Saturday, February 25, 2012

Plan B PSA

The Plan B workshop moved from May 12th to May 19th. James will be speaking at the new urbanize conference in Florida the week before and this way both speakers will be able to make it.

i love that sound...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

lion's maw

Snow is coming and that means payment in advance. Payment in sweat and time, that is. I just got in from what I call "extra-dose" chores. The kind of animal care so over the top no part of you feels guilty sleeping in a little, knowing everyone had their dinner and enough leftovers for breakfast. They aren't calling for a lot of snow, 3 inches at the most, but this winter that is a damned Nor'easter. I plan on staying in to work on webinars, Birchthorn, and enjoy a farm morning at home. Heck, I might even get the coffee pot ready for morning right now.

The second Wool Workshop is Saturday. I had a cancelation if anyone wants to take the spot (email me please) and enjoy a snow-covered sheep farm on a mountain side. At least, I hope it remains snowy for Saturday's workshop, because everyone else who came this winter just got to see dead grass with sheep poo on it. Not exactly the kind of stuff on the cover of Mother Earth News. But the people and food will be great. The menu is pretty standard, but with a little more fatty comfort like a rich potato soup. Some day I will get it as good as Cathy Daughtons....someday.

As for me, I'm still in shock that I will be the future owner of a Fell Pony. Between Merlin and the garden plans, spring seems closer than ever. I have enough kale, greens, and arugula seeds hanging out here to start soon. I have little shoots of garlic already poking up out of the hay in their raised beds. Some neighbors said the snow drops were coming up and there are buds on the trees. Sap buckets are lining all the back roads and sugar bushes are running before March. Strange times, these. Am I the only one getting restless?

But if Nelson Green is right, our winter starts March 1st. He think the whole month will be the lion's maw. Part of me wants a shot of winter, and hopes he is right. But mostly I want to think about ordering spring chicks and green shoots. I'm a seasonal woman, moved by the wheel like a dervish, and this year Ol' Bitch Nature is toying with us all...

photo by tim bronson of

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

rabbit ginger soup

Rabbit Ginger Soup

By Patty Wesner:

(I use a big cast iron soup pot to brown the rabbit and veggies and then add everything else to the pot)

Sear/ brown Quartered rabbit pieces in olive oil
(don’t cook through)

Then add enough olive oil to cook veggies in:
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped onion
2 stalks chopped celery
Till translucent

Add water -4-6 cups
1-2 tsp chicken bouillon
(Or just use chicken stock instead of the water and bouillon)
Add 4-5 cubed potatoes

Set to simmer on the stove – never boil rabbit –(makes it tough)

Add thumb sized piece of ginger – cut up and squashed

And two cloves of garlic chopped and crushed

I let it simmer on the woodstove or back burner for the afternoon or until the potatoes are done. Before eating I remove the rabbit pieces, bone them and cut meat to bite size and return to the soup.


let's set the world on fire

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