a good brush and a few visits from the farrier I have a much healthier animal. He and I are still rookies when it comes to working together in harness, but yesterday I needed to slip on a new halter and he let me slide it right over his nose. When he came here catching him to put on a halter was an Olympic event. Now, It is the end of July, and here is a video of the horse I now have.

yard sales and tools

Up here, they call them tag sales, but in the Tri-State Area—they were and always will be—yard sales. I passed by this barn in Salem yesterday while on my way to Agway. I couldn't resist stopping by. It had all sorts of pretty shelves of glassware and old Texaco Oil signs. The big wagon wheel outside was interesting to me, but I didn't want it unless it had a brother I could use on a horse cart. Everything else seemed boring. The old rush I used to feel around junk wasn't there. I didn't buy anything. I did, however, step outside and spend a long time looking at the garage's walls. Here in the middle of farm countr: people use tools as decorations and make a living selling decorations to tools...

The scythe, the wood drill, pitchforks, etc. All of those things seem to have real purpose, and I could use them all back at Cold Antler. I suddenly wanted to laugh. How lucky we are to live in a time of such abundance and good fortune that hand tools used to grow food are so unnecessary we bolt them to walls! The people I bought my farm from did the same, and I left their installations there because I thought they looked nice and "farmy." I wrote them off as part of the decor.

A few weeks ago Brett and Diane came over to help me install that pasture fence. Brett told me via email he'd bring down a singletree from the college's workhorse supply so I could use it with Jasper for training. After the work was done, meals eaten, and thanks given he left and I realized he didn't leave the singletree? I was a little bummed out, since I had plans to start really working with Jasper. The next day at the office he explained in an email he drove off with it in the bed of his Tacoma because there already was one hanging on the wall outside the farmhouse. Where?! I asked in reply. He said it was up like a decoration, mounted on the wall outside the overhang where I stack lazy hay bales. I turned red with embarrassment in my desk chair.. Me, the wannabe teamster, who didn't even realize she had her own draft horse equipment hanging on the walls of her own farm house.

What a tool.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

how's that, CJ!?

Spent the past two days cleaning out all the boxes and storage from the barn and putting it to proper use: stacking haybales inside it. I only got 36 in there so far, but techincally, it's not even August yet and I'm not so behind. Per CJ's comments in the last post, I thought about it and decided he was right. Get more each time, save on trips and your own time. I went back and got 29 more bales this weekend. I'll need at least a hundred stacked in the barn by snowfly, and another twenty or so stacked in the loft. While I'm not far from that goal, it feels pretty good to have this big job started, and now the entire lower part of the barn will be put to use as hay storage and winter quarters for a herd of rabbits, horse, and a feeder pig. Pretty standard use as far as barns go, but this early 1900's barn hasn't been used in a few decades.

No new turkeys are strutting under the maple trees. Bourbon Red pickup was moved to later in the week on account of yesterday's rain. Okay by me, since I am in full farm maintenance mode right now. Last night I had dinner at the Daughton's and Tim talked about having our coworker Brett (who repaired homes for years) come to see the damage. It looks like I will have help on the homefront afterall. He told me this while showing me how to use a vacuum sealer for veggie/meat preservation. (I am totally sold on the Foodsaver front now.) While we sealed up airless, plastic bags with wax beans we talked about their farm plans, my own stove and farm issues, and as we sat down to the table for dinner a cool wind and gentle rain blew through the room. Tim said grace, the summer squash crawled up their fence outside, and thunder rolled over the valley. It was beautiful.

Everything's going to work out just fine.

Friday, July 29, 2011

dangerous money

I was getting a headache. Something I would usually ignore (or remedy with a glass of iced coffee), but I was hard at work in a place without a barista handy. I was up in the hay maw of the Common Sense Farm, bucking down bales one at a time to load into the back of my truck. It takes about an hour to drive down to their farm, load bales, and drive back. I took eight this morning and if the clouds break and it doesn't look like rain, I'll go back for eight more tonight. I buy hay in short trips, a truck at a time. This year, I planned on calling a delivery in of 100-150 bales by August, but plans changed.

I found out this morning from the Pennsylvanian State Treasury that the $7,000 dollar savings bond I was supposed to get a check this week was actually a clerical error. There would be no check. That money was planned to cover the new chimney installation, fix the roof, fill the oil tank, order hay, buy supplies for the stable, and pay the second half of the new sheep shed construction bill. The rest would have gone into a pretty little savings account, in case the truck needed repairs or sitting for the next oil tank refill. Tough cookies ladie, best grab another bale and chuck it.

My head was pounding now, and I was covered all over with chaff and sweat. I decided to stop at Stewart's on the way home for some iced coffee to clear my head, but suddenly it felt like it would put me around $7,001.87 in the red. I drove home. I had ice and coffee I already paid for waiting for me to brew and clink.

I am realizing how dangerous easy money is. That out-of-the-sky check was depended on instead of real work, or words, or workshops or overtime at the office. I was banking on it, and it wasn't even real. It's okay though. I have enough saved up for the second half of the barn (first half was already paid for in cash), and the half-priced deposit for the Stovery, but hay would be bought fifty dollars at a time, loaded by me on bale at a time.

This isn't a sad post, it's neutral. If anything it has energized me to plan more workshops, write more freelance, sell more ads, and find some sponsors. Knowing that money was on the way stopped me from dogging editors or pitching new books. I was going into winter in a lull of contentment, and it was stopping creativity, resourcefulness, and drive. Today I'll find a way to get some of it back from Egress. I am certain the oil tank, barn, stove, roof, stable, hay, truck payments and mortgage will continue to be taken care of. Not certain on the particulars, but I was never into details in the first place.

Folks, it takes more than seven grand to put this girl under. To that, I raise my home-brewed glass of iced coffee. An as if there was some sort of celebration to my new baptism as a scrabbler, I am picking up three Bourbon Red Turkeys tonight, a trade that was already in the works for pork. Tomorrow will be met with ad inquiries and gobbles.

Time to hit the home office and get to work!

Farm Festival Updates!

The plans for the October weekend are looking better and better! I have been contacted by folks who want to do soap making and fiber demonstrations. On top of the already planned wood lot management, timber, cheese making, animal care, and canning workshops it seems like all things are falling into place. I should have fresh cider from pressing the farm's apples in time for this as well, and hopefully, my first silver fox kits. It looks like there will be several stations and workshops going on all at once, in a casual and down-home tone. I only have about 6 spots left, and it is first registered, first served, so if you are thinking about coming up for the October 15th weekend shindig, let me know soon so we can get you registered!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

magic beans

I am often asked how I manage to run a small farm alone while working a full time job. To many people it seems like a lot of work, or impossible. My answer is always the same but never seems to satisfy the people who ask it. I tell them two things: when I started all this I had one red dog in an apartment in Knoxville and it slowly built from there.

The second part: I fell in love.

I attended my first sheepdog trial in the summer of 2008. Less then two years later I had 6.5 acres, a white farmhouse, and a border collie puppy in my arms. What made this happen? It certainly wasn't an inheritance, marrying rich, or because I gave up my day job and found unclaimed dirt. There's certainly nothing wrong with those twists of fate, but they just weren't mine. I'm not from wealthy lines, haven't had any luck in the love department, and everyplace I lived since college I had to pay to take care of. But my point of telling you this isn't to point out shortcomings, it's that you don't need to be a wealthy, lucky, partner-in-crime to have a farm. You need to be resourceful, and stubborn, and believe in sheep.

That's what I did. After that sheepdog trial I was certain I wanted to be a shepherd. I didn't know if I could have sheep on rented land or how to take care of them. All that aside: I got serious about it in my heart. I bought books on sheep care and stacked them in places I would see them everyday. I went to Sheep 101 workshops held by my local extension. I joined the North East Border Collie Association. I bought the Storey's Barn Guide to Sheep (even thought I had no sheep or barn) and hung it up in my kitchen like a calendar. Every day I flipped through facts and charts. I bought a shepherd's crook online. I believed in this possibility with all my heart. It was a spell and a prayer, all of it.

Sheep came a few months later, a surprise trade for fiddle lessons. My landlord allowed them and neighbors and friends helped me build the shed (which is still here in Jackson, and now will house my first ram, Atlas). Supplies to build that first sheep house were less then 200.00. The wood was a kind gift, the t-posts and fencing cheap as they could be. But it lasted long enough.

When it came time to figure out a new home, things were scary, but I never doubted for a minute that there would be a farm. Thanks to you readers, a random USDA homeowners' program, desperate sellers, and buyer's market, and dumb luck—I bought a farm in the spring of 2010. There are now a dozen sheep out there, two new ewes on the way, and a thriving CSA in its second year. People in two countries have knit warmth from the animals I share my morning coffee with. Today a coworker told me about the rabbits she had for dinner, and how her son Jackson even ate the heart and liver. I am a web designer by trade, but a web designer that feeds and clothes people too, even on a small scale.

It fills me with such simple happiness. The work to make it happen has been constant, but it is a warm fog I overlook. The end result—a passing conversation in the women's bathroom or an emailed picture of fingerless gloves—resets my heart.

The list of things I need to do on a daily basis, the animals, chores, gardens, blog and books grew organically over time. If you took that girl from her first sheepdog trial and landed her in this Civil War Era farmhouse (with Civil War Era problems) it would not be the same story. I worked up to my current workload, be it farmwork, officework, and writer work over years of steady addition. What was once a few hens in a backyard in Idaho is now a sheep farm in New York. It happened one small project at a time, over years and across a nation. I am used to my life and what it asks of me. I am grateful for it.

When I moved to Vermont, the idea of owning a flock of sheep was on par with owning my own television network. It was something other people had, sure, but they had some sort of magic beans or knew the right people. My understanding of making dreams happen was confused with money. I thought that as long as I could earn enough, or win enough, or save enough I could make just about anything I wanted come true. This turned out to be absolutely false. Money plays its part, no question about that, but around here all money does is perform tasks and keep the banks happy. It comes and goes in small numbers, exchanged constantly in this community for goods and services. Local carpenters got a chunk today for the building of the new sheep shed. The Stovery needs a down payment for the new chimney. There is a roof to repair, hay to buy, a stable to build, and wood to stack before September comes. If I waited around around till I had 25k sitting in the bank, I still would not have my farm. To me, waiting for lump sum to start playing in the dirt is ridiculous. Starting a farm doesn't take cash, it takes will. If you have enough of the second, the first will find a way to you.

I am telling you this because I want you to see that a breeding flock of Scottish sheep started as a book about sheep care near my toilet. The result you see on these pictures only happened because of that slow addition of hope and force. One weekend it was a book by the toilet. The next there was a potted snap pea in the kitchen window. The next weekend I learned to bake bread. Later that week I'd rent a movie about the Amish from the library and take notes about their canning jars. Nothing happens fast, though it must appear that way when you see it as pictures and posts, or read it all in a few days. Please, never compare your own farm dreams to a weekend read through this blog. This is nearly five years of whittling magic beans out of credit card bills, paycheck-to-paycheck living, long days, and a savings account a 99-year-old could not retire on.

All that said, I am happy. And if a farm is what you want, and you do something (no matter how small) to get there everyday, then you will create it. I know this to be true and I know it from those of you who started reading this blog without land or chickens or cows and now you are running ranches or getting laying hens in your backyards. It is as normal as rain, happiness. You just need to decide it belongs to you and love it with all you've got.