Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Barnheart has landed!

Today a small package arrived at the office with a big Storey stick slapped across it. Soon as I saw it, I knew exactly what it was and my eyes lit up like a pet store puppy. It was the first "official" copy of Barnheart, from the first printing. What a thrill, what a quiet thrill. It turned out to be the first thrill of the day as well, since I discovered Made From Scratch made the Beekman 1802 email newsletter as a winter read. Those guys are the best. I emailed them to thank them, and Brent asked if I wanted to feature and excerpt on their site?! I sent it right away!

If you would like, you can order a copy from Connie here in Cambridge at Battenkill Books and Gibson and I will sign it for you. It's a way to help a small bookstore, support the Cold Antler community of Cambridge/Jackson, and get a special message from me. I'm heading down to the bookstore Friday with Gibson to do some Christmas shopping and check on the orders so far. My goal is 200, and I think we are at 125 pre-orders already! So Grab some for the Holidays and help explain to people the origin of your disease!

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

watch it

Sunday, November 13, 2011

school day

to the woodpile

Earlier this morning I was outside in the woods, back beyond the barn where trees crashed to the earth just a few weeks earlier this fall. I had a small saw in hand, a rusty little bugger I didn't take care of properly, but it still did the job. I was out there because I wanted to cut up pieces of a cherry tree's upper trunk that Brett had felled at Antlerstock. The plan was to collect some long, heavy logs and harness jasper to pull them to the wood pile before snow fly. It was a gorgeous late Autumn morning, a perfect example of that time of year known as the Days of Grace. The house was warm from the wood stoves, the sun was starting to warm me, and I had a morning of harness leather and sheepdog training ahead of me.

I also had a headache. Well, a small bruise, to be accurate. I hit my head on a steel beam yesterday heaving myself up into a hay wagon at Nelson's Farm and at the time it didn't even hurt, just surprised the hell out of me. But I spent the rest of the day wondering how hard you had to hit your head to worry about a concussion, and then wondering if it was okay to fall asleep later since I read somewhere that you can't fall asleep with a concussion? By nightfall I decided anyone who had the mental wherewithal to spend the day worrying about a concussion, probably didn't have one, or would have been at the very least in serious pain, nauseated, or reeling. So I popped two ibuprofen and went to bed. As you can all witness, I survived the night. I reckon I just have a bump. I have certainly been knocked around a lot harder than that. When I was competing regularly in Tae Kwon Do tournaments I practically did my taxes in a concussed state, but I was living with my parents back in those high school tournament days. Funny how you suddenly worry more when there is no one around to tell you "Shut up, you're fine."

After I pulled some smaller logs out myself, I found the bruiser I knew I needed some horseflesh to bring to the woodpile. The log was from the truck of a small tree, around 4 feet long and about 12" in diameter. I guessed it weighed around 150 or so pounds. I confirmed this assumption when I tried to move it. I couldn't pick it up. I had to stand it up vertically, and then push it down the hill to the path where I had set the singletree and chains for Jasper. I was about a 1/6 mile into the woods from the house. The path was rough, but I decided the pony could handle it.

I went to grab his harness and lead rope from the barn. I walked it up to him in the larger 2 acre pasture where he had spent all of yesterday and last night. It was mild enough for a pony to need nothing but some hay to rest on if he so chose. Jasper let me snap his lead rope on his halter and walk him to the tie out up on the hill I fashioned out of an old apple tree. Within moments the harness was on, the bit in his mouth, the bridle reins at the ready and chains for the hauling in my left hand.

He was a bit spazzy, but manageable. I couldn't blame him, it had been since Antlerstock that we last worked. But for the sporadic efforts we shared, he did his job without a kick or whinny. We walked into the woods and within a few moments the heavy log I had already wrapped chains around was attached to the pony and we were off. Jasper had to put a little weight into it to get started, but once he had it moving, he didn't even tighten his neck. 150+ pounds is nothing to a brute like him. We walked through the woods in quick fashion and pulled the log up to the woodpile. I removed the chains, scratched him on the head and told him he was the most wonderful horse to grace the county.

When his harness was removed, I let him retire to his stall for a breakfast of grain and cold well water. He seemed happy to be back to a civilized place. And now with him out of the pasture, I could open it up to a few older ewes for Gibson's herding lesson later that morning. But for the now, I was happy to remove his halter and pet his neck as he went about his breakfast in the barn. We had just accomplished something anyone with a riding mower or a pickup truck could have done in half the time, but that wasn't the point. The point was a horse and his girl worked as a team, and did it without a tractor or truck, and it made the grain taste better and my apple and bacon feel well-earned. The log is at the wood pile, and that's a nice bit of work before the day hits the higher sun.

Truck: A Love Story

Prior to leaving on a recent extended road trip, I took my father aside and told him that were I to perish behind the wheel and the Iowa or some other state patrol were to return my belongings, he should know that while I was enjoying the twelve-cassette packet titled No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life, I was not completely buying the Meaning of Life bit. The amateur study of philosophy is like taking a few laps with a NASCAR driver. You're not qualified to do it on your own, you have no business behind the wheel, but for a few laps or paragraphs you're right there with 'em, and when it's all over, you've learned something. Or, as my local fire chief once said, you've simply exasperated the situation.

And it remains difficult to get a philosopher to deliver a load of pig manure to your garden. So I really should get that truck going. It sits there falling apart with a case of nuclear cradle cap, thirsty for paint and a gas tank that won't leak. The project would give me license to make numerous trips to Farm & Fleet, where the livestock section feels sadly ever more equivalent of a hobby section, but the sign over the drinking fountain that says PLEAE NO TOBACCO JUICE remains, and consequently, so does hope. I don't expect much, and the little pleasures suffice. This morning for coffee I ground four scoops of Farmer to Farmer Guatemalan Medium and when I pulled the grinder cap and sniffed it was all I could do to not flop right over and shake my leg like a dog.

So. The year is planned. Grow a garden and recapture my youth. That, and get my decrepit 1951 L-120 INternational pickup truck running in time for deer hunting season in November.

Right off the bat, I got distracted by a woman.

-Michael Perry

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Em C G D

Tonight I played my guitar for the first time in months. I sat down by the large glass doors under a moon so bright it cast shadows across the floor. Next to the wood stove, on a brown sheepskin, I played the only four chords I need. I played, and sang, my favorite song and it was as if I never let that neck leave my hands. Some things stick with you, and you can't shake them out of your head. I don't think I'll ever forget the lyrics and chords to that anthem. Someday, I will play it on a 1950's J-45 so worn down from years of music that I will feel like a child when I finally pull it against me. Good guitars already understand the whole world. We can catch up to them if we're willing to try.

You can put off your dreams, your desires, your careers, your farms. You can avoid your responsibilities, obligations, promises, and sovereign rights. You can pretend a million things in this world do no matter, and turn your back on them all. But any person who wants to make music and doesn't, for any reason, is a goddamned fool.

winter kindling?

sheep, for example, are not assholes

I did not pop in a workout video today, nor did I suit up for a mile run. I had been up and about since dawn loading and unloading 42 bales of hay in the barn, hauling 200+ pounds of water, lugging grain, stacking wood, slopping pigs, cleaning out rabbit cages and other various farm chores. I had been "working out" since before daybreak, and decided even Jillian Michaels, the main sadist in my video collection, would let this day without free wights slide. By 2:30 I was dragging ass, and the kind of tired that leaves you wanting nothing more than a moratorium on all forward momentum and something cold to drink. I came inside for a glass of cider and poured it into a pint jar. I drank it like I meant it.

Jars have become my main form of drinking glass, mostly due to their abundance and convenience. I remember being at a library talk in Sandpoint, years ago, and seeing a girl with a quart jar with a slice of lemon in it and I thought it was the "neatest farmy accessory" in the world, and quickly mimicked it. Back then, I was playing farmer because I wanted that woman's life. Now jars are everywhere, and just are, and it makes sense to haul things around in them. It was probably that same for that woman in Idaho. She wasn't coming to the Library with a mason jar to make a lifestyle statement. She was coming to the Library with a mason jar because she was thirsty.

But things like that jar was exactly how I lived my life before I had a farm, but knew I wanted one. I subscribed to farming magazines for my rental coffee table. I wore Carhartt vests, bought a pickup truck, and kept pet livestock. I did all of that not because I was a poser farmer (though I am sure there were some angry and sordid individuals who felt I was), but because I am a firm believer in the fake it till you make it attitude. If you want something, you do what you can with what you have. I no longer worry what locals around here (or hecklers online) think about my legitimacy as a farmer. They can think whatever they want. I know that I'm a farmer. I am a person growing food and raising animals and trying to make the mortgage payments on time just like everyone else with a halter, electric fences, and a commercial plate on their pickups in Washington County.

My point is this: don't let someone else's definition of authenticity validate you. Not the people who roll their eyes at your backyard chickens, and not bloggers like me. Who we are is our business, and a gift we can only give ourselves. If you want to be a farmer, then become one however you know how. If that means magazines and jar water bottles like it did for me, then onward and upward to the hardware store and online subscriptions. If it means saving money, reading library books, and getting an internship at an organic farm, then have at it. Do what feels correct for you, what makes you feel more "real" in your everyday lives (it that is something you feel you are lacking, as I certainly did). And know this, there are a lot of people out there who are unhappy in this world and will jump at the chance to knock you down, correct you, mock, snark, and make you feel foolish for taking small steps towards a bigger life. To those people, I hand them kites and tell them to fly them, and to all of you putting up with it out there, I'll share this quote:

“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.”  
~ William Gibson

Introducing Firecracker Farm

We all hear the news and read the headlines, we know the world is a scary place. But I'm not going to start your weekend telling you about that hot mess, I want to tell you about something amazing that happened right here in Washington County last weekend. Read on to see that there are people out there living lives of charity and faith in a scary and unkind world.

Last weekend I was invited to a cookout and campfire over at Firecracker Farm in nearby White Creek. On the southernmost side of Washington County, Firecracker farm sits a few feet from the Vermont State Border. There, the Daughton Family lives a pretty beautiful life on their 5 acres looking over the Battenkill Valley. If you've been reading this blog a while, you may know the Daughton Family, but if not here's a basic history of our friendship.

I met Tim and his Son Holden on a pheasant hunting trip last fall when a mutual friend invited us both out to hunt with the help of his superdog, Cayenne. The hunt was great, and the company was even better. Tim and Holden were great teachers and patient with me in the field. When a missed shot left my hand bleeding from a too-fast safety snap, Tim simply took a glove out of his pocket and handed it to me without question. It was not a cheap glove, and I would be coating it in blood. Tim simply said "I have a washing machine" and smiled, and I was stunned at the generosity amongst the shotguns and flying feathers. Now, I know he was just being Tim.

A few weeks later in the office, Tim approached me to ask a favor. His daughter was getting married down in their recent home state of Missouri and he needed a babysitter. Not for his sons, but for his recent acquisition of a Dairy Cow Calf, a Holstein steer named Tasty.

I watched Tasty here at the farm and was thrilled to do so. It was the one and only time a cow ever spent time at Cold Antler, and feeding the little bottle calf was a lesson in both

So here's why I'm writing about Swiss Family Daughton. I was at their cookout last weekend and it wasn't just some party in the sticks. The Daughtons invited a group of families from their church up to the farm to offer a very special invitation. The people from the city were folks the Daughtons knew didn't have access to big backyards, green markets, or farms. These were people in apartments and used to a totally different world than the one of cows and chickens and piglets the Daughtons had. So they told these families this:

This farm was there's too. It would soon be turned into a working vegetable and grass-fed meat operation, and the families present would be the families fed by the labor of the land. Tim and Cathy did not ask for, or want, money. This was not about writing something off on their tax return or blind charity to puff an ego, this was a combined goal of a husband and wife who felt blessed to have the farm that they had and felt it was their message and work to share it with people they care about who don't. So this spring the family will be sharing their property with an inner city group of their congregation, and feeding them for free. Folks who will be eating off the farm are welcomed to come weed and hoe if they want, but they are not obligated to. In a modern world where people buy land, mow it, fence it, and do nothing with it but tell others they can't even step foot on it, the Daughtons are using the small acreage they have to feed people without soil. They are doing it because they can, and because that's what Daughtons do. If you're bleeding, they'll hand you a glove and if you're hungry they'll hand you some potatoes and a grass-fed burger. Talk about living your faith...

If you want to follow along with the adventures of this farm of believers, visit Firecrackerfarm.com. Say hello with a comment to Cathy (the author and mother of the clan) and share a word of encouragement. This experiment is a living animal for the family as well. They have yet to figure out how things will come together, and maybe some of you have advice or a word of kindness to send their way: I'm sure it will be appreciated.

There are not a lot of people working to take care of others these days. Let's wish Firecracker Farm luck, and strong backs. And for those of you coming to Antlerstock 2012, you'll get to not only meet the Swiss Family Daughton, but (I think) take a trip to their farm for a farmhouse style meal from their own bounty.

All it takes to make this place better, folks, is to decide we're going to make it better. And as for you, Firecracker Farm.



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

Or just click here to order online:

Friday, November 11, 2011

goose sex, cheap dates, and wolf moons

I was outside the farmhouse around five tonight, and the wind shocked me. It came out of nowhere, pushing my hair into my face and causing my damp hands to freeze up instantly. This was some serious hearkening, folks. It was as if winter just stabbed me with a telephone wire and shouted into a tin can on the other end. I tightened the scarf around my neck and hustled through the remaining chores. It was full-out dark already, and the sheep still needed ten gallons of water for their nightcap, Jasper needed hay, and the door to the chicken coop needed to be closed for the night. A farm needs you in ways that can not be argued against, wind be damned.

When the sheep had their fill I headed down the hill to the coop and peeked my head into the yellow straw lined house. I was spying on my over-sexed geese, seeing if they were in the family way... My suspicions were spot on. In a corner was a nest of giant goose eggs. Saro and Cyrus were giving it the ol' Thanksgiving try. It seemed like every November they start a brood, sometimes with success and sometimes not. Between their morning sexual congress by the mailbox and Atlas's happy adventures, this place has turned into an all-out brothel. I hope the neighbors don't get the wrong idea.

Goose and sheep sex aside, days like today make me think I have a shot at this author/farmer thing. The morning started with a two-hour interview with a journalist from New York City. She was writing a book on the resurgence of domestic arts and DIY culture across America and the role of homemakers. We had a good talk, and I showed her around the farm. By the time she was packed up and waving out the driveway, I realized I had never thought about many of her questions before she asked them. She wanted to know about my thoughts on feminism and homesteading, about the role of women, about trend in suburban moms getting chickens and herb gardens. Some of the answers surprised me, and I realized how much of a traditionalist I am at heart. I might be a woman with her own empire, but at the end of the day I just want to be taken care of, and take care of things. I want this because I feel like it's my biological right as a member of my sex, and because it makes me happy. I don't think wanting to be a wife or mother makes me any less a feminist than wanting to be a welder or an Air force Pilot. Nor do I dare say my desires should be anyone else's. But when it all comes down to it: I'm a simple gal. If I ever find the right man I'll happily get hitched, take his last name, and stay home to take care of the kids and dinner. I got the 14th amendment and a mortgage with my name on it. I'm all set.

After that conversation about a future I don't actually have, I realized I was running late for my lunch date. Every once in a while Jon Katz and I meet up to catch up on our books and lives, and to just chat. We're a lot alike, and share the same belief that stubbornness and determination are the true cornerstones of success in our industry. We met up at the Burger Den to talk about some proposals and books I'm working on, and I got to see some updates for his website and hear about his book tour. He's a NY Times Best Seller taking time to tell a newbie author his tips on intro paragraphs and chapter lists. His guidance and advice is something I have come to not only appreciate, but look forward to. Jon knows me better than most people, and a great deal about my personal life. I was confiding in him about some recent drama and he shared some advice with me today I was ready to hear, but fearful to do. Sometimes you need that. You need to explain a situation in the most basic, honest, and vulnerable ways and see it through another person's logic for it to come out clean in the wash. I feel lucky to know him, he's been a grand friend up here in the brambles of Washington County. Also, he's a cheap date, since our combined bill was under 20 bucks for all we could eat. God bless the Burg'den.

Everyone out there enjoying this Wolf Moon? That's what the Almanac calls it. The November moon is a big bright beam out there, and the last few nights it has been so bright It cast shadows inside the farm house at night. Deer walking around the yard stand out like make believe things in the blue light. Folklore says the night right after the full moon is a time to prayer to remove things from your life that are negative, bad thoughts, fear, guilt, all of it. As the moon wains into dark it's supposed to carry those prayers home. I don't think it can hurt. Wolves after all, are very fast dogs.

Tomorrow: More hay from Nelson, cheese making with some local raw milk I scored, and a lot of time spent writing. I am a girl with a mission, and tomorrow that specifically means dead grass, raw milk, and Microsoft Word. Take that, Louie Pasteur.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

what a chalkblocker....

Well folks, there is some serious testosterone up in the sheep field right now. Atlas is out of the pen—doing his level best to make new sheep—but I've noticed every time he's about to get his game on Sal comes out of nowhere and butts him away from the ladies. At first, it was comical. Now it's just stopping the necessary sheep love that makes this place tick. So tonight or tomorrow Sal is getting penned up for a while so Atlas can finally swerve in peace and mark those ewe rumps with the orange chalk of victory.

Antlerstock 2012! Buckets of fun!

Antlerstock 2012 is already half sold out! If you'd like to come, please email me ASAP to make plans and arrangements, before it is too late! It happens Columbus Day Weekend 2012, and so far only 5 guests from this year signed up to return, so please get your spots while they're hot.

Already added to next fall: Pigs 101, Nigerian Goats, and Sourdough Starter breads! (with pigs, goats, and starter samples and new teachers!)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

my all-time favorite CAF music videos

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

this farm, now

I drove home from my Vermont day job in a dented, scratched, and fender-missing American pick up truck with a sheep dog hanging outside the window. WGNA is on the radio, Albany's Country Station and I was only mildly surprised that I knew all the words to Aldean's Big Green Tractor, to which I sang loudly with Gibson until Zach Brown's Keep me in Mind came on next, and I sang louder. My 26 minute commute home soon had me passing the little white number 6 school house (Jackson Town Hall) where the voting signs were out and the parking lot was full. I would drive back to vote after 16 sheep, 3 dogs, two pigs, a flock of chickens and a pony were fed and a fire was lit in the living room stove. I pulled into my driveway where an American flag was lit up by a porch light and a 12 gauge shotgun was loaded under my bed. Once chores were done I headed back to town hall to vote for neighbors I knew from phone calls and conversations in town. I pulled up next to my vet's pickup, and let Gibson wait in the truck while I filed in circles with a sharpie under the red, white, and blue privacy banners my taxes (I assume) paid for, and was happy it was whimsical. I came home, worked out, stoked the fire and turned on my "new" $65 EBay eMac in the kitchen to see to this blog business right before I whip up a small pizza and turn on an episode of the West Wing. I have a crush on Josh Linemen, he's my kind of guy. I love the West Wing and I voted tonight because I am my mother's daughter. I farmed because I'm my own woman.

In the fall of 2007 I was on my back deck with a fiddle in Sandpoint Idaho. I probably just got back from the office, on my bike I bought off a neighbor in Knoxville. It was only 4 miles up a mildly-dangerous highway to my rented farm. I had two dogs now, 5 chickens, two rabbits, and a few raised bed gardens. My plans for the night was a quick dinner of pasta and sauce and then a quick run into town to meet some friends at the Panida for the Banff Mountain Film Festival's showing of some seriously intense outdoors films. Everyone else in Sandpoint looked like a Patagonia model. I looked like a girl trying to change from design student to farmer, in awkward clothes and pants that didn't fit right. I started wearing a wool hat I got at an outfitter in town. I was losing the cool I worked so hard to achieve in college. I only talked to friends from the east on the phone.

In the fall of 2005 I was leaving another night at the television network (HGTV) in Knoxville and headed home to my city apartment. Jazz was waiting for me, sitting on the couch in the living room or on my bed or under my Ikea desk from my college dorm room (under my original $1200 eMac). I'd change into jeans and Chaco's and we'd go for a walk around 4th and Gill, my little hipster Victorian neighborhood and call up a friend in town to meet at the Sundown in the City concerts in Market Square. My Morning Jacket, Blues Traveler, Bela Fleck...all sorts of Knox-appropriate bands would play for free in that brick and soil city and I'd jump into Tomato Head for take out and see who wanted to see Amy Mann at the Bijou? Man, I loved that town. I loved that life. I loved living in the middle of all that energy and music and then packing up the Subaru with Jazz and heading into Walland to Brian's house to hop into the back bed of his black pickup and go drive into the Smokies for nothing more than a hike and conversation. When I realized I could take a dulcimer or fiddle into the forest with a dog and a friend, I no longer missed the city as much.

In the fall of 2004 I was just starting my senior year of college. I was in love, at my thinnest weight in years, and driven like a mad woman to become a Philadelphia designer at an achingly-cool design firm. I subscribed to HOW and Comm Arts magazine and was on the phone with this little old man in New Jersey who was custom-making my portfolio, which I would soon be showing off to future employers. I felt like I had art and the whole world by the balls, and all I wanted to do was run into some city and soak in the travel, art, and maybe get a dog. I cared too much about how I looked, what I wore, what people saw me drive, what I listened to, how I ate, who I voted for and what my peers thought was worth paying attention too. I had two ferrets in an apartment. Their names were Father MacKenzie and Eleanor Rigby. Graduation day came and I was the only person in my class heading south. I was terrified in ways you can not even imagine.

Things just change. It keeps getting better.
This feels the most correct, though.
This farm, now.

anyone know where i can see this?

CSA members: Your Wool has Arrived!

Hey there first season CSA members! Your wool has arrived! Expect to receive a package by, or shortly after, Thanksgiving featuring the bulk of your share in yarn and felt. Second Season CSA members, you will be getting letters this winter explaining the process and what's to come in the spring and following fall for your own yarn. Stay tuned! And Below this post you'll see what I call workshop CSA, I'm using that term here because it sure as hell fits. When you pay for a workshop upfront to reserve your spot, you are a member of this community supporting this farm. And if you ever want to buy a generic share in a future workshop of your choice: that is an option too. You will be mailed a letter and voucher paw-printed by Gibson that allows you access to any non-special workshop (Plan B and Antlerstock are the only 'specials" due to the magnitude of these events and speaker costs, etc.)

P.S. There are only 10 spots left for the Preparedness workshop, the first ten have been reserved!
P.S.S. Only One spot left in the wool workshop, first come first serve. More on workshops and classes here!

Monday, November 7, 2011

orion's big dog

Woke up this morning and headed outside to chores at the old time, instead of the saved daylight time. The illusion of an extra-early start to my day was scandelous. by "5 AM" all the animals were fed and watered and both stoves were lit again. I had three hours before I had to sit at a desk chair in someone else's office. I breathed deep, looked up at the stars. I am an excellent putter-offer. A girl takes what she can get.

The stars were rioting, and right above the sheep field Canis Major was chasing Lepus (or so the charts said when I looked them up inside). Canis Major, also known as the Constellation of Siruis, is Orion's big dog. Lepus is a large hare and they scamper below the warrior battling Taurus. I stood out there in my pajama pants, hoodie, and Carhartt vest knowing none of this, but enthralled in the big show. You don't need to know their names or even their stories to start a Monday morning enthralled in the drama. Gibson was with me, looking up at the sheep from the gate. His body quivered, a loaded gun waiting to run up the hill, damn the cold or ice between his paws. Anticipation was thick, the sky was art, the world preserving it in dark and cold. The whole thing was ice and woodsmoke and stars.

Beautiful. I stood out there a while.
A girl takes what she can get.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

sunrise on a cold morning

Friday, November 4, 2011

does anyone know...

Where I can get a good quality, wall mounted, glass container, coffee grinder?

Sheep Lawn Mowers, and Other Go-Getters

Several readers sent me this story, and thank you for doing so because I got a kick out of seeing other freaks with sheeps driving across the landscape/ Read this Times piece about Sheep as Lawn Mowers and Other Go-Getters, it's a gas. And thanks to all the Jar entries coming in! Farm's warm tonight with good friends, cold beer, and hot stoves. May you all have a great Friday night! And please get back to me if you asked to come to a workshop, waiting to hear from a bunch of you about reservations. Night!
In this verdant lawn-filled college town, most people keep their lawn mowers tuned up by oiling the motor and sharpening the blades. Eddie Miller keeps his in shape with salt licks and shearing scissors.

Mr. Miller, 23, is the founder of Heritage Lawn Mowing, a company that rents out sheep — yes, sheep — as a landscaping aid. For a small fee, Mr. Miller, whose official job title is “shepherd,” brings his ovine squad to the yards of area homeowners, where the sheep spend anywhere from three hours to several days grazing on grass, weeds and dandelions.

The results, he said, are a win-win: the sheep eat free, saving him hundreds of dollars a month in food costs, and his clients get a freshly cut lawn, with none of the carbon emissions of a conventional gas-powered mower. (There are, of course, other emissions, which Mr. Miller said make for “all-natural fertilizer.”)

“They countrify a city,” Mr. Miller said of his four-legged staff. “And they lend a lot of awareness about how people lived in the past.”...

Read the rest here at NYTIMES.com

sloppin' pigs with gibson

the working pony: part 2

Antlerstock had been moving at a full gallop since 9:30 AM that October Saturday morning. Brett had done an amazing job introducing people to backyard forest management and explained the essentials with a burly grace. BY 11AM trees were falling down in the woods behind the barn and cheese curds were forming in the kitchen. The house had become a school, the farm a campus. Between chicken 101 workshops and the sounds of a sharp axe splitting firewood: the announcement for lunch was more of an internal clock telling people it was time to eat than a clanged iron triangle (though I do have one of those in the kitchen). We ate and talked and everyone seemed content with their fresh-pressed cider, pulled pork, and pie but even as I ate my stomach was doing backflips. I knew that Brett had arranged for a few smaller logs from the recently downed Cherry tree to be hauled up to the splitting team. I knew that Jasper had been patiently waiting in his stall, watching the whole event unfold. And I knew I had not been granted the time to work him as much as one would before a large demonstration.
But when Brett asked me if Jasper would be ready, I said yes. I said it like we'd been pulling logs out of the woods behind the farm for weeks. I said it like I was more like Brett, a skilled woodsman with a plaid pattern of arteries around my heart. Brett seemed convinced and I told him Jasper would be harnessed up in twenty minutes...

For the first time since buying jasper this spring, I decided to harness him inside the stall instead of outside it on a tie out in the field. What a difference this simple act made. Instead of being bossy or anxious right out of the gate, he calmly walked out to a crowd of people with flashing cameras and children running around. I was shocked at this change in attitude and then realized this horse was probably always harnessed in a stall or barn before being lead out to work every day of his life as an Amish hand. All I did was return to his normal routine, and he responded as anyone would who realized into the familiar.

He walked calmly out of the gate, his bit calm, his eyes curious. I had ordered everyone to stand back, and explained he was known to be "spirited" Everyone cut us a wide berth, but no one seemed scared. Folks like Lara who had ridden mustangs out west were not skittish around a Hobbit-sized cart horse, but I had been kicked in the back of the thigh by Jasper once (I got between him and some sheep who were running towards his grain bucket as he was eating and he kicked back to scare them off), and it hurt for days. 600 pounds is a lot of animal when a hoof hits your ass. Everyone signed a waiver, but that doesn't mean I wanted someone's memory of this farm to be two cracked ribs.

My fears were mine alone. He was steady as a barge on a canal path. I turned him around towards those unfamiliar woods, and together, me leading him by his bridle with loose reins, we walked to the area where the cherry tree fell. Jasper had no qualms with the uneven ground, the leaves, roots, and stones below him. A summer on a mountain slope pasture had made him unusually surefooted for a small horse. When we arrived at Brett near the log pile, he instructed us to walk a wide circle around the logs and wait as he attached the chains to the single tree and got Jasper and I locked and loaded. When all was set, he asked for the reins and I told him I wanted to lead him by the bridle, but said nothing more. Brett resigned to the less impressive, but functional practice. I knew Jasper was still green being driven from behind and why mess up the good thing we'd discovered here in the woods?

So holding those black reins in my right hand, my horse on my left-hand side, I took a deep breathe and said, "Step up, Gelding" and together we walked towards the opening in the trees.

What followed was minutes of work, just a short 50 yards or so from the forest to the wood pile. But it required Jasper to pull uphill, across forest floor, grass, and scattered logs and rounds, new people and equipment. Jasper remained calm, and when the first log was delivered, we turned around and did it again. I got Cathy Daughton's expression as we turned to get the second load, she seemed proud I pulled it off. So was I, so was I.

Now, to most people at Antlerstock, nothing fantastic happened at all. To the general attendee, they saw a pony pull some small logs out of the woods, easy as pie. The horse didn't act up, just walked around, doing what was expected of it. But that lack of flash and noise was exactly what made it so amazing to me. Jasper acted as calm and normal as if he was just another part of this farm, as predictable as pulling the cord on a lawn mower or starting up the truck. He just worked. It was as if that was how it has always been.

I had won martial arts tournaments, driven cross country, acquired an envious professional design resume, and bought a farm...but walking back to Jasper's hand-made stall and kissing him on the forehead was a feeling of winning I had never experienced before in my life. My heart was racing, my palms were sweating as I removed his black leather straps and buckles. I had managed to acquire, train, and heal an animal that just months before was leaping out of trailer windows and kicking sheep. As he lowered his head into a well-deserved scoop of sweet grain I ran a hand along his strong neck and told him I was proud of him.

I am no Buck Brannaman, my horse training skills are as rudimentary as they come. I make mistakes out there, many, and learn only by beating a situation into a corner until it is subdued enough to let another problem pop up elsewhere. But I am learning this working horse thing. Things that were alien to my hands and words foreign to my mind are now common place and understood. "Check his cannon, I think the singletree might have popped at it when you were working on the surcingle" was once Greek. Now I speak Greek, thanks to the translator that is experience and a dapple pony. I am stubborn enough to keep trying, and my horse knew enough to lead me the rest of the way. Thank you, Jasper.
In closing, I can not express how great it is having a working pony on this small farm. Thanks to him, there is a level of self-suffiency that Cold Antler could not obtain without his contribution. He is more than a log caddy, Jasper could be a second vehicle once harnessed to a light cart that could carry me easily the three miles into the center of town. Or, I could hop on his back for a short ride through the woods where carts can't go. He's also able to carry small wagons and packs, through all sorts of terrain, if that would ever been necessary. He protects the sheep in the pasture, making a second living as a livestock protector. Any coyote would have to think twice before taking on a flock with a 600-pound body guard with big hooves...

If you're looking for a sustainable solution to small loads and chores, and a second form of transportation, a pony might be a perfect fit for your farm as well. Jasper eats a half-bale of hay a day and a scoop of grain, he drinks about ten gallons of water. Knowing what I know now, my second pony will be a Haflinger or a Fell, something both suited to the cart and saddle, but still only around 13 hands. I'd save up and spend the money on a solid, bomb-proof, working animal around 10 years old who came with an education. Later down the road. I'd like to try training a foal, and hire and experienced saddle trainer to start him with a solid foundation as a riding animal. But regardless, equines are staying on this farm, and I can't think of a more reliable and wonderful way to get brute work done and move across the landscape. Maybe I'm a romantic, but that's fine by me. Horses, my dear friends, are good. Very, very good.

photos by lara thomason

Thursday, November 3, 2011

jasper: the week he arrived

the working pony: part 1

Around here ponies are considered children's toys, pasture mates, or the butt of jokes. They are either a stepping stone for young equestrians, or a companion animal for a "real" horse. Company that eats less hay while keeping the Warmbloods, Thoroughbreds, and Arabians less bored. Few people (if any) around Washington County employ regular-sized ponies for logging and cart work. They either use ATVs, garden tractors, or some other form of motorized tool for small jobs. If they are into working horses they use Drafts or Standardbreds. That's the MO for most farmers and ponies around here. But I am not most farmers, and Jasper is definitely not like most ponies.
When I was looking into getting my first horse, I wanted an animal at my own eye level. I rode 16+ hand mares at my riding lessons (which have since stopped since I went from 5 days of office work a week to 4), but I only felt comfortable because of the amount of education of the mares and the amount of professionals around me. It also eased the mind to know we were in a locked arena, so even a mad dash could only last a hundred yards. But on a farm, out on my 6.5 acres of land and the thousands of acres of not-my land around us on the mountain...I didn't want a 16 hand horse bolting into the woods dragging a plow. I wanted something I could control with my own hands in a pinch. Something larger than a Shetland but smaller than a Haflinger. A Pony, sure, but an animal I could still jump on the back of for a ride to the back pasture to check on the flock. A horse calm enough to learn with, strong enough to be of use, and patient enough to put up with me, a greenhorn like me. I wanted the animal more educated in driving than I was, and willing to take me on as his student.

I also wanted a gelding. Boys make sense when it comes to working animals. I wanted Gibson to be a male before he was born, and I wanted my horse to be a male as well. At the office, I have two girl friends and one of them took 3 years to shore up. I am comfortable around all the men. My closest friends are all guys. Not sure that is sound horsemanship, but I went with my gut.

 When I first met Jasper he was thin, ratty, and had not seen a brush or bath in months. The night before I met him, he was removed from his herd and stuck in a 2-horse trailer alone. In the morning, in a rain storm, he got freaked out when the trader tried to open the back hatch so he leaped out the side window. BOOM, just gone. "Well, the auction flyer said he was "spirited"..." the seller smiled, knowing this was not looking good for his bank account. Jasper trotted over to some grass near his pasture mates and without a second thought, I just walked up to him. He watched me, and let me grab his halter. I lead him back to the trailer where the Trader was getting him tacked up for a demonstration. It was starting to really rain now, and Jasper's eyes got white with stress. I didn't know enough about horses to offer to come back later, and the trader must have needed the money to ask his son to hop on board. I watched him walk off with his small passenger.

He let a 10-year-old boy saddle and ride him around an open field without qualms. Walk to Trot to Canter, then backed up easy.  Which meant in a strange place, away from his comfort zone, after a night along, he let a child push him around in a backyard without fences. This was an equine Job. Knowing nothing beyond the fact that I would have bucked out of there a long time ago if I was that horse, I agreed to pay $500 over two months and he would be delivered with his Coggins in April. I shook hands with the trader and became an owner of my first equine. I felt rich.  
Jasper came with his name and I did not change it. It suited him, and me. He's an 11.2 hand Pony of the Americas (POA). A dappled gray horse with dark brown eyes and a black and silver mane scruffed in a permanent mohawk. He's ten years old, and comes from a working Amish farm down state where he was trained to drive. He came to me from that scrappy dealer in Hebron, a town a few miles north of Jackson. (I have since learned buying a second-hand auction horse from a backyard trader might not have been the best way to get a working animal.) He was delivered and let loose in a half acre paddock and he ran, bucked, and kicked like a bronco. "Just settling in..." was what the man said before shaking my hand and leaving. As the trailer backed out of the drive, Jasper let out a cry only heard in movies. What was I getting into....

That's his backstory, our backstory really. Over the spring I didn't train with him at all. We just went on halter walks together, learned each other as peers. Summer came and we learned to trust each other a little more. When I bought him a harness he let me put it on him and soon we started working in the field together. It became a regular thing. I learned so much in such a short time. How to understand the confusing puzzle of leather straps that is a horse harness. I figured out his body language, bit size, farrier needs, and dental appointments.  I got a few books, had a driving trainer visit, and over time gained some confidence that this animal and I could work together someday, get something of import accomplished. After all, that was his purpose: To be both my second vehicle and my farm hand. I had dreams of us pulling logs out of the woods together, or hitching up to a sled or cart to make a trip into town. I secretly wished I had the confidence to jump on his back and ride up into the pasture, like the Lairds did in storybooks in Scotland, hoping on the back of ponies in waxxed cotton coats to see how the flock fared. I was in a story book with this horse. I liked it there.
The weekend of Antlerstock was getting closer and closer, and I knew I wanted Jasper to be a part of it.  I had written in the description of the weekend about backyard lumberjacking, with Jasper pulling logs, but wasn't entirely sure that we could or he would. He had worked in the open field pulling around tires and weights, but I had never walked him into the woods, hitched him to a log, and walked him out through low branches and uneven ground into a clearing. So I wasn't sure I would risk it, not around other people. If He got scared and bolted on me, a horse in harness dragging a log is a runaway train. It would be the event everyone remembered, and not in a good way.

But when Brett asked me if Jasper was ready to pull logs on the Saturday of Antlerstock...

I said yes.

Photos by Tim Bronson

don't miss this!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

keep them jars a coming!

...and those are just a few!

Monday, October 31, 2011

the stone, the string, the bone and the ring.

It's Halloween Night, the oldest holiday we still celebrate together. Older than Christmas, Valentines, or St. Patrick's. Truth is, along before the St. Patrick, the Torah, or the Koran were even written there were the bonfires lighting the skies tonight in the land of my heritage: Europe. I'm only an 1/8 Irish (if that, possibly less) and that small bit comes from a man from Connemara who married a gypsy who lived in a boxcar. I'll explain shortly, but for now, listen to my story and why Halloween is the most important night of the year to this shepherd.

Most of my family comes from Slovakia. I am more Slovak than anything else. We come from a tribe called the Windish, a rural and nomadic people. We're Catholics as of recent, but we all know that's a fairly new religion in the history of our species. Before there was monotheism, there were gypsies and various pagan tribes. I know little about my historical religious roots but I do know that the gypsies had a way with fiddles and horses, and while I am just a raw student of both, they call to me. They feel like a place I belong, something I was born into. They call to me in the Autumn more than ever.

Some of my Christian readers do not observe Halloween, and I hope this post will not offend them. Honestly, with what the day has become over the last few decades I can hardly blame them. What was once a night to celebrate the end of the harvest, reverence for the dead, fear of the unknown, and welcoming the contemplative time of winter has since been twisted into an idol worship in equal parts of sex, violence, and high fructorose corn syrup.

That is not my Holiday. My Hallow's is a night of quiet realization that I am a dying animal, a part of a larger story, and made awake and aware of a beautiful chance to live this life following what feels real and meaningful. This all comes alive for me tonight. I have to take it easy to keep all the emotion in.

My October 31st is a quiet day of memories and reflection. It is a time to mourn friends and family lost over the past year, to death or other means, such as arguments and disappointments. I am quiet for most of the evening. I do chores to music, thinking. I come inside and eat dinner in silence. I carve a pumpkin because it's both a symbol of luck, hope, and light. A jackolantern to me is a lantern of the farm. Something grown and enjoyed to light a path or be eaten up in a pie. It is food and light, the two things us humans are most drawn too.

Here is a story for a cold night.

The only reason I am here today is because a woman named Anna Jumbar. She left her Czechoslovakian parents in the post-Civil War era of the 19th century, and she left alone. She came to America with no man, no money, and no real plan. She landed in eastern Pennsylvania (a mostly Irish occupied area—miners around Jim Thorpe and such—but with a growing eastern European flavor), and was shunned. No one would hire her for work. Frankly, they thought she was crazy. After all, what sane woman left for the other side of the world alone at 18?

So she stayed at the train station she landed in and when an abandoned boxcar made itself known to her, she asked if the station agent if she could use it. He was either apathetic or empathetic, but he obliged. She turned it into a restaurant, and soon it became a networking site for immigrants. She created a community, because she was alone. She created what she needed. One day a scrappy Irishman came into her diner car, and sat down to dinner alone. His name was Stephen Comer. She knew this would be her husband, so she joined him for dinner. They were married in the Lansford Church shortly after.

If I ever have a daughter, her name will be Anna. I will tell her this story in a dining car. Her father will probably come from a place not far from Connemara. Not everything is a straight line in this world. Some stories are circles, you see.

On this night of memories and grace, I thank you Anna. I am shaking in thanks for what you overcame and accomplished: A crossed ocean, a community, new love, a boxcar, a family in a new world.... On this calm night in upstate New York, I will light the candle in my jack o'lantern for you because this is what my mother taught me to do. Every Sunday after mass we'd light a candle to remember the dead. This one is in a pumpkin on a sheep farm on a cold night. There are no priests here to bless it, you'll just have to trust me. Instead of a church, you have a wood stove on a farm that isn't really sure how the next mortgage payment will be made on time. But I have a feeling you would be okay with that. I have a feeling, you would like this place.

This is my Halloween. It is quiet and honest, tears and regrets, memories and hope. It is the holiest night of the year because f what is poured into my heart. I hope tonight you found some of that, too. Maybe not in a boxcar, but in your child's smile walking around the neighborhood trick-or-treating. Or maybe in old scrapbooks, journals, or emails from a lost love or old friend. Just know this day is more than candy corn and horror movies, friends. It is our past and everything we will be. At least to me it is. And it reminds me how short this fine life is. I should dance more.

I'll leave you with the song I listen and sing to every Hallows for the last few years. It is the entire meaning of the day in a few minutes. I hope you will listen to it with someone you love in mind.

A Happy and Blessed Halloween to you all.

one of my holiday favorites

Sunday, October 30, 2011

pablo in the kitchen

This is the last of the sunflowers. I'm not sure if it will bloom or not? It seems to want to. It sure has been through a lot. It was planted in May, grew up hidden by tomato plants and basil (thus its stunted size), and when a horrid frost was coming I cut it and brought her inside with the rest. The other seed mates have bloomed and died long ago, the leaves are dried and scattered. But this little bud seems to be holding out, and so I put it in a mason jar by the window. Makes me want to read Pablo Neruda and dance in the kitchen. How can you not want to dance with Pablo when there are sunflowers thinking of blooming on a 20 degree night with snow on your sheep's back.

Oh, the mad coupling of hope and force!

Max has been adopted!

Got this email just now, remember Max? The Lab who's owner passed away and he was sent to a shelter? He's got a proper home now, with a young family. Thank you to all who helped this boy get back on his feet!

Hi Jenna,
I got a call from my friend last night - Max the lab has been adopted! By a family in Maine with two children. Everyone is thrilled. I guess they had him for a sleepover and decided then to keep him. Thank you to you and the community for your posting, concern, and care.

I hope you're well in the snow!

not for the uninitiated

Heating was something I never thought about before this year, not really. It was a thermostat and a bill, something that simply happened. My whole life heat came out of oil, gas, or electricity. The fireplace I grew up with was for decoration, comfort, and emergencies.

Right now the farmhouse is 65 degrees. It's that warm because since 4:30AM two fires have been roaring in my wood stoves. As the early-season snowfall coats the world outside, here in the house my home is warm and lit with candles and jackolanterns. But it is my two stoves that are the true workhorses of this farm house—one in the mud room where all the house's plumbing pies converge and exist, and the other in the living room. The wood stove in the mud room is a 6-year old Dutch West box stove, a classic workhouse that doubles as a cooking surface for cast iron and metal percolators. The living room stove is a Vermont Bun Baker, a half wood stove/half oven contraption that creates a soothing fire that heats the living area of the house and can roast a chicken, rise pizza dough, or bake a loaf of bread in it's oven box. It is a genius invention. Both are assets, and they are the way I mainly plan on heating this farm this winter.

there is an oil tank in the basement, but the thermostat is set to 48 degrees. Unless I have to leave the farm for a few nights, I don't plan on raising it. Heat is now a pre-meditated act. Wood was delivered all summer, chopped this fall, stacked, and now everyday I carry inside dry wood to fuel the stoves. I tend them, and watch them turn the temperature up in the farmhouse to a comfy place where sweaters are shed and a cheap humidifier keeps the air in check.

I like this system. It requires presence. For some reason, being needed by our homes and families has gone out of fashion. Tell someone of the uninitiated that you can't go out to the bar after work because you have livestock to feed and a house to heat and they see a prisoner. Nothing could be further from the truth. This house on the hillside might require its human caretaker more than some, but it gives back an astounding amount for my humble efforts.

A home heated without the need of an electric grid, foreign oil, or fear of losing my pipes and warmth if in the case of a disaster. Fuel that is renewable, and local, and supports my local economy. IF I had too, me and my pony and an axe could harvest it ourselves.

A home surrounded by animals that provide meat, eggs, wool, transportation, work, and company. A home filled with three kind dogs, the CAF pack, that have pulled sleds and herded sheep. I love my working dogs. I am one too.

A home with a future in real vegetable production and preserving. My last few years getting fences and livestock in order have left me without much dedication to the garden. Next year I get serious. It will require a hoop house and fences to extend the seasons and keep out the critters, but a farm that just grows herbs, a few cans of sauce, some hanging onions and a small bucket of potatoes won't cut it. Not for me. I have a seed vault and I plan to use it!

A home that constantly strives to get off grid. This year was the heat for the home, next summer I hope to afford a small solar system for the hot water. Eventually more solar and wind power will be added as the farm grows. It will require more work and dedication to this blog, workshops, and books than I have the energy for now, but the growth of this dream is my biggest source of energy. I do what I can, and then some more, and it returns the favor.

A home surrounded by forests and resources. There is wild game, foraging, ponds, streams, and other gifts just beyond the fence lines. A whole other world of goodness I have yet to barely tap into. But wish me luck this deer season.

A home that educates and shares. I will continue to have workshops and classes at this farm. Teaching and inspiring beginners has been the greatest joy. I have folks signed up for sausage making, fiddle 101, and urban homesteading workshops already. The Chick Days workshop in the spring is a huge hit (come learn about chickens, and go home with three chicks and a book!), and I am already have a third of the spaces for next year's Antlerstock worked out, with classes expanding from folks down at Polyface (a goat raising intern might come with Nigerians!), candle making, pig 101, and more!

This post started about wood heat, and ended with an anthem. It's what happens when 6:24 AM on a Sunday already means you walked the dogs and lit the fires and have a pot of coffee on the way.


Dear Friends and Readers,

Yesterday I spent some time on the phone with my good friend Shellee down in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvanian. She told me about their 4-year-old daughter's recent emergency surgery due to her unique issue with absorbing calcium. The little girl had intense kidney stones, removed under the knife, and now has to be carried from the upstairs bedroom to play downstairs quietly. She's hooked up to tubes and bags. She's having a rough time. Good news though, she's on the mend, but only at the beginning of the series of hospital visits and surgeries to deal with this rare problem.

Shellee and Zach, her parents, are two of us. They're hopeful farmers and current urban homesteaders. In their 1/4 acre of town lot they have raised their family, amazing gardens, rabbits, and their rescued dog. They have two young girls Madeline and Sarah (Sarah was just born this past year) and no health insurance. Shellee is a stay-at-home mom and Zach works his own antique dealing business, along with several other odd jobs (like out plowing snow all last night) to help keep the family together. Times are tight in the best of times, but they are a happy and grace-filled family. Being highly involved in their church and faith, they are supported emotionally, but they still need our help.

Yesterday on the phone I asked if I could post about their hardship? I told them how the community on CAF might have a few dollars to donate, or good healing thoughts to send their way. Shellee was more concerned about putting me out, then anything else. I insisted. This blog's generosity was why I was able to get my farm. This blog's kindness has supported readers who had lost their footing before, and have donated over the years to help several small families. Some day, this blog might help you, too.

As for the Snyder family: with travel to Philadelphia hospitals, medical bills not covered by the state's child insurance, hotels, and work missed to take care of Madeline: they are in need of our support. If you could send a few bucks, say a prayer, or send them an encouraging comment here on the blog; it would do wonders. I know times are tight for some of us, but even if folks just sent out a dollar each, it could change this young couples world.

Shellee said this on the phone to me last night. She said that she felt this hardship and dealing with the health issues, stress and late bills was just God's way of preparing her for the stresses and trials of running their own farm some day. She said it was something to overcome, and something that would make her family stronger. To find such grace when your little girl is hooked up to tubes and wires, amazes me.

Please donate. Use this button here in this post, (do not confuse it with the similar one on the right side of this blog). If it says "Madeline Snyder" in the donation field, you have the right one. I made a small contribution myself, and will have the family in my thoughts as they face this winter with a new set of worries.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Congratulations John!

John Taylor, you won the Seed Safe!
Email me to work out shipping.

And for those of you who didn't win, I'm sorry, I wish I had a hundred to give away. But unlike past giveaways on this farm for lamps, vacations, or instruments: I think this is something everyone who is able to afford, should have on hand. Seeds are the most important thing a small farm or backyard gardener can have, and to get this many (25,000) for around sixty bucks sealed up to five years is like literally having an entire farm in your back pocket. Insurance from disaster, an investment in your future farm, and possible the BEST gift of this holiday season! We still get the Cold Antler Farm discount till Wednesday night (see post below for code in the contest instructions).


It's the Saturday before Hallows here outside the village of Cambridge, NY. In town, folks are meeting at Hubburd hall to enjoy live music and costumes, dancing and "traditional" harvest activities. I have just finished knocking a Rhode Island Red out of a sumac with a roof rake so I could chase her into the barn to save her from impersonating a maroon pudding pop. Because the farm, if you can believe it, is in the middle of a Nor'easter dumping a half foot of snow on the farm a month before Home Alone starts playing on cable. I have raked the barn roof twice. I'm worried about snow coming off the roof and damaging the new chimney, and if it wasn't for the candy corn in the kitchen and calendar I assure you I would tell you it was January 29th.


Friday, October 28, 2011

lovin' this right now

take antlerstock 2011 home!

Tim Bronson of 468photography has been kind enough to build an Antlerstock Print Shop on his business's web site! For a few dollars you can get professional prints (I love the metallic prints) of you and yours splitting wood, making cheese, or enjoying the farm. Every CAF reader is welcome to purchase a print if they like, and I hope you consider it, as getting pros like Tim to come here and take pictures is only encouraged by being able to get back a little coin here and there. So Check out the images (many more than I posted on this blog) and consider buying a few to support a local Vermont Artist with a big dream. And if photography isn't in your budget, check out his site and send him a note saying thanks for the hard work and time he literally gives to the farm. He's earned it.

See The Print Shop Now!

sweaters at the ready: first snow!

I left work early, fighting off a sick feeling in my gut. I needed to get out of the office, and quick. While my insides worked the lower trapeze, my head was thinking about one thing: snow. Halfway home to the farm I was dipping down into the village of Shushan, and with my windows slightly open I took in the smells of the wood smoke. They beat me to it. I smiled and ruffled Gibson's shoulders. Snow was starting to fall all over. The familiar orange roads of leaves and dust were now covered in snow. It wasn't even Hallows and I was thinking about a long weekend indoors with words and coffee. Sweaters are at the ready, son.

When i got to Jackson, walking into the farm house was downright cold. 55, said the thermometer in the kitchen. Not awful, but when you just came in from a heated cab of a toasty pickup truck in a wool sweater, and before that, a disturbingly warm office.... 55 is like walking into a meat freezer. I didn't fuss about it. I knew that within an hour I'd be experiencing "farmer heat" a term I coined around here to explain the phenomenon where static movement makes the house seem cold, but soon as you light the wood stoves and spend an hour doing chores, you are your own furnace. So I did just that. I lit the Bun Baker in the living room, and the ol' Vermont Castings in the mud room and set outside to prep the livestock for the coming snowfall, however light it may be.

I carried two bales of straw on my back up the hill to the sheep sheds. They sheep munch on the yellow, nutritionless bedding like we munch on potato chips as I spread it around the 15x8 foot shelter. (For those not sure what the difference between straw and hay is: straw is dead grass used for bedding, it is yellow. Hay is dried, green grass, used for animal food.) I then added bedding to the annex next door. Soon all the sheep were inside the shelters, the comfort-lovin' lambs Knox, Ashe and Pidge were already making nests. I noticed Ashe (my only success at raising a decent breeding ewe last year) had a striped of black going down her right horn. I never saw anything like it, it was stunning...

I then went and filled two buckets with sweet grain and brought them to the sheep, along with a bale of good hay I set up in the shelters. With the sheep ready for the apocalypse, I headed down to see Jasper. The snow was coming down harder now, wind was picking up. I shut Jasper in the barn stall, closing the bottom dutch door for wind protection for the babes in the pig pen. Jasper paced around the small run by the barn, looking like he was about to have a tantrum. He wanted to run but he'd have to wait. A slick, steep, hillside for a horse that needed a farrier to trim his feet would just mean slipping and sliding and a possible injury. When the snow melted off Friday evening, he could run in the mud. Tonight he was staying in the barn. I gave him a little grain to bribe him indoors, mucked the run, and by this point I was sweating bullets and my face was ruddy. I went inside the barn and made sure Jasper had clean water, two flakes of Nelson Greene's Second Cut, a mineral lick and such. I scratched the poll of his head, he munched happily. I had just watched the documentary BUCK on Netflix, and a stallion colt literally jumped on top of a man and bit through his skull to the bone, covering his cowboy hat with blood. I thought about how the most impatient version of Jasper involves a playful nip and a trot around me in circles with some whinnies. In comparison to some horses, Jasper is a saint. I kissed him and told him I was lucky to have him. I meant it.

The pigs snorted through all this horse love. They have learned Jenna=FOOD and this is their new religion. I walked over to them, scratched their bristly heads, and dumped some pig chow and a load of cracked corn (for body heat) into their feeder. They ate greedily and I threw in some extra bedding for them to bury themselves in.

Do you remember that fall chick I showed you a few weeks back? It has grown into a fine little chicken, and mama and little babe had decided Jasper's stall was a safer roost then the tree outside the coop they usually are in. IN fact, all the tree birds came down and had made peace with the dry, bedding filled, coop and were finding their social order inside. The geese walked around yelling the whole time. I shut the coop door to keep the wind and snow out and turned towards the house. Two little chimneys sent white smoke into the air. I stopped to take a deep breathe of the crisp air tinted with woodsmoke, hay, horse and grain. My hands still felt like lanolin coated them from petting sal up in the sheds.

I went inside and the wave of warmth hit me. Between the stoves and my own body heat I was taken back by the windless, snowless, heat of the place. It was only 56.9 degrees inside now but it felt like 85. I stripped out of my heavy layers and got a glass of water. Farmer Heat in Full Force! The house was amazingly changed through the suggestion of fire, candles, and my time outside in the wet 30-degree world of the animals. I put the morning's coffee pot on the Bun Baker and threw more wood on the fire. Tonight I was staying close to my fire, books, and coffee. And I could do so knowing outside every animal on this farm was safe, dry, and out of the wind and rain. It's the kind of thing fiddle tunes are written about.

This morning the farm is covered in 2 inches of wet snow. By the time the sun is high I have a feeling it will all have melted away. But it was a fine preview of what's to come, and a good practice run for this North Country Shepherd.

Winter, I welcome you.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

first snow of the season!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

here and heaven

Win a Farm in a Box!
SEED SAFE giveaway!

I'm excited about this giveaway because I am passionate about the subject. Online retailer, The Ready Store, has sent me an item to give away here on the blog and I'm excited just to write about it. It's a Seed Safe. What does that mean? Well, it's an airtight container about the size of a gallon of milk that contains 1-Acre of Non-Hybrid, Non GMO, open pollinated, heirloom seeds. The seeds include (but are not limited too) carrots, corn, peas, beans, tomatoes, chard, broc, melons, spinach, cabbage, onions, peppers, squashes, radishes, lettuces and beets. Over 25,000 seeds, triple vacuum sealed in this water-tight container that when harvested could produce 20,000 pounds of food. The seeds are okay to store for up to 5 years.

This is such a cool idea. It's a hell of a deal for backyard gardeners who want to buy a small farm in a box, and it's a nice thing to have stashed away in a closet in case we decide as a nation the "Victory Garden" is the only way your family is getting cheap produce in the wake of a war, oil shortage, or other such disasters. While I don't make this blog about preparation for harder times, I don't think it hurts to be mindful that even if you break a leg, lose your job, or a pandemic of swine flue sends your school home for the year: it would still be nice to eat a salad. So this is both an insurance policy you can stash in the cabinet or an entire backyard farm bought at once for the cost of a dozen heirloom tomatoes at a NYC farmer's market.

I think I'm going to get two. One to plant this spring, and then one to stash away and not really think about. And honestly, going to bed each night this winter knowing an acre of food is waiting for me in the closet is a nice thought. Makes the woodstove a little warmer, too.

To enter the Seed Safe Giveaway, leave a comment in the comments sharing a story of when emergency preparedness was important to you? It doesn't have to be about food security, it could be as simple as "during the NYC blackout I was really happy I had a candle collection in the closet, I could still see in the dark!" or "When Irene hit this past September I was glad I splurged on that mini-generator or the sump pump!" I'll pick a winner Saturday night!

If you just want to go ahead an buy the Seed Safe (it comes in garden, 1 acre, and 7-acre sizes) the Readystore is offering a further discount if you use the offer code BARNHEART5 at checkout till next Wednesday.

Antlerstock 2012!

The dates for Antlerstock 2012 will be Columbus Day weekend, October 5tth, 6th, and 7 2012 here in Veryork. Starting Friday night with a casual meet and greet BBQ and officially starting 9Am October 6th for an expanded set of workshops and classes! I want to add sausage making, home brewing, candlemaking, and more next year. It will go all weekend again, from Friday-Sunday at 5PM.

First come first served! Sign up by emailing me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com. If you are interested in presenting let me know. And if you made it this year, and want to reserve a spot for next year, please sign up with a deposit before spots go!

in an autumn barn

snow tomorrow!

The weather is calling for snow tomorrow night, possibly even a few inches. It's not even Halloween and I might wake up Friday to a blanket of fresh snow. For the first time ever in my adult life, I am thrilled about the possibility of a snow storm on a weekday, because due to luck and circumstance: this weekday dump will be a Friday, and I darling, am home Fridays. Which means when I wake up to virgin snow my "work" will be firing up the woodstove, collecting eggs, feeding the animals, and then coming inside to work on the blog and pitch future books.

Can I get an AMEN?!

So here's a winter update, and I think some of you who read this blog through last winter will be happy to hear it. The farm is ready for winter, and the farmer is ready to cope. The wood stove has been installed and has been keeping the farmhouse warm, even on nights in the low thirties. I have yet to turn on any oil heat and for a girl who grew up here whole life with heating oil, this feels like I'm cheating on warmth. The last payment to The Stovery has been set up for Friday, which means as of Friday I have entirely completed debts on the chimney installation and hardware. It is a relief I can not describe in words.

There are 4 cords of wood stacked and ready to use in my driveway and under the cover of my side porch. Thanks to the work of folks at Antlerstock my fuel larder is full. Tonight I'll cart in a large load of wood to stack in the mudroom to ensure dry fuel for the coming days. The 1100 square foot farmhouse now has two wood stoves and together they are keeping this home warm and food baked and cooked regardless of the grid's power system, outages, and angry weather. If we lose all electricity due to a horrid storm: me and the farm are okay. I will have a place to prepare food and stay comfy as hell. I also have a few bottles of lamp oil, extra wicks, and candles stored up. Bring it, winter.

The roof was not repaired, but it was patched and the work deemed "get-you-through-this-winter" by a professional roofer. The Daughton boys: Tim and Holden, patched shingles and repaired the rising plywood that would cause water wells and leaks. With a good roof rake and some TLC, the house will remain dry.

Major projects such as the winter horse stall inside the barn was completed this summer, so Jasper has a safe place to ride out the worst of it. Inside the barn with him are four meat rabbits, two pigs, and the occasional chicken. There is a stash of hay, plenty to see us through a while. And winter chicken/pig/sheep fuels such as cracked corn, minerals, and grains. The sheep have their safe house, larger and solid on the hill. Tomorrow I will put down some fresh straw and make it the soft and warm place it will certainly be. The "annex" next door used for rams, sick sheep, and lambing will also be open for any outcasts from the flock to be sheltered from the weather if they choose.

The vehicle I now own is a 2004 4WD V8 pickup, instead of the 2WD 99 4cyl pickup I used to have (my Subaru died last year). It can handle my mountain, and get me to town or work safely. I have stored extra food, water, and plenty of quilts and blankets. There is half a tank of oil in the basement, a fuel-loaded generator just in case, and a landline installed if I need to call for help and my cell isn't charged or working. I have a plow man on call, a stocked first aid kit, waterproof boots, and plenty of knitting and books.

I am ready for this snow, and my farm is ready, too.

That's a lot of growing up in one year!