Saturday, January 7, 2012

first webinar is a success!

So the first Webinar was delivered to the subscribers and I think it was met with a a happy applaud! It felt good to hear some of the reviews emailed in, such as:

"It was well worth the wait.  I loved it.  I loved the stories too.  I don't know how you have time to do all you do.  You rock.  Keep them coming."

"Awesome work Jenna! I ordered a dulcimer for Christmas and am still waiting for it to arrive. I feel like I'll have a head start with your great instructions. Really enjoyed the webinar and thought it was very well done."

"This is freakin' awesome. I so want a dulcimer now..."

"Thanks for sharing--love the webinar format!"

"We just finished watching and listening to your Webinar. Marvelous job! We really enjoyed your music lesson -- it was very encouraging, you explained just what a newbie needs to know at first, and you gave meaningful reasons why we could benefit from making some music for ourselves. I was glad to hear that we don't have to be a prodigy to begin learning an instrument."

You can sign up for webinars any time of year, and will get all the videos you missed of that season (we are in the 2012) season now. To sign up for the entire season is a hundred dollars, but you get your money's worth! This last one was over half an hour. It started with Dulcimer 101, and next up is working with wool from sheep to yarn. We will wash, dry, card, and spin it using a drop spindle. After that wool working webinar the rest will follow the workshops (generally) and you should expect 9 to 12 more this year. Some will be longer, and some shorter. At the end of the season you can get them as a DVD, so you have them to watch whenever you want. I am hoping to sell enough video subscriptions to buy a newer computer (the one I am using is from 2005) so I can create better videos and a better blog here. But right now, just running the joint is what I use the bulk of shares for. Subscriptions to webinars and workshop attendance is what makes up for the salary cut I voluntarily took this past fall. I figured if the dream is to work on the farm full time as a writer and farmer, then I better see if I can cut it just giving up one day of pay before I give up five.

That day is a while off, but so far I am making it (just!) and I consider that a blessing. I have all of your support and encouragement to thank you for how far I have managed to get towards my dream.

Hey, would anyone like it if I kept that story going of driving home in the horse cart at night? Maybe wrote a little more and more every few days? If I wrote a fictional piece about me and the farm would it confuse people? What should I call those entries?

the new gosling (short video)

it takes a village

Read this post on friend and fellow farming author, Ben Hewitt's blog. He talks about the upcoming hog slaughter and wanted to share it. He writes about the animals, friends, neighbors, and shared work that will feed a group of people. Also, dog nuts. Here's some of Ben's fine writing, if you don't already tend his blog, get to it right quick.

On Saturday, we kill the pigs. It goes well; one shot each followed by a quick probe of the knife to loose the blood and as always, the shock of the sheer quantity of it, spreading across the frozen ground like unfurling sheets. Ryan and Jocelyn show up, and we spend the next two hours skinning and gutting and sawing and hoisting the halves to hang overnight so they’ll stiffen for cutting the next day. We have lunch. We skin and gut and saw and hoist some more. We are tired and the job is done....

Read the rest of the story here at

brewing again!

I know a lot of folks out there have mixed feelings about Jimmy Carter, but those of us who are homebrewers love the man for making homemade beer and wine a legal endeavor again. From the time of prohibition to 1978 it wasn't legal to make alcohol at home as a hobby or for home consumption. But when an amendment was added to a bill allowing zymurgy in the home once again, homebrewing clubs, stores, and small micro-breweries exploded.

One very micro, micro-brewery is this farm. I'm new to homebrewing, but I adore the entire process. From heating wort over the stove to clasping the final cap on the last bottle, it feels almost subversive. Like I am part of something I'm not supposed to be. Anyone out there who has opened a hand-sealed cap off a bottle of a backyard batch knows this feeling. A buzz in a bottle, a creation of alcohol and carbonation. I remember seeing that first ever IPA froth up and I could not believe I had done something in my kitchen I had only see done from factory products. It's like wearing a pair of jeans you sewed yourself. Totally possible, but rare to the uninitiated.

I am a homebrewer and proud of it. Equipment in this kitchen includes items like siphons and bottle cappers, sanitizing potions and saved brown bottles to wash and reuse from other (larger breweries). There are Guinness bottles full of hard cider in the fridge right now with shiny cold caps. The cider making wasn't exactly "brewing" since I wasn't over a hot kettle mixing grains and hops and then rapidly cooling it off before sticking it in a fermenting container with yeast. This was just apple juice fed honey and yeast and fermented twice to give it a kick. I drink it cold and feel the happy sting, like a sharp, flat, champagne. It's 12% alcohol and that's enough to stop anyone from driving the school bus after a few pints.

I think for a lot of people who like the idea of homebrewing, it just seems so complicated? The sanitizing, chemical reaction, racking bottles...what a bother. Truth is it can be. But it can also be very simple, just like any craft practiced in the home...

I can hand you a fiddle and ask you to play Old Joe Clark or a Bach Concerto. One is more complicated and usually higher praised for the effort and results, but that doesn't mean Old Joe Clark doesn't sound like a fun tune, get you dancing, and you made it yourself. My homebrew is like that. It's not fancy (yet), and nothing to brag about at the homebrewing contests around the area. But no one can dispute that what comes out of those bottles is frothy, home made beer. And to pour a glass of black homemade stout and play a fiddle tune you taught yourself is just as satisfying and real as any chicken raised for the table or hand-kneaded loaf of bread. It is growing a celebration from seed.

Today I'll mix and start a batch of an Irish Black Stout from a kit I have here. It'll be ready to drink in about three or four weeks. The small pony keg I use makes exactly a case of 12pz bottles, and a case lasts me a long time. I just ordered a intermediate kit from Northern Brewer called Peace Coffee Stout. It's a dark, smooth beer with coffee and spices in it. I added a larger brewing kettle to my arsenal as well and bought some growlers to fill and carbonate for parties or music circles in the spring. This batch should be ready by the Meat and Beer party workshop, where we'll brew several types of beers together and make homemade sausage from scratch (thanks to Kevin and Bacon). That day will end with music, homebrew, and some seriously good brats and buns. If you're coming, bring your instruments!

I moved all thirty chicks outside in this weirdly warm weather we are having. It is 40 degrees out there. I swear it feels like a thunderstorm is coming...

P.S. If you are brand, brand new to homebrewing there are several beginner kits. I already talked about Mr. Beer (a company that I truly adore) for their kit beers anyone with a 2-gallon steel kettle can make good beer from. I suggest this super easy mix-and-pour brew kit for all beginners. For those ready for a little more of a challenge, there is this beautiful and inexpensive kit from the folks at Brooklyn Brew Shop for making a gallon of beer at home with a small glass carboy, and i can't think of a better gift to hand to hands-on friends. And no, neither of these companies are CAF sponsors!

the chickloo worked great!

All 15 youngins made it through their first night, and it dropped below 30 degrees! The rest of the gand will join them soon. I'm proud of Steve, Molly, and I (mostly Steve) for putting together this simle structure to raise thirty meat birds in the middle of winter at low cost!

And when those birds are in freezer camp, I am going to turn it into a cold frame with a plastic top for kale and lettuce! Fresh chicken over roasted kale in winter, I'm upping my game!

Friday, January 6, 2012

jasper being jasper

would myth return?

Fridays in winter are such an amazing blessing. Any hesitation I had about giving up a fifth of my professional salary for one more day a week on the farm melts on mornings like this.

The fires are lit and the animals are fed. The Creek Drank the Cradle is on the record playing, spinning lazily in the living room. With the giant television gone and no speakers in that main room with the stove: the record player is the center of high-tech entertainment. Last night while paging through seed catalogs I listened to Johnny Cash at San Quentin and closed my eyes and smiled when he and June sang together. What a story, theirs. This morning it is a favorite record I know every lyric and tempo by heart. It turns with that static and scratching I love. The record player is older than I am. It's still got it.

I woke up to a snow covered farm, just a dusting. But still, all that clean white covering up months of senescence and mud, it is purifying to the farmer's soul. It makes the fires inside warmer, the mind expand into wild and older places. Outside the morning was warmer than it has been this week. The sun rose over the barn and Gibson was by my side through chores. The gosling is doing great, almost twice its hatch size and always with mom and dad. I decided to let the lad stay. A trio of geese just sounds right, doesn't it?

About those older and wilder places: on the way home from work last night I cut through Shushan because I wanted a slower drive over the river and through the woods (literally) to the farm. As I drove through the frozen night, it felt so still and cold with the new snow it was as if it had been paused and only my gray truck was left to move past the statues of does behind birch trees and windless pines. Suddenly, a snow squall started up again and the forest became a live again. In the streetlampless roads the only lights are the ones mounted on the front of your car and just ahead a dark form raced across the road and far into the night.

I don't know what it was. A deer, probably, or a bear. It could have been a dog or coyote or any other sort of North Country critter but it was fast and silent. I imagined myself not inside a V8 pickup in 2012, but in a horse-drawn farm wagon with nothing but two torch lanterns on the front. Could you imagine moving through a winter squall in near pitch-black roads with nothing but a yellow orb around you and your trotting horse? Wrapped up in a wool blanket and coat, a knit hat tight around your head and covering your ears, with a thick leather hat on top of that to keep the weather out? A scarf around your face, thick deerskin gloves, and the only sounds the wind and hooves? Now, imagine just out of view a black blur races across the road. The horse's head and ears shoot up in alert and he blows hard, stops in his tracks. You click him forward and his ears go from pressed against his head to orbiting around, listening for the monster. There's no radio, no steel and glass terrarium to keep you from the sounds of crackling brush, banshee winds, and then the low guttural tones of something just 20 yards to your right.

Don't you think your mind would take in that racing animal totally differently? That black blur would become a tale! Another sighting of a legend, or something out of folklore like a werewolf or ghost. You would take off your hat and wool layers and set them by the fire indoors and as you sat down to your dinner of slow-booking beans and beef from the dutch oven and ladle, you would tell everyone about what you and the horse saw, just 3 miles from the farmhouse...

I sometimes wonder if we lost all the electricity, all the modern, numbing conveniences of the world that treat many of us like we are handicapped—if myth would rise again? I'm not saying I want that (I have grown fond of my plug-in cage) but I certainly think I could deal with it just fine, and that a different kind of synapse would fire driving home in the snow. The forest would become bigger, wooly, and a place where magic and mystery writhe again. A part of me loves that idea. Another part of me is still nervous about a catamount on the barn roof. I'm not sure if it's hypocrisy or just idle thought, but either way I'd still like to drive a horse cart home in the snow one day. A come home and tell a story about it.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Win a Beginner's Garden Seed Set!

It may be the middle of winter, but that isn't stopping those of us with seed catalogs on our coffee tables from dreaming. I am already planning my gardens for next year, and how to best grow herbs, flowers, and vegetables to add to the farm kitchen and pantry next season. I'll be installing a south-side facing mini greenhouse on the farm house's outer wall to start Kale and other greens soon as the below zero temperatures fade. I can't help it, soon as the Holidays are behind me I just want to get back into the dirt...

Want to get dirty too?

Annie's Heirloom Seeds (that's some of the Annie's Heirloom Seed family in the photo) has agreed to try out a sponsorship on the blog for a month, and in the spirit of our collective cabin fever, has offered up to the blog a wonderful giveaway! Annie's is offering five Beginner's Garden Collection Seed Sets to the readers of this blog. The collection includes five easy-to-grow vegetables you'll never find in the produce isle of your supermarket. They include: Contender Bush Bean, Boothby's Blonde Cucumber, Black Beauty Zucchini, Annie's Lettuce Blend, and Annie's Radish Mix. In a few months you could have your own salads under cold frames, radish heads poking out of dark healthy soil, and bean and squash seeds started indoors. By this Autumn you could have beans saved in your freezer, special pickles in jars, and have had enough roasted Zucchini to write a ballad about it.

What makes these seeds "beginner" is they are easy to grow, without much fuss or special needs. Besides some good soil and well-seasoned compost in a raised bed, all you need is a trellis for the cucumbers to climb. That, and some water, weeding, and critter vigilance and this could be the year you finally get some food out of your backyard! Find a little time, and get those hands dirty.

To win one of five Beginner's Collections, leave a comment saying what other heirloom vegetables you are planning to grow this summer? They can be ones you discovered on the Annie's site, or ones you have saved for years and years. One entry per reader please. But, if you are willing to share a link to this contest on Facebook, you can come back and write a second comment that says "SHARED!" to double your chances for winning!

Winner picked soon, enter away!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

wonderful and ridiculous

big cats

This is a Maine Coon, a large domestic breed of cat suitable for a famer who lives with a pack of wolves. Two are arriving here on Sunday, adopted from a home who needs to find a new place for their twenty and fifteen pound pets, Lilly and George.

I always hesitated getting housecats, worried the dogs would bother them. I had been warned when I got Jazz that he used to chase cats...but George and Lilly are huge, clawed, and Jazz is now 14 years old and can't get up the stairs easily. I'm not worried. Well, not about the cats anyway.

Get ready for thirty five pounds of feline Cold Antler!

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:

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.