Tuesday, February 14, 2012

the greenhorn revolution

The Greenhorns, a new book hitting shelves in April about the passion and promise of young farmers in America, is available for pre order through Battenkill Books. While I am just one small contributor to this collection of fifty essays compiled by Severine, Zoe, and Paula, I am happy to sign my essay and write you a message of encouragement if you like. Heck, I'll even throw in Gibson's greenpaw print if you ask for it.

I asked Connie if we could do even more than pre sell the book. We are talking about hosting a screening of the full length documentary the book is based on right here in Cambridge. Battenkill Books, Cold Antler Farm, and a third party organization will be cosponsors of the screening if it all falls into place, which it will, because Connie is amazing and this county is busting at the seams with people in their twenties and thirties aching to get their hands back in to soil.

For information on how to pre-order from Battenkill Books, and to hear about updates and events visit battenkillbooks.com, or click this link.

the luckiest

Valentine's Day is horseshit.
Happy Lupercalia, wolves.

happy valentine's day

Monday, February 13, 2012

merlin at the kentucky horse show


I might, might get this amazing 15 year old Fell Pony (my dream horse) for a barter and a song. The owners need to size down their herd due to illness, and this UK import is too good to pass up. He's 13.2 hands (a little taller than J, but thicker and well trained!) rides english, western, drives, drags...he's a beautiful gelding and I am going to see him this weekend with Patty or Wendy if they are up for it. Plus, Jasper would have an equine partner, finally. This is literally a dream come true for me. If this happens you will be reading a whole lot more about cart horses...

His name is Merlin.

I'm dizzy....

sausage party!

Last night I got out my sausage making gear, placed some natural pig casings in warm water to set, and started mixing meat and spices for Sweet Italian Sausage. I didn't have the pork on hand, but I did have a 50/50 mixture of grassfed beef and lamb. Since both meats came ground, I didn't need to grind them so I just used the steer-horned cast iron sausage stuffer to fill the shockingly strong casings.

It is meditative work, even if it is a little messy. You take the soaked intestines and slide them over the metal tubing, then the spiced meat is pushed through. I tie off one end and use kitchen shears to make the knot clean. As the meat is stuffed and the casing is filled I either twist it into links, or more elegant half-circle curves. It doesn't look like what you see in the store, but it doesn't look unappealing either. I'd dare call it beautiful if cased meats could be called such a thing. Now they are sitting in the fridge to take some time to cure up the combination of spices and ground. You can fry them up soon as you case them, but most sausage resources I came across said waiting is better. I'll do as I'm told!

I am lucky to live near a little independent grocer in Shushan who not only sells good meats and sausage-making supplies like spices and casing, but also teaches class in it. His clients are most interested in making products out of their wild game, but the same classes would apply to homesteaders and homemakers who want to turn their backyard turkeys and pigs and chickens into a value (and flavor) added product. I think its a great skill for anyone to learn though. You can source really healthy meats and herbs from your own garden, local farms, or green markets and with a minimal amount of gear make your own artisan meats in a very short amount of time. My 3-pounds of Italian steer and lamb links took 15 minutes, plus 15 minutes of clean up and an hour pre-soak for the casings.

This coming weekend is the Sausage Party* here at Cold Antler Farm. Should be a nice crowd, too. A lot of folks are coming to learn the basics of homebrewing and sausage making. We'll spend the morning working with casing, spices, grinders, meat and the non-electric tools of the trade and then after lunch we'll brew 7 gallons of beer. Two of those five will be made with a super-easy Mr. Beer beginner kit, and then the other five will be a traditional grain and hops combination over the stove. WE'll auction them both off at the end of the night with a beginner sausage making kit too, so some folks will head home with two cases of beer or pig intestines in salt, FUN!

*not that kind, sorry ladies.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

making tracks, taking a rest

Went for a mile run down and up the mountain today. I'm getting back into the swing of running (a sometimes hobby that should be an always hobby) and it makes me feel so good. I didn't bring my running shoes home from the office gym, but I am not a girl to let myself off the hook that easy. So today I went for a jog in my Georgia Work Boots, the same ones I muck the horse stall with. They worked fine. I came home blowing hard, heart pounding, and feeling like my body has a proper use. I hate running while it is happening. It's hard. It hurts. But I am euphoric when I get through it.

The rest of today and the next two nights are dedicated to rest. I pre-programmed the blog posts through Wednesday and will be taking time after work for exercise and relaxation. Right now I am going to stretch, read, and eventually get to the holy act of Sunday Roast. Tonight I'll enjoy an herb rubbed chicken over carrots and kale with a home brew. I backed out of some club meetings in Albany to rest easy, making the farm and a good meal my only work today.

things will be alright

One of the songs that has stuck with over the past ten years is Phish's Farmhouse. I used to dance to it with my old Golden Retriever Murray in my parents kitchen. Last night while falling asleep next to Gibson I started singing it to him. He was in his usual place, back against my chest where he has slept nearly every night since he was an 8 week old pup. I don't know if he sleeps there out of habit or solidarity, but it is nice. I was upset from the past week. So I started whispering to my little black dog the lyrics I sang to dogs before him. His tail thumped as I scratched his ears.

Welcome this is our farmhouse. We have cluster flies, alas, and this time of the year is bad. We are so very sorry there is little we can do but swat them.

Gibson has this ability to seem almost human in his interaction. He did something incredibly sweet next. He scooched his body around so his head was facing mine on the pillow, and he placed his paws up onto my shoulder. Somewhere along the road he learned that his paws can work like my arms, and uses them to hook around hips and shoulders and bodies in what appears to be a hug. I'm sure it is some canine form of dominance, or maybe just the way he is used to getting closer to me, but whatever it is, last night it felt like I got a hug from my dog and I really, really, really needed it. So I started to cry and that's how I fell asleep. Not sad, not overwhelmed, just finally getting out all that emotion I had been building up from the things I share (and do not share) here. I sang the whole song to him, but I must admit, it is the chorus I like best.

I never ever saw the Northern Lights
I never really heard of Cluster Flies.
I never ever saw the stars so bright.
In our Farmhouse things will be alright.

I'm feeling much better this morning, and will head out for a jog in a little bit. Enjoy your day. I will be enjoying mine! I got a farm to see to and lungs to bust!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

the last ten minutes

I must have began and ended a dozen posts for today. My head isn't in the right place to write. It's been a hectic week here, as you have read. My mind feels just as frantic. Some times the highs and lows are so great you get blindsided by them. You lose your footing, you forget the end game.

I mean, some things have been so amazing it makes you shake. Recently I had to grab the wooden seat of a Meadowbrook cart as the Percheron ahead of me took off at a controlled canter. It was the most exciting feeling I had felt in weeks. I know people who swear by the thrill of their cars and motorcycles but a machine is still a machine. It will do what you ask of it, what it was designed to perform and maybe some more. But at no point will a motorcycle decide to stop dead in its tracks, buck you off, and drive off without you just because it felt like it. Driving a cart horse sounds so placid, serene. It wasn't. It was wild, feral as transportation gets outside the sole and saddle. I got to spend time with Meg and Patty make new and closer connections. I took in some refugee rabbits. I got the signed paperwork back for my fourth book. On paper, things are amazing. They are amazing.

And yet...

And yet there was Pidge, Lisette, the bad pork, and Valentine's day. All of this has me reeling for fifty different reasons. Usually this is the kind of stuff I just accept, stiffen my upper lip and trot on. But right now, honestly, I'm feeling a that lack of focus that infects my better nature. I'm usually really good at shaking off the fringes and putting my head down and getting to work. Lately I have felt that uncomfortable lack of control, proven over and over again by events on this farm I could never control.

No one tells you when you decide to start a farm how much you need to take responsibilty for and let go of at the same time. Not just the agriculture, but everything. You sign up for this life and you are both the stewart and the monastic. You need to be make sure everyone eats, drinks, thrives and sings and then when it all gets taken away from you—either by your own mistakes or dumb luck—you're supposed to just accept your lot and move on, as calm as clergy. I understand both sides of this coin and have performed the mental trapeze swinging for quite some time without needing the net. But right now, I'm feeling a loss of grip. Nothing serious, but something to chalk up my hands and get me centered again. And that too is up to me, of course. I don't have a life coach. I have a pitchfork. Same damn thing.

I blame this weird winter. Apparently the season wasn't that into us. A few dates and we got stood up by the season like prom dates. Sure, it might get cold tonight or even snow an inch or two, but this winter has been downright weird. Maybe that's part of the loss of balance, too. Or maybe I just need to sit down and sink into meditation and work through it like a zen monk once told me he did. "When I get frustrated. I meditate. For the first ten minutes it is like being stuck in a phone booth with a crazy person. The next ten minutes, with a therapist. The last ten minutes: with me."

A reader recently wrote me to tell me she wasn't going to read the blog any more because it was getting too personal. She wanted recipes and farm updates and education, not a narrative of a stranger's life. I'm pretty sure it is posts just like this she was talking about. I don't know what to say to that other than the blog grows with me, changes with me, and I bet you could print out the whole thing and highlight when I was in the first ten minutes (now), the second ten minutes (when you felt inspired by something i wrote) or the last ten minutes (when you sensed I was at peace). My response to just wanting content, and not narrative: you're reading the wrong blog, darling. But if you stick around, we can work towards the last ten minutes together.

Ring the singing bowls, hands in prayer position, time to sit it out and shake the dirt off my hide.


Lisette is gone, I am sad to report. I found her away from the flock, on her side, unable to move. She was barely breathing, rail thin, and seemed to be either in great pain, or so weak she couldn't even stand. I got my rifle. I thanked her. I told her I was sorry about both her and her lamb. And now they are at rest in the same compost pile, returning to the earth they came from.

Friday, February 10, 2012

draft horse diaries

By Meg Paska, brooklynhomesteader.com

meet steel, my new mentor

I just had such an amazing experience a few miles up the road at Livingston Farm. Patty gave me a driving 101 lesson with her Percheron, Steel. Steel is 8-years-old and 17 hands. He weighs 1800 pounds and yet (surprise surprise) was easier to control than my Jasper. She went over harnessing, ground driving, basic line direction and talked about the local Draft Club. She then hitched him up to a large Meadowbrook Harness (thus named because they are a sturdy two-wheeled cart that can handle either the meadow or the brook! think early ATV) and we drove right down the road. It was Patty, Meg, and I and when she handed me the lines I was more comfortable than I ever felt in a truck or car. I got to drive a draft horse at a trot down a country road on a Friday morning. Cars and vans and trailers passed us and Steel was a perfect gentleman. He has done parades, fairs, the works. Patty and his story is quite the inspirational one too, since just three years ago neither of them knew each other or how to drive. Now they wave as trucks pass them on route 29.

It was a thrill I can't compare with any recent events in my life. A type of exhilaration that feels so correct and genuine you aren't sure if you are really you, or a configuration of idealistic nostalgia from postcards, books, and movies. Regardless, I was alive. I was foaming for more. And she invited me over to train with her, learn from her, and work with her neighbors Haflinger, Waylon, as I learn towards getting my own Haflinger someday.

I met Patty because she came to my reading at Battenkill Books. What a great connection, I am so grateful to have met her and her husband Mark. The work they are doing to restore and bring life to their 1800's barn and farmstead is remarkable. This is going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

ponies are pro coffee

photo by Meg Paska

a visitor from the big city

Meg Paska of Brooklyn Homesteader drove up from the city yesterday to spend a night up here at the farm. It wasn't just a social call either. In her borrowed Mini Van she had three breeding rabbits (two does and a buck named Ghost) and seven bunnies! She was recently told by an anti-backyard-slaughter landlord she had to have those critters removed. She looked all over the city for a place to keep them but she needed a farmer, not a babysitter, and I said they were welcome here. Honestly, what's ten more tiny mouths to feed? She had been here before (for the meat rabbit 101 workshop where she got her three critters that starter her herd) and knew I knew exactly what I was getting into. I don't mind caring for her rabbits, but the true reason I wanted to offer to foster care for her critters was because I myself had been in her shoes. I know what it is like to not own your farm and be told what has to stay and go. I was happy to take in the caravan of rabbits and urban homesteader that arrived yesterday evening.

And here's a bonus: she graciously offered me the kits for my own freezer and I will certainly enjoy them! The breeders however, are staying here on foster care. When she relocates in late summer to her new beachfront farm near the city, I will happily return them to her fat and happy and hopefully with their own litters of kits to raise back in Jersey.

Next, we are off to visit a neighbor's farm, Livingston Brook Farm, for a driving lesson with her dapple percheron mare! I am so looking forward to (quite literally) grabbing the reins! Hopefully I will have photos to share.

And on the note of anti-backyard animal slaughter... Did you guys see this article? Seems like Novella Carpenter and her scene in Oakland are dealing with quite the anti-farm crowd! Ridiculous complaints, I say.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

2012 workshops updated!

I added a button right over there on the right (with the crow and fiddle) of all the workshops, dates, and other events going on at the farm. Click it to see new summer events. To make the blog itself less commercial and pitchy, I'll just pop a notice when a new workshop is listed (two new ones, pizza garden and rabbit 101) are in there now along with all the others. Hope having it all in one place helps!

Maude, never change.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

not looking forward to tuesday

I'm not an anti-Valentine's Day person. I think the notion is sweet. But as a long-time single woman it can be frustrating, sometimes lonely, often just mentally awkward. A long time ago I posted this little essay, and it I got four emailed responses. Two were lesbians and the other two were parents trying to set me up with their adult sons. All of the inquiries were sweet and well intentioned, but not right for me. I forgot about it until today. I was picking up pantyhose at the drug store and as I turned towards where they were lying in wait, there was this tunnel of love candies. "Cartoon Hearts" was what it said, and I laughed. That was always my problem right there.

A farm doesn't need a farmer with a partner to run it. This farmer doesn't need a boyfriend, a husband, or children. She doesn't need candy in the shape of cartoon hearts or frilly laced underwear or bright red roses. But that doesn't mean she doesn't want them. The moon sees that, too.

cotswold smirk

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

full moon chores

I love doing my evening chores on the night of the Full Moon. She rises up over the mountain above me, sometimes popping out of nowhere, and then as I muck about with buckets and boots over frozen chicken poo, she watches the entire night unfold on this farm.

The moon sees me dump out Jasper's old water and fill it with a new fount, clear and cold. She sees me waddle about with my glowing lantern, from chicken coop to broiler pen, laying fresh bedding and turning stale loaves of bread from this weekend's workshop into eggs and meat. She'll see me toil and laugh out there as I move a barrow of hay to the flock, talking to the frail Lisette as I hand her a small flake all for herself.

I have learned that in a flock like this some sheep shine and others wither. You can offer them feed and shelter, medical care, attention, and everything else but some just have the better genes and braver hearts and they live like it. The now two-year old Blackface I called Brigit is a brick shit house, the finest ewe at this farm (don't you dare let Maude hear you say so though). She is sturdy and strong and easily 175 pounds of meat and bone. Lisette is 6 years old and never truly recovered from the wounds of a Ketosis-riddled pregnancy. Her ewe lamb is dead. I shot the same small girl I helped bring into the world. A farm is not a place of innocence, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool. The moon saw that too.

More sheep thrive here than not. I consider this my work and the goodness of the farm so far. Before I left the moonlight I looked around at the horse pen, the fields of dead grass, the places Brett and I talked about improving with new pasture and sheds and gates. I listened to the meat chicks rattle in their warm barn and the coos of resting hens on their roosts. The big white rooster remains in the same branch of the same tree he has slept in every night since October outside the coop. It has been so mild he has never spent a night in. I don't think the reining rooster, Lou, would let him.

I wish for spring like many others, but I know chores at moonrise are winter's gift. I am grateful for it while it lasts, and grateful for the firelight indoors when the lanterns are put out.

Monday, February 6, 2012

meet miss lilly

Spinning Wheel Winner is...

MIST! Congrats darling! I am as jealous as a green cow!

Random Winning Comment:

I've always wanted to take up weaving, so I think my dream project would currently be to use one of Halcyon Yarn's Kennebec rug kits to weave myself a rug.

I'd feel pretty damn accomplished after that feat. :)

Contact Me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com to get the wheel!

Come to the Meet & Beer Party!

In two weeks a special event is happening here at the farm, a specific workshop for a specific kind of reveler: the Meat and Beer Party (Workshop). We're going to go through all the aspects of home brewing and sausage making for beginners, pork and beer in particular. We're starting out with the brewing. As a group we will go through supplies, sanitation, and together we'll brew a batch of Sweet Stout from Northern Brewer as a team. We'll learn to bag and soak the grains, add the malt, boil, and watch the brew kettle as the wort bubbles. Then quickly chill it before getting it ready for fermentation. yeast will be added, along with a special sealed lid and fermentation airlock and it will be set aside as a raffle item. Someone who attends the workshop will get to take it home to bottle in a few weeks and enjoy! Not a bad haul, a case of home-brewed stout, just for showing up to learn how to make it!

After we brew that new batch, we will learn to bottle as well. I have a Coffee Stout Porter (much like the stout we will have just brewed) and we'll go through sanitizing bottles, tubing, bottling and priming for carbonation. Folks will learn to use a capper, bottling wand, and prime a variety of vessels from 12oz brown bottles, to growlers. Everyone will be able to take a primed bottle of that home too. It will be ready to pour in a week!

After the homebrewing 101, we'll use an old fashioned cast-iron meat grinder to grind either pork, rabbit, turkey, beef, or lamb (or a combination). I am intentionally using non-electric tools for this. Same goes for the steel sausage stuffer, which we'll use with the meat, spices, and casings to create breakfast, Italian, brats, and sweet sausages. When they are made, we'll fry some up and try them out.

The workshop will end with a tasting party, of both different local beers and our meatasticos. It will be a super casual evening, with plenty of music (folks are bringing their fiddles and guitars) good food, and friends. It officially wraps up (cases up?) at 4PM, but folks can stay later if they wish for a dinner of Brats and beer. It's in two weeks, and still have some spots open. Email me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com if you want to join us. Feb 18th, 10AM-4PM at the farm.

P.S. Anyone want more Birchthorn?

Atlas lives

Didn't have time to slaughter and butcher the ram with a hay delivery and a late start to it all yesterday, so Atlas lives to see a few more weeks. I am damn proud I got that ram into the pen in short order. Talk about grabbing life by the horns!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

border collies don't nap. they crash.

a future full of music for all

A few months ago I read a pretty horrible novel about post-collapse America. I'm not going to share the author or title—the last thing I need is that kind of karma on my shoulders after this past week—but let's just say if our future requires us all to become evangelical militia in paramilitary prisons...where do I opt out?

Honestly, it wasn't the extremist view of the future that bothered me. What made my stomach turn was the entire book, not once, did anyone stop to pick up a guitar or fiddle and get a music group going? Not only music, but any sort of natural craving for the arts or real agriculture was in the story. Art, writing, music, all forms of personal creativity was entirely out of these people's lives. They read the occasional book out loud, but no one was writing one. They didn't miss recorded music. They didn't sing. They didn't pick up a guitar and play it in the evenings. There was also no livestock, just rations of pre-bought food in cans. Agriculture was an afterthought, something to "get to" later. No livestock was a part of the story, not even horses until the book was nearly over. The only dogs they had lived outside and was only used as a form of perimeter security. A family with "useless" golden retrievers, ate them out of spite because they didn't attack unwanted visitors. I found this lack of music and working animals so unrealistic it ruined the story for me. I can not imagine a life without these things.

This was a group of people struggling to survive, so certainly they had higher priorities in mind than fiddle lessons. But look at our country's land and history? What group of Americans had a harder time scrapping together a living on poor, sloping soil in a wild place more so than Appalachia? And yet the African/Scots-Irish blend made it the melting pot of percussion and melody that gave birth to nearly every form of popular music today. I guess it is a matter of priority. You preserve and keep on with what matters to you. In this book about fighting UN troops you had sniper rifles and military uniforms in jeeps running on hoarded petroleum people killed each other over....

Yesterdays workshop was very much lessons in self-reliance, even though it was about music. To create music without the need of electricity, recordings, or depending on other voices is such a vital skill to me. It is a form of expression and Independence worth every lesson and minute spent learning your beloved choice of instrument. When you can walk into a field without a single outlet, play a few chords on the guitar slung over your back, you are a freer person than many. Don't like playing instruments, than sing or whistle a song. If something is stopping you, get that checked.

We learned how to teach ourselves an instrument, hear music by ear, and try out different musical adventures. Entertainment of the soul and body is just as important as the labor or planting crops, raising animals, and harvesting food. It is all well and good to weave your own fabric and build your own outdoor firepit for roasting pigs but if you aren't singing every once in a while while you hauled those sows their slop or as you work the loom you are a different breed of person altogether different than I. I love hard work, but I sing while I do it, and there is no better feeling than coming inside to a pint of dark stout homebrew and a fiddle tune or seven.

So this workshop yesterday was not lessons in music, but an introduction to several acoustic instruments anyone with the will and enthusiasm to learn, will learn. We talked about the dulcimer and its place in our musical history (and my own). Next we went through the basics of the fiddle, notes and tuning and how to place your fingers. Will, one of the attendees, had never touched a fiddle before and the first time his bow-hand touched the strings a perfect A note played and I smiled like a mother lion, all teeth and squinting eyes. Within a few moments he knew all the finger positions and I explained it was exactly the same on every string, then patted his shoulder, and congratulated him on learning the fiddle today. It was that simple. The fiddle is the most over-rated instrument in the world. It is cake to learn a tune or two. The hard part is getting good at it, but you have a whole lifetime to mess with that musical freehold. For right now, we'll just tackle the D scale.

Lunch was the usual potluck style, chili and soup, fresh bread and butter, cheese and snacks. Folks ate their fill and just as we were about to sit down in the living room Julie Dugan walked through the front door all smiles in her black beanie, banjo case at her side.

Julie is a natural teacher and instructor. Listening to her introduction to the world of banjo, festivals, history and her songs were a wonderful way to sit back and take in some bright and beautiful sounds. She talked and played for about an hour. Folks were asking questions, taking recordings, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

Afterwards we just went at the instruments we were drawn too. I helped someone tune up their new fiddle (fresh from ebay!) while others got together to practice and try out a dulcimer or banjo. I think more than few will end up ordering some dulcimers, and the folks who brought their fiddles seemed happy to get them out of their cases and tuned up. At one point Elizabeth and I played Ashokan Farewell together and it was such a beautiful little moment of the day, afterward Weez, her, and I jammed out with some of Weez's songs she wrote and sang (quite beautifully) in the kitchen. I never lost that lions grin. It was a wonderful Saturday.

As for the end of the world in creepy fiction: not everything is as awful and boring as that first version of the future I mentioned. In the current book series (also a post-oil series) people are living in modern versions of the old Celtic or Nordic Clans alive with music, culture, horses, religion, folklore and ceremony. There's plenty of horror and killing too. Its not a Utopia, but a totally different view of it all, and to me, a better one. A future with music in it still exists. It is necessary, even. These are my people. If the world turns to shit I will be a woman with a fiddle, longbow, and horse with a pack of dogs. Call me Artemis over GI Jane any day.

I didn't realize it when I shared the workshop schedule, but I planned four workshops in February! Whew, two down and two more to go and then there's a short break in my weekend plans until the backyard laying hens class in April. I'm not complaining, I love these events and never regret a single one, but next weekend I plan on hibernating Hedi's-Grandfather style. Just me, my animals, and my mountain.

Oh, and my fiddle and banjo. And dogs.

Okay folks, I'm off to meet up with Brett, butcher Atlas, and then head out to a Superbowl party. This is a normal weekend in my life now.

P.S. Listen to Julie's Music for FREE at banjofrailer.com

Saturday, February 4, 2012

the remedy

So what is the cure for bad news, disappointment, and despair? Music. Today was the Mountain Music workshop here at the farm and it was exactly what I needed. I will write more about it later, I promise. Right now, I just want to say that a day spent teaching, playing, and listening to mountain music cured this woman's heavy heart. It will do it every time. I had a wonderful afternoon with the folks who came from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York to learn the basics of dulcimer, fiddle, and banjo by the woodstove. Thank you all for being part of this day.

For the now, let me share this video of some damn good clawhammer banjo. Julie Dugan came by for lunch and a concert. She talked about banjo for a while, its history and place in our culture, and then played between frailing lessons and stories. Here is a short video of her playing a fine tune on her knockdown banjo.

Friday, February 3, 2012

bad meat

I'm so upset to write this, but I think all that pork I raised and invested in has to be thrown out. I found out when I picked up the meat that one of the livers had a white cyst on it the size of a quarter and was yellow inside. Yellow isn't normal, it is a jaundice and a sign of a bacterial infection. The butcher didn't save the liver so I can't test it and I don't know what meat in my freezer came from which animal.

So what can I do? I spent the morning talking to USDA slaughter houses, local farms, butchers, vets, and the Cornell Cooperative Extension. All said the same thing: the meat is most likely okay, probably healthier than anything at the grocery store, but they can't be sure without having seen the liver or having it tested in a lab. So there is no way to know that if I cooked and served it to myself or others that the bacteria that caused the yellow liver couldn't hurt me or others. It could be a bug the oven or our stomachs could not kill. Even though only one pig was guilty, I don't know which pig it was (the butcher isn't exactly sure either, they butchered 13 pigs that week) and I can't eat pork on a hunch it is "probably" fine. And even if I could pinpoint the yellow liver, I can't tell the cuts apart. And as it turns out that sausage is the ultimate democracy...

So what caused the liver problem? Websites and vets told me it most commonly happens if that particular pig had a selenium, corn, or personal allergy or deficiency. There really is no way to tell. It's not a confinement vs free range issue (or every pig in industrial America would have the same problem) as much as it is a sore luck issue. In the giant slaughterhouses if a carcass has a bad liver, it is disposed of. When you only have two pigs on a farm and don't know this till you pick up the meat, it is too late.

So while I am waiting to hear back and see if there is a last-ditch way to get the meat tested and approved, I don't have any faith in it. All the experts I talked to said flat-out a yellow liver is a risk and a condemned carcass. Testing the meat would cost more than replacing it would. This years pork is too risky to even use as dog food or compost. If the chickens or wildlife ate it, the bacteria could infect them too. It is heartbreaking news. A total waste. An emotional and financial hit I wasn't prepared for. Between putting down Pidge and this I just feel deflated.

All I can do is try again, and fail better next time. I know this, and you haven't seen the last pig on Cold Antler Farm, but I am going to cry like a child when I start bagging up that meat in trash bags. I feel horrible.

Beef chili and potato Soup tomorrow at the workshop. No pork.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

celebration and sadness

This morning I drove south to Greg Stratton's Custom Meats Business, about 30 minutes from the farm in Hoosick, NY. I didn't know what to expect, but when I pulled into the driveway of the impeccably maintained farmstead and cut shop I was so impressed I stumbled walking inside. Outside the butcher shop, (their family business), were perfectly painted red barns and a blue farmhouse. Inside the shop was spotless floors, stainless steel, joking and laughing staff and a small office with white aprons hanging behind it neat as soldiers.

I picked up 150 pounds of meat, in two huge boxes. And that was without the hams, ham steaks, and bacon being smoked at a local meat shop (ready in a week or two) My two little pigs have served this farm well. I wrote him the check for three hundred dollars (includes on-farm slaughter, custom cuts, and packaging in vacuum-sealed freezer wrap) and carried them out to the truck with Gibson watching, tail wagging.

It is quite the proud feeling driving home with that amount of good food, work of your own hands, to feed friends and family alike. My thanks to all involved: breeder to butcher. Time to feast!

When I got home with Gibson and unloaded the truck, I had a very different task to tend to. I had to cull Pidge out from the flock. She was in poor health, not breeding quality, selling quality, and doing poorly this winter. It was a sad event indeed and I don't want to discuss, defend, or explain it any further than that. It needed to be done. I never had to put down my own lamb before, and it was hard on the soul and nerves, but I do not regret it. Not at all.

I hope that as I type this another generation is growing in my flock's bellies. I hope that late spring will welcome lambing once again. As tiring and stressful as those days are, they are my favorite time of the shepherd's year.

This Sunday Brett and I will slaughter and butcher Atlas, his work being done at the farm and my plan all along was to use him for breeding and then for the table. If he had grown into a mighty beast and outstanding specimim of the breed I would have sold him as breeding stock, but the truth is you can't have a ram full-time loose with your flock unless you want to invite hormones and incest in a few months. I can't use him next year on his own daughters and so he will be used to serve this farm as food. I'm just glad I have a chest freezer...yikes it will be full on Sunday afternoon. Afterward we'll head to a Superbowl Party in Manchester. Quite the weekend, equal parts somberness and celebration. I suppose that is what I signed up for, and I am glad in my choice.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mountain Music Workshop: Saturday!

If you are coming to the farm this weekend for the mountain music workshop, please email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com and let me know the following: diet restrictions, what instruments you are interested in, what instruments you will be bringing, and if you have any allergies to dogs/cats/rabbits/horses/peanuts etc. While this place is kept clean, I do live with two cats and three dogs. Hair happens. Lunch will be potato soup and pulled pork served with fresh bread and local cheeses. There will also be a breakfast spread of NYC bagels, donuts, and a homemade quiche. If you need directions and information about times and such, ask me via email as well.

Looking forward to it, and I have three spaces left if anyone wants to swoop in and take them!

Ashford Kiwi Spinning Wheel GIVEAWAY!

This is the first giveaway on this blog I am insanely jealous that I can't enter for. It's a BRAND NEW Ashford Spinning Wheel from the amazing folks at Halcyon Yarn of Maine. (Halcyon Blake herself set us up with the wheel!) Halcyon Yarn is an independent yarn shop in Maine and offer everything you could dream of to scratch that fiber itch. They are going to give away an Ashford Kiwi Spinning Wheel on the blog this week and here's how you enter. You go to their website and peruse a while and then report back here on what you would create if nothing was stopping you. For example: If I had my druthers I would buy some Cascade Magnum 100% wool in red and make a new hat tonight. I love that about those super bulky wools, you can whip up a piece of clothing in less time than it takes to finish a Lord of the Rings movie. And I would get a traditional spinning wheel, whatever is out there that can handle thicker and thinner yarn weights...I'd have to do some research, but hey, this is just me thinking out loud. I dream of a snowy afternoon spent by the woodstove spinning roving from the flock carded in the farmhouse. It's bound to happen here, just not this week. I can assure you that one of you lucky folks will end up with a brand new spinning wheel Monday night.

You get the idea. Check out the yarns, supplies, carders, drop spindles, roving and more and then report back here with what you'd make from your dream stash from this charming store. You can enter with a new comment and facebook share every day if you like, which means each of you can enter to be the random winner 14 times! I'll pick a number with an online random generator Monday Night. As always, you can double your chances by sharing a link to this contest on Facebook, just report back here with the comment SHARED!

Good luck Antlers! Visit Halcyon yarn here and start looking around!

P.S. Canada is welcomed to enter too, but you have to help pay the shipping!

wear your horns

Very excited about this book coming out in a few weeks from Storey, and even more excited to have an essay inside it. The book has over 50 new farmers writing stories, advice, and inspiration to other dreamers and doers out there. I haven't read it yet, and when I do I will post a longer review, but in the meantime I am thrilled to know there is such a growth in new farmers there's a market for such a compliation!

dancing chickens

photos by 468photography.com

fresh hell

Monday, January 30, 2012

it is time

So often I get emails from people that I call the "long sighs," they are the laments of frustrated men and women alike who want to start homesteading, but can't. They have a pair of teenagers in highschool and hate to move away from their friends and district. They have a spouse who thinks they are crazy. They are too young, too old, to used to the way things are. Some feel trapped, others feel victimized, and more just feel like they have a million tomorrows ahead of them to make their plans turn real. I am sorry to break it to you, but you don't have five decades, you have a few, no matter what your age is. Time leaps ahead of us all, stealing years and taking lives. Do not wait, to not doubt. Join me on this worn buckboard seat and we'll take this cart to the farm.

As for those of you raking nails across want, but unable to step onto your own acres: here's the thing... You do not need to have a 6.5 acre farm to grow food. You can do it in a 6 x 5 raised bed in a sunny spot in your yard. You don't need a cart pony, or a flock of sheep, or any of this chaos here at Cold Antler to be more self sufficient at all. What you need is a feral mind, a predators grin, and a stubbornness to change how you see the world. Your suburban half-double townhouse may have rules against chickens, so what? Does it have rules against canning? Homebrewing? Stocking up on local farm's good and food? Can you still knit a sweater, plant a container garden off your fire escape, and pick up a banjo? There are plenty of feral people living all over cities and towns, far away from the fields they are called to in spirit and kin. You don't need to own a farm to prepare for hardship, or enjoy a night without television, or spend a day hiking in the forest or train your dog to carry a light pack. Myself, I rented for five years before I got lucky (and it was luck as much as it was will) that landed me this piece of land, tucked into a mountainside on a curve in a mountain road. Your small holding may be waiting for you too, but it may also be waiting inside, as a desire and determination to finally walk into your bookstores knitting circle and ask to be taught. It may be taking that first guitar lesson from a friend. It may be your first three chickens I hand you in April, or a song you hear on a drive home from work that splits open your heart and makes up your mind that this is the year, the blessed year, you put the apartment up for sale and move to a place with a well and a lawn.

Tonight that is all I want to stress. Its an old homily from this well-worn soapbox: start where you are. Dreams are like caged beasts, they need to tended to, fed constantly or they perish. If some part of you wants a herd of goats, and you are reading this on the subway, then you need to order a goat care book and set it on your nightstand and read it every night. You need to email some goat farms a train ride away, or invest with friends in a rental car and get out there and actually milk an Alpine. Workshops, extension classes, phone calls and more. Buy that water bath canning kit and some strawberries (even if they are out of season, to hell with it) and learn to can jam. Get a subscription to a farm magazine, join a National Organization. Hell, I was a member of NEBCA for three years before I owned my own border collie. Just get started, there is no reason to wait any longer and the more you do all you will gain is regret. Trust me.

No more long sighs, okay? You are the only person who can start changing your life. Take the reins and snap that horse cart.

photo of jasper from 468photography.com

tim's photos from the wool workshop!

all photos by tim from 468photography.com

giles and sue (and their new pigs)

Here's a clip from this series, a BBC wonderfest of backyard homesteading. I think it is hilarious, and have been enjoying the series online before the office. Have fun with these two, folks.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

a little snow

They are calling for snow tonight, a few inches, nothing drastic. I am looking forward to it with ferocious anticipation. Remember when I mentioned how restraint, scarcity, and hard work make all those simple comforts so much the more? Well, it goes for the entire farm as well. Tonight as the snow falls I can fall asleep knowing some amazing things. I have nearly refilled my freezer with wholesome meat and did right by the ends of two fine pigs. I filled the barn with 30 bales of green hay. I was delivered to this farm late in the day and as I climbed up into the bed of the large pickup, I realized it was easy for me to personally pick up and toss 30 fifty pound bales. I am not bragging here, but appreciating this hefty body of mine. I am always, always hard on myself about my looks and yet this vessel I have been given can do such labor, can run a farm. I may wish to wear a size 8 jean again, and will (mark my words), but tonight I am just so happy it is alive and able. I have arms and hands and legs and heart. It still beats, it still loves the world, and it still hopes. I don't care how fat, thin, young, or old you are: this is our gift tonight.

Jasper was seen to this morning by a farrier. The little firecracker was calm as a swaybacked drafthorse at the county fair. I met a new and grand farrier and soon as he left the trio of butchers arrived and I thought to myself, What must these men think of me? A women alone with working ponies, pigs to slaughter, and chickens running around like toddlers at a town park? Whatever they think, they are kind and keep it to themselves.

I brewed ten gallons of beer this weekend. Five with Kate on Friday night and five just now while typing the pork post. It is fermenting as we speak. Five of said gallons are a Coffee Stout Porter and another five are an English honey-brown ale. I am loving home brewing, so much. I love soaking the bag of grains in the nearly boiling water and then pouring in the malt, boiling it and adding hops. I love adding my honey at the end, an hour of boiling later and filling the house with bubbling. And I adore sharing those beers with friends, and letting folks know they too can carbonate and kick one back! As the video I watched said: if you can make mac-n-cheese out of a box, you can brew beer. Hell yeah.

So tonight the barn is loaded with hay, the animals are fed and content, Jasper has better feet, the pigs are on their way to being sausage, and ten gallons of magic is brewing in my kitchen. A pot of wool is soaking in the bathroom to clean. The dogs are fed and walked and the only thing left to do is unwind and call it a night. Snow comes, and as it comes I hope it purifies more than the chicken-poo covered ground. I hope it cleans up my head and my angry thoughts about my body or status. I am a lucky and clever little wolf, and I have a body to prove it. And it only gets better, long as that is my goal and belief.

I'm happy tonight. I hope you are, too.


The following post goes into detail about exactly what happens during a farm kill by a mobile slaughterhouse team. It is a graphic post, with both graphic words and photographic descriptions. If you do not want to read about the slaughter or see the pictures (which should start below the fold of this page, as a courtesy) than please ignore this post. I understand some readers may be upset, and we are all entitled to own our feelings about diet. I am not posting this to offend anyone, nor telling them that backyard meat is what they should do. It's what I do. I am proud of the animals and food I raise. So read on if you like, and if you don't, then simply shut the browser and check back later and I promise the next post will not include a dead animal (well, I certainly hope not!).

There were only two shots fired from Greg Stratton's .22 Magnum rifle. The first dropped Bacon instantly, and she fell into the pen's hay with a thrashing thud. The second took a few seconds to aim at, since Kevin was certainly confused by the commotion and ran around the pen, but he didn't run for long. Ten seconds later one shot hit him squarely in the head and he too hit the ground, flailing as much as Bacon did. Their thrashing was normal, it is what happens. It's not pretty and the combination of bullet holes and chaos made for a very messy end.

In Kristin Kimball's The Dirty Life she writes about how different animals die. How the steers seem to drop with a force stronger than gravity (she says so do sheep), how chickens flap and seem to panic, and how pigs scream and bleed and thrash. She said when she started farming, she thought these were the beasts' personalities coming out in their deaths: the calm steer, the quirky chicken, the charismatic pigs, but after a while that assumption died with the livestock as she witnessed more and more deaths. It was a series of synapses and nerves, a chemical reaction of the end of a life. I agree with her observation. What I saw in the pen was not a piteous flailing, but a last explosion of life, the mind's finale of fireworks sent through the parts it has always controlled and moved. The struggle was energy leaving the body and moved into another form. A mystery and a gift, that.

Soon as both pigs were shot one of Greg's assistants, a gentleman from the Eagle Bridge Slaughterhouse close by, jumped right into the pen and slit their throats. If there was any life left in the two hogs, it was gone within moments of that significant artery being sliced. The blood covered the hay that made their bed the night before. Jasper was about five feet away and showed zero emotion. His ears did perk up at the gunshot, but as they died he just ate his hay outside.

Once still, a large hook on a wooden handle as slid into each pigs' mouth and then the animals were dragged across the farm one at a time to the Stratton Truck: our little farming community's abattoir on wheels. While getting the pigs hocks onto the two hooks that would lift them up to chest level for skinning and gutting, Greg told me he did in three steers this morning for one of my coworkers. He had come recommended by the Daughton's, who used him for Tasty the cow a few weeks earlier. This was a man well appreciated and it showed why in his careful work, he was professional the entire time.

Once the pigs were both hooked, the skinning process could begin. First Greg sawed off the feet at the ankles, and threw them too the ground. I couldn't help but smirk and take a picture, there I was again, looking at carcass feet on a sunny winter day: this time, porker edition. Soon after the feet left their heavenly body, so did the heads. One of the gents cut out the tongue for me and asked me, while dumping it in the bucket of hot water, if I'd like to keep it. He held it right up to my face, and it felt almost like a character test. Could she handle seeing a tongue cut off a dead head and sloshed in a bucket and then still eat it? Darling, I wanted to say, as if a little tongue ever made me shy? Who do you think you're dealing with here, son?

Instead I smiled and asked, "I never ate pig tongue, before. Is it good?"

Greg chimed in at this, "A pig tongue is good eatin'. You boil it with bay leaves and it makes a great meal. Can't beat it."

"I'll take them!" What the hell. You only live once. It's the only tongue I'll be getting anyway next week.

After my lesson/recipe, the two pigs were skinned expertly, starting at their hoofless ankles, down around their inner thigh, and then the tail and bum area were removed. From there the pig skinned just like I would skin a rabbit, starting with shallow cuts near the skin and then peeling away easily. I watched the blood-soaked animals, all hair and chaos moments ago, being slipped off like a bad memory. As if their death was an outfit and instead of being naked, there was just food under their coats.

I was asked what I wanted to do with the heads, feet, offal, and such. I went and grabbed the wheelbarrow I mucked the stall with earlier this week and parked it right by the hanging pigs. That'll do the job, it has done worse.

Post skinning, it was time to disembowel. The animals were cut open right down their middles and their organs came out, clean and bloodless, in one package. This is called the offal, and it isn't awful at all. Because these fellas were experts no stomach opened or intestine shared their putrid inside smells. In fact, the entire process had no unpleasant smells at all. It was a beautiful 30+ degree day dappled in sunshine. The conversation was casual and happy, about the farm and how long I lived here, about deer harvests and their work. It's not a somber thing, at least not sad. Their death means so much bounty for this little farm and its guests. Folks coming to the farm soon as next week's mountain music workshop will be chowing down on slow-cooked shoulder roasts of pulled pork sandwiches at lunch. I celebrate these animals, and do so with respect in my joy. If that makes no sense to you, just wait till you bite into your first home-raised pork chop. Things change.

While the men went on with their work, Greg sidled up to me with a clipboard and order sheet. We went through a detailed list of packages and cuts. It was so detailed I got to pick how many slices of bacon went into a package and how many chops made it into another. I got to choose how heavy the smoked hams would be, and what kind of sausage I wanted (breakfast, Italian sweet or spicy, or meat ready to grind.) I chose all of them!

The wheelbarrow was filled soon with the pile of bloody hides, heads, feet and organs. It was set to the side, kinda of watching the whole thing go on. Later, I would carry the thing back into the woods to dump off the ridge down a steep slope. The crows would host a levee in my honor soon as they found out. I owe crows a lot, they are lucky to this girl, and I am glad to offer them dinner too.

Next the animals were to be halved, and this was the final step in the process. Greg plugged in his big ol' meat saw and made short work of the job. The halves were hanging in the sunlight and I looked on at them, at the barrow of dead parts, and at the four people who made this happen today. Then, realizing with a sheepish smile, it was far more than four people who would create hundreds of meals for me and mine. There was the breeder upstate who sold me his own stock, Tara who joined me on the adventure and helped me set them up in their new home. It was the folks at Wayside who offered their scraps as food saving me tons of cash) and all the folks saving scraps at workshops and birthday parties at the office. My pigs ate well, grew well, lived well, and died well. This is something to be proud of, and I am. Proud and grateful for all involved and enjoying my wolfish grin as I think about the recipes ahead and the ability I have now to barter and trade for things I don't have right now, like turkey or duck or a bed of vegetable starts.

So how did I feel about it? I didn't feel any guilt, nor any disgust, or anything beyond a scientific interest in what was going on and a desire to learn the trade myself. That doesn't mean I wasn't mindful of what happened, it's just that it gets easier and it gets to be more about the bigger picture than one or two deaths. I can only say that time offers this and it was much easier than last year's Pig. And I can not stress how lucky I am to have a professional team like this come out, for what I consider a good price: fifty dollars a pig, talk about a reasonable fee. Then I buy my meat back from him at the shop later this week, all frozen and packaged and ready to enjoy and the smoked pieces a week or two later. As a small farmer with a full time job and other things to tend to (this day also included a farrier visit and 30-bale hay drop off) it is a blessing having pros come and take care of this and then offer me packaged roasts and sausages for a dollar a pound (or whatever his rate was). I am expecting to pay around 280 dollars total for the whole ordeal. Not bad for 140+ pounds of home-grown meat.

Of course, it isn't about the money or the deal. It's all more than that, but what I want to stress before I head off to bed is this: You can raise your own bacon and hams. It wasn't hard, or expensive, nor did it take a lot of space or equipment. I built them a pen in the corner of a barn with hog panels, deep bedded them every other day, and offered them fresh water and food morning and night. There were no vets or antibiotics, wormers or pills, or anything unnatural used in their rearing. They got to keep their tails, keep their noses free of rings, and spent every day being scratched behind the ears and given space to root into the hay looking for corn kernels, tussle, and scratch their big asses on the wall. This kind of pork is rare in this country, but only because folks like us haven't had at it yet. If you have the land and space, I say give a pig a try next year if you enjoy pork, bacon, or hams. It is nothing a person with a house cat can't handle, and you don't have to be there like I was at their ends. That said, I bet there are mobile units like Greg's all over the nation and you can find out about them from livestock vets, auction houses, feed stores, and friends. You can do this too, if you want to. I promise you that.

Thank you for reading along. Hope some of you get to come over and enjoy their reincarnation as farm meals in the months to come.

goodbye kevin and bacon

Just in from feeding Kevin and Bacon their last meal, homemade apple pie. They ate like they always do, with pure bliss and purpose. In a few hours the butcher will be here to shoot, hang, skin and disembowel the two hogs and then load them into his truck to be wrapped and smoked. The next time I see them they'll be in plastic vacuum sealed freezer wrap as chops, bacon, and hams.

While I am prepared, I am always emotionally hit by such events. I don't feel guilt, but you can't raise an animal from a young thing without bonding on some level. So in a way, the Slaughter day is both a celebration of bounty and a time to pause, be grateful, and understand on a visceral level how much blood goes into glossy photos of restaurant dishes in magazines. And after a short spread of time that gore ebbs and flows into recipes and gatherings with friends, or sausage making work parties over home brewed mugs of beer. The death becomes a reason another story goes on. That is how it has always worked, but having a farm means I get to understand it. The difference between watching birds and hang gliding.

I have chosen to be a part of the entire story of my future meals. It's better this way.

P.S. The next post will be about the slaughter, there will be photos and content about how a farm kill and slaughter is done on small homesteads. If it makes you uncomfortable to see dead animals, skip the post. I think this is fair warning.

a bunch of black sheep

When I planned to host this winter wool work class I had visualized something very particular. I imagined people driving through snow squalls to the farm from apartments and cities all around, braving the winter weather to be welcomed into the warm embrace of a wood stove. I imagined snow-covered sheep watching us from their hay piles, a pony warm in his stall, and folks knitting to music and noshing on comfort foods like soup and chili spooned out of mason jars, lost in conversation. That wasn't how it went at all.

Instead the thermometer almost reached fifty degrees and I stood inside the hay bale chicken coop holding a 6-week old Freedom Ranger by the body explaining their story and place in the farm's plan. I was in a light sweater, jeans, and bandana. I wasn't even wearing wool. You could see every puddle of water, legions of mud, ugly bit of trash, and every other imperfection and ugliness working farms have. There was a flooded mud room with a black pipe, a cat scared to leave her realm behind the washing machine, and folks who booked a hotel room downtown ended up being bumped to a local B&B because Gordon Ramsey's film crew needed their hotel rooms...

That said: yesterday's Black Sheep Wool Workshop was one of the best events the far has ever hosted. Readers from Montreal, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, and just down route 22. The weather wasn't frightful, but the food was plentiful and all the guests seemed to enjoy the event. We started out with brunch, then went on a short warm-weather farm tour, then came inside to learn how to handwash, card, and spin wool with a drop spindle. After a while the energy of the event took over and I just stood back and watched. Two people were winding the drum carder with four others sat with their spindles. A pair of dedicated attendees with an open copy of the ol' Reader Digests' Back to Basics, tried to get someone's spinning machine to work. Others were already starting to learn how to knit on the supplies they brought from home. Tim Bronson stopped by for a few minutes to take photos of the event and the pigs' last day. (In a few hours they will be slaughtered). I can't wait to show you what he shot, including many photos of King George, who wasn't shy of crowds and spent the day in the middle of the workshop, loafing about, large and in charge.

After a hearty lunch we all just enjoyed the quiet fervor of a knitting circle, people sitting all over the farmhouse knitting and chatting until the lights started to fade and the table lamps needed to be lit. It went well over the usual workshop end time and none of us cared, knitting is a five-course meal.

I loved this event, and I especially enjoyed meeting the folks who I only know as emails and comment names. Everyone was so kind, some brought gifts (like Taylor Ham Pork Roll from New Jersey, jonquils, and letterpress images of sheep, horses, and bee keeping!) and there was left over food to feed several more people than I planned, folks went home with whatever I could unload on them. Some left with garbage bags of fleece (no joke). Some left with a plate of pie and a smile.

Some folks left eventually because they were going to be filmed at the "reveal dinner" of the new Gordon Ramsey show filming downtown. They had no idea (neither did I) when they signed up for a CAF class it would coincide with the Cambridge Hotel's filming of Hotel Hell , and while they did get bumped from their rooms they were invited to be at the dinner and in the television program. Who knew they'd learn to hand wash wool and then get on a reality show?

So today, post workshop is a day of reloading and re-upping the farms needs. The farrier comes today (new appointment time), the pigs are done in, and a truckload of hay gets delivered. Usual management, plus heavier moments like gunshots and butchering. It'll be a long one, but rest at sunset will be savored like Cathy Daughton's potato soup...

Next Saturday: Mountain Music Workshop at the farm! Still 3 spots left if anyone wants to come and learn the basics of making traditional stringed Appalachian style music part of your life. It starts with wanting to learn. It is that simple.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

the morning before a workshop

The roosters sing, and the fires are burning bright. The cat is curled up in his chair and the dogs are stirring. Bread rises and bakes and stray coffee beans and grinds swirl around the flour swirls on the countertop. Two apple pies I baked last night were once hanging from a New York orchard's trees. Eggs from the hens outside and whipped up into quiche pourin' and kale from my friends' farm are prepped to be baked inside with salt and pepper and local cheeses. The mason jars are all washed new and set out on the drying rack to get ready for Firecracker Farm's home-grown potato soup and beef chili. If you didn't know about the 20 drop spindles and 8 bags of raw wool upstairs you might think this was a feast or a cooking class, but it is just humble, simple food to make people warm and well for a day dedicated to fiber.

My guest is still asleep upstairs and I'll hop in the shower soon, but soon as I am out and cleaned up, and the sun is too, I'll head outside to see to the birds and beasts and then come inside to the warmth and hot coffee on the stove top and call that a beginning.

I'm excited for today, and I hope you are too.

chill that wort, son

Friday, January 27, 2012

Only 8 spots left for Antlerstock 2012

email me if you want them. You can pay for the spots via credit card through paypal, if that is what you prefer. Hope you can make it!

sheep to the rescue!

The beautiful few inches of snow covering the farm last night were demolished in a torrent of rain. It rained all night, nonstop, and in the morning there was a real stream flowing from the crawl space behind the washing machine in the mudroom out onto the floor. Lilly was perched on the dryer, angry and scared. I looked with a flashlight and saw that an overflow/drain pipe was spewing water. I knew it was coming from outside. I grabbed a shovel and pickax and went to dig out a new path for the water to flow (instead of into my home). What I saw was a nonstop funneling of water going under the house, all the water from the driveway was pooling right to the natural whirlpool to Lilly's lair.

I had to divert the flow. I tried using the axe and shovel but the ground was frozen and it would take forever. I realized I needed sandbags and some sort of plug. I didn't have either. Instead I used pieces of firewood to make a dam, and then watched the water flow slow down (a good step). Hmm...what would work as a plug that could fill that space, slow down (but not stop) the natural drainage), and me flexible enough to fit that wonky area?


I grabbed a handful of raw sheep's wool and filled in the hole. It did the trick great. The stream has stopped. The mudroom is drying out. And the cat isn't swimming. Sheep to the rescue!

UPDATE!The fleece worked for about half an hour, but it was a finger in the dam. I needed to line the entire water entry-point with fleece (which you can see in the photo) and then run to the hardware store to buy hose and clamps and run a tube from the pipe spewing water inside to outside the house. It isn't pretty, but I did it. No need to call in rescue rangers! It just took sheep, hose, ducttape, and then more sheep!

P.S. Sorry Wool Workshop friends, this farm will not be covered in snow. It will not be pretty. It will be slush and mud and pools of standing water and wet sheep. But I promise we'll be comfy inside, thanks to the wool.