Monday, October 31, 2011

the stone, the string, the bone and the ring.

It's Halloween Night, the oldest holiday we still celebrate together. Older than Christmas, Valentines, or St. Patrick's. Truth is, along before the St. Patrick, the Torah, or the Koran were even written there were the bonfires lighting the skies tonight in the land of my heritage: Europe. I'm only an 1/8 Irish (if that, possibly less) and that small bit comes from a man from Connemara who married a gypsy who lived in a boxcar. I'll explain shortly, but for now, listen to my story and why Halloween is the most important night of the year to this shepherd.

Most of my family comes from Slovakia. I am more Slovak than anything else. We come from a tribe called the Windish, a rural and nomadic people. We're Catholics as of recent, but we all know that's a fairly new religion in the history of our species. Before there was monotheism, there were gypsies and various pagan tribes. I know little about my historical religious roots but I do know that the gypsies had a way with fiddles and horses, and while I am just a raw student of both, they call to me. They feel like a place I belong, something I was born into. They call to me in the Autumn more than ever.

Some of my Christian readers do not observe Halloween, and I hope this post will not offend them. Honestly, with what the day has become over the last few decades I can hardly blame them. What was once a night to celebrate the end of the harvest, reverence for the dead, fear of the unknown, and welcoming the contemplative time of winter has since been twisted into an idol worship in equal parts of sex, violence, and high fructorose corn syrup.

That is not my Holiday. My Hallow's is a night of quiet realization that I am a dying animal, a part of a larger story, and made awake and aware of a beautiful chance to live this life following what feels real and meaningful. This all comes alive for me tonight. I have to take it easy to keep all the emotion in.

My October 31st is a quiet day of memories and reflection. It is a time to mourn friends and family lost over the past year, to death or other means, such as arguments and disappointments. I am quiet for most of the evening. I do chores to music, thinking. I come inside and eat dinner in silence. I carve a pumpkin because it's both a symbol of luck, hope, and light. A jackolantern to me is a lantern of the farm. Something grown and enjoyed to light a path or be eaten up in a pie. It is food and light, the two things us humans are most drawn too.

Here is a story for a cold night.

The only reason I am here today is because a woman named Anna Jumbar. She left her Czechoslovakian parents in the post-Civil War era of the 19th century, and she left alone. She came to America with no man, no money, and no real plan. She landed in eastern Pennsylvania (a mostly Irish occupied area—miners around Jim Thorpe and such—but with a growing eastern European flavor), and was shunned. No one would hire her for work. Frankly, they thought she was crazy. After all, what sane woman left for the other side of the world alone at 18?

So she stayed at the train station she landed in and when an abandoned boxcar made itself known to her, she asked if the station agent if she could use it. He was either apathetic or empathetic, but he obliged. She turned it into a restaurant, and soon it became a networking site for immigrants. She created a community, because she was alone. She created what she needed. One day a scrappy Irishman came into her diner car, and sat down to dinner alone. His name was Stephen Comer. She knew this would be her husband, so she joined him for dinner. They were married in the Lansford Church shortly after.

If I ever have a daughter, her name will be Anna. I will tell her this story in a dining car. Her father will probably come from a place not far from Connemara. Not everything is a straight line in this world. Some stories are circles, you see.

On this night of memories and grace, I thank you Anna. I am shaking in thanks for what you overcame and accomplished: A crossed ocean, a community, new love, a boxcar, a family in a new world.... On this calm night in upstate New York, I will light the candle in my jack o'lantern for you because this is what my mother taught me to do. Every Sunday after mass we'd light a candle to remember the dead. This one is in a pumpkin on a sheep farm on a cold night. There are no priests here to bless it, you'll just have to trust me. Instead of a church, you have a wood stove on a farm that isn't really sure how the next mortgage payment will be made on time. But I have a feeling you would be okay with that. I have a feeling, you would like this place.

This is my Halloween. It is quiet and honest, tears and regrets, memories and hope. It is the holiest night of the year because f what is poured into my heart. I hope tonight you found some of that, too. Maybe not in a boxcar, but in your child's smile walking around the neighborhood trick-or-treating. Or maybe in old scrapbooks, journals, or emails from a lost love or old friend. Just know this day is more than candy corn and horror movies, friends. It is our past and everything we will be. At least to me it is. And it reminds me how short this fine life is. I should dance more.

I'll leave you with the song I listen and sing to every Hallows for the last few years. It is the entire meaning of the day in a few minutes. I hope you will listen to it with someone you love in mind.

A Happy and Blessed Halloween to you all.

one of my holiday favorites

Sunday, October 30, 2011

pablo in the kitchen

This is the last of the sunflowers. I'm not sure if it will bloom or not? It seems to want to. It sure has been through a lot. It was planted in May, grew up hidden by tomato plants and basil (thus its stunted size), and when a horrid frost was coming I cut it and brought her inside with the rest. The other seed mates have bloomed and died long ago, the leaves are dried and scattered. But this little bud seems to be holding out, and so I put it in a mason jar by the window. Makes me want to read Pablo Neruda and dance in the kitchen. How can you not want to dance with Pablo when there are sunflowers thinking of blooming on a 20 degree night with snow on your sheep's back.

Oh, the mad coupling of hope and force!

Max has been adopted!

Got this email just now, remember Max? The Lab who's owner passed away and he was sent to a shelter? He's got a proper home now, with a young family. Thank you to all who helped this boy get back on his feet!

Hi Jenna,
I got a call from my friend last night - Max the lab has been adopted! By a family in Maine with two children. Everyone is thrilled. I guess they had him for a sleepover and decided then to keep him. Thank you to you and the community for your posting, concern, and care.

I hope you're well in the snow!

not for the uninitiated

Heating was something I never thought about before this year, not really. It was a thermostat and a bill, something that simply happened. My whole life heat came out of oil, gas, or electricity. The fireplace I grew up with was for decoration, comfort, and emergencies.

Right now the farmhouse is 65 degrees. It's that warm because since 4:30AM two fires have been roaring in my wood stoves. As the early-season snowfall coats the world outside, here in the house my home is warm and lit with candles and jackolanterns. But it is my two stoves that are the true workhorses of this farm house—one in the mud room where all the house's plumbing pies converge and exist, and the other in the living room. The wood stove in the mud room is a 6-year old Dutch West box stove, a classic workhouse that doubles as a cooking surface for cast iron and metal percolators. The living room stove is a Vermont Bun Baker, a half wood stove/half oven contraption that creates a soothing fire that heats the living area of the house and can roast a chicken, rise pizza dough, or bake a loaf of bread in it's oven box. It is a genius invention. Both are assets, and they are the way I mainly plan on heating this farm this winter.

there is an oil tank in the basement, but the thermostat is set to 48 degrees. Unless I have to leave the farm for a few nights, I don't plan on raising it. Heat is now a pre-meditated act. Wood was delivered all summer, chopped this fall, stacked, and now everyday I carry inside dry wood to fuel the stoves. I tend them, and watch them turn the temperature up in the farmhouse to a comfy place where sweaters are shed and a cheap humidifier keeps the air in check.

I like this system. It requires presence. For some reason, being needed by our homes and families has gone out of fashion. Tell someone of the uninitiated that you can't go out to the bar after work because you have livestock to feed and a house to heat and they see a prisoner. Nothing could be further from the truth. This house on the hillside might require its human caretaker more than some, but it gives back an astounding amount for my humble efforts.

A home heated without the need of an electric grid, foreign oil, or fear of losing my pipes and warmth if in the case of a disaster. Fuel that is renewable, and local, and supports my local economy. IF I had too, me and my pony and an axe could harvest it ourselves.

A home surrounded by animals that provide meat, eggs, wool, transportation, work, and company. A home filled with three kind dogs, the CAF pack, that have pulled sleds and herded sheep. I love my working dogs. I am one too.

A home with a future in real vegetable production and preserving. My last few years getting fences and livestock in order have left me without much dedication to the garden. Next year I get serious. It will require a hoop house and fences to extend the seasons and keep out the critters, but a farm that just grows herbs, a few cans of sauce, some hanging onions and a small bucket of potatoes won't cut it. Not for me. I have a seed vault and I plan to use it!

A home that constantly strives to get off grid. This year was the heat for the home, next summer I hope to afford a small solar system for the hot water. Eventually more solar and wind power will be added as the farm grows. It will require more work and dedication to this blog, workshops, and books than I have the energy for now, but the growth of this dream is my biggest source of energy. I do what I can, and then some more, and it returns the favor.

A home surrounded by forests and resources. There is wild game, foraging, ponds, streams, and other gifts just beyond the fence lines. A whole other world of goodness I have yet to barely tap into. But wish me luck this deer season.

A home that educates and shares. I will continue to have workshops and classes at this farm. Teaching and inspiring beginners has been the greatest joy. I have folks signed up for sausage making, fiddle 101, and urban homesteading workshops already. The Chick Days workshop in the spring is a huge hit (come learn about chickens, and go home with three chicks and a book!), and I am already have a third of the spaces for next year's Antlerstock worked out, with classes expanding from folks down at Polyface (a goat raising intern might come with Nigerians!), candle making, pig 101, and more!

This post started about wood heat, and ended with an anthem. It's what happens when 6:24 AM on a Sunday already means you walked the dogs and lit the fires and have a pot of coffee on the way.


Dear Friends and Readers,

Yesterday I spent some time on the phone with my good friend Shellee down in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvanian. She told me about their 4-year-old daughter's recent emergency surgery due to her unique issue with absorbing calcium. The little girl had intense kidney stones, removed under the knife, and now has to be carried from the upstairs bedroom to play downstairs quietly. She's hooked up to tubes and bags. She's having a rough time. Good news though, she's on the mend, but only at the beginning of the series of hospital visits and surgeries to deal with this rare problem.

Shellee and Zach, her parents, are two of us. They're hopeful farmers and current urban homesteaders. In their 1/4 acre of town lot they have raised their family, amazing gardens, rabbits, and their rescued dog. They have two young girls Madeline and Sarah (Sarah was just born this past year) and no health insurance. Shellee is a stay-at-home mom and Zach works his own antique dealing business, along with several other odd jobs (like out plowing snow all last night) to help keep the family together. Times are tight in the best of times, but they are a happy and grace-filled family. Being highly involved in their church and faith, they are supported emotionally, but they still need our help.

Yesterday on the phone I asked if I could post about their hardship? I told them how the community on CAF might have a few dollars to donate, or good healing thoughts to send their way. Shellee was more concerned about putting me out, then anything else. I insisted. This blog's generosity was why I was able to get my farm. This blog's kindness has supported readers who had lost their footing before, and have donated over the years to help several small families. Some day, this blog might help you, too.

As for the Snyder family: with travel to Philadelphia hospitals, medical bills not covered by the state's child insurance, hotels, and work missed to take care of Madeline: they are in need of our support. If you could send a few bucks, say a prayer, or send them an encouraging comment here on the blog; it would do wonders. I know times are tight for some of us, but even if folks just sent out a dollar each, it could change this young couples world.

Shellee said this on the phone to me last night. She said that she felt this hardship and dealing with the health issues, stress and late bills was just God's way of preparing her for the stresses and trials of running their own farm some day. She said it was something to overcome, and something that would make her family stronger. To find such grace when your little girl is hooked up to tubes and wires, amazes me.

Please donate. Use this button here in this post, (do not confuse it with the similar one on the right side of this blog). If it says "Madeline Snyder" in the donation field, you have the right one. I made a small contribution myself, and will have the family in my thoughts as they face this winter with a new set of worries.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Congratulations John!

John Taylor, you won the Seed Safe!
Email me to work out shipping.

And for those of you who didn't win, I'm sorry, I wish I had a hundred to give away. But unlike past giveaways on this farm for lamps, vacations, or instruments: I think this is something everyone who is able to afford, should have on hand. Seeds are the most important thing a small farm or backyard gardener can have, and to get this many (25,000) for around sixty bucks sealed up to five years is like literally having an entire farm in your back pocket. Insurance from disaster, an investment in your future farm, and possible the BEST gift of this holiday season! We still get the Cold Antler Farm discount till Wednesday night (see post below for code in the contest instructions).

It's the Saturday before Hallows here outside the village of Cambridge, NY. In town, folks are meeting at Hubburd hall to enjoy live music and costumes, dancing and "traditional" harvest activities. I have just finished knocking a Rhode Island Red out of a sumac with a roof rake so I could chase her into the barn to save her from impersonating a maroon pudding pop. Because the farm, if you can believe it, is in the middle of a Nor'easter dumping a half foot of snow on the farm a month before Home Alone starts playing on cable. I have raked the barn roof twice. I'm worried about snow coming off the roof and damaging the new chimney, and if it wasn't for the candy corn in the kitchen and calendar I assure you I would tell you it was January 29th.


Friday, October 28, 2011

lovin' this right now

take antlerstock 2011 home!

Tim Bronson of 468photography has been kind enough to build an Antlerstock Print Shop on his business's web site! For a few dollars you can get professional prints (I love the metallic prints) of you and yours splitting wood, making cheese, or enjoying the farm. Every CAF reader is welcome to purchase a print if they like, and I hope you consider it, as getting pros like Tim to come here and take pictures is only encouraged by being able to get back a little coin here and there. So Check out the images (many more than I posted on this blog) and consider buying a few to support a local Vermont Artist with a big dream. And if photography isn't in your budget, check out his site and send him a note saying thanks for the hard work and time he literally gives to the farm. He's earned it.

See The Print Shop Now!

sweaters at the ready: first snow!

I left work early, fighting off a sick feeling in my gut. I needed to get out of the office, and quick. While my insides worked the lower trapeze, my head was thinking about one thing: snow. Halfway home to the farm I was dipping down into the village of Shushan, and with my windows slightly open I took in the smells of the wood smoke. They beat me to it. I smiled and ruffled Gibson's shoulders. Snow was starting to fall all over. The familiar orange roads of leaves and dust were now covered in snow. It wasn't even Hallows and I was thinking about a long weekend indoors with words and coffee. Sweaters are at the ready, son.

When i got to Jackson, walking into the farm house was downright cold. 55, said the thermometer in the kitchen. Not awful, but when you just came in from a heated cab of a toasty pickup truck in a wool sweater, and before that, a disturbingly warm office.... 55 is like walking into a meat freezer. I didn't fuss about it. I knew that within an hour I'd be experiencing "farmer heat" a term I coined around here to explain the phenomenon where static movement makes the house seem cold, but soon as you light the wood stoves and spend an hour doing chores, you are your own furnace. So I did just that. I lit the Bun Baker in the living room, and the ol' Vermont Castings in the mud room and set outside to prep the livestock for the coming snowfall, however light it may be.

I carried two bales of straw on my back up the hill to the sheep sheds. They sheep munch on the yellow, nutritionless bedding like we munch on potato chips as I spread it around the 15x8 foot shelter. (For those not sure what the difference between straw and hay is: straw is dead grass used for bedding, it is yellow. Hay is dried, green grass, used for animal food.) I then added bedding to the annex next door. Soon all the sheep were inside the shelters, the comfort-lovin' lambs Knox, Ashe and Pidge were already making nests. I noticed Ashe (my only success at raising a decent breeding ewe last year) had a striped of black going down her right horn. I never saw anything like it, it was stunning...

I then went and filled two buckets with sweet grain and brought them to the sheep, along with a bale of good hay I set up in the shelters. With the sheep ready for the apocalypse, I headed down to see Jasper. The snow was coming down harder now, wind was picking up. I shut Jasper in the barn stall, closing the bottom dutch door for wind protection for the babes in the pig pen. Jasper paced around the small run by the barn, looking like he was about to have a tantrum. He wanted to run but he'd have to wait. A slick, steep, hillside for a horse that needed a farrier to trim his feet would just mean slipping and sliding and a possible injury. When the snow melted off Friday evening, he could run in the mud. Tonight he was staying in the barn. I gave him a little grain to bribe him indoors, mucked the run, and by this point I was sweating bullets and my face was ruddy. I went inside the barn and made sure Jasper had clean water, two flakes of Nelson Greene's Second Cut, a mineral lick and such. I scratched the poll of his head, he munched happily. I had just watched the documentary BUCK on Netflix, and a stallion colt literally jumped on top of a man and bit through his skull to the bone, covering his cowboy hat with blood. I thought about how the most impatient version of Jasper involves a playful nip and a trot around me in circles with some whinnies. In comparison to some horses, Jasper is a saint. I kissed him and told him I was lucky to have him. I meant it.

The pigs snorted through all this horse love. They have learned Jenna=FOOD and this is their new religion. I walked over to them, scratched their bristly heads, and dumped some pig chow and a load of cracked corn (for body heat) into their feeder. They ate greedily and I threw in some extra bedding for them to bury themselves in.

Do you remember that fall chick I showed you a few weeks back? It has grown into a fine little chicken, and mama and little babe had decided Jasper's stall was a safer roost then the tree outside the coop they usually are in. IN fact, all the tree birds came down and had made peace with the dry, bedding filled, coop and were finding their social order inside. The geese walked around yelling the whole time. I shut the coop door to keep the wind and snow out and turned towards the house. Two little chimneys sent white smoke into the air. I stopped to take a deep breathe of the crisp air tinted with woodsmoke, hay, horse and grain. My hands still felt like lanolin coated them from petting sal up in the sheds.

I went inside and the wave of warmth hit me. Between the stoves and my own body heat I was taken back by the windless, snowless, heat of the place. It was only 56.9 degrees inside now but it felt like 85. I stripped out of my heavy layers and got a glass of water. Farmer Heat in Full Force! The house was amazingly changed through the suggestion of fire, candles, and my time outside in the wet 30-degree world of the animals. I put the morning's coffee pot on the Bun Baker and threw more wood on the fire. Tonight I was staying close to my fire, books, and coffee. And I could do so knowing outside every animal on this farm was safe, dry, and out of the wind and rain. It's the kind of thing fiddle tunes are written about.

This morning the farm is covered in 2 inches of wet snow. By the time the sun is high I have a feeling it will all have melted away. But it was a fine preview of what's to come, and a good practice run for this North Country Shepherd.

Winter, I welcome you.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

first snow of the season!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

here and heaven

Win a Farm in a Box!
SEED SAFE giveaway!

I'm excited about this giveaway because I am passionate about the subject. Online retailer, The Ready Store, has sent me an item to give away here on the blog and I'm excited just to write about it. It's a Seed Safe. What does that mean? Well, it's an airtight container about the size of a gallon of milk that contains 1-Acre of Non-Hybrid, Non GMO, open pollinated, heirloom seeds. The seeds include (but are not limited too) carrots, corn, peas, beans, tomatoes, chard, broc, melons, spinach, cabbage, onions, peppers, squashes, radishes, lettuces and beets. Over 25,000 seeds, triple vacuum sealed in this water-tight container that when harvested could produce 20,000 pounds of food. The seeds are okay to store for up to 5 years.

This is such a cool idea. It's a hell of a deal for backyard gardeners who want to buy a small farm in a box, and it's a nice thing to have stashed away in a closet in case we decide as a nation the "Victory Garden" is the only way your family is getting cheap produce in the wake of a war, oil shortage, or other such disasters. While I don't make this blog about preparation for harder times, I don't think it hurts to be mindful that even if you break a leg, lose your job, or a pandemic of swine flue sends your school home for the year: it would still be nice to eat a salad. So this is both an insurance policy you can stash in the cabinet or an entire backyard farm bought at once for the cost of a dozen heirloom tomatoes at a NYC farmer's market.

I think I'm going to get two. One to plant this spring, and then one to stash away and not really think about. And honestly, going to bed each night this winter knowing an acre of food is waiting for me in the closet is a nice thought. Makes the woodstove a little warmer, too.

To enter the Seed Safe Giveaway, leave a comment in the comments sharing a story of when emergency preparedness was important to you? It doesn't have to be about food security, it could be as simple as "during the NYC blackout I was really happy I had a candle collection in the closet, I could still see in the dark!" or "When Irene hit this past September I was glad I splurged on that mini-generator or the sump pump!" I'll pick a winner Saturday night!

If you just want to go ahead an buy the Seed Safe (it comes in garden, 1 acre, and 7-acre sizes) the Readystore is offering a further discount if you use the offer code BARNHEART5 at checkout till next Wednesday.

Antlerstock 2012!

The dates for Antlerstock 2012 will be Columbus Day weekend, October 5tth, 6th, and 7 2012 here in Veryork. Starting Friday night with a casual meet and greet BBQ and officially starting 9Am October 6th for an expanded set of workshops and classes! I want to add sausage making, home brewing, candlemaking, and more next year. It will go all weekend again, from Friday-Sunday at 5PM.

First come first served! Sign up by emailing me at If you are interested in presenting let me know. And if you made it this year, and want to reserve a spot for next year, please sign up with a deposit before spots go!

in an autumn barn

snow tomorrow!

The weather is calling for snow tomorrow night, possibly even a few inches. It's not even Halloween and I might wake up Friday to a blanket of fresh snow. For the first time ever in my adult life, I am thrilled about the possibility of a snow storm on a weekday, because due to luck and circumstance: this weekday dump will be a Friday, and I darling, am home Fridays. Which means when I wake up to virgin snow my "work" will be firing up the woodstove, collecting eggs, feeding the animals, and then coming inside to work on the blog and pitch future books.

Can I get an AMEN?!

So here's a winter update, and I think some of you who read this blog through last winter will be happy to hear it. The farm is ready for winter, and the farmer is ready to cope. The wood stove has been installed and has been keeping the farmhouse warm, even on nights in the low thirties. I have yet to turn on any oil heat and for a girl who grew up here whole life with heating oil, this feels like I'm cheating on warmth. The last payment to The Stovery has been set up for Friday, which means as of Friday I have entirely completed debts on the chimney installation and hardware. It is a relief I can not describe in words.

There are 4 cords of wood stacked and ready to use in my driveway and under the cover of my side porch. Thanks to the work of folks at Antlerstock my fuel larder is full. Tonight I'll cart in a large load of wood to stack in the mudroom to ensure dry fuel for the coming days. The 1100 square foot farmhouse now has two wood stoves and together they are keeping this home warm and food baked and cooked regardless of the grid's power system, outages, and angry weather. If we lose all electricity due to a horrid storm: me and the farm are okay. I will have a place to prepare food and stay comfy as hell. I also have a few bottles of lamp oil, extra wicks, and candles stored up. Bring it, winter.

The roof was not repaired, but it was patched and the work deemed "get-you-through-this-winter" by a professional roofer. The Daughton boys: Tim and Holden, patched shingles and repaired the rising plywood that would cause water wells and leaks. With a good roof rake and some TLC, the house will remain dry.

Major projects such as the winter horse stall inside the barn was completed this summer, so Jasper has a safe place to ride out the worst of it. Inside the barn with him are four meat rabbits, two pigs, and the occasional chicken. There is a stash of hay, plenty to see us through a while. And winter chicken/pig/sheep fuels such as cracked corn, minerals, and grains. The sheep have their safe house, larger and solid on the hill. Tomorrow I will put down some fresh straw and make it the soft and warm place it will certainly be. The "annex" next door used for rams, sick sheep, and lambing will also be open for any outcasts from the flock to be sheltered from the weather if they choose.

The vehicle I now own is a 2004 4WD V8 pickup, instead of the 2WD 99 4cyl pickup I used to have (my Subaru died last year). It can handle my mountain, and get me to town or work safely. I have stored extra food, water, and plenty of quilts and blankets. There is half a tank of oil in the basement, a fuel-loaded generator just in case, and a landline installed if I need to call for help and my cell isn't charged or working. I have a plow man on call, a stocked first aid kit, waterproof boots, and plenty of knitting and books.

I am ready for this snow, and my farm is ready, too.

That's a lot of growing up in one year!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Antlerstock: Saturday Afternoon

Before the Lumberjackin' was over, I snuck away under the cover of overgrown roses and apple scrub to head back to the farmhouse. Inside my kitchen a small troop of future cheese makers collected around the stove, listening to Diane and Cathy tell them about the proper tools of the trade. People had notebooks, were asking questions, and cheese making gear was all over the place. One thing I noticed was there a fair amount of men learning about cheese, and a fair amount of women learning about throwing axes. Proof positive that in the world of modern homesteading, we aren't afraid to dabble.
Tim was snapping photos, Yesheva and her kids were on the floor, playing with a vintage Lassie toy she found on my bookshelf. Jamie, Jess, Riley, and others were watching the curds separate from the whey, and Cathy in her apron looked like the professional that she was. She had spent the last hour teaching about soft cheeses
My chicken workshop wasn't bad, it was just not as comprehensive as I would have liked. In my head I have a list of things I want to cover, but then a question gets asked, or a new rooster starts attacking amn inanimate object, and the whole thing falls off the runners and before you know it you're jumping from the topic of wind proofing your coop to HOA tattletales. Generally, though, it went fine and the crowd got a taste of sunlight for the first time all day. There, out by the red barn in front of the coops we took in a little vitamin D while Paco, my new rooster, strutted around behind me.
Paco has an interesting story, he was the sole survivor of a chick genocide that happened at a neighbors farm. While she left for vacation, the hens in her coop wanted the newborns out of their favorite nest box right quick, so they were beaked to death, thrown to the coop floor, and most died of exposure and a confused new mother hen's lack of protective fight. I had been asked to watch over these birds for my neighbor while they were at a music festival, and the first morning I went to feed and water the birds I walked in on the massacre. Sad to see the babes dead, I went about feeding the living, when I heard one small peep from behind a waterer. There was one black chick left. I brought it home to my farm to sit in a safe brooder in my mud room, safe from marauders. He grew up into Paco, and due to his unfortunate luck being born a rooster where a landlord doesn't want to wake up to crowing: he was told to leave.
So I took Paco back. Shelly and Ingamar delivered him in a large cage on the back of their '53 Ford truck. Talk about a cool way to get a rooster delivered during a farm festival!

While I was talking about chickens, Brett was up by the woodpile, setting up for his afternoon stacking and chopping classes. Tara was preparing everything for her soap making class, and was worried about the weather (rain was looking more and more like a possibility). When the class broke up I headed inside to get started on lunch prep. I was thrilled to see the cheese from the morning class already set out to snack on in several decorative plates with tomatoes from Firecracker Farm. Some cheese was melting in the oven, others were setting and hanging in cabinets and adjoining rooms. My kitchen was alive in ways it had never been before. People smelling the slow-cooking pork, eyeing up the bejeweled plates of cheeses they themselves watch happen through chemistry and folklore moments ago.

I started scooping meat onto puns, showed folks where the cider and beer was and was thrilled to hear Brett was ready to start pressing apples. His press just outside the kitchen was primed and the Daughton Boys had already shaken a few buckets down from the trees on the sheep hill. People filled mason jars with the fresh pressed cider between bites of a neighboring farms pork sandwiches. Pies abounded. People seemed happy to just eat, and talk, and think about the afternoon classes. I made a plate for Tim, who I knew had to leave shortly for the office and I didn't want him to leave hungry. I filled a cardboard take-out tray (Cathy Daughton scored these at a yardsale) and sent him off with quiche, pie, pork, and whatever else was around the kitchen for the kind man. Cathy made a plate for her husband, and I made sure Brett ate as much pork as his lumberjack self could contain. All around me people were just noshing and laughing. Never had my home been this full. Next year we'll need an outdoor tent and tables if the event grows (as it will) but this year my living room and parlor did the trick. I was expecting the floor to cave in under all that weight and traffic, but it did not. I felt safer from that.

As lunch wrapped up I was asked by Brett if I wanted to harness Jasper later to pull out some of the cherry logs we cut down? My heart rate exploded. Of all the events this weekend the working pony was the one I looked the most forward too but was the most nervous about. I had never before walked Jasper into the woods and hooked him up to a log. We had only trained with tires in open fields or with sticks lighter than baseball bats. But the idea of showing off his talents as a working member of the farm seemed too hard to resist. This was what we had been working for, together through sweaty summer afternoons and colder fall mornings. That afternoon I would hitch my gelding to a freshly cut tree and we would carry it to the axes.

When this happened, (and I will talk about it next) my heart was split open like a locust round and I realized with the certainty of April taxes that I would never own a tractor. I fell in love with working horses, and this was just the initial hit of addiction. Step up, Jenna. Step up.

Thanks to these posts, folks are already signing up for next year! Already four spots are called for in California! WOW!
photos by Tim Bronson

Monday, October 24, 2011

like I’m the one making it turn

Everyone has a favorite short story. Something they read once, that stuck with them, changed the way they saw the world. My favorite short story of all time is by Dave Eggers, from his collection"How We Are Hungry." His short masterpiece After I was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned is something I read often, that fills me up with hope and silent gratitude for the world every time I read it. Whenever I grow sad, confused, lonely or heartbroken I read it. I see the dogs in my head, racing trains at night under a full moon. When I was about to give up on a far-fetched dream or hope I would read it, and want to dig my claws into the earth like the narrator does, "like I'm the one making it turn...." I used to own it in a leather bound book with a hypogriff embossed into the cover, but Annie ate that book one day and when I came home to its confetti remains I cried and cried. It was like losing an old friend. I kept the piece of the cover that survived. All you can read is WE ARE HUNGRY. Perhaps that was the part that mattered the most anyway.

I see in the windows. I see what happens. I see the calm held-together moments and also the treachery and I run and run. You tell me it matters, what they all say. I have listened and long ago I stopped. Just tell me it matters and I will listen to you and I will want to be convinced. You tell me that what is said is making a difference that those words are worthwhile words and mean something. I see what happens. I live with people who are German. They collect steins. They are good people. Their son is dead. I see what happens.

Read the story here. Enjoy it with all you've got.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

raddle, remorse, and meat pies

There will be more stories from Antlerstock soon. I'm taking a short break from that story for the moment. I got on that mason jar tear and wanted to post the contest and recipe. Tonight I just wanted to share what has been going on the past week since the big event. Keep you up to date on the joys and drama, and hopefully wake up to some encouragement and kind words, as these past two weeks of the office, workshops, and a visit from my parents has left me so worn out I'm transulcent. If that sounds like complaining, it isn't. Some times this fine life just gets me with its horns, is all.

Atlas is out of the pen and covered with orange raddle. He looks crazy, but is enjoying the big pasture with the ladies. I tried fitting him with the leather harness but it was too large, the wrong size. So instead I put the thick, orange, ink all over his chest (if you only could have seen this moment...Atlas squirming while I held one horn in one hand and wiped sticky chalk on his chest with the other. He didn't care for this) and then let him back to the flock. He's not a giant beast, but he's got the goods and now he's dressed for the occasion. Breeding season is underway!

Do you realize this means Maude will be a Mother?!

Tough decisions are happening with the sheep. I originally thought I would remove Lisette and Pidge from the flock and keep them from lambing. Lisette however, has been packing on the pounds and bouncing back well. She is actually in better shape than some of the others, and removing her from her sisters and bretheren seems not only stressful for the old gal, but dangerous. I have seen what stress can do to a sheep, and since she is healing well and in better health, I decided to give her a go with Atlas.

Her lamb Pidge, however, is in poor shape. Not sick, but so small. She's small because of my inexperience and being too late with some medications and remedies early in her life. I have decided to have her take to slaughter. She's too small and too touchy for my gene pool, and keeping her around isn't good for the future of the flock. A tough decision to cull, but a necessary one. If the slaughter house says she's too small or poor for meat, then I will simply have to cull her outright. I'm not sure I can put a rifle to her. I might just call the vet. I haven't decided. I do know that her brother down at Common Sense Farm is the largest, most beautiful sheep of the season. Raised on grain with a 40+ person full-time staff he looks like the rams in the british breed catalogs. So it's not Lisette's genes I am worried about.

This is a crappy lesson. Some parts of this life just are.
If you're angry at me about all this, trust me, I am harder on myself.

But while the sheep are in a state of flux, they are generally better than they were during the rains in September. Now they are getting more grain, mineral, and everyone got dewormed. They are getting plenty of hay (1/2 more than usual, actually) and gulping their vitamin water by the gallons every day. All seem to be getting back from their misery of rain and heat. Even Sal is 100% healed from his foot business. Maude, despite her attitude, might be tied for the healthiest ewe in the flock next to the Blackface yearling (now two) from last year who is a brick shit house of sheep beauty.

I told myself I'd take it easy this afternoon. I didn't. When I feel stressed out I tend to dive into work, so today I did just that. After my parents left the farm from their weekend visit I opted to go get a load of hay in Hebron and work on a recipe instead of sitting down and reading and sleeping like I should have. But I was restless, so instead I let Jasper out to stretch his legs in the pasture, fed the pigs all the scraps from the Burger Den breakfast I had with my folks, saw to the birds and rabbits, cleaned the chick brooder (there are 9 Swedish Flower Hen chicks by the mud room woodstove now), did laundry, medicated a sheep, set loose a graffiti ram, and then before turning in for the night I am having some pot pie and a glass of wine. Both woodstoves are going strong and the farm is warm, the animals comfortable, the dogs sleeping, and I have a copy of The Legend of Sleep Hollow by my daybed with illustrations by Will Moses. I'll probably read for ten minutes and put on an episode of Buffy to fall asleep to, but the intentions are Martha Stewart pure.

If this post seems erractic, mish-mashed, and tired. It is. But the farm is crawling uphill, the dogs are happy, the coffee pot cleaned and loaded for 4:45 AM, the farmhouse warm, and the farmer managed to once again pay the mortgage and keep her dream on the defibrulator.

More coherence and Antlerstock tomorrow.
Thanks for the eyes and ears.

Chicken Jar Pot Pie

This recipe is so easy (and so pretty) you're gonna plotz. It's done over a weekend using a slow cooker. The recipe starts Saturday (anytime) and Sunday all you do is remove the bones from the cooker, pour in broth and veggies, and by Sunday evening you simply fill pie crust lined canning jars and bake them into single-serving pot pies. It looks beautiful, tastes amazing, and is an honorable end to those older, tougher, stew hens or roosters you dispatched but could never serve as a plump young roaster. Could also be done with any small game such as small turkeys, duck, rabbit, pheasant, and guinea fowl.

Total prep time over two days: 25 minutes
5 minutes Saturday/20 minutes Sunday
(longer if you make your own crusts and broth)
baking time: 45+ min

1 whole farm chicken
3 potatoes
3 carrots
herbs (to your liking)
2 cups chicken broth
3-4 pie crusts

Saturday: Take a whole, defrosted, chicken and either rub it down with olive oil and a pre-made chicken rub. Or simply mix a bit of diced garlic, rosemary, parsley, pepper and salt and soft butter. Then place it in the crock pot on low all day or overnight. You can literally do this before bed on Saturday night and wake up 10 hours later to meat will be falling off the bone. If you do it overnight let it to low/medium heat. If you start it in the mid morning Saturday like me, turn it to a warming level overnight and tomorrow morning you can get to work!

Sunday: Remove the bones from the slow-cooked meat. When the bird is de-boned easily with a fork and knife, remove the bones from the slow cooker and set aside. (you can use these to make a broth for later, or compost them). Then you take your pot of fragrant yummy bird and add a 1/2 stick of melted butter, 3 cut-up potatoes and carrots, (any root veg you like really,) and either pour in 2 cups of chicken broth or two cans of condensed chicken noodle soup. Set the slow cooker on low again all day while you go about your life.

Sunday Dinner Jar Pies: Take pie crusts (no shame in a store bought crust for busy folks), and line pint mason jars. Add a half cup of flour to thicken the juices in the meat and veg and using a slotted spoon, fill the jars with the meat and vegetables. Add some broth as well, but nothing too watery. Place a small crust over each jar when filled, using a fork to press the edges together and slice some vents with a knife into the top. Brush with melted butter and sprinkling of salt.

Now: place your jars on a cookie sheet and set them into a COLD oven. The jars can not be placed in a preheated oven, they need to heat up with the oven itself. Then Turn it to 350 and keep an eye on those crusts. At this point you are just baking the crusts, not the chicken and veg, so take them out soon as tops are browned. Should take about 45 minutes from the time you set your oven to preheat. Remove the sheet and let them cool a bit on the stove. Serve with potholders! Those jars smarts when hot!

If you make a large pot of the pie filling, you can serve half that day and freeze the rest of the crust and filling for a quick homemade meal on a busy winter night. Simply defrost the crust and filling in the fridge and bake it that night in the oven just as you did with the fresh batch.

Told ya I liked canning jars...

baby, it's cold outside

Canning jars are all over this house. I use them for everything, from their intended purpose to all sorts of everyday uses. I drink hard cider and beer from them around campfire. I freeze jam in them. I line the barn wall with old ones and fill them with nails and bolts. I lug a quart jar with a lid around with ice water and a lemon wedge instead of a water bottle. I use them to hold feed for chicks in the brooder, and I never pass up the chance to get a few more. Canning jars are the unofficial mascot of this farm, and this life: tough, useful, practical, simple, and occasionally breakable.

So here's my problem: I love coffee and I love canning jars. However, as spill proof as my quart jar of morning coffee is, it gets cold in a manner of minutes. Straight up glass does not retain heat. So I want to hold a contest here on the blog and what we're going to do is turn a regular quart jar (regular lids or wide mouth) into a coffee tote using whatever natural materials you have around your homestead. You can use anything fabric, leather, wool, knitted, felted, or contrived. It just should be true to the pioneer spirit of the task, look somewhat charming, and help carry around the jar. If you work in leather and wood, make a sheepskin cosy with a wooden handle. If you knit, try a jar sweater with a yarn loop to tote it around. If you quilt, perhaps batting and sewing gear is all that is needed to create warm jars? I'm not sure, but I do know I need a solution and am willing to offer a contest to find out how to make one for myself! The best designs will be removable from the jars, too. So you can easily wash them.

So, if you want to enter the Warm Jars Contest, all you have to do is create a jar apparatus, and email me a photo and short description by November 15. Then I'll post ten finalists and we can all vote for a winner. The winner will get a pound of Vermont Dark Coffee (a local favorite from Wayside) and a small library of new homesteading books, including a signed copy of the Backyard Homestead, the new Storey book Hunting Deer for Food, and the Kitchen Gardener's Handbook. Winner does NOT have to mail me the winning design either! It's yours to enjoy, but understand I will totally rip it off and tote it all around Veryork this winter!

What do you say Crafty Antlers? Want to help make my jar coffee warm?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

...into the woods at cold antler farm

photo by Tim Bronson

lumberjackin' 101

I was showing Tim the shoats in the barn when Ian Daughton (ten) walked in with this announcement. "Everyone wants to see Jenna throw and Axe!" I looked at Tim, looked at Ian, and then back at Tim. "Everyone wants to see Jenna throw an Axe!" was Tim's smiling reply.

I have never thrown any wood splitting devices any distance before. Timbersports, while retaining their own gritty appeal, were the realm of men in my mind. I'm a traditional girl. I'll happily hunt, fish, and chop rounds into stove splints but I draw the line at dangerous projectiles as a form of backyard entertainment. It's not about sexism: I'm just a complete klutz. I wish I could tell you that I have obtained the grace of a mustang mare on the Alberta prairies but the truth is I can barely get a cup of coffee back to my desk without spilling it. Around me, things break. I am always cut, gashed open, or scratched. The delicate life, is not my life, and the chances of me throwing an axe without a body count seemed slim. Nope, not for me sir. The men throw the sharp pointies and the women have the babies, this is a model that has stood the test of time.

I walked over to Brett's workshop anyway. Peer pressure, simple as that.

Everyone clapped encouragingly and I sheepishly took the handle. Brett showed me how to hold it, over my head with the right choke on the wooden handle. After some basic instruction I reared back my hands and let it go.

I missed. It slammed into the target's wooden legs and plopped on the floor.

Undetered by my first chuck, Brett made some helpful suggestions and asked me to try again. I lifted the axe over my head, let my hands understand the toque and the mission, looked right at the red center and SLAM! I hit the target not inches from the bullseye! I literally jumped in the air, this was the epitome of the anti-klutz! I had just experienced a hurdling metal grace! I hugged Brett and hoped Tim caught it on camera. He certainly did.

Well, now I was hooked. I had planned to go in and check on the cheese making, but I changed my mind. I have made soft cheese in that kitchen more times than you could chuck an axe at, so I opted to join the dozen people outside interested in wood lot management. With the crowd already excited by the target practice, Brett had us in the palm of his hand. He grabbed a cross cut saw and an specialty felling-axe and walked us back into the woods to the cherry tree he planned to fell.

Brett explained why the tree was going to come down. How the split so early in it's growth made it poor lumber, how it was fighting the old orchard for light. He then demonstrated the techniques of using a good axe to create the notch that tells you where the tree will fall, and gave us in the audience a chance at cross-cutting. Jason and Vaughn were amazing at this, a true team. I watched them work together and communicate. They check the saw level, just as Brett instructed. There was a plan in place for when the tree fell. Vaughn would take the saw, and Jason would back up. Both knew the escape plan, and both had a good idea of when the cherry would fall.

These are things I never thought about: escape plans, communication, who takes the saw, etc. All practical and important in the business of making lumber and firewood, but until someone showed me the steps and reasons, it remained a vague notion. Brett called the moment the tree would snap and it started to crackle. What a sound, what a sight! The 30+ foot tree fell to the ground with an autumn crash, leaves sputtering everywhere. I realized, as it fell, that I just acquired a few weeks of warmth. it'll take a year to season, but fall we'll likely be chopping and stacking this very tree.

What a system. What a perfect system. And throughout the day men and women watched as the tree went from a large living thing to a wood stove sacrifice. Then, they watched Brett saw it down into pieces, using a chain saw. Then, a few hours later, they watched a farm pony pull some smaller logs out from the forest into the chopping area. They spent their afternoon coming back to that wood pile, too. Jason, I think, fell in love with Brett's Axe and probably was responsible for a cord of wood with his own hands. Every time I looked outside the kitchen window, there was Jason, chopping away.

Can't blame him. Can't blame him for a second...

Friday, October 21, 2011

my vet's sweet ride

photo by Tim Bronson

the morning of the first day

Raven Pray Bishop has been my friend since freshman year of college. She and I found each other because I plastered the dorm with signs for a knitting club and when she arrived at the dorm number posted, we were all doing yoga instead. Unnerved by this fiber-induced stretch fest, she stuck around. She's stuck around ever since. For a decade she's listened to my stories, moves, farms, and man problems. She knows the entire story. A friend like this is rare, and I'm grateful for her.

Even though we retained our friendship, our lives didn't stay anywhere near the same trajectory. nearly a decade after that flyer was posted: Raven is a middle school art teacher on Maryland's eastern shore and I'm a writing farmer with a day job in upstate New York. This weekend was the first time we'd hung out in person in six years, and it was her first time ever being on the farm.

So I was excited to show her this life I cobbled together, have her meet the dogs, the sheep, Jasper and the flock and new pigs. Over the years these animals have become my world.

Raven was visiting with a friend and reader, Mikaela, who I had never met. The two arrived the night before and within moments of meeting her I felt comfortable and easy around her. I think friends of good friends make sense in the mysteries of human chemistry. So when the morning of the big day came around, both were willing to get up earlier than they had all year to help with farm chores. I asked them to meet in the kitchen at 5AM. On the dark morning we gathered around the percolator and Mikaela and I went outside to see to livestock.

I don't know if they ever spent a moonlit morning with sheep before, but both Mikaela and Raven seemed to not mind the hour, or the work, surrounded by the life and smells of the farm. In moonlight, under clear skies, my sheep seem blue tinted and warmer than during the day. We stood on the hill, overlooking the farmhouse and the geese we just let out of the coop. Raven put her hands on her hips, as to say "So this is where you went" and didn't seem upset by it at all. Neither was I.

The morning was a flurry of odd jobs, setting up stations and workshops, baking quiches and bread, and cleaning the house. Raven went to work making signs for everything from the book sale and raffle tickets to the toilet (Please Put Down Seat: Border Collie Has a Drinking Problem). I have since left that sign on the toilet. A humble homage.

By 8:30 most things were set and I was finally showered. The buffet of donuts, quiche, coffee, and pie was set out in the kitchen. Jamie Elfrank and her new Beau, Vaughn, arrived to help with parking and registration. I handed Vaughn a mug, and explained to him the parking area that was bush hogged down by the bass pond. He took on his role with authority, remaining outside to let the earliest visitors know the drill. Raven and Mikaela took over the registration table, and as each visitor arrived (starting at 9:15) they were welcomed, handed a waiver, and explained the house and farm rules. Then they signed the guestbook and got a copy of the Backyard Homestead as a supplement to the workshops and lessons they would be part of in just a few hours. Inside the house, Cathy Daughton was setting up for Cheese making and Brett was out back getting his saws and axes ready. After brunch and introductions, they would be the first presenters.

Soon the farmhouse was full of guests. People from the night before and new faces and names, people I only knew as avatars on the blog. Jess and her man Riley arrived from Ontario, Risa and Mark from Brooklyn, and Shannon from San Diego. There was a nice mix of urban and suburban folks as well as countrified couples like the women of Wind Woman Farm and Back Acres. I delivered pie and quiche to Raven and Mikaela and did my best to stay on top of the coffee pots, but soon realized I wasn't needed in the kitchen. In the miracle that is homesteading workshops, someone always is willing to lend a hand before you even know you need it. Diane and Cathy kept the kitchen working, grabbed mugs from the cupboard, and handed out napkins and spoons.

It was running as smoothly as it could. I was relieved in ways I usually take for granted. In a few moments everyone would convene out front for introductions and a small tour of my backyard operation and pastures. I scarfed a slice of quiche and headed towards the front door while Raven and Brett rallied the troops. Here we go...

Photos by Tim Bronson.
He'll post a shop you can order Antlerstock Prints/downloads from soon.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

the evening before

Brett arrived at the farmhouse first. Came to the front door with a truck loaded with timbersports equipment, saws, horses, and a cider press. I don't even think I said hi as I rushed him inside. I just scurried to the kitchen, spun around, and asked if he knew how to use an apple peeler. He was patient with me, by this point he knows how to recognize the glow of panic in my eyes. He started messing with the peeler, made small talk, and did his best to calm me down by showing me that

A. The peeler was broken, and
B. Why didn't he go outside and unload the truck first?

I nodded. Soon after he was out amongst his workshop area and such, Brian and Christina arrived. Now I have never met these people before in my life, but I knew they read my blog and had offered to help. So when the two came to the front door, I think the first thing I asked them was "How do you feel about livestock?" and within five minutes of walking in the front door of their weekend vacation destination they were feeding 15 Swedish Flower Chicks new feed and water in the mud room. Poor guys, at least Brett knew what mess he was walking into.

After Brett Tara arrived, fresh from her afternoon in Cambridge and a sturdy nap. She was glowing, and seemed willing to help me peel apples by hand. All I had to offer these guests was hard cider by the pint bottle, a crock pot of chili, and some homemade bread. We worked and ate, polishing off four pies by the time Raven and Mikaela pulled up to the farm in their rental from the Albany train station. I was finally calming down in this fray. The pies were on their way, the guests fed and tolerant, and everyone seemed to excuse my rudeness as nerves (which it was). I'm not worried about public speaking or having a house full of strangers make themselves comfortable. I am however, terrified that they won't have a good time or not have enough to eat. There's a lot of pressure knowing you're one couples 17th wedding anniversary weekend and another couples pseudo honeymoon... Did they know how much chicken shit was in that yard? It just didn't whisper tender memories to me. But hell, maybe they knew something I didn't know?

All night the brave volunteers helped. At one point everyone was in the kitchen making apple pies and baking loaves in an assembly line Henry Ford would have winked at. Eventually all 9 pies were cooling on racks and shelves and we had consumed enough cider to render us useless as quality control. I called it a night. I thanked Tara, Christina, and Brian and told them I'd see them tomorrow.

By 11PM the only people in the house were Brett, Raven, Mikaela and I. They had the two bedrooms upstairs and I would camp downstairs with the woodstove and pack of three. I don't think I fell asleep until 1:30, and my alarm was set for 4:45. Everyone would be getting up early with me to tackle farm chores, cleaning, and workshop prep (as well as bake 4 quiches and run to town for donuts). I fell asleep eventually, between worries about enough vegetarian options and canning jars.

Tomorrow at 10AM the first guests would be arriving and first annual Antersiock would officially begin...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

hit the skids, pony style

photos by lara aka redbird! thanks!

...from the rooftops, shoat it out!

I pulled up the Rice Mansion before dawn. Tara, who had flown in from Texas the day before, was sitting on the porch waiting for my arrival. We'd planned to take this road trip since a few days before Antlerstock. We literally planned it in the comments section of a previous post. Pulling up to the mansion was one of those weird moments when the internet and reality fuse into one actual experience, and I think we were both a little nervous meeting a new person we only know from our desktops.

But there was no weirdness, Tara and I quickly learned we were cut from the same cloth. She's a goat herder from Texas and I'm a shepherd from New York, livestock and proximity aside, we were sister suffragettes in our freedom-to-farm life. The entire trip to the pig farm was easy laughs, stories, and taking in the morning drive. She noted that the northeast seemed a little more gentrified than Texas, but she was certain the sky was smaller here. I smiled hear that. I think I would turn in a few edged sidewalks for more headspace myself.

The ride north flirted with rain and wind, but the weather was unusually warm. I'm not a fan of that. If you're going to be October, act like October, I say. So when we did finally reach the hard scrabble homestead up north, I was warm and anxious. Excited to take home the pigs, but nervous about all the preparations ahead of me. I had yet to bake a loaf of bread or fill a pie pan and 30+ people were about to expect brunch. I wanted these porkers locked and loaded. I had a hay-lined dog crate in the back of the truck, and a plan to stop at Saratoga Apple on the way home. I was a woman prepared for hogs and half pecks.

I was also about to commit an act of superb haggletry. Since I started out in this country life, I have grown in my skills to make a deal. This man wanted 60 dollars a shoat, but for winter pigs that seemed high. I told him I wanted two and would bring cash, but I didn't say how much cash I would bring. I brought eighty dollars. As we were in the pig pen looking at the stock I told him I only had so much to spend and would either take two for $80 or the one at the agreed original price of $60. I have learned that deal making with livestock has to happen at this point. If you do it over the phone or emails, no dice. But if you wait till the last possible minute with the gumption to walk away, you nearly always get your gilt. he sold me the pair for 80 dollars. That means for just twenty more dollars than last year I got double the pork! hooooo Doooogggy!

The shoats were Berkshire/Yorkshire crosses, about twenty pounds each. Mostly pinkish white, in that classic piggy way, but covered in cow splotches of brown and black. We helped the gent load them into the dog crate and within moments they were pooing and sleeping on their bed of fresh hay. I watched them settle in and was happy I ended up with two. They snuggled into each other, and would continue to keep each other warm company through the North Country winter.

Tara was good company the whole ride. A good sport with me getting lost and missing turns, and in high spirits. She would be doing a soap making class on Saturday and had mailed me some supplies in advance. As we rolled south back to Cold Antler, we talked about the planning ahead. She and a few others had offered to help set up the night before. Christina and Brian from Wooden Plow Farm in Maine, Brett, and my friends Raven and Mikaela would also be coming to the farm around 3:30 for chili, fresh bread, and a pie-baking marathon. It was only 11AM and I was already bushed.

Tara and I got the pigs settled in at the farm and then I took her back to the hotel for a short break before the bake off. I headed home to vacuum, dust, make beds for the guests and mow the lawn. None of the work was hard, but it was constant. And I was rushing through it, too. So excited to have the place bustling and alive, with classes and kitchen smells, and trees crashing into the brush while cheese curds formed indoors. Tomorrow would be a big deal, a collaboration and a celebration. I could hardly wait....

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

jasper and the path to the campfire

P.S. I had a typo in that earlier post about Antlerstock 2012, it is CERTAINLY NOT FULL. That was supposed to be 2011 (which was). Anyone can sign up for Antlerstock next year at anytime, it will be limitted to 40 people though.

photo by Antlerstock attendee S.T.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Antlerstock: the whole story coming right up

Antlerstock began Friday morning with a pre-dawn road trip to buy pigs and ended with a gentle walk through the Vermont forest with new friends. For the next few days I'll post the entire weekend, in detail, and share what happened on a little sloping mountain in Washington County, New York when a smattering of homesteaders and independent spirits got together to learn, laugh, and enjoy a life of animals, food, and music.

For two whole days my backyard was lucky enough to be transformed into a learning center/mess hall. Workshops on everything from felling trees to canning jam were well-attended and enjoyed. It was an amazing collaboration, and when I say amazing I mean Brett, Tara, Cathy, Raven, Mikaela, and Diane. I just hosted and figured out the logistics, but they gave up their weekend, talents, a time to help inspire and educate others. There were workshops and field trips, purple chickens and secret-sauce chili. There was a 1953 Ford farm truck, an old trike hauling squash, and a pair of little pigs. People came from as far away as San Diego and as close as a few miles south on Route 22. Couples from New York CIty and Boston talked about throwing axes and cheese cloth instead of parking spots and their office mail boxes. Saturday afternoon you could find yourself either in the pasture with me and the sheep (and Gibson's antics), inside the kitchen watching soap making demonstrations, outside learning to split and stack firewood with Brett, or just walking around the farm snacking on the morning's cheese workshop's products while petting a piglet or plucking a banjo.

I sincerely want to thank the people who came, presented, and shared their stories, efforts, support, and caramels. I felt at home with the whole crew, and hope to see many more of them soon. It was a special event, inspiring and simple. I will certainly do it again next year, but with porta-potties and a string band.

Next up:
How a Texan and I went on an adventure north to haggle for pigs.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Random Photos from the Celebration!

the campfire!


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dispatches from Antlerstock
Cheese Making, Jasper, and Chickens!