Remember Me?

A few weeks ago the first of the Canada Geese returned to our valley, heralding summer’s end. If that wasn’t enough to convince me of how short our seasons are here, a lone (and possibly lost) trumpeter swan flew overhead yesterday, and the reality of the approaching winter began to sink in.

This summer has been an absolute whirlwind, which I am sure comes as no surprise to my readers since I have been radio silent for quite a while. I’m sorry! At the end of the day I can barely keep my eyelids open long enough to shovel forkfuls of dinner into my mouth before collapsing into bed, and I haven’t had the time or energy to spend on my writing. I will do my best to catch you all up to speed!

Last week was our third chicken harvest of the season. While the work is hard and time-consuming, we have dialed in our procedures and have plenty of interested volunteers who help make things go smoothly. Selling birds has never been a problem, and we are always so encouraged by our amazing customers who are committed to supporting us and the way we raise our meat. Where we live there aren’t very many options for pastured, ethically raised meat, and so we have really tapped into a niche. We consider ourselves very fortunate that this is a niche we are extremely passionate about!

In that regard we have started to expand our menagerie, and have added a couple of sheep to our farm. They are Katahdin hair sheep, which means we don’t have to worry about shearing them because they shed their hair like dogs. We have two ewes (Rosemary and Blossom), and a ram (Rambo, aka Beau, aka Cephus…we’re still working on that one!). We hope to buy a few more before the season is over so we can have lambs in time for Easter. The goats continue to alternately entertain and frustrate us with their hilarious antics. The hilarity rapidly turns to irritation when they escape and won’t go back in their pen, or when they completely destroy the nice tarp they had for a roof on their house. With the amount of time Andrew spends wrangling goats, they have yet to be proven as an economically sound investment. They definitely keep us on our toes, and that’s got to be worth something!

The pigs have grown immense in a short amount a time, a function of having free access to high-quality feed. They are such wonderful creatures, and delight in the small pleasures: a fresh bucket of bendy cucumbers, a wheelbarrow of ginormous zucchinis. They come running when I call them while snorting in excitement, much to the delight of visiting customers and friends. Our turkeys are also growing quickly, and while rearing them to this stage has been a difficult and often painful process, I am so incredibly enamored with them. We had many losses when they were just little babies, since they have a habit of smothering each other at night. Now they are out in pens on sawdust, and are eager to get onto pasture where they can eat their fill of greens and grubs. This week we plan on building them a safe brooding house for nighttime, and will set up a netted fence for them to roam within during the day. In the meantime I can often be found clipping clover and dandelion greens for my chirpy little “goobers.”

This season we have added a farmer’s market to the mix, and it’s definitely a unique experience. I had prior “booth” type experience at my last job, but it’s a very different thing to sell produce I grew with my own two hands. Farmer’s markets also attract a wide array of people, and I find myself having really interesting conversations. One thing I’ve noticed is that some people really just love to unload, vent, or otherwise air their dirty laundry onto poor unsuspecting farmers, and I’m starting to feel like a bartender! I know all about certain people’s ailments, car accidents, divorce battles, and the like…it makes me feel grateful for my own joyful life and good health. The best part of the market is getting to know my “regulars,” including a sweet gentleman who calls himself “Orca Man,” pushes his mother’s wheelchair everywhere, and always pays in $100 bills. There’s a guy who always wears a kilt, countless old ladies in elaborate hats and scarves, curious children, and health-conscious gym rats. There’s bicyclists, motorcyclists, home-gardeners, and housewives. In other words, the market is full of diversity and I always come home richer for the experience, even if the cash box doesn’t feel much heavier!

As the season marches on, Andrew and I continue to plot our next move. It’s hard to make plans when so much of what we are doing is tenuous. We’d like to expand our meat operation, but without reliable running water or electricity we are in a tough place. (Side note: Our shallow well ran dry this summer…again! Eric, the landowner, recently had a real well put in, but the water coming out of it is pretty unpleasant). Also since we’re in a flood plain, having breeding stock of certain animals (like pigs) becomes a big challenge. We can’t imagine ever having the funds to buy our own place with adequate acreage, and we have fallen in love with the valley we now call home. Fortunately for us we are adaptable and creative, so I’m confident things will fall into place.

Change is definitely afoot down here at the farm, and you may have noticed some blog changes too. In addition to some layout updates, at the bottom of the page (keep scrolling!) you’ll find links to both our farm website and Agrilicious!, a free service that connects you with local farmers. I anticipate some small financial benefit to adding this link (perhaps an upgraded membership on their website), but I am truly passionate about helping each and every one of you find amazing, local produce. If everyone endeavors to support local agriculture in some small way, we may be able to heal our broken food economy and nurture the land back to health while we’re at it.

Back on the farm the turning seasons are bringing afternoon winds that carry a weight larger than that of Old Man Winter. There’s a stirring in my bones, and a sense that big things are on the horizon for us. I am not sure what these big things are (no Mom, I’m NOT pregnant!!!), but I’ll be sure to keep you appraised as our story unfolds before us.

** Click the link below for a random video of Andrew being interviewed for the news!**

No cock-a-doodle-doo here? County weighs expanding animal nuisance zone


The Best Vacation Ever Part 3: Eastern Australia (Part 1!)

After catching a red-eye flight to Brisbane, Andrew and I picked up a rental car, something we were quite nervous about. Of course we’d been in Australia for two weeks already, and had sort of gotten used to the idea of being in a car on the left side of the road, but actually driving said car was another story. First of all, all of the buttons and gadgets are reversed, so every time we tried to signal we wound up just turning on our wipers. Which is a problem, because in Australia signaling for every little turn or lane change is extremely important. We were on the receiving end of a few angry honks over the course of our trip, although we did do our best to rapidly shut off the wipers (after muttering curses) and flip the right lever in time. The other real challenge to driving on the left is that the driver instinctually veers away from traffic and winds up driving on the shoulder. This is where being a passenger is extremely difficult. I kept yelling at Andrew to “get off the shoulder!” but when I got behind the wheel, I wasn’t any better.  Our goals for driving from the airport to my cousin Cathy’s apartment were simple: 1) don’t get lost, 2) don’t cross a toll road, and 3) don’t drive on the wrong side of the road. As you might expect, we accomplished all three of these mistakes on the short drive over, but sometimes learning things the hard way is the best way. And thankfully no one was injured (except our poor wallet which kept having to shell out for those pesky toll roads!)

Cousin Cathy is awesome. I’ve gotten to “know her” a bit through the magic of facebook, so I knew we’d be friends, but actually being with her in person was like being with a family member I’ve known all my life! She and her boyfriend Lee were very hospitable, and let us loaf on their couch while we were in Brisbane. We arrived in the morning before they left for work, and after a nap we hit the walking trail that follows the Brisbane River. We wound up spending over three hours walking the city, checking out the local scene and cursing at the rental bicycles that require some kind of membership card, stymieing casual tourists like ourselves.  That night we met most of my Australian relatives (being part of the Jewish diaspora has its perks!), as we celebrated cousin Larry’s 23rd birthday at a Nepalese restaurant. Afterwards we hit a few bars that were sort of “American themed” in that they had taxidermy animals only found in the wilds of North America, and country/rockabilly style music was the flavor du jour. It felt a little bit like when we went to an Australian themed bar in Hong Kong: the names of things were right but the vibe was very foreign!

The next day Cathy and Lee took us to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary where we met up with her sister Jen and her hilarious toddler Eric. We roamed around the exhibits, marveling at all of the marsupials. I had a hard time getting it through my skull that there are very few mammals in Australia, so I kept asking “that’s a marsupial too?!?” We fed and petted some kangaroos and wallabies, and we got to watch a couple platypuses swim about. This was especially interesting because they’re only about a foot in length, and totally adorable. For some reason I assumed they were man-sized! Of course the highlight of this trip was getting to hold a fuzzy, sleepy koala while I got my photo taken. According to the collection of photos in the gift shop, I joined the likes of such celebrities as Marilyn Manson, Cher, and Daft Punk, so I know it was a real fair dinkum experience. (That’s also something almost no one really says much, but I think it’s great anyway!)

That night Cathy made us a delicious lamb roast, which is one of the most amazing things about Australia. There, lamb is very commonly consumed (and I love lamb!), and most meats are reasonably priced and raised on pasture. The beef industry is starting to mirror ours however, and the grain-finished feedlot model is sadly catching on. As a side note, as a farmer who raises hens, I know from experience and research that eggs do not need refrigeration in order to stay safe for consumption. The FDA has strict rules in place to reduce any chance of contamination or bacterial growth because of the kinds of conditions most egg laying flocks are maintained in this country. In Australia, unrefrigerated eggs are the norm. Grocery stores just stock them on the shelves, which I found to be very refreshing since most Americans are deathly afraid of leaving eggs out on the counter.

The next morning Andrew and I set off down south to a coastal town called Byron Bay to meet an old friend of mine for lunch. Unfortunately we didn’t know that driving into New South Wales meant a time change (time zones generally don’t shift when you drive south!), so we totally stood my friend and her husband up by mistake. Happily Byron Bay was a quant little town that reminded me very much of Ocean Beach in San Diego, with oodles of young hippie types milling around and lending a very laid-back vibe to the area. We wandered down to the beach and set up our towels to soak up some sun, when all of a sudden a commotion appeared. A semi-circle of people started walking up the beach towards us, and it took me a minute to realize they were following a snake. Now, where I come from the only snakes to worry about have rattles, and I’ve worked in animal sanctuaries and the like for years, so snakes do not bother me one bit. I just watched this horde walk towards me as the snake slithered by, obviously just trying to get under a rock somewhere. He got within two feet of me, and all of a sudden this lady starts yelling at me: “Get AWAY! Get AWAY!!! That’s a BROWN snake! Are you CRAZY!?” The normal thing to do would be to jump up and run after hearing that, but my mind said “what the heck is a brown snake?” and I stayed right where I was. I know enough about snake behavior to know he wasn’t threatened by me, nor was he showing aggression, so I didn’t sweat it. Later on I did some research and learned the “brown snake” is the world’s second most venomous ground snake. I learned an important lesson in that moment: you can’t really be afraid of all of the deadly, poisonous wildlife of Australia if you don’t know what to look for! Next time, I guess I’ll give the snake a wide berth!

Later that day we drove up into the mountains to spend the night at Border Ranges National Park. We found our campsite in the dark, and crawled into our tent to listen to exotic and, at the time, slightly terrifying creatures of the night. Very similar to our night outside of Yellowstone (remember? When the wolves or bears walked by while we were roasting marshmallows?), I laid awake waiting for the tent to get ripped open by claws from the Drop Bear or some deadly creature while Andrew snored merrily away next to me. The next morning we hiked up a small trail that opened with beautiful panoramic views of the mountain ranges, which cemented it as one of my favorite places we visited in Eastern Australia. Especially after later experience and consultation from Cathy revealed the loud noises were likely caused by adorable possums (not to be confused with American opossums…they’re very different, people! Look it up!).

Our Eastern Australian adventures are diverse and plentiful, so I will post a couple more blogs rather than overwhelm you with one giant one. But stay tuned to read about hiking on a dingo-infested island, giant fruit bats, camping in near cyclonic-weather, a rain-forest fail, sea turtle hatchlings, and more! (Sorry for sounding like a commercial! I don’t get paid for this, I swear!)

Tiny House, Giant Life!

The moment you’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived! We are officially living in our “tiny” house, and it’s time for the great reveal! I put “tiny” in quotations because compared to many of the tiny houses that are out there, at 388 sq feet (including the loft) ours is pretty much palatial. We’ve actually been living in it for a few weeks now, but I have been so busy (and the house has been so messy!) that I haven’t had time to sit down to write this until now.

Living in the tiny house is fabulous. I absolutely love it. I love that Andrew and I put our own sweat and blood into every nail, board, and screw. I don’t even care that I have to (temporarily!) climb up a ladder to get into the house, and climb up another ladder to get into the loft. I don’t care that we (temporarily…) don’t have running water and have to use a bucket collection system for dishwashing, haul water from the well for toilet flushing, and shower up at the mill (or in the river when it’s warm!). I don’t even care that we (temporarily?) don’t have our propane-powered refrigerator piped in yet and are using a camping cooler with ice to store our food. And I definitely don’t care that we (temporarily?!?!) don’t have our lights wired to the solar panels yet and are using a gas lantern at night. I don’t care about any of these things because this house feels like home and I sleep better here than I have anywhere before in my life. Some of that has to do with the level of exhaustion I attain before crawling into bed, and some of that has to do with the phenomenal mattress we splurged on (Amerisleep memory foam…so amazing!!). But most of that has to do with how comfortable I am in this space, and how perfect it is for our little family.

The farm is a busy place during the day, with lots of people coming and going for various things. There’s Father Jim and his sidekick Bob, who come tend to a huge plot of potatoes, squash, and beets they are raising for the local food banks. There’s Court, who drives trucks for the mill and comes down often with wood for Andrew or loads of sawdust for the compost heap. There’s people who come to buy hay, and random strangers who see our sign by the road and want to check us out. Neighbors walk their dogs through the farm, the girls from across the street ride their bikes over to laugh at the pigs, and the farm is buzzing with activity from dawn to dusk. But those rare moments when Andrew and I are alone at the farm in our house, listening to the coyotes yip and howl, or waking to the sounds of the Canadian geese flying over; those times are magical and I relish them.

Every morning I wake up before Andrew and start the water boiling on the camp stove for our coffee. I make breakfast, which is almost always 100% gathered from the farm: fresh eggs, potatoes, beets, berries, summer squash, and winter squash have all recently made it onto the menu. After Andrew snoozes a bit I kick him out so he can start the morning animal chores while breakfast is cooking. When he’s done we enjoy breakfast and coffee while the farm comes to life, and when we’re done we step outside and begin our day!

Every day at the farm is different, and I am still learning SO much. Yesterday Eric (the owner) baled up some hay, and with rain on the horizon it was all hands on deck “bucking” the hay onto trailers to get it under cover. I attempted to load a bale or two before I was relegated to driving the truck. While truck driving is not physical labor like bucking, it’s not the easiest thing when you’re navigating hay bales, going slow enough that the buckers can toss their bales up, and trying not to run over the dogs, all in a janky old truck without brakes!

Earlier in the week I was fortunate enough to get to ride in a helicopter with Sarah from next door. Sarah and her husband Bob own “Bob’s Corn” which has a corn maze every year that Bob designs and cuts himself. It’s an amazing feat, and every year they need good aerial photos for their advertising and maps. Sarah and Bob were nice enough to let me go up with Sarah (Bob didn’t seem to enjoy his ride last year!), and I was thrilled to fly over the beautiful Snohomish river and see all the amazing scenery. We flew over various farms, the river, and saw the beautiful cascades in the distance. After taking our photos of the corn maze, we flew down to the river where Andrew and his brother were jumping off the cliff into the water. Our pilot brought the helicopter down low, and then buzzed past the rock just as Andrew jumped off. How cool is that?!

In a couple weeks Andrew and I are heading out into the Nevada desert to check out the Burning Man festival. We are so excited about this, although the thought of leaving the farm for a week is stressful. Fortunately for us Kyle has agreed to stay through the month, and that is a huge relief. Our friends Kevin and Marissa are also going to come up and housesit for a bit, so I know we are leaving the farm in good hands. Until that day comes though, it’s business as usual, chugging along at 10,000 miles per hour, putting out fires, and keeping the farm afloat. Thankfully I know I can rely on my lovely little home (and kick-ass mattress!) to make the end of every day worth the effort.

And So it Begins…

Phew. Phew. Pheeeeeew. We have successfully accomplished three major tasks on our giant season-long “to do” list, and I can now let out three giant whopping sighs of relief. In the past two weeks we slaughtered, processed, and sold 90 chickens for the first time, we had our first CSA box pick up, and have finally moved our cabin into its final resting place. Each of these events provided yours truly with plenty of anxiety, and each one warrants a little attention.

Let’s start with the chickens. We had been raising these chickens from day one knowing we would be slaughtering them ourselves. The idea of slaughtering and processing chickens was not causing me anxiety; in fact I was looking forward to taking part in this ritual so I could better understand what it is I was actually putting into my mouth and body on a regular basis. The logistics of processing 90 chickens in two days, with (on average) three people working, was what worried me. We had to lug in a giant container of potable water since we haven’t had the farm well tested. We had to rent equipment (kill cones, a giant scalder, and a cool contraption that pulls the feathers out). We had to set everything up so we made sure to capture all of the offal for the compost pile, and keep everything sanitary throughout the process. I am happy to report that other than a few hiccups (like over-scalding a few chickens, and Andrew starting a fire), things went really well.

I have to admit that I did not actually kill any chickens. I was going to try, but between the fear I might not do it right the first time, and that I might cut myself in the process, I left it to Andrew. Instead I spent the days slicing into them and scooping out their insides. I am actually quite skilled at this now, and take pride in doing it well. Just like most difficult things in life, once I got good at it I rather started to enjoy it! There is something innately satisfying in preparing nutritious food, and while I get that healthy vibe all day with the veggies, I feel more connected to the great circle of life when I am dealing with a creature I raised for its meat.

Our second great accomplishment was having our first CSA pick up day. If you’re not familiar with a CSA, read my previous post for the run down. Each week our members get a full box of produce, and I think this first week went off quite well! We have been extremely lucky this spring with warm, sunny weather and our vegetables and strawberries are going gangbusters. The boxes were stuffed with gorgeous, bright, colorful vegetables including butterhead lettuce, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, zucchini, strawberries and much more. Throughout the day on Friday our members arrived, many with small children. We chatted, they visited our pigs and goats, and I felt a wonderful connection to this community, despite having only been here for four months.

 Last but certainly not least, we moved our “tiny” house into its permanent location (assuming it doesn’t roll away!). Of course when I say “we” I mean Andrew and Eric moved the house. Four different pieces of heavy machinery were put to work pulling, pushing, angling, adjusting, nudging, and heaving before everything was just right. I didn’t think I would have anxiety about the house moving, but when they actually started to move it my stomach jumped into my throat. There were a few moans and groans from the house and I could just visualize it tumbling down and smashing into pieces, taking Zephyr out for good measure (does that make me a pessimist?). Fortunately Andrew and Eric are extremely capable and creative, and everything went swimmingly, even if it did take three hours!  

I’d like to report that now we can relax a little and enjoy the fruits of our labor, but you know better than that. We’re farmers! We have to make sure we have delicious boxes ready every week until November 1st. We still have to finish working on the house so we can actually live in it, although I feel confident things will start moving along rapidly now that we can see how amazing our views will be. In the meantime you will find me huffing along with my fingers in the dirt, pausing now and again to squint up at the sky and wonder when the rain will come so I don’t have to drag sprinkler hoses around the whole farm. Can you believe this Cali girl just said that? Washington has certainly gotten itself underneath my fingernails, and I like that just fine.