Baby Talk

It’s been a long while since I’ve updated this here blog! Every time I let so much time slip I become anxious about getting back into it. It’s hard to decide how much to include in each blog, what is worth writing about, or what you all will find interesting. This year is turning out to be especially hard to blog about, because lots of really big things are happening! So I sit here looking at a (mostly) blank “page” on the screen and don’t know where to begin.

I guess the biggest news (so far) for those of you who haven’t heard yet, is that we are expecting our first child this summer. Late July to be exact. Which is absolutely the WORST time for farmers to be having a baby, but sometimes these things can’t be helped. I have spent the last few months marveling at how different my body is becoming, and how much it affects my day to day. And the baby isn’t even here yet (although it’s currently kicking me, trying to tell me otherwise). Other than increased fatigue, little things like my abs stretching out and becoming weak are affecting my ability to lift buckets of chicken feed or haul water. Andrew is pulling far more than his share of the weight around here these days, and I’m more than a little nervous about what the looks like as the season progresses, our responsibilities on the farm grow, and then this baby appears!

Fortunately we are friends with a wonderful couple (who are also new parents), who have quit their corporate jobs and want to try their hand at farming. Sounds familiar! We are currently scheming up ways for them to help us out this season so we can have some relief and they can gain some skills. I’m sure having babies together at the farm will be a nice bonus as well! Oh, and for those of you who are wondering, we are not finding out the sex of the baby before it is born. I recently told that to a farmer acquaintance and she said, “Oh, not finding out is the new thing!” Of course my smartass response was, “Uh, actually, it’s the OLD thing” hah. We’ve only had the technology to learn the baby’s sex before birth for about 40 years. It seems to us there are so few surprises in life (although we’ve certainly had our fair share!), and we’re willing to wait to learn all about our little one after he or she enters this world. So stay tuned for that big reveal!

In other news, Andrew and I were lucky enough to escape to Costa Rica back in January. It seems like ages ago. The ten lovely days we spent in the tropics were rejuvenating, but this long, wet Pacific Northwest winter continues to drag on. We have lots of new projects coming up at the farm, including building new portable chicken pens that will improve quality of life for our meat chickens (as well as ourselves!). We were awarded a grant to build these new pens and are excited about the change. We have also had many new goat and lamb babes born this season, our first piglets of the year made an appearance, we will soon have meat chicks in the brooder, and they will be followed quickly by the turkey poults.

Finally I need to mention that my wonderful grandmother passed away last month. I have written about her many times in the blog; she and I were close and I miss her. Fortunately she lived to be 93, and passed away peacefully in her bed after a few months of slipping away. I mentioned in my last post that I got to visit her before her mind was completely taken from her. I was able to tell her I was pregnant, and suddenly she knew exactly who I was and what I was telling her. She was so happy for me, and it was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears on the spot. I’m sad that our child won’t get to meet my grandmother, or his/her own grandmother Nancy. Yet bringing new life into this world as other life departs is a powerful reminder of my own humanity and mortality, and brings to light the important role we each play in the continuity of this wonderful world.

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A Season of Growth

Two years ago Andrew and I were wed in a campground in Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. We did not know what our future looked like, but it involved togetherness: on that front we were certain. A few months after we married I lost my job and we decided to travel across the US, exploring the great outdoors as we went. That trip was what started this blog, so I could share our experiences with friends and family (and for posterity, since I have a horrible memory). After our trip ended we decided to find fulfilling work outdoors, away from office cubicles and fluorescent lights. We landed on a farm in Snohomish, Washington, and after a (mostly!) successful season of farming I am happy to announce we have started our own business!

Obviously this has been quite a remarkable two years. What started out as an exciting adventure has become more than a job, it is a way of life. I have developed into someone I might not have recognized just a few years back. Or rather I have nurtured those parts of myself that were submerged, struggling under the overwhelming influence of commercialism. I shopped too much, I bought expensive makeup, I flittered my money away on things in an attempt to fulfill myself. I know it’s a cheesy troupe, but indeed it seems true that you can’t buy happiness. If I extrapolate my experience onto our society at large, I sense a great emptiness that we are trying to fill with junk. I suspect the lack of interpersonal connections that comes from cubicle culture and digital communication share some of the blame.

In this day, electronic gadgets are more highly valued than healthy foods, which of course I notice much more now that I am growing said food. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1950 a whopping 29.7% of total expenditures was on food. In 2012 this number landed at 12.8%. Of course there are many complicated factors which go into a statistic like this, but I have no doubt that the availability of cheaply made, mass-manufactured “food” products and the prevalence of cheap, unethically raised meats, eggs, and dairy are a huge part of the equation. People now balk at spending considerable money on food, although to my mind what could be more important than that which nourishes you and keeps you healthy? If we spent more money on nutritious vegetables, I bet we’d spend less on those ubiquitous pills!

In any case, where I once felt a need to acquire, I now put off going to the store and spending time and money when I could be/should be out weeding my beets. And maybe that’s really the crux of it after all: maybe when you’re farming (or otherwise working with your hands), you’re so busy and you get so tired from working hard that you just don’t have the time or energy for consumerism. It also doesn’t hurt that I have very little occasion to wear nice things. Either way, it’s a good thing because at this point I wouldn’t have the funds to support my old habits anyway! At the end of the day I feel more fulfilled than ever before, and I think a big part of it comes from living more in the moment, being outside in nature every day, and (honestly!) not having a television.

Okay I realize most people check in here to read about life on the farm, not about my personal hippie revelations, so let’s get back to it! This spring we had NINE new baby goats come into this world. We had two sets of twins and a set of triplets all born within a few days of one another in early March. And then a month later…my little darling Gretchen kidded a set of twins too! Her twins are special: not only are they like my grandkids (heh!) they’re genetically unique. They are 75% Kiko and 25% Boer, and because of this they look different too. The little girl is all white with one brown spot near her ear, and her bigger brother is all brown with a little white patch on his forehead. They are extremely adorable and love to be scratched, just like their momma. Gretchen is a great mom too, which is a relief since this was her first time kidding.

With spring came the rains, or rather, the rains stayed, and we had the wettest March on record with 6.65” of precipitation. This was about double the average, and boy did we feel it. The farm developed a few new “lakes” in some of the pastures, and our road was impassable for a couple of days. We were anxious to work the ground, but when nature has other plans, on the farm you must be patient. Now we’re well into April and the weather is doing the fun Washington spring thing, where one day it’s so sunny and warm you’re in a tank top and the next day there is a hailstorm. Thankfully we have had plenty of time to get things growing, and we’ve got quite a variety of plants in the ground and in the greenhouse.

Which brings me to our new business! This year we have decided (with the help of Eric, the owner of Chinook Farms) to develop our own company: Bright Ide Acres! We are doing basically the same things as last season, but in a larger capacity and with more independence. Our CSA membership will be capped at around 40 boxes, and we will be attending a Sunday farmer’s market in Snohomish. We also expanded our animal operation significantly. Our animal counts for the season (not including goats) will be: 20 pigs, 600 broilers, and 100 turkeys! We still have a relatively small egg laying flock, which is unfortunate because demand is outpacing supply. In other words, things are going great for us and we’re actually expecting to make minimum wage this season. Hooray! You can visit our farm website here: www.brightideacres.com. I have a mini farm blog there too, but if you want a good fix of farm photos you should like our page on facebook: www.facebook.com/brightideacres. I’m obsessive about taking and posting farm photos, especially this time of year when all the animals are young and adorable.

That’s been our spring, in a nutshell. We are chugging away, getting things ready for the crazy, busy year ahead. Farming can be fairly stressful at times, and I often have anxiety about the upcoming season. But in those moments I take a deep breath, sniff a calming blend of essential oils I keep handy, and stick my nose back in those beets. When things get overwhelming, there is no better way to come back to the moment at hand than by sticking your fingers (and toes!) in the dirt for a while.

Staycation on the Farm

You’re probably thinking this is going to be the fun Burning Man blog where I post a bunch of crazy pictures of semi-nude people having a blast in the desert. That is what I was hoping to blog about, but unfortunately we never made it to Burning Man. This one major thing really got in the way of our summer vacation plans. Namely: FARM. Yeah, that thing. Farmers really don’t get to go on vacations in the summer, and while we were “authorized” to take the time off, it just wasn’t possible to get everything in order so that we could leave in time. So, instead we stayed and worked on the farm, and enjoyed some quality time with friends and family who have been visiting us at the farm throughout the past month. Not exactly the wild, carefree, art-filled party I was looking forward to, but seriously who am I to complain? My whole life (other than all the back-breaking work), seems like one great vacation to most people!

Things on the farm are chugging along, but at a much less frenetic pace than before. The weeds, while still growing every day, are slowing down and we are having an easier time keeping ahead. While we have had to supplement our boxes with some produce from our neighbor (we learned the lesson of regular successional plantings the hard way!), our boxes have been full of healthy, high-quality, delicious organic veg and I am very proud of all we have accomplished. The pigs are growing bigger and bigger every day, and I get immense joy out of watching them frolic in the mud, grunting all the while in pure porcine delight.  The turkeys now have extra space to run about, and crack me up every time they gobble in unison at the sound of tractor engines and Andrew’s singing.

Of course as the animals grow, they come ever closer to serving their ultimate purpose: food. Last week I witnessed my first cow slaughter, and I was truly humbled by the process. The people who came out to do the slaughter were amazing: the cow was killed instantly and painlessly, and the carcass was broken down into halves within 30 minutes. At that time we had an 8-month old whether (little boy goat) with a broken leg that wouldn’t heal, despite our efforts to splint it. We asked the butchers to process our goat, and they were kind enough to oblige. On one hand it was difficult to observe the death of this creature that I had interacted with daily for months. On the other hand I felt really connected to the process of food production. The goat curry that Andrew cooked that week was phenomenal; even more so because we knew how healthy the meat was and how comfortable the life of the goat had been.

In other news, we now have a deck for the tiny house, and the electrical is now completely set up so I can actually charge my phone in an outlet (at least when the sun is out!).  Things are starting to get more and more home-like, although we still don’t have a shower or a flushing toilet. While the weather remains mostly warm and summery, we have had a few severe storms that serve as a nagging reminder of the impending winter. The long sunlight hours were short-lived and I miss them already. The sunflowers are starting to die, and I know the grey will move in permanently before I’m ready (will I ever be ready?). Thankfully we are planning an Australian get-away for a big chunk of winter, so we’ll get to have that summer vacation we missed in this hemisphere. In the meantime we continue to fill our CSA boxes every week, find some time to play, nourish the animals that will nourish us in kind, and thank our lucky stars for this crazy, wonderful life we have managed to cobble together.

Tipsy Pigs, Goat Pee, and New Friends

There’s a great line in Downton Abbey where the whole family is sitting around the dinning table chatting and someone mentioned something about traveling on the weekends.  The old rich matriarch, played by Maggie Smith, gets a befuddled look and interrupts with, “What is a week end?” I can relate to the question, although my slant is different. While the Dowager Countess has never worked a day in her life, and therefore cannot fathom why someone should recognize the end of the week, we consider ourselves lucky when we get a few hours off on Sunday to go fishing or visit with Andrew’s family.

To be clear, this is a self-imposed work schedule. There is always so much work to do, and we get antsy if we feel like we’re missing a good weather window for farm work. We also feel like we should be working on the house whenever possible, although we’re still miles away from moving in. We decided to camp out in the house last weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful memory foam mattress that normally sits up in the loft taunting me. It was a beautiful, clear, peaceful night and I swiftly fell asleep cradled by foam and serenaded by owls. Obviously now we now even more anxious to get moved in, and it’s especially difficult to go bed every night on our lumpy, uncomfortable futon!

So while we don’t take much time away from the farm, as I sit here writing this Andrew is on his way up into the mountains for a quick rock climbing trip with a couple of fellas. Side note: whenever I open my laptop I find Andrew’s open windows that he forgets to close and they always make me chuckle. Today’s gems are two Wikipedia pages about “Petrodollar warfare” and “Military-industrial complex.” What a cutie! While he’s gone I plan on getting some weeding done at the farm, and trying to clean up our apartment so that he can come mess it up again with all his climbing gear when he gets home.

We’ve had a few fun animal developments at the farm these past weeks. The goats are stubborn as always, and while I generally enjoy their company, my boot was recently peed on by Laney (the most stubborn of the bunch) and then cut myself on barbed wire while untangling another goat. Meanwhile our turkeys outgrew their brooder boxes and were dying for some fresh air, so Andrew constructed a turkey aviary on skids so that we can move them to fresh grass every week. All 25 turkeys are happy and healthy, and I adore the strange little alien chirping, whirring, and clicking noises they make all day.

The pigs are growing with astonishing speed, with the lone exception of “Tiny” who seems to be stuck as a rather petite pig. I can relate to being the little “squirt” of the bunch, but as far as bacon and ham go we would really prefer she put on some weight! In order to add protein to their diet we worked out an arrangement with a local distillery (skiprockdistillers.com). They buy grain from the farm for some of the liquors, and now they are giving us the “spent” grain after they have sucked the sugar (which turns into alcohol) out of it. What’s left is almost pure protein sludge, and we’ve been adding it to the pigs’ grain for some added punch. The remnants of alcohol don’t seem to bother them either, and they romp and frolic all morning under the sprinkler when the weather is hot.

The other good news is that we have started making friends with our farmer neighbors. Andrew thrives on his alone time, but I have what he dubbed “twin syndrome” in that I recharge best when I spend quality social time with good people.  I guess he has a point; when you’ve shared the womb with someone you’re probably most comfortable in the presence of others. On the 4th of July we were invited to a BBQ at the farm next door called Bob’s Corn, which apparently a huge institution around here come October. Bob, his wife Sarah, and their five girls are a hoot, and come around often on a golf cart to chat and watch the pigs play. I’m alternately excited to see what their farm looks like in October, and terrified for the crowds that will descend into our peaceful little corner for the corn maze, pumpkin patch, and bonfires that go until midnight!

Next to Bob’s is another small CSA-based farm that is managed by a nice guy named Vince, and he invited us to his house to meet his wife Anna and watch fireworks. We sat in lawn chairs in their backyard chatting while people all across the valley spent thousands of hard earned dollars on glorified dynamite (which, by the way, has been making Zephyr a basket case all week!). As the air turned crisp and the sky darkened, I sipped on some hard apple cider and tried not to think about the early morning of harvesting that awaited. Sometimes a little fatigue is worth the delight of making new friends, and while my body may be dragging my spirits are miles high (at least until a goat pisses on me again).

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.