Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I am a member!

I joined the coalition today, and proud to be a member. The world of food is going to change a lot in my lifetime, and small, vibrant farms are (what I think) will feed families of the future. It's cheap to join, just twenty dollars a year, and helps support a non profit fighting for small farmers, A decent Farm Bill, and running summits and meetings around the nation.

Lean more here, you don't have to be young (or a farmer!) to join either: www.youngfarmers.org

P.S. Having problems with email. Most addresses are blocking my IP address as spam. Need to fix it but for now contact me via Facebook or please be patient. I hope to have it fixed asap...

learning the ropes

Monday afternoon I loaded up the truck at Nelson Greene's Farm with some of the last hay stores he had for the year. Nelson's hay is the best I have ever seen, and worth every penny at five dollars a bale. Not a blade of grass is yellow, all green and dry as tinder. His bales are nearly 60-70lbs, enormous and nutritious. I was sad to load up the last 23 bales I might get from him. As I sat four bales high (about 12 feet off the ground) I looked over his barn and fields and listened to him talk to a gentlemen named Harold about his new angus in the field below. He was proud of those beefs, and I was proud of him. Nelson is 72 years old, raising cows, hauling hay bales, and can lift me off the ground with one hand on my belt buckle. His hands are the size of basketballs, and he is always laughing. I got off the truck by putting a foot into his two gloved hands and he lowered me down as if I was a kindergardener. Farming, in his case, was a magic fountain. He might be in the hospital every so often for breathing problems due to a lifetime of dust and haying, but that is his biggest health issue. If I am this lucky and alive at 72 I will consider myself among the blessed.

After both Harold and I had our trucks loaded up, we headed down route 22 to Salem. I didn't realize it but two bales had fallen off the truck on the trip south. It wasn't until I pulled into the Stewart's for a cup of coffee and a wheat bun with peanut butter that I noticed the gapes in my load. I groaned. That would feed my hoofstock for an entire day, and cost ten dollars. With hay being so dear, I shook my head and chalked it up as a loss and a lesson.

Then I heard someone call my name and glory be, it was Harold! The 60+ year-old man had stopped after each bale fell and loaded them onto his truck. Then when I pulled into the gas station he did too, and I was so happy to see the man. I knew he could have easily kept that hay for his seven horses, but he returned it. He helped me load it back onto the Dodge and tie it down with baling twine from his own rig.

Around here, we look after each other. And Harold and Nelson both know you gotta keep an eye on a greenhorn like me. Can't even tie down her hay yet...

on comments

I was at lunch a few week's ago with Jon, talking about blogging. He said one of the best things he ever did for his own blog was remove the comments in his posts. He said his blog wasn't a conversation or an argument, it was a place to share his writing and art. He was not going to spend his time defending himself, or reading negativity, or welcoming controversy in a life striving for peace and spirituality.I think he's on to something.

Part of me wants to stop the comments here, but I do not want to lose the open forum of this blog. I have made some great friends, networked with farmers across the country, and have been able to address people's questions and concerns because of the comment section. However, it seems that over the past few months things have gotten combative in that part of the blog. Some anonymous commenters are overly sensitive to the content they read, and overly insensitive about how they respond to it. Thinner skins and angrier words are a dangerous combination.

And not necessarily an unwelcomed one! Here is my solution: You are free to say anything you want on this blog about me. Go right on ahead, but from here on out if you are going to say something in anger, resentment, or complaint you need to do it with your real name and contact information, just as I have. Anyone who has something degrading to say about my views, my reader's views, or the conversation being held here who can't also publicly link back to their real name and email address will be deleted. There is no credibility here behind angry anonymity.

This doesn't mean you all have to share your full name and email address to give advice or say hello or ask questions. No one needs to make a new user name unless they have a bone to pick or hurtful things to say. In that case you need to do it to my face.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

gibson is a beautiful springer spaniel

"That is a beautiful Springer Spaniel!" A stranger said to Gibson and I. He was in his forties with his young son outside a shop in downtown Cambridge. He then asked if it was okay to pet Gibson and I said sure, of course he could, and then I couldn't help myself. I introduced my dog as a Border Collie, not a Springer Spaniel.

The man instantly changed his demeanor from open and friendly to slightly abashed. It was subtle but clear as if someone dumped water on his face. I also corrected him in front of his young son. I was hit with a big ol' stick of realization...

This wasn't life-saving information, nor was it something that would show up in a voting booth or grocery list. He was not a dog professor or trainer, making a living off wrong information. And it's not like he was about to enter a game show and someone would flash dogs on a screen, and knowing what a border collie was by sight would win him a million dollar prize...

I had no reason to correct him so why did I do it? He was being perfectly happy and polite. If a 40-year-old man can't tell a springer spaniel from a sheepdog then he probably doesn't need to know (or care about) the difference. All I did in pointing out his mistake was possibly stop him from complimenting the next dog he saw. Possibly make him consider being friendly to the next stranger he meets with a puppy. That's a damn shame, to possibly stop a flow of kindness from a person. Already we are so rarely nice and open to strangers in this country. So many rarely go out of our way to tell people on the street kind things. And there I was, smiling through a smarmy rejoinder, correcting a stranger just because I could.

I just corrected someone in the post below because they called my hay straw. Why the heck did I need to do that? Soon as I saw it posted in reply my chest fell. There I go again... What if it stops that reader from commenting again, or another reader who was considering commenting stop because they don't want to make a mistake? We worry so much about perceptions already nowadays. Why am I adding to it?

Growing up takes the whole time, doesn't it?

The next time a person tells me I have a beautiful setter or pointer or mutt I am going to thank them and compliment them on their hair cut. This world needs a lot more sweetness in it.

Gibson really is a beautiful springer spaniel.

a new year, a new coop

I'm enjoying this long weekend, spending a lot of time catching up on rest and working on the farm. I finished the Dulcimer Webinar, and soon as I can upload the whole 34 minutes of it, I will email it to the entire list. I tried today, twice, and either I exported the video too high of a resolution, or I need to take it on a DVD to a friend's computer and upload it from there. Either way, the latest you will get it is Tuesday night, dear subscribers, and I think it's a heck of a way to welcome 2012. The video will also come with emailed links to PDFs for the song taught, and other resources you can use as beginner strummers. Let me know what you think of it!

I got a local farmer to deliver a truckload of hay yesterday and it was enough to build the Freedom Ranger's winter Oasis. Friends Steve and Molly came by to help build it, as the birds were ordered by them in our joint-deal. (They order the chicks, I raise them, and I get to keep half for my own freezer.) It took longer than I thought it would, than any of us did. But the final design was safe, warm, and predator proof as possible. Soon as the birds are a little older and this coming week's lows (hanging around zero degrees!) warm up, I can move a trial group outside. I'm pretty confident they will be comfortable. I sure would be! That thing is like a heat igloo.

On a more personal note, five times this weekend I started, and then deleted, long posts about how in just a few years of farming I have experienced such a change of spirit and heart. I kept falling into lists and examples though, saying things like "I can't imagine buying gravy at the grocery store!" or "I'll never not own a pickup truck." While these things are certainly true, that's not the change I am talking about. Learning skills, getting used to chores, owning 4x4 vehicles does not reflect what I was trying to convey. So I will work on it, and hopefully explain what goes on in a woman's mind 5 years into farming solo. The security and insecurities of it. How I see friends, people, experiences, morals, so many things differently. If this sounds vague, well, that's because it is for me too. But I think when I figure out how to communicate this baling twineline of mental evolution towards the authentic self I strive for (not there yet), it will resonate with many of you on the same path, or who yearn to be. That is my writer's challenge of 2012. To tell the story of how a person grows when they plant themselves on 6.5 acres.

I hope you all had a safe and grateful New Years, and will have an amazing 2012. Bring it on.

P.S. The television and microwave got the boot yesterday.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Plan B: A Very Special Workshop This Spring!

I'm very excited to announce this special workshop coming to Cold Antler on May 12, 2012. It's about a topic on many homesteader's minds and the occasional topic of discussion on this blog: Emergency Preparedness and the Future of Energy. The focus will be specifically on preparing your small farm or homestead for a disaster (natural or man made) and how the future of energy will affect us as and how you can be ready for it. And there are going to be two amazing guest presenters sharing their minds and experiences on this topic: Kathy Harrison and James Howard Kunstler.

Kathy is the author of the book Just in Case: How to be Self-Sufficient when the Unexpected Happens, and James Howard Kunstler, an internationally-renowned speaker and author on Peak Oil and Collapse. His book, The Long Emergency, as well as Kathy's, will be included in this workshop. Both have been featured in several television shows and documentaries on these topics They are leaders in the field. And both agreed to help set up this event as a way to support Cold Antler Farm, I'm lucky to know them both.  
The day of conversations and demonstrations will focus on personal disaster prep for your own farms and families. Kathy Harrison will talk about things you can do to prepare for when that ice storm takes out the power for a week, and what you can do in your current situation even if it is an apartment in the city. Topics covered will include food and water, car and personal emergency packs, first aid kits, non-electric alternatives for everyday appliances, alternative energy for your home and gadgets, gardening and preserving food, hunting and fishing, and all day questions will be welcomed and answered.

While some topics covered will be controversial, all will be based on practical skills and knowledge. This is not a Survivalist Training Camp, Tin Foil Hat Sewing Circle, or a UN stake out. If you're looking for a scary day talking about the end of the world, it isn't that either. This is a day about empowerment, action, preparing, and safety. It's about knowing that if a tree crushes your car in a storm and you're snowed in for 3 days without power you, your kids, and the dogs will have a lamp-lit scrabble night by the fireplace with some back-up kerosene heaters with a warm meal you cooked on the gas grill on the deck. Kathy will be explaining to us exactly why being prepared matters, and our responsibilities to do so. I'm sure she'll be happy to sign books and field your questions about many homesteading and preparedness topics. She has a heck of a farm!

JHK will be hitting us from a different angle. He'll be having a conversation with us on energy, peak oil, and the bigger picture, as well as his thoughts on what's in store through the next few years. Get a chance to hear one of the leading people in the field in a home setting talking about communities and localized economies. Hear his theories on why we should be thinking more about things like trains, local businesses, sustainable farm practices, and other topics. Get your copy of World Made By Hand signed by the author in the very county the book was written about!
The workshop runs from 10AM - 3PM Saturday May 12th at the farm. A water bath canning demonstration, a pressure canner overview, backyard homesteading tour, and homegrown music and home brewing will also be discussed. James is one heck of a fiddler and has been known to saw out a tune here at the farm on occasion, maybe he'll bring his along? So I hope you'll join us in this information-packed weekend talking about how to prepare for the worst, and feel safe and comfortable no matter what mother nature, your boss, or the economy throws at you!

Email me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com to reserve a spot!
Limited to 20!

Friday, December 30, 2011

pumas, banjos, blood and cancer

I only have four things to discuss tonight because this woman is tired, and seriously in need of an adult beverage. I got some rest today but also unloaded a truck of hay, entertained some guests, and did some serious stall mucking. However, these four items are of great import in the life of this farm and blog:

1. A catamount has been sighted in Cambridge, 6 miles from Cold Antler!!! I heard it from the horses mouth (err, Julie Dugan's mouth) when her and her husband Dennis stopped by the farm today to check out my Bun Baker wood stove and sit for tea. They told me they both saw what was certainly a catamount, a tawny brown cat about 3-4+ feet long with a tail easily 3 feet long, at close range to their farmhouse. And for those of you certain "It's not a puma!" (I hope you said that with an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent). These are educators in the community who know wildlife and exactly what they saw. They are the fourth sighting in the last few weeks around this area as well, I am told. They have since bought a rifle, air horns, mace, and set up a gamer camera! Suddenly my backyard has turned into a place of mystery and concern, as silly as that may sound. But I sure did look up in the trees when I did my night rounds tonight!

2. Julie agreed to come instruct and play at the Mountain Music workshop! This is a HUGE DEAL! She's a nationally known clawhammer player, and has taught all over the nation at banjo camps and festivals. She's amazingly talented and said she'd bring her whole music group and old mountain instruments too (she has over 30 banjos!). This is a great treat to any banjo folks coming to the workshop this winter! And remember, farm food and a fiddle giveaway happen that day too!

3. A reader emailed me about blood in her hen's eggs. More than the usual little red spot. She asked what to do. I tried to email you darling, but Comcast blocks itsafarwalk.com as spam, so no dice. Here is my best guess: red spots (more than usual) mean a vitamin A deficiency. Put a teaspoon (no more!) or it diluted in a cup of warm water and mix it into an entire gallon of feed every day for the flock (depending on flock size, the ration of liver oil to feed is 2%). If the yokes are blood red, like the whole yoke, DO NOT EAT THE EGGS and know this might be cholera. Research both of these online and be mindful of the symptoms! Remove any infected birds from the flock by culling. Don't get the hatchet out right away though, most of the time it's the vitamin A thing.

4. Test results came back from the lab. My mole was not cancerous, and melanoma has been defeated, at least for now! I'm okay! It's not a puma!

Everyone with a backyard flock should pick up The Chicken Health Handbook. It is like having a poultry vet on your bookshelf (you can actually afford) and understand!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

she's back!

Last year I had to sell my Leaping Deer Dulcimer to make some bills, and sent it off to a new home at a reader's house. But this month I got Craggy Mountain Music to sponsor the blog and instead of payment via cash, we bartered for this little girl. Such a beautiful tone, and what could be more CAF then a mountain instrument with antlers!

I have only every played TK Obrien's dulcimers. Craggy Mountain Music is his site, and I highly reccomend, I have long before he agreed to support CAF.

You'll see more in the Dulcimer Webinar! Coming real soon! Got 15 more minutes filmed this week!


No animal even remotely compares in import to the dog here at Cold Antler Farm. Dogs get the lion's share of attention, love, and care. They live in the house with me. They share my bed and furniture. They get the best medical attention, food, and effort I can afford. Dogs are not livestock to me. They are not children, siblings, or any other simulacrum of human interaction. They are my dogs. That is enough.

I am a dog person. When I say that I do not mean that as a sub-culture identifier. I do not spend my evenings in paw-print embroidered sweatshirts scouring Petfinder.com to foster homeless canines or sifting through breed-specific email lists. Dogs are not my hobby, occupation, or entertainment. When I say "I am a dog person" I mean my personhood is intensely connected to, and made better through, my life with dogs.

They are my partners in living in this world. And I don't mean "partners" as a replacement for a human spouse or family, not at all. I mean partner in the most basic way possible. They are my wingmen, staff, and teammates. we exist in a primal partnership that has sang the same long howl since before any human beings had surnames or used complex tools. We ran beside each other long before memory-foam dog beds and nylabones. This partnership is ancient and ceremonial. It is the combination of two amazing stories, shared over meat and firelight. It is our legacy and privilege to share our lives with another beast so in tune and useful to us.

Dogs chose us. Unlike cats, horses, or other domestic animals, they became a part of our lives by their own volition. They didn't do it because of some cosmic wanderlust to serve man, but because we kept some mighty tasty scrap piles at the edge of our camp. So they became comfortable with our campfires and voices. and over the centuries have co-habituated with man in a pact of mutual benefit and success. Dogs, like man, are predators that live in groups and hunt by daylight. Their skills in running down prey far exceed our own. When the spoils were shared, pups raised with humans, and generations of selective breeding and adaptation were put in effect, we were gifted the company of an amazing and multi-talented animal. We now have dogs to aid people in every civilization in the world. No other domesticated species has become so useful in so many ways. So adaptable, varietal, and integral to our own civilization.

Dogs protect our livestock, homes, and children. They detect bombs, lead the blind, and track criminals and the stranded alike. Some tow boats to shore. Others race across fields in search of game. Some dogs flush, retrieve, or point. Others herd, gather, drive, or drove. Some dogs pull sleds, taking us where we could never go alone. Others sniff out drugs, detect heart attacks, or listen to sounds in the forest we could never hear. Some dogs fill stewpots while luckier ones sit on cushions in royal halls. They are heroes and villains. They are lab rats and show stock. Some dogs go off to war for us while others simply let us hold them until we can't cry anymore. Look at any painting or any piece of literature (of any class!) in the history of Man and there is a dog. They have helped us live, work, and eat and in this relationship both of our species have exploded in populations and prominence. While such population explosions come with their problems, the numbers don't lie.

I refuse to see all animals as equals. Call me a speciesist all you like. Livestock raised for our plate are not on the same emotional, societal, or cultural plane as dogs. Certainly not to me, or to our history as co-dependent species. If you have the audacity to compare my working dogs to my edible livestock, I have already stopped listening to you. Dogs are not dinner, they are home. And even if some dogs are raised as food by other cultures, it doesn't diminish the story of Dog, or negate the work they have done and continue to do with us humans. They have been watching over us, protecting us, hunting with us, carrying us, and sharing our lives since the story of modern man began. Don't you dare compare them to a pig.

I could live the rest of my life in peace without another person, but would collapse in spirit without a dog. This, I am certain. For those who don't like or share your life with dogs, my heart goes out to you.

It must be hard going through life all alone like that.

photo by tim bronson

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

words and work

I got home around 6PM, cold and aching for a hard work and a stove to warm myself by. My truck's heat is on the fritz, so there's no comfy commute from the dropping temperatures, but there is refuge from the wind, and tonight with 30MPH gusts ripping through Veryork: that was enough.

By the time I finally got back into the farmhouse I was almost blown back as I stepped through the threshold of the 51-degree home. It seemed so incredibly comfortable compared to the alternatives since leaving the office. Greeted by Jazz and Annie, it was even warmer. I sweat that huskies smile.

First task: Take all three dogs out for a constitutional to release their urgencies. When returned and fed, I was free to see to the warming of the place. I heated up the oven to 410 degrees to bake up a small pizza. Then I set to work collecting the last few day's worth of ashes from the two wood stoves and set to work lighting them in their fresh homes.

With fires starting to blaze, I set outside for the first trip of wood collecting for the night. I chose thinner, lighter, dry logs to ensure a healthy fire before I headed outside to the farm animals. While they burned and the fires grew warmer, I dined on a quick supper while I watched the kitchen thermometer climb a few degrees from the oven and two stoves. Heat is not a fast thing here. It comes only from labor, the elements, and sweat. I prefer this kind of heat. It is warmer than the degrees tell.

When all the wolves were fed, it was time to head down the farm's food chain, starting with the 30 (I lost one) meat birds in the brooder. Like so many of you warned: the birds stank. Every night they needed a fresh layer of bedding and every third night I had to bring the wheelbarrow indoors to unload all that soiled bedding and totally re-clean the brooder. Tonight was a barrow night, so I set out to fetch it and spent a half hour scooping, dumping, scooping, dumping, shaking fresh wood shavings down, and offering clean food and water services. The chicks seemed to appreciate it. Now twice their incoming size and ready to be moved to their hay bale winter barn (yet to be constructed) any day now. I swept up the mess I made around the brooder and left the room smelling and looking better than when I arrived in it a bit earlier. The fire across the small room warmed my back, and I decided it was time to feed the pigs.

In the back of the truck were two two-gallon buckets of food scraps from The Wayside Country Store. They've donated all scraps and edible garbage to Cold Antler and every day after work I pick up the buckets of old deli meats, sandwiches that didn't sell, salad greens and somesuch. The pigs are voracious now. They get four gallons twice a day now and could probably eat more. As they dove into their rubber bin I cleaned out and refilled their water bucket. Jasper watched from his stall. He doesn't seem to understand why the pigs eat so much more than he does?

Jasper got three flakes for the cold night and a fresh bucket of water as well. None of the water around here comes from a hose. There are no outdoor faucets. The people who I bought this farm from had spent five years turning a beat-up farm into a beautiful retirement home. They had no need for hoses or pumps. They sold it to a farmer though, and she uses the 5-gallon buckets by the artesien well and carries them the 50 yards to the barn or sheep trough.

And so the pigs and Jasper had food and water. I stand in the barn a bit to collect my breath and think. I am hoping the farrier comes soon, he really needs a trim. Ken Norman will come by when he can fit it in, I'm sure, but the young man could use a manicure. I make mental notes about the shuffling of bills and circumstances to make sure it happens soon as possible. I scratch his head. His salt-and-pepper mane makes me smile. I am so very partial to those colors on my good boy.

I collect eggs and I grab the frozen rabbit water bottles and bring them all inside. It has now been over an hour since I lit the fires and I need to go inside to mind them. Deciding not to waste a trip, I bring in an armload of proper stove wood too. As I hand-feed the fires I start to sing to myself. I sing Pretty Saro, the folk song my goose is named after and the words float from my work like a soundtrack to evening.Oh, when I first came a to this countrrrrryyyyy, iiiiinnnn eighteen and foooorrrrrty nine. I saw many true a looovers, But ne'er sawa miiiinnnne...

I smile, thinking of how I sing it like the woman on the porch in Songcatcher. I wonder how accurate that is to the real Appalachian vocal traditions. Annie just wags her tail. That bitch loves a good miserable ballad. The house is now 56 degrees and outside it has dropped into the high teens.

I head back outside to carry a barrow of hay to the sheep. I know their 30-gallon water tank is fine, mostly full, and a submersible de-icer is keeping it from turning solid. The water in the barn doesn't freeze at this temperature, kept warm by the hay and life inside it. I do not fret, and know that the water bottles by the stove are ready to return to the rabbits. I think my does might kindle in this cold. I am excited and worried for them. We will see what comes of it. Bruce, my rabbit mentor, says kindling goes okay in barns save for the days over 100 degrees and below -5. We are still in the safe zone of the local legends. I put my faith in them.

I shut the door on the coop. I bring the chicken water font in by the stove to defrost for morning's chores. It has been over 2 hours of solid work. the house is new 58 degrees and in celebration of the work I will drag the sheep skin and some quilts to the Bun Baker to read my book. The TV is still here, but it's dead to me right now. Instead of watching reruns of television shows I wrote this to you. I emailed some hopeful blog sponsors (Got plans for heat in that truck!). All of it better and made me feel more alive than the empty feeling I get watching Netflix alone in an old house.

Some people took my post about television removal as a judgement on their own usage, or even of the medium in general. This is silly. I have no qualms with the invention or art of television. I appreciate the news, education, and entertainment of it. But for me (and this blog only speaks for me) it has become a sad center of my evenings. I want my evenings back. I want to write, play music, work on the business, write books, call friends, and read. I want to close my eyes on a sheepskin rug and hear the sounds of breathing dogs, nearly asleep, chicks in a brooder, and cracks from the fire. I love Jon Stewart, but I love this more. You folks do whatever it is you need to do with your televisions. I just need to see other people for a while.

I have split my night instead into words and work.

That is my favorite life. One of writing and chores. Tonight I got to live it, take it in in every sense. To an outsider looking in, this place is a burden. To me, it is a sanctuary, temple, dance hall, theatre, therapist, library, best friend and grocery store. Isn't that what all homes aim to be?

This was a weeknight at Cold Antler Farm. I'll be asleep by 10. I'll set my phone to wake me up every two hours to keep the stove fires alive, but I'll enjoy the naps in between. Tomorrow is the last full day of work before a 4-day holiday weekend. And you know what I will do with those 30-degree afternoons in a 68-degree farmhouse?


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

say goodbye to my little friend

The television, all 46 inches of Living Room Glory, is being picked up by friends and removed this Saturday. Good riddance. I don't like that a television has been the center of my relaxation and creative free time on the farm. I'm too distracted by it, too enamored by the endless thrills of Netflix, Crackle, and Amazon Prime. I don't have cable, haven't for years, but just having a giant screen as the focal point of my home had changed my idea of relaxation. I used to just play music, read, call friends or family, and research farm projects. Recently, these past few months, I have just pushed through chores and meals to get to a point where I sit down and mindlessly watch TV. I have seen seasons 1-3 of Glee. I watched the Hanna Montana Movie. I rewatched shows I had seen a million times. And you know what? All it did was make me put off the work I liked, that I wanted to do! I used to end an evening on my farm with hard work, good food, and then a book or a fiddle. Now I just fall asleep to nameless voices on streaming entertainment.

If I could use its forces for good, if I had the self control to just use it for documentaries and education, or if I had the ability to leave it off for days In a row, I would keep it. But I don't. For me, the television is poison. It's keeping me from writing, from my animals, from going out and making connections with other people and places and farms.

I'll get my news from the radio, internet, and (gasp!) other people I converse with every day. And the best part, no conversation with my friends about Iraq or Peak Oil will be interupted by a stranger trying to sell me tampons or diet soda. Even on the streaming internet channels—like Crackle and Hulu—commercials reign.

I think, to some people, turning off the television is harder than losing indoor plumbing or refrigeration. I know plenty of people who think backyard chickens, worm composters, and dairy goats are easier sells to their partners than no TV. Why is this? How did this thing that isolates us in our homes and distracts us from our goals become so addicting? It's become the center of our time and lives after work and before bed. To me, it's a time suck and dangerous to the soul. It has swooned me away from the energy of the farm and my dreams. It's easy to put off that book proposal if you've got a Ghost Hunter's marathon staring you in the eye....

It's not going on tonight, or ever again. If I want to watch Braveheart, I'll need to set up a computer screen in front of a couch when I am really jonesing for it. Tonight, I'll work on the dulcimer video and return to Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children. I consider this a little victory. It's taking back hours of the night lost to mindless distraction and directing it to music lessons, books, conversations, meetings, and creativity.

Monday, December 26, 2011

lamp black

This morning I was in the kitchen cleaning out and organizing some drawers and cabinets when some good advice wafted from the computer screen. I was watching the Victorian Christmas series I had blogged about Saturday, and there was a scene where Ruth (one of the show's historical renenactors) was cleaning up the cottages oil lamps. She explained that as the lamp black fills the glass chimneys they let out less light. They need to be cared for and cleaned on a weekly basis of regular use. She also talked about refilling the oil levels, and trimming the blackened edge of the wicks. This kind of service done in daylight means that at night the farmhouse would literally shine. "Neglected, and the lit dims from all the soot. Your whole home becomes a little dingier..." I looked across my own farmhouse to the oil lamp that sits in the center of my living room dining set. It was embarrassingly dirty.

I picked it up and ran a glass cloth through the black chimney. In minutes it was clean. I then trimmed the black end of the wick with scissors and refilled the reservoir with some oil I had under the kitchen sink. I set it back on the kitchen table, ready for service. When it was lit again it would burn true, and bright, in service to whatever purpose I called it to. I smiled.

There is something decent about letting light shine. You feel cleaner all over.

P.S. Willow, I read your letter and cried in my kitchen. Your painting hangs on the wall. Keep drawing wolves.

csa update

Just wanted to check in with all of you CSA and Webinar subscribers. CSA packages have began shipping, some hopefully have arrived at your doors before Christmas. For those that have not, I do apologize and they will get to you soon. As for the webinars, had no DSL since Saturday afternoon into this morning, and it is spotty at best, so I am waiting for a connection strong enough to support a 25 minute upload! You will get the dulcimer video in all its glory soon as I can get it too you.

I realize to some of my more cautious readers that might sound like a line. But feel free to call the folks at Common Sense Mechanical who came out on Christmas Day to check for rat/mice damage chewing through my phone lines. Turns out it wasn't chewed lines (like I thought) but the actual phone jack outside in the gray box is dead. So someone from the phone company has to do their voodoo to the outside connection. In the meantime I get my 5-8 minutes here and there where it works! (took three failed attempts to post just this!). It's always something.

Know I am doing my level best, and as things move forward and I have more time to dedicate to just the farm it will only go smoother. I appreciate your kindness, patience, and support.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

a victorian farm christmas!

comfort and joy

Yesterday afternoon Brett arrived at the farm with the most beautiful leg of lamb I have ever seen. I beamed with pride, looking at it. It was, as he called it, our joint-custody dinner, but the credit goes to him. This past summer at a chicken butchering workshop he loaded up lamb number 9 into a crate in the back of his pickup, with plans to raise him for holiday meals. He left here a scrappy little ram lamb with amazing vertical jumping abilities (he had to nail a lid on the 4-foot tall crate on the back of his truck, funny story), and now the lamb had come full circle. He returned to the place of his birth for a Christmas Meal.

Brett didn't let me help with the cooking so I headed outside to see to the animals while he bathed the leg in cream sauce, butter, garlic, mushroom and rosemary. He also had biscuits, beans, Adirondack Blue potatoes (which make purple mashed potatoes!) and I had set a peppermint pig on the table as a post-meal treat. (Peppermint Pigs are an upstate NY tradition from Saratoga) My first chore was the Freedom Rangers, who are still in the brooder. They were already doubled in size and would need more space soon. But they next week or so they would be fine. I gave them clean bedding, fresh feed, and water and then walked outside to the barn..

Standing next to the barn, was y Christmas Present. A Jasper-sized stone boat! I squealed! A stone boat is what you see in that picture, a wooden draggable sleigh used by draft horses to pull field stones, firewood, farm implements, and move over ice and snow with sap buckets in March. It is the original "tractor attachment" the most basic working horse's rig. It's not something that comes in pony sizes, but Brett took a photo of the stone boat at Merck Forest during Antlerstock and made it from his own home-milled lumber. Amazing...

The meal was epic. I had never tasted such lamb. It was succulent, slightly pink (the greatest sin of lamb is over cooking), and covered in the creamy sauce. The potatoes and greens were perfect sides. We enjoyed the biscuits with butter and a bottle of red wine. Cheers to a friendship so grand, and to his skills and kindness. This is a man who not only raised the sheep, but created a 4-star meal out of the flesh he butchered himself and has the home-tanned fleece rug on his cabin floor to prove it. I'm proud to know him, and constantly impressed by his talents.

I am impressed by your talents as well. I received hand knit socks (wore them last night!), a painting of a howling wolf with antlers, hand-knit sheep toys (with a border collie!), music, books, letters, and enough cards to drown my kitchen door. There will be a donation made from this community to Heifer.org for (you guess it!) a lamb for a family in need. That's right, we came together with enough to deliver a sheep to people who truly need it. A blessing, one of many, from you wonderful readers across the globe.

And as far as eating my own lamb, I will say this, for anyone curious. Eating the leg of lamb from a sheep I delivered here on a cold spring night was not in any way weird or uncomfortable. It was an honor and a blessing. It was possibly the best meal of my life and I could not believe such a feast started in my own pasture. I asked Brett how he felt about the lamb, since his relationship was more primal. He was the one who raised, slaughtered, butchered and served him. He thought about it for a moment and replied, "I chew slower." Perfect.

This Christmas, we should all take a moment to chew slower. You don't have to raise your meal to be so grateful for it it gives you pause. To be celebrating a religious holiday without fear, in a country at peace, with people you love and cherish deserves the reflection and amazement it should deliver to everyone warm and surrounded by grace this season.

From this farm, to yours, Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011



I have decided to offer a Season Pass for Cold Antler Farm events and workshops. For the price of Antlerstock and another workshop and a half you are welcome to come to any Cold Antler Farm event for a full Calendar Year. This includes Antlerstock, special speaker workshops like Plan B, and upcoming events such as Beekeeping, Soap and candle making, the Farmer's horse and Backyard Rabbit workshops. I host at least 10-14 events a year and even if you make half you will get more than your money's worth!

Cold Antler Farm workshops are how I make a living now. Your support gets you not only this continued blog and its posts, but an entire community of like minds from all over North America. Antlerstock alone is becoming a homesteader's Woodstock! Two nights and days of workshops and events here in Veryork about traditional skills, livestock, timber, and crafts.

I hope some of you decide to invest in a whole year of learning, community, and continued support of this little mountain freehold. Email me if you are interested, please. I promise to get back to you right quick.

And always, open to barter for labor, livestock, or good of equal value.

P.S. Workshop pass includes most things, but special events like fiddle camp or soapmaking that require entire kits or instruments and books would still require some supply costs.

I have some updates about workshops happening at the farm, some events are new and some have changes added that might excite you! To start out: In the spirit of the wonderful and successful fiddle camps I am offering a version for those of you who are looking for instant gratification and less squeaks and squawks:

Introducing Dulcimer Day Camp!
April 13th 2013

Come up to the farm this April when the snows are gone and lambs are on my mind for a Saturday dedicated to learning the Mountain Duclimer. Everyone who signs up for the day gets an Apple Creek Dulcimer of their very own and a basic instruction book. We'll spend the morning learning about the history, tuning, and strumming patterns and the afternoon learning your first songs! You will also leave knowing how to read tabs(so you don't need to know how to read music to attend) and the basics of jamming by chord and ear.

Just like fiddle camp you arrive knowing nothing and leave not only with your own instrument, but the knowledge to tune, play, and enjoy it. The dulcimer is a wonderful way for even the most skeptical of wannabe musicians to start with. It is tuned to itself and there isn't really a way to play a wrong note on it. As long as she's in tune, she'll make sweet music for you.

So if you ever wanted to add some music to your campfires, living rooms or farm front porches and and learn to bring home that beautiful music. Meet other beginner's, and enjoy a spring time farm. If you already have an older dulcimer then all you need to do is get it checked by a music shop and possibly get it restrung. If you own a newer dulcimer but never really learned, then sign on up and get inspired. You'll be strumming out Shady Grove in no time!

Please email me if you are interested, cost will be $225.00 for the whole day and the instrument and book, and include a farm tour. Please pack a lunch or plan to eat out in town. CAF Season Pass members just let me know if you want to come along, you only need to buy the book and dulc!

The Farmer's Horse with Trainer Dave!
October 27th 2012

Halloween Weekend, my favorite weekend of the year, Patty and I are hosting the Farmer's Horse Workshop. It's an introduction to working farm horses for beginners and covers the basics of what it means to share your life with a cart pony, saddle, or draft horse. It doesn't matter if you live in the middle of the city or own 50 acres, this workshop is for people just considering the dream. It's a golden opportunity to learn about the animals, tack, work, and costs of horses and see what it is like to put on a collar and hames and watch working animals up close and personal.

The day's events will be split between our two farms showing you, most of all, scale. You can see what a pony like Jasper can do for your backyard acre by hauling logs, moving carts, and general ATV work. And then you can see what a saddle horse like Merlin can do as a second vehicle. My farm will cover the small pony and regular multi-purpose farm horse. So the smaller scale work and riding part will be all at Cold Antler. Then we'll break for lunch.

At Patty's Farm we will meet Steele, her 17 hand 1800 pound Percheron Gelding. You'll see what 42 acres requires! Patty uses Steele to log, cart, and ride and will share in detail their story. You'll see larger tack, larger vehicles, and a demonstration with a full-sized rig. Trainer Dave, the farrier/nature horsemanship trainer who brought me and Merlin together in confidence and problem solving, will be there as an expert to give a talk about finding the right horse for you and what to look for. He will also answer your questions.

All you attend are welcome to stay after the workshop ends for a special private campfire with music, hot cider, a bbq dinner, and lantern read readings from Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" Which, being about upstate New York, Horses, and Halloween will be a perfect ending to a magical day of manes and tales (get it!). Only 5 spots left!

Please email me if you are interested, cost will be $150.00 for the whole day at 2 farms but you only pay $75 to sign up and the other half the day of the event. Price includes speaking event and a farm tour. Please pack a lunch for a midday break. CAF Season Pass members just let me know if you want to come along!

Words & Wool with Jon Katz!
Dec 1st 2012

Come to Cold Antler Farm this winter for a special workshop called Words & Wool. It is a knitter's circle and writing workshop dedicated to the small homestead or farmer's blog and the marketing and promotion of it. Come learn straight from the shepherd's mouth how I built, promoted, and expanded my blog. Ask me questions about publishing and writing professionally, learn how to sell or pitch ads and giveaways, bring a sample of writing to talk about and share with the group for a healthy and kind critique. Tell your story with eager ears listening, and a border collie in your lap....At the very least get some ideas for your personal, non commercial blog for your friends and family. It's a day dedicated to expanding your own brand and business, and getting the word out about your own website as another, vibrant, source of income for your farm and family.

Jon Katz (that's him loving up his donkey Simon), the New York Times Bestselling author will be here as well to do a talk about how he started blogging and how the internet has helped grow his brand. He writes and shares his amazing photography at Bedlamfarm.com. His blog is one of the most popular farm blogs online now, with nearly 5 million hits! Some of you may already read it, and those who don't, should. It never hurts to have a little more Washington County in your life! He'll be available to share his own experiences and do a Q&A as well as sign any books you may have for him. And as for the wool? Bring a knitting project! If you are coming along to listen and talk, you might as well have something to work on near the wood stove. Other knitters will be on hand to help, give advice, share patterns and teach you the basics if you are new to the craft. Expect a comfortable day, indoors mostly, at the farm. The class starts at 10AM and goes till 3PM, and if you want to stay after the class for a private party of creamy potato soup and bread fresh from the Bun Baker wood stove you are welcome to it!

Please email me if you are interested, cost will be $100.00 for the whole day, and include a farm tour. Please pack a lunch for a midday knitting break. CAF Season Pass members just let me know if you want to come along!

Season Pass promotion: Sign up for either workshop and you can pay a little more and be welcome back all year long as a Season Pass Member. SPM's are a driving force of support and goodwill on this little farm. They keep me going, as all of you do who read, email, comment, donate and come out to scratch Gibson behind the ears and tussle Merlin's mane.

P.S. Webinar Subscribers, you are not forgotten! The manuscript is done and winter is coming so expect ALOT of webinars all at once come snowfly ANTLERSTOCK 2012
2 Days of workshops and fellowship!
4 spots available
Columbus Day Weekend 2012

Antlerstock 2012 will be held here at Cold Antler on Columbus Day Weekend. I'm expanding the workshops, events, and options this year and starting it (informally) on Friday night.

email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com if interested! First come, first served as far as reservations go!

WORDS AND WOOL Come to Cold Antler Farm this winter for a special workshop called Words & Wool. It is a knitter's circle and writing workshop dedicated to the small homestead or farmer's blog and the marketing and promotion of it. Come learn straight from the shepherd's mouth how I built, promoted, and expanded my blog. Ask me questions about publishing and writing professionally, learn how to sell or pitch ads and giveaways, bring a sample of writing to talk about and share with the group for a healthy and kind critique. Tell your story with eager ears listening, and a border collie in your lap....At the very least get some ideas for your personal, non commercial blog for your friends and family. It's a day dedicated to expanding your own brand and business, and getting the word out about your own website as another, vibrant, source of income for your farm and family.

And as for the wool? Bring a knitting project! If you are coming along to listen and talk, you might as well have something to work on near the woodstove. Other knitters will be on hand to help, give advice, share patterns and teach you the basics if you are new to the craft. Expect a comfortable day, indoors mostly, at the farm. The class starts at 10AM and goes till 3PM, and if you want to stay after the class for a private party of creamy potato soup and bread fresh from the Bun Baker wood stove you are welcome to it!

Email me if you are interested, cost will be $100.00 for the whole day, and include a farm tour. Please pack a lunch for a midday knitting break. CAF Season Pass members just let me know if you want to come along!

THE FARMERS HORSE I am quivering with excitement as I write about this! This October 27th the Saturday of Hallow's, Cold Antler Farm and Livingston Brook Farm are co-hosting an all day workshop on the Farmer's Horse. A whole day dedicated entirely to equine draft power for field, road, and pasture!

The point of the workshop is to learn the basics of taking on a horse, pony, or mule as a beginner farmer. Whether it is a farm pony like Jasper or a bigger draft like Steele, this is a day for you to gain some hands-on experience and get your questions answered, farmer to farmer, about the realities of working and living with horses.

This is not a horse-training demo, professional clinic, nor is it driving lessons. It is a friendly first step towards working with horses in your own life. It's an introduction to the broad-backed basics of working horses. The breeds of horses and work, the equipment and harnesses, and will end with a lecture by a seasoned Natural Horsemanship trainer's advice on choosing a horse of your own some day.

The day will start out at Cold Antler Farm where you'll get to meet Jasper and Merlin and learn the basics of housing, fencing, and keeping a horse on small acreage. We'll talk about riding your horse, and the kinds of saddles and styles of bridles, bits, reins, and tack. We'll talk about what to realistically expect cost wise and how I manage to do it here at Cold Antler. We'll harness a horse together, going over all the pieces and parts of that complicated beast. Learn what those strange words and straps mean, and how it all fits together and what they do. Lead Jasper along with a stack of firewood on the back of a stone boat. Learn about curb chains and blinders with Steele. There will be discussions on how to proceed in your own area, too: mentors, local draft clubs and such.

Lunch will be brought, bagged. Please bring a picnic style spread for your own enjoyment. We'll most likely break sometime in the early afternoon.

After lunch we'll drive a few miles over to Livingston Brook Farm where we'll meet Steele, the Percheron with power, and see the same stuff on a larger scale and enjoy some time in the back of a cart. Patty will talk about her own experience with her horse, how they learned together. She'll give you rides and show us her different vehicles (cart, sleigh, and forecart) and talk about the uses and advantages of all.

After all that a Driving Specialist/ Natural Horsemanship trainer will be there to give an afternoon lecture on selecting the right horse for you, and what to look for when you are ready to grab the reins. This will be a chance to really ask the hard questions. A nice wrap-up to our day of Draft School 101.

When the workshop part is over we'll dismiss and those who want to stick around can stay for a cookout/campfire are welcome! And get this, we'll end things right. With the light of lanterns and jack-o-lanterns we'll enjoy a campfire reading of excerpts from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and sip hot cider and warm stews under wool blankets around the flickering light. And if you never heard the tale of our own New York State's Headless Horseman after a day with horses around a campfire...well, you best come and find out!

If interested, please email me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com to sign up. Half of the workshop fee will be needed upfront ($75) and the second half paid the day of the class. Discounts for couples and groups, as always. Mark your calendars and get out your deerskin gloves, we're going grab those reins!

Due to the growing interest in Fiddle Camp (all but one spot has filled up for this August) I have decided to add a second camp for the winter! It will be Feb. 9th and 10th, a Saturday and Sunday. A chance for people who couldn't make it to the summer camp, or just need more time for travel plans. Since no one will be out in the backyard sleeping in tents, "camp" seems like a bad name so I'm calling it the Fiddler's Winter Rendezvous. This one will be only for half the amount people and held indoors here in the farmhouse, but remain the same in spirit!

The Rendezvous will be the same 2 days of instruction for the absolute beginner fiddler. You'll come knowing nothing, not even how to hold a fiddle upright, and leave playing music. You have a 100% guarantee from me. I promise that anyone with any musical ability (or none at all) can come knowing nothing and leave with a song in them and the skills to learn more. You'll learn to teach yourself the beloved mountain reels, aires, gospel and folk songs of the American South. I supply the violin: set up, and ready to play, and you just supply yourself and the text book.

So why put off your dreams folks? Why just listen to those fiddles on the country station and Allison Krauss cds. Start making your own music and do it with a community of support and other adult beginners around you. Spend two days here in beautiful Washington County while the farm is wrapped in winter white and the hotel and Inn rates are cheap! You'll arrive here at the farmhouse mid morning and we'll start with the basics and get you acquainted with your instrument and then spend the rest of the weekend going through the method of learning my ear and touch, the way people learned in the mountains, so that within a few weeks of practice you'll not only be able to hear a favorite song on the car radio, but figure it out on your fiddle too.

The cost for the fiddle, Rendezvous t-shirt (featuring an antlered fiddle), and two days of instruction is $350 a person. It costs a lot less if you bring your own fiddle. But basically, you can come with nothing and leave a fiddler. And if any of you are looking for a Christmas Present from your darling spouse, this could be the one to remember. Learn an instrument, support a scrappy farm, add music to the world.

Feb 23rd & 24th
This February the 23rd and 24th will be a winter wool retreat here at the farm. It'll be snowy and cold outside, but even if the weather is frightful there will be a warm pair of woodstoves and fluffy dogs to keep you warm inside the farmhouse. So please, join me in a weekend dedicated to fiber arts. We'll have Saturday entirely focused on sheep and wool. The morning will be about the costs, preparations, and basics of taking on a small spinning flock of sheep in as small a space as a suburban backyard. A pair of Icelandics or Jacobs with a simple wind-proof shed and some field fence can turn any 1/4 acre into a wool production zone. I'll talk about my own sheep, their stories, and how I went from 3 in a rented backyard pen to the snowy hillside breeding flock you'll meet, pet, and see outside the warm windows. Then after lunch we we'll go into washing raw wool by hand, drying it, carding, and spinning with drop spindles and wheels. I'll have a wonderful instructor on hand, Katherine of NYC to come and teach you the skill with her own wheel and mine. Feel free to bring your own wheels as well and get some hands-on instruction.

So Saturday will be about sheep and wool, and Sunday will be all about knitting. Come and learn even if you don't know which end of your new needles point up. It'll be a day of knitting by the woodstove and enjoying homemade treats. Not as structured as Saturday, but I'll have some skilled teachers on hand to get you started and making fabric out of sheep even if you never did it before. The small goal will be for all of us to learn to wash, card, spin, and knit at some level by the end of the weekend. Come for one day, or both, and enjoy a wintery day at the farm. I'll be working on socks, I can promise you that much!

If you want to sign up, it is $100 for one day, or $160 for the whole weekend. IF you are coming from the city or need a place to stay, here is a list of local Inns and Hotels around Cambridge NY. Email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com to sign up, or give the workshop as a gift. If you are giving a workshop, season pass, or some combination as a gift let me know and I will mail you a signed copy of one of my books with a written invitation to the person who gets the workshop or season pass as a gift. I thank you again for supporting CAF, all of these workshops are helping prepare me and the farm for winter!

Have you ever wanted to know more about the healing properties of plants? Does native and ancient wisdom raise your eyebrows? How about healing a case of the common cold with nothing but dried herbs from your own larder and honey from you own hive? It doesn't have to be witchcraft or fiction, just basic and practical herbalism. It's a topic I am interested in and want to learn more about as well. So I asked a good friend and gardener/herbalist extraordinaire to come and teach us all.

The first Saturday in April will host a very special workshop here at Cold Antler Farm. Kathy Harrison, author of Just in Case and National Geographic Channel Doomsday Prepper, will be here to talk about natural medicines. She's a trained herbalist who gardens her own. She knows how to turn dried plants from her own backyard (and foraged from the forest) into teas, salves, tinctures and lotions. Kathy will talk about everything from planting to harvesting, and do a demonstration of making salves and ointments. Bring a notebook, questions, and tolerate a Border Collie in your lap and you'll love this spring day.

The workshop will start out with introductions and a basic overview on herbs. It will include a lecture on the beginning herbalist's garden, and from there take us off into the world of homegrown healing arts. We'll discuss what herbs are best for what ailment or symptom and all the business that goes into procuring them. This is a workshop for the person interested in a small garden they can tend, harvest, dry and then implement in everyday remedies. Something to set next to the taters, carrots, and lettuce patch. Some plants feed our bellies and others calm our minds. If you're already learning how to grow a meal, why not learn to grow the remedy for the stomach ache that might follow?!

We'll talk about specialty gardens, like for example, a calming garden. A bed of mints lavender, chamomile, lemon balm, and valerian. A small 4x4 bed with these herbs could be turned into teas, rubs, and bath soaks. Even aromatherapy can play into herbalism. What the day will achieve is getting you acquainted with the basics to start out.

Everyone who comes will get a small herbal manual called Herbal First Aid from the fine folks at Microcosm Publishing. You'll also receive some seeds, and Kathy might bring plants along as well (season and weather permitting!).

Sign up my emailing me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com. This workshop is limited to a small number of people due to the books, seeds, and plants included in the workshop budget, so it is first come, first served as far as reservations go. If you are a season pass member and want a spot, email me quick to claim it!

Workshop Rundown
Date: April 6th
Time: 10AM -3PM
Cost: $125
Spaces: 13

Homemade bread is a staple at this farm. It is as naturalized in my environment as other native kitchen species like dark roast coffee, raw milk, and freezer chickens. My bread machine is pretty basic, just my two hands and the will to knead. My supplies are a bowl, a large spoon, and a few choice ingredients. Together this human animal and her learned skill has made this farmhouse smell like heaven and nourished my body and soul. I'm pro carbs around here. As the saying goes, happiness weighs more.

And yet, I recently decided I wanted to add another level to this love affair. I want to grow my own wheat right here in my own garden. Not a lot, not amber waves, maybe an amber raised bed? And not only do I want to grow it. I want to harvest it, mill my own flour, and make a broom from my own straw. I understand that we live in a time when bread is just a few dollars a loaf, waiting for us in plastic wrap at the grocery store. But I also understand how many preservatives, chemicals, diesel, and dangers go into something so wholesome produced so commercially. I want to go against the grain (pun intended, with gusto) and make this basic food from the ground up, something few people do. It'll be a lot more work, but a lot more rewarding. I'm certain of that

I want to do this, and I want to do it with you.
Keep reading, this is about to get real, people.

I want to make my first grain harvest OUR first grain harvest. I want to share in the journey from seed to bread together, as a community all over North America and beyond. I want to learn right along side you, with all of you there to get dirty, laugh, and support me along the way.

So here is the plan: We will plant in the spring, basic wheat, spelt, or whatever grain you prefer and follow our progress through next year's growing season. Then, at the very beginning of next August we will all gather with some of our dried wheat (stalks, head, and all) here at Cold Antler and learn the ancient skills associated with these humble grains together. We'll mill our own flour, of course, but we'll also learn to use the straw for crafts like broom making or hat weaving. It'll be a day of celebration and harvest, stories shared here in the farmhouse of our adventures "bringing in the sheaves."

So Join me in this! Anyone who wants to plant and read the story here, certainly can. But for those interested in another level of dedication and in supporting Cold Antler Farm can go against the grain right along side me in our own membered club. I am officially starting my Against The Grain Society right now. The Society is a combination of everything CAF has ever offered, online writing, a book, supplies and a workshop here at the farmhouse. Sign up for the price of an enhanced workshop ($160) and get the following:

• One pound of organic wheat seed in a cloth sack
• A copy of Storey's Homegrown Whole Grains by Sara Pitzer
• An invitation to The Society's Harvest Party here at the farm next Fall
• And a membership card with the special address for our own Society blog.

(CAF Season Pass members only need to pay for supplies and shipping)

That site will be a place to share recipes, post photos of our crops, support each other with advice for the garden or kitchen, and then harvest together as an online clan. This special site also means that you don't need to come to Cold Antler for the in-person workshop to be in the club. Instructions on buying a home grain mill, harvesting your seeds, making brooms... all of that will be available on the secret blog. We will plant in the spring in our "fields" (raised beds and gardens!) and follow the story together.

If you want to join the society, or give it as a gift, sign up by emailing me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com - You can expect your membership kit of organic seeds, party invitation, book and instructions by August 1st of this year. Now, off to the fields with you!

Proceeds of this event go directly into firewood and lumber purchases for the farm: firewood to heat the place this winter and lumber to build the walls on the pony barn so Jasper and Merlin have some solid 3-sided protection from the north country winter!

meet the new kid

Thursday, December 22, 2011

solstice work

I was standing outside the sheep's gate with a wheelbarrow. All sixteen sheep charging towards me, thinking their evening meal had finally arrived. This was bad, and only because I wasn't toting a bale of beautiful Washington County Second Cut. Instead I had one, dense, 70-lb bale of straw I had bought and stored just for nights like tonight. A storm was moving in, starting with freezing rain and turning into several inches of snow. My flock like to be under cover and on dry ground as night snow falls, and so, for this exact purpose, I cover their barns with a new layer of clean bedding the night before a snow hits. It's a clean sheet to call home as the coming snow storm wailed into the small hours. I needed to get it up the hill and right now opening the gate would be a mob riot. I needed help.

I let Gibson take on this task, however he saw fit. I opened the door to the farm house and he bolted to the sheep gate. At his sight, many of the flock started to move towards their barns. I let him in the fence and told him to lie down. He did, and the flock raced to their pen, away from my working area as if Gibson had read all of our minds. I let him walk towards the flock, and when I told him to stop and lie, he did. I shut the gate. I then told him to look back at the pasture behind him and he shot off into the night, looking for a fleece under the waning moon. He saw none and sprinted back to me. I was thrilled for his help, as simple as it was. He calmly got the flock away from my work zone and behind a gate. A small victory for this eager pup and new shepherd.

It's the solstice tonight! The longest night of the year. Tomorrow the days start to grow longer and hark towards spring. If I needed a more blatant reminder, a gosling was born from Sara and Cyrus, and I am so proud of those 3-year-old geese I could hug them. The little one is doing fine and I am leaving it to its mother's care. No brooder box for this fella, just down, feed, water, and hay. I hope the little one is just the first of many. The Twelve Tribe farm down the road wants to barter for some goslings and I hope to deliver. Good friends deserve good geese.

this just in!

Today I came home to a new edition to CAF! Cyrus and Saro did it, a gosling was born today, hatched on the solstice. I don't know what the Farmer's Almanac has to say about goose babes on the winter solstice, but I am chalking it up as a good sign! I hope he/she is just the first of many little ones out of that clutch of eggs. Both geese have been working hard to guard and care for that nest in the coop, may it bring all sorts of chirps into this new light!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

take me back

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the chickloo, and other life changes

The Freedom Rangers are doing well. They are thriving in the mud room brooder. Under a heat-lamp near a roaring fire, they are learning to scratch, socialize, and stretch their little red wings. I have not lost a single bird, and am excited to build and create their winter shelter. I have plans for a super low-cost, low-energy chickloo out in the snow by the barn this winter. I'll purchase an inexpensive garden tractor/single car type tarp-covered "garage" and line the sides with pallets and haybales. A thick floor of pine shavings and straw, hanging heat lamps and feeders, and cozy meat birds should cost less than 300.00 to set up and be used over and over throughout the season. I'll post photos and updates as we go, but right now the Rangers are still in that amazingly-cute fluffball stage. They'll live inside with me for another 3-5 weeks and slowly we'll learn how to make-do outdoors.

You know your life is permanently changing when the idea of suspending heat lamps in a backyard chicken camp makes you want to spend the night drawing plans and sketches, and researching recipes yet uncharted...

P.S. Thank you for all the gifts and cards! Today I reached the 45 dollar mark towards the Heifer International Fund, and someone sent a beautiful set of presentable cookware...amazing. I am AMAZED!

Monday, December 19, 2011

tough love

This has been a tough morning.

I started writing all that had been going on here in the last few days and (even) hours while waiting for the chimney sweep to get here. The paragraph was full of drama. A series of accidents and incidents, personal strife, fear, and anger at myself. I looked at my blog post, shook my head, and hit delete. Not because I wanted to hide it from you, dear readers, but because I am fairly certain that writing about strife, fear, and anger just creates more and more of it. It causes me to get sucked into feeling like a victim, or fills my head with notions of things that haven't even happened yet. I don't want to live that way, not anymore.

I'm not saying I won't share bad news about the farm on the blog, or turn this into the fluffy-bunny of homesteading network. But I don't think any of you need to hear about my problems that you already have yourselves... things like money issues, relationships pains, medical problems or any sort of negative talk about politics, farms, bloggers, or farmers.

So here's what I will share about today:

Today amazing things happened. Through a lot of luck, love, community and phone calls disaster was avoided, stress relieved, and problems dealt with in a timely fashion. This farm was full of animals that got attention, feed, water, room to move around in and explore. The dogs have full stomaches. The house is warm. The electricity is on. The truck is getting repaired in the shop. I have a 4x4 rental sitting outside waiting to take me to work. I am blessed. I am lucky. I am grateful.

Tonight I would love it if every reader posted to share something they are grateful for, too. It can be anything, just something that makes them happy and that they truly appreciate. Write it down. I can't imagine the positive energy a list of gratitudes can create, but it has to be stronger than a list of pity-filled comments or there there's. I want to be uplifted, not consoled. I want to be proud of the generosity, kindness, and good will of strangers who sit down to check in on this blog. I want to hear about your grandchild's first steps, your puppy's healing leg, your overcoming cancer, your husband's warmth, your sister's laugh. I want to hear what you are smiling about.

I'll start: I am grateful for all of you who support this farm, in every way. Your comments, donations, workshops, emails...your love is a reason to wake up and create words and pictures and keep this dream alive. Thank you.

whoever mailed me this, you made my week

appreciation and tidings

A few weeks ago I posted about a little girl from an urban homesteading family in my hometown that needed your support. Thanks to your generosity, kind words, emails and calls...this family pulled through. Shellee wrote this to me to post on the blog so that all of you who donated and offered prayers and assistance can get an update. I am amazed at this community. It heals.

My husband and I would like to thank all of you for the prayers and generous donations that came our way through this difficult time. I had been waiting to hear from the doctor and finally have an update. Madeline will go into surgery on December 27 at 7:30am. This will be her 4th surgery (She will have one more and hopefully that will be all). She had a KUB xray (kidney, urinary, bladder) in Nov and her Dr said that the stones have moved down right at the base of the ureter!! This is fantastic news because they may not have to make an incision. He had said he is really trying to avoid that because her condition is lifelong and will more than likely have stones in the future. If they go in and surgically remove through incision, it may make it difficult in the future if they ever have to put another stint in ( her last surgery will remove the one that's in right now). So he is going to try to break them down by laser as best as he can and hopefully pull them out which means less hospital time after.

This has been a lot for our family but through our faith and the smile on a little girl who has been through so much, makes you realize what really matters especially this time of year. She is an active, fun-loving, kindhearted child, and I never want to break that sprirt. She prays for the children in St. Chris's every night that they get to be free (I think she means from the hospital...I never asked because that is between her and God and he knows her heart). Christmas is her favorite time of year so I was worried about how she would react having to go down again. As much as she doesn't want to get another "nap" (as we call it), she is ready for this to be all over. I pray this will be the last time she has to deal with stones.

We teach our children to be humble and accept the things God gives you. You may not always understand why things happen, but she knows that God makes everyone special. She believes God gave her stones to help other children with something they may be going through. And in her prayers at night she always puts herself last.....she's 4. I'm so proud to have her as my daughter. She teaches me to see what life is really all about. God has good things in store for this one!!! From the bottom of our hearts, thank you all for everything. You will always be a blessing to our family.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!

Love Shellee Snyder

Sunday, December 18, 2011

12 degrees

It's 12 degrees outside, and that's a new kind of cold for this farm. So far the lowest temps have been in the high teens, but last night the mercury dipped to ten degrees and when the farmhouse stoves went out around 2AM the house dropped to the low fifties. This isn't horribly cold, but chilly enough that when I reached over to hug Gibson his black fur was cold to the touch. When I woke him he stretched out his lanky body so he was easily 5 feet long from front paws to back paws, and then curled his spine back into another ten minutes of sleep, tail covering his nose. He must have learned that trick from the huskies.

Today's work includes some everyday chores like repairing the sheep fence, turning out the pony, and loading up the truck with some hay from Nelson's farm for the barn's larder. I'll pick up some more feed in Bennington and stop by the home-brewing shop so I can pick up a valve I am missing for siphoning the hard cider. I'll call the farrier for Jasper (his feet need some trimming) and the butcher about the pigs. They have a date with destiny soon. It feels like just last weekend I picked them up with Tara. But by the time those two are in my freezer Tara will have a belly the size of a throw pillow under her shirt. Life rolls.

There's a Christmas Potluck tonight at my friends' house in Arlington, and I'm bringing a big pot of mac-n-cheese with veggies. It's a comfort food potluck, by the sounds of everyone's menu and for nights this biting, I welcome it. Right now however, I have hot coffee by my side and a list in my head of errands and supplies, chores and plans, recipes and outfit selections.

I hope you all have a wonderful and festive Sunday! The solstice is in just a few days, and that means starting the 23rd, the light returns! Days will get longer, and Christmas even more special. At least, to me.

parts of a cow

Yesterday I posted a photo of two steer feet, muddy and bloody, in the snow-sprinkled grass. I shared the photo because I wanted to convey the raw reality of harvesting livestock for the table without showing the whole steer half skinned, hoisted on a giant tripod, with a near decapitated head covered in blood. The feet seemed to get my point across without being sensational.

I was mistaken. Emails, comments, and complaints came streaming in. I removed the post because so many people were offended, and offending people is not something I wish to do before the Holidays, or any time of year. What shocked me about the upset parties was that only one of them was a vegetarian. The others were people who happily eat meat but felt showing the feet of the steer was gratuitous, and using the word harvest was dishonest or elitist. Some thought I sounded cold and naive. Others were just grossed out.

Here's the thing. If I posted a picture of a perfectly cut raw steak on a plate, I assure you I would not get a single complaint. That raw part of a dead animal, because we are used to seeing it, is acceptable. Yet it is carcass, a once-moving sinew, the insides of a beast, a far more gory and intimate display than anything I shared here yesterday. The feet were two black hooves on the grass of a small family farm, with mud and exposed bone, gently being covered with snow. I wrote how my life with animals had changed, and that the experience of seeing those feet was just like the experience of seeing a filing cabinet in my office. They are a part of the process, objects that should not effect how you go about the work of your day. And so people assumed I cared about the death of the animal as much as I care about filing cabinets. That was both insulting and the exact opposite of everything this blog is about. Why is seeing backyard livestock slaughter as a part of my everyday life offensive?

If you think my acceptance of livestock death means I don't care about animal welfare, conscious eating, and invoke deep gratitude for the lives lost to sustain my own than I have done a horrible job of sharing my heart.

P.S. I put it back up...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

firecracker farm steer harvest this morning

First thing this morning I was at Firecracker Farm with a plate of apple cake and a card for Ian Daughton. The card said "Happy Steer Day!" and had the first ten dollars inside it as a down payment on the beef I ordered months ago from his steer. Today was Tasty the cow's harvest date and I was there with a few other folks to see the process, take mental notes, and talk to the butcher about an appointment for my pigs later this winter.

How I see and live with animals has changed so much in the past few years, and I am very content in my current practice of living with, and being the reason for, the death of the animals that feed me. It feels correct. Those hooves are not grotesque to me at all, no more than a filing cabinet is at the office. The metal cabinet is simply a part of the job, an object that is a small part of a larger process. Steer hooves are just one small part of an end of one animal's story. A story so complicated and interconnected with man it is insulting to me now when people pretend their meat never had legs to stand on. I am grateful for this animal in every sense. I'm proud of Ian and happy to support him.

As a farmer I now know death is not an ending. It's a continuation.

a chariot of cats

A small wooden statue of the Goddess Freya watches over my kitchen. She sits on a throne with two giant cats by her side. In the old words, she was the patron of love, protection, and fertility and was pulled on a chariot by two large cats. She's a lover and a fighter, digs music and ale, and believes in animal-powered transportation. That's my kind of girl.

Freya is in my kitchen because two years ago when my world was falling apart she showed up at my door and then everything changed. I was broke, evicted from my rental farm, and scared but then a reader mailed me this simple statue in the mail and wrote words that boosted my spirit. He told me to be strong, to trust the process, and that he knew I would be okay. He wanted me to have a reminder about strong women that came before me, that have guided people since time out of mind. I love this statue. I love that it was a gift from a stranger that arrived at my door, given to inspire and invigorate my hope.

Freya pulled through, all right. I ended up at this farm a few months later, a miracle considering I had no savings, poor credit, and no idea how to buy a house. All I knew was how to want it. I trusted in the readers who supported and believed in me. I found a realtor and mortgage broker who were patient and explained exactly what I needed to do to make this place happen. I saved, planned, paid-off debts, and with the help and support of many loved people I was able to come home to Cold Antler. Everything magically fell into place for me. The sellers were motivated, the USDA's loan didn't require a down payment, the closing costs covered by the owners, and so on. The experience confirmed my beliefs in trusting a dream, putting your emotions and intentions out there, following through with hard work, and knowing it will happen. You practice those four things with all you've got and you can do anything. You'll find your home, your farm, your dream. You will make it happen. Hell, you might even arrive on a chariot of cats.

I was thinking about that statue, that story, because it is now two years since she showed up at my door and how different life has been. There have been some tough times, most not even written down on this blog, but I trust the farm and my heart to pull me through.

I'm spending Christmas here at the farm and it is causing serious repercussions with my parents. They aren't angry, but they are disappointed. They see the choice to stay up here to keep things running choosing the farm over them. I suppose I am, but not in the way they think. My farm is not as important as my family, but taking care of the farm is more important than visiting my family at Christmas. If that sounds horrible, you either never ran a winter farm alone in the Northeast or your a first-generation farmer's Catholic mother. Either way, it's tough. Even Freya doesn't have this covered.

To my family, I'm sorry. I love you so much. I wish I could send Jasper to pick you up with bells on and bring you here to spend it with me and everyone else at Cold Antler this holiday. The three dogs, 31 chicks, 28 chickens, 2 pigs, 16 sheep, 5 rabbits, 2 geese, wildlife, and wood stoves.

I'll fill you in later today about how the farm life is changing here—the projects and plans—and the decision I made to cull out Pidge from the flock. But first I need to bake an apple cake for a farm-business meeting and then go watch a cow die.

Friday, December 16, 2011

LAST DAY to order Barnheart for Christmas!

This is the last day, last chance, to order a signed and personalized copy of Barnheart from Battenkill Books for Christmas Delivery. this is an amazing way to support Cold Antler, indie book sellers, and my rural community here in Washington County. If you are looking to own a special edition (first, signed, editions are special!) as a a present for a friend or to add to your own collection, these books ordered through Connie at Battenkill Books will be signed by me (Gibson too, if you request his paw print) just three miles from the farm in my community's independent book shop.

Connie can take your order, call me to come sign it, and we will mail it to you or anyone you want to send it too. She's mailed books to Canada, Brazil, Europe, and the South Pacific so far, so she can get it where it needs to go! Today is your last chance to order a copy and have all the delivery taken care of for you for those people still on your life, so give Connie a call or drop her an email, it's more than a small business, it's showing the entire Big Box industry book buyers are looking to support smaller shops. Amen.

Now, while I think today's Christmas cut off might be for U.S. Delivery, it is good to know your friend serving overseas or in-laws in Mexico can still share in the story of Cold Antler, if you want to mail it their way, inked by the girl and her dog.

You can also order books by another local author, and good friend, Jon Katz. His new book "Going Home" is about dealing with the loss of a beloved animal in your life, and his first book about living full-time on Bedlam Farm, "The Dogs of Bedlam Farm" is still my favorite, because it talks about living here in this area, alone, and with a farm through a crazy winter (I can relate). You can get any of his (he has scads), and my signed books sent your way today and under your tree by Christmas Eve!

So that's my commercial, thank you to all who already ordered Barnheart, Made From Scratch and Chick Days. It is such a boost to see a stack of books you wrote being mailed all over the world to folks who are interested in these 6.5 acres on a mountain. I'm grateful, and hope those of yours who receive these as gifts are happy with them and find their way here to see where the story goes next!

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

Or just click here to order online: