Tuesday, February 21, 2012

peace inside these walls

I never thought I would see the day when Jazz shared his bed with a cat. There my two boys are, George and Jazz, alpha males in their own right sharing a patch of padding and sun. When I adopted Jazz back in 2005 I was told he could never live with a cat. He had killed a cat once in his outdoor run in Knoxville. But all it took was a cat that lived like a dog, and he became a part of the pack. How about that?

the doris day of doom!

Friend and fellow author Kathy Harrison was recently filmed at her home for an episode of Doomsday Preppers! I haven't seen the show yet, but I wanted to share this clip of a positive and active group of folks ready for the worst and hoping for the best. She'll be here at Cold Antler Farm on May 12th for the much anticipated Plan B workshop with James Howard Kunstler, a whole day about emergency prep, energy, and our future. This might be the most important workshop at the farm and only has 5 spots left. Read more about it here

Monday, February 20, 2012

do you believe in magic?

My first sight of Merlin was out in the sun, laying in the pasture like a large cat would. Feet splayed, resting up on his elbows so his head was up. He was out with a few other Fells enjoying the warm winter sun. When Lisa (his owner) whistled and called him in there was a burst of powerful activity. He erupted up, all black muscles, girth, and hair— came bounding towards us in a way that made the earth shake. At nearly 1,000 pounds, Merlin was no meek creature. He was a pony, sure, but this was no Shetland. As he galloped towards us I realized he was larger than the pictures showed, not taller, but larger! He was stocky and strong and (I mean this in the best way possible) kind of like a rhino with a wig. If Jasper was a Labrador Merlin was a brawny Newfoundland. He slowed to a trot and joined some of his friends about ten yards away from us. I was so excited. I just walked right up to him.

I came over to him and reached for his forehead, and he didn't mind. We regarded each other in that way species that live close and depend on each other do and always have. Dogs, cats, people, livestock, all of us know down in our bones we make sense together, its the finding the right match ups that's the trick. So he eyed me and I eyed him. Both of us suspicious but game. I grabbed a hold of his halter and asked him to walk with me over to my friends and his owner. He did, calm as St. Peter at the Gates. I felt calm too. This horse was not going to run away on me. I guess when you are that massive you don't need to make a fuss.

Patty of Livingston Farm was there and so were Melina and Robert. They were on their way home from a night in Cambridge and were willing to come along and meet the horse, too. It was their last stop before heading home to their own Farm, their car loaded with beer, brats, and two young rabbits from CAF. I gave them two of the young bucks Meg had given me to eat. I thought they would do better helping other rabbit raisers get started (either as recipes or breeding bucks) than added to my freezer, already happy with hares. (I hope that is okay Meg?. Anyway, when your car is full of homebrew, case meats, and livestock the idea of checking out a rare draft pony isn't that crazy.

Melina snapped some pictures of Merlin and I while I overheard patty asking the 34,000 questions I should have had the wherewithal to ask, but I was not really present. I was a couple inches away from an animal I had only seen in photos and had only dared to day dream of. Now his giant nostrils and black nose were in my hair, his deep eyes considering me, and his dusty coat and beautiful mane under my lanolin coated fingers. This was the shepherd's pony. I was a shepherd. I walked around the farm's pasture with him, talking and taking videos. He seemed curious but not concerned, almost bored following this crazy lady around his backyard. All I felt in my gut was comfort

We got him saddled up in western tack and after Lisa demonstrated his walk, trot, canter and some basic dressage moves I was impressed and excited to jump up into the saddle too. I was helped up onto his back and amazed at how wide it was for a pony, and how right it felt. I didn't feel a bit of fear, just confidence. I asked him to walk and trot and realized I was as out of practice as he was. Both of us were winded, hot air coming from our noses. I jumped down and kissed his soft nose. I was falling, and falling hard.

Then both Robert and Melina were invited to ride him, neither of them having any experience with horses. They were to sit while being lead by Lisa, and I wanted to see how he reacted to a stranger without any use of leg, reins, or purpose would suit him. It was like a fair ride. Robert seemed very happy on a horse. I bet he's next...

We left shortly after, I was allowed to lead him back to the barn. I told her how excited I was and that I would contact her soon with my decision about him. Patty asked some more questions and I stumbled drunk around cloud nine.

All last night I wondered what I could do at this point to make a rare, highly trained, beautiful pony mine. I knew what I could and couldn't afford, but I also knew I had a lot to offer him. I would be able to board him a few months while I took lessons with him, each of us getting to know one another under the care of professionals, vets, farriers and riding lessons. I would have a pony wonderland built soon as the days got a little longer. Brett, Patty, and Mark were willing to help fell (ha) trees and plan out the new two-horse shed behind the barn. I had a plan, I had it all figured out. I just needed to convince the owner I was worth it, and worthy of her fine animal. I fell asleep going back to the barn I always go to.

The next morning I had a plan. I started the morning taking the usual farm chores in stride, but I did them extra well. I scrubbed out the sheep's water trough. I wiped off the crud on the defroster. I cleaned out the rabbit cages, gave extra feed in their little crocks and scritches on their heads. I gave Jasper a good curry combing and made sure he was properly outfitted for a day of piss and vinegar, a carrot in my pocket. I took my dogs out for a long walk and while they smelled the doggy news I thought about this horse, the ramifications, the possibilities. I felt the extra close attention to my chores was a prayer in itself, a ritual of rededication to my animals and this farm. I listened to my heart. How it felt to hold those reins, sit on his comfortable back, and how safe it felt up there. I am an anxious woman. To feel like a 1,000 pound animal was a Lazy Boy is not common for me. I prayed. I paced. I asked for guidance and for the best possible outcome.

Then I came inside and took a long shower, prayed some more, and opened up my email. I took a deep breath and then sent Lisa a long, heartfelt letter. I told her how I felt about the Fell, how much Merlin meant to me. I told her my honest financial limitations, my plans, and ran through some options to make that beautiful boy mine. I asked her to consider these things with an open heart. I told her I looked forward to her reply. Then I turned off the computers to let the magic happen. I jumped into the truck and headed over to Livingston Brook Farm. I had done everything I could do. I didn't want to stay at home constantly checking emails, worried about what would happen. I was thrilled when I was invited for an afternoon drive, and thought no matter what the outcome I would have the next few miles logged behind a working horse to dream and hope before any bad news landed on me. I would truly savor this afternoon.

Patty had invited me to go on one of her favorite drives. Her neighbors are good friends and have over 400 acres of farmland. It is a beautiful, hilly landscape that tumbles and rolls with old farm roads used to get from field to field. It was the perfect place to drive a horse cart. No cars or trucks to fuss with, just the smell of dead corn, fallow ground, deer scat and wood smoke. The hillside trail lead to what Patty called "The Top of the World", a high field that looked over all of our area's mountains and peaks. When we reached it we turned Steel around and from the metal tractor seat of a forecart I could see Colfax Mountain, Equinox in Vermont, Bunker Hill Farm, other peaks and the Adirondacks in the distance. It was breathtaking. And silently, as I listened to Patty share stories of the same hillside covered in mustard and butterflies, or a buck leaping out of the hedge in front of Steel, I prayed again. (You can never pray too much.) I asked, over and over, if Merlin and I were meant to be that a path would reveal itself. Some sort of option? Some sort of magic?

When we got back to her farm we took off the harness and fed her two horses for the night, then retired to her farmhouse for black bean soup (with workshop cheddar brats!) and good homemade bread. We talked about a lot of things, and I realized in just two weeks I had made some fairly serious friends. How lucky was I to find a pair of folks just as crazy about farming, working horses, working dogs, as I was? And the hilarious part? Us two women, practically Luddites in our past times, found each other because of an online publication of Barnheart at Mother Earth News. A woman with a draft horse 7 miles away and she found CAF through the net. It's magic all in itself, this friendship.

I left for home, heart in my throat. I knew soon as I got inside the door an email would be waiting. Lisa would have had plenty of time to make a decision. I fired up Ye Olde eMac and saw her reply, bold and black the way all unread messages are. Hope in bold san serif. I clicked it with my eyes closed. This is the first sentence I read as I slowly opened my eyes.

"Hi Jenna,

I loved your email, it is truly heartfelt and I can say I know just how you feel. Letting go of Merlin is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. He's been my dream pony too. I will definitely work with you to make sure he becomes yours. I can't imagine a better home for him..."

15 years ago, somewhere in North England on the wild hills Merlin trotted and breathed in that fine British air. 25 years ago I was a toddler in a small town in Pennsylvania with a sidewalk, streetlights, and the only farm I knew came from Fisher Price. Starting the first week of March we will ride together. I already have a stall waiting for him at Riding Right Farm and we start lessons together in a little over a week. Lisa said we'll work out a way to make it happen. He is mine!

I believe in magic.

photo by Pat Wesner

greenhorns book trailer!

the human side of industry

I don't know what it is about homebrewing, but I am hooked. Hooked in ways few other farm hobbies have captivated me. I like to bake okay. I enjoy sewing and embroidery when the mood strikes. I can knit for hours at a time...but homebrewing has a sort of subversive style to it I just can't shake. It makes you feel special, a member of a secret society or tree house club. When you have finished a batch and are priming and capping the brown bottles (adding sugar for carbonation and sealing the metal pry-off caps) it feels like you just did something you weren't supposed to do. Not a guilty feeling, not a naughty one either. Just a feeling of industry rarely felt in your home and you get the sense you just did something only places with smoke stacks and assembly lines were supposed to do. Kind of like a seamstress with a heavy duty sewing machine that can make jeans and has a rivet machine. She did at home something assembly lines, factories, and machine folk can do, not us civilians in apartments and homestead kitchens? And yet, when I go to the fridge there next to the bottles of Guinness or Saranac are my bottles, just as hoppy, carbonated, alcoholic and frothy. I was the recipe and the factory. Makes you feel rich.

It's kind of intimidating at first. You need special equipment, some minor discipline in regards to sanitation and measurements, but generally it is a potion and a promise. You mix up your cauldron of wort and add your herbs and spices and then through the bubbling toil and trouble of the yeast you will get a totally changed substance. A little buzz, a smile, and sigh in a bottle.Pair that bottle of homebrew with a banjo or fiddle and you have a woman so happy she might float off her fireside log.

After all that hop-homily, I just wanted to share here that the workshop went well. Even though I had four last-minute cancelations that left us with only 9 people to brew and grind sausages with, it was an educational and busy day. Possibly the most tiring workshop I ever held. I think because both brewing and sausage making requires such preparation, presence, (and then clean up) that you can't rest. It is the ADD adult's dream hobby.

As for the workshop scene, it was a good crowd. A combination of friends new and old. Patty and her husband Mark arrived, a thank you barter for her time teaching me about becoming a competent driver. Melina and Robert of Smyler Farm, a vegetable operation down in Hudson. There was also Stacey and her Husband, a recent vet back from a tour in the Middle East (many thanks were shared) and good friends Elizabeth and Weez, a married couple from the berkshires who always bring a fiddle and guitar and liven up any scene. Oh, and me.

We started out with homebrewing, spending time going over sanitization and setting up your kitchen to brew. Between video clips and short talks we started up a batch of sweet stout, beginning with soaking a bag of specialty grains in the big 5 gallon stainless steel kettle over the stove. As the hour went on we added malt, lactose sugar, and hops. Even when you are not "doing" anything with beer you need to let it putter along at an observed boil. While it did its thing we dine on a lunch of my standby, winter chili (thank you Tasty the steer) and cracked a few local brews as well.

We regrouped to talk meat. I showed the folks how to soak the pig intestines in warm water, how stretchy and tough the casings were. I passed around a piece and folks tore and pulled at it. The I got a combination of pork and beef and the spice mix for a beer and cheddar brat and we set to work putting on plastic gloves and sinking our hands into a big ol' pryrex bowl of meat stuff. Then when the two worlds of flesh and spice seemed to know each other fairly well, we loaded meat into the heavy grinder and hand cranked the meat into a long attached tube that the casings covered. Meat was fed through into pudgy little sausages and many off-color remarks were made. It was impossible not to giggle.

The afternoon slipped away into a combination of conversations, brewing bottling, and a small factory of shared work. At one point I was running around getting more bottles out of the cabinet to sanitize while Robert and Mark were grinding away with a heavy cast-iron Weston grinder/stuffer while Stacey was helping cap and Weez was running past with more to set up in the living room in pretty rows. It was a flurry and a frenzy. Everyone worked, everyone helped, and in the end we had brewed give gallons of sweet black beer, bottled another five of a coffee stout porter, and made a plate full of giant brats for folks to ziplock and take home to cook up for dinner. All around me was the human side of industry. People who used their kitchen, hands, stoves, cranks, and cappers to create a viking feast of meat and ale. It felt hardy. It felt primal. It felt good.

And I now raise my glass to you.

photos by melina smyers

Sunday, February 19, 2012

calm boy

he is wonderful

"In buying horses and taking a wife, shut your eyes and commend yourself to God" -proverb

photos by melina smyers

a snowy morning light

Saturday, February 18, 2012

maude and sal in the snow

photo by melina smyers

sausage party!

Just wrapped up the first ever Cold Antler Farm Meat and Beer Workshop. Eight of us got together to brew a five gallon batch of Sweet Stout from Northern Brewer, bottle five gallons of a coffee porter, and ground and cased a plate full of beer and cheddar brats. More on the workshop tomorrow, and more Bircthorn too, but right now I am going to enjoy a good night's rest. It is snowing here, gentle and wet like all spring snows. The farm is white a few hours and I am happy and tired.

Oh, and tomorrow I'll meet Merlin. So who knows what waits between that sunrise and sunset!

photo by melina smyres

Friday, February 17, 2012

chasing down a dream

one big harness

Worked with Patty and Steel today (and Jasper, but that is another story), went for an amazing drive on her 42 acres. Through a field, near the lake, along a gurgling creek...beautiful time. This is me proud as a lioness for getting off the harness (hames to spider) in one motion! Not easy when you're 5'3" and built like a hobbit.

Also, Patty makes the best rabbit ginger soup in the world.
photo by 468photography.com

freedom ranger update

Here is an update on the very wet Freedom Rangers. They are between 8-10 weeks old and thriving. On wet mornings they spend more time indoors with their food and water, but as the day warms and the sun comes out they get brave and explore about 20 yards around their haybale barn. The laying hens are far braver, but with such low forage about this time of year these guys stick close to their free lunch. They are all a bit damp because when I open the bale in the morning they all stream out, get wet in the rain, and walk around underfoot at my buckets of water and feed. It takes about 10 minutes to put down clean bedding, rinse and fill fresh fonts of water, and offer them about 5 pounds of food! Once the coop is cleaned, bedded, filled with treats and water they all seem to prefer it to the Laying Hen Bullies and cold and wet. Can't blame them. Comfy in there!

ordered these guys from www.freedomrangerhatchery.com

Thursday, February 16, 2012

driving into lettuce

Friday Driving might be a new thing here at Cold Antler. Heading to Patty's Farm to hitch up with Steel again and hopefully have some amazing photos to share. After we're done working her Perch we plan to come back to CAF to work with Jasper. It takes two people to get him started ground driving (one leading at the halter, one with the lines behind him) and hopefully the training will go well. As much fun as it is to learn the ropes with Steel, it will be a lot more gratifying getting my own boy back in harness. We'll also measure him for a proper collar, a better tool for his farm work than his light breast harness.

I've got salad on my mind. This mild winter is going to have me getting my thumb greener earlier than usual. I bought one of those 4-shelf bookcase style "greenhouses" on sale for 19.99 at the farm store and two bags of garden soil. I have some pretty shifty plans to make some seed starters and try to get some super-early greens going on the south side of the house. It's plan A in an A-D plan of sneaking in gardening before I have any business doing so outdoors.

Plan A: Try this little cheap greenhouse out, start some seeds in it on the south side of the house.
Plan B: Set up a South-Sider from Convertible Greenhouses to expand the operation.
Plan C: Once the meat birds are done with their hay coop, fill that somebitch with garden soil, cover it with windows, and turn the entire once-chicken coop into a giant cold frame. Hello KALE!
Plan D: Start the new garden outside behind the barn. Scare deer with fences of glory.

let's catch up

This is a video of the first year at the Jackson Farm, from closing day through the first winter, spring, and summer. From Gibson to Jasper. If you're new to this blog, consider it our introduction.

Nice to meet you, I'm jenna. Welcome to the farm!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

around the farmyard

photos by 468photography.com

pony update

I have been getting a lot of emails about Merlin. Everything from threats to stop reading the blog to Readers who want to donate to help pay for him. Folks, if I can not afford to purchase and keep the animal I won't buy him, it is that simple. I haven't even seen him yet, and when I do and the owner and I talk terms and such, he may very well be a current impossibility. But you can't stop a girl from wanting, trying, and kicking the tires. I need to at least look him in the eye.

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