All About Community

There is so much to tell you, friends! I could write paragraphs about the crazy, bewildering, exhausting, frenzied, super-charged, awesome weekends spent working at Bob’s Corn in October. I could write about how much we accomplished these past weeks (more chickens were harvested, some turkeys were dispatched, we completed our CSA season, built a new goat shelter, survived a massive windstorm, huddled around the woodstove, tromped around in pig muck, etc etc). But what I’d really like to write about today is community. Now that our harvest season has ended, I want to take some time to reflect on the role our members played and how their encouragement and support made our first farming foray such a tremendous experience.

Every week for 21 weeks, the same 26 families stopped by the farm to pick up produce. Slowly but surely we learned everyone’s names, met their children, chatted about the weather. As the weeks progressed we picked up on members’ personalities, hobbies, professional interests. We traded recipe ideas, asked for advice on where to eat, play, hike in the area, and got more and more comfortable with our new friends. Two new babies were born during the season. Many of our families brought their kids to the farm so they could feed the pigs, pet the goats, have picnics, and enjoy their farm. This was more than just a weekly service. The farm is a community space, and having an authentic connection to the people I fed nourished me emotionally.

As the season progressed so did the relationships. One of our members gave us probably ten different homemade jams to try, along with cookies and treats for Zephyr. Another member brought us homemade granola. She always set aside a couple bags, one for her kids, and one for us. We received an offer to borrow kayaks, made a new fishing buddy (who always gives us new poles and bait to play with), and attended a member’s dinner party. I started reading a couple of blogs written by a few moms who are members, and they started reading mine. One of our members frequently travels to Afghanistan for work, and recently she returned with a gorgeous pashmina for me and a warm scarf for Andrew.  Another couple gave us a card with the cost of admission to a local Native American heritage museum and an invitation to have dinner with them. We have received offers of warm showers and laundry room use. One of our members is a pilot, and has promised to take me flying over the Cascades. Another member gave us some (very!) constructive criticism, and she was so worried about hurting my feelings that she was in tears (which brought me to tears) and afterwards we hugged each other tight.

These are not experiences I could have had working in an office. I miss the daily interactions with coworkers who became dear friends, but the weekly interactions with my new community eased my anxiety about living in a new place, doing something so new, fumbling my way through this farming adventure. We asked our members to complete a survey for us so that we can improve for the next season. Many people had ideas for growth, and we know that we have much to learn about how to produce the best crops possible. But over and over again we received high marks and comments about our customer service, friendliness, and personalities. This farm isn’t just a business; it is a lifestyle, a place for connection to the earth, food, and people. In other words, this is my community, and I am so grateful to have found it.

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Well Hello Winter, Where Did You Come From?

Apparently when the seasons change in the Pacific Northwest, they change fast. A couple days ago I was pulling weeds in a tank top and shading my eyes from the glaring sun. Today I sit here typing this (as I wait for members to pick up boxes), and I’m wearing full on winter regalia. Or at least winter regalia as it was known to my former SoCal self.  This “brisk” autumn day reminds of me of deep December in San Diego. I knew that I would be in for it after complaining about the copious sunshine this summer, but I didn’t think late September would bring winter already! My new life as a farmer has made me more aware of the seasons than ever before. Obviously seasons matter greatly for the plants (soil temperature, daylight hours, heat units…all things I’m struggling to learn about!), but just being outside every single day has made me so much more in tune to the environment around me.

I have noticed a real change in wildlife, especially the birds. Early in the spring we had daily sightings of bald eagles, to the point that I was almost unimpressed with the one that flew over my head with a fish. Then we had gaggles of Canadian geese honking as they landed in the nearby cornfield. For a few weeks we had hundreds of barn swallows trying to make nests in really inconvenient places, like our awnings and storage spaces. Nowadays I don’t see or hear much from our feathered friends, except of course for Homer and Marge, the homing pigeons that still visit daily for their grain smorgasbord. The rabbit population has dropped dramatically, much to Zephyr’s dismay. The coyotes are seemingly more active, vocal, and closer in range as the days get shorter. I only hope there are enough rabbits to keep them occupied and away from our chickens throughout the winter.

October is gearing up to be a crazy place around here, thanks to our great neighbors at Bob’s Corn. They have everything all decked out and ready for the hoards that descend for the corn maze, pumpkin patch, squash harvest, hot cider donuts, roasted sweet corn, BBQ, etc. etc, ad infinitum. Of course all of that people-wrangling involves lots of employees, so Andrew and I have signed on to manage a hay wagon Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. Our first shift was this weekend, and it was a cold, wet, windy mess. We had a great time ushering the few diehard corn maze trompers back and forth on the hay wagon, and we sipped hot cider while drying off in the country store every hour or so. The Bob’s Corn Crew is a lively, ragtag bunch and we are excited to spend some more time getting to know everyone. Not to mention we are earning a little extra spending money for our Australian excursion!

The change in season also marks the beginning of the end for our CSA. We have five short weeks left for box pick-up, and we are both sad and relieved that the end is in sight. It has been a tremendous learning experience for us both, and our newfound knowledge will surely make next year even more successful. On the other hand, we are feeling pretty fatigued and more than a little burnt out from the nonstop pace. The slow winter days with minimal chores will be a relief, and our trip to Australia is shining like a beacon on the other end of that grey, wet, cold tunnel ahead. Maybe instead of pining away for the summer that seemingly vanished just like that, I will greet the coming fall and winter with open arms, ready for what new adventures await. Now if only we had a hot shower hooked up!

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.

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.

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).