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

 

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The Golden Hour

There is a time of day I like to call the “Golden Hour.” I started noticing it a month or so ago, when the weather shifted towards winter and the trumpeter swans began flying low overhead.  Just before sunset, (at 4:15!), on days when the sun is shining and the frost lingers in the shadowy areas, the light hits the trees across the river and a brilliant golden glow radiates. Golden Hour is actually a misnomer, because the moment is brief; maybe five minutes lapse before the sun’s rays weaken and twilight sets in, turning everything to muted shades of grey. But in that short time I look around, take a deep breath, and absorb the last gasp of energy from the sun while I can. This is a moment that I believe only happens in climates where the seasons are distinct and change rapidly. I have seen it before, while going to school in Ohio or when I lived in the Eastern Sierras of California, but here on the farm it is different. Maybe it’s because I’m outside most of the time it occurs, but I think it is because I am in tune with my environment like never before. I can feel the seasons switching over, and the Golden Hour is like a beautiful warning. Take heed: winter is coming.

I suppose, (since everyone keeps telling me), that we have been lucky with weather this year. Having never lived in the Pacific Northwest I have to take their word for it. Though the mercury has dropped dramatically, with night temperatures in the twenties this week, the sun has made frequent appearances. Don’t get me wrong; there have been some blustery, grey, misty, and torrential days. But they are mixed in with marvelously clear, cold, brilliant days where the snow-capped peaks in the distance pull my gaze, reminding me of their quiet splendor.

Tuesday was one of those days, and it also happened to be the day we slaughtered our five pigs. I was worried most about this day, despite having witnessed the slaughter of cows, and having taken part in the slaughter of chickens and turkeys. We raised the pigs from little weaners, and they were an integral part of our life on the farm. Daily they frolicked, squealed, played, ate, scratched, escaped, ate, grew, nuzzled, snorted, ate, ate, and ate some more. I was worried that I had become too emotionally invested in the pigs, (I did name them after all), but throughout the process I understood that the pigs had gone from friend to food in the most humane way, and I now feel a sense of peace about the totality of the process. It doesn’t hurt that as pigs get older and bigger they get a lot less cute and cuddly! It also doesn’t hurt that I watched the birthing of a calf after all the pigs were slaughtered. In death there is life and in life there is death, and to me this is the essence of farming.

Last week we spent Thanksgiving with my father and stepmother in Sacramento. We took a road trip down there, and brought with us the dog, fresh eggs, a sack full of potatoes, and one half of a 30lb turkey. We have been eating our own chickens and beef since the spring and so I am used to the tangible difference between fresh, naturally raised meat and the kind you buy shrink-wrapped at Safeway.  Even with elevated expectations, this turkey blew my mind. The juice, flavor, texture…it was absurdly divine. If you have access to a nearby farm that produces Thanksgiving turkeys, I urge you to take advantage. Sure, you pay a lot more than you would for a Butterball, but you really are buying a different product. That’s true for all sustainably-raised meat, but if you consider it a splurge, do yourself a favor and splurge on the turkey!

In addition to our Thanksgiving getaway, I have recently traveled away from the farm quite a bit. My mom came in from Australia and I spent time with her and my brother and sister-in-law in Seattle. Then I flew to Portland, Maine with my mom and spent time with my sister, her husband and some more of my extended family. I had a great time visiting with everyone, and relished the easy access to a hot shower. I found myself getting “comfortable” living the city life to which I was formerly accustomed. I worried that it would be a hard transition back to farm living, that the cold would get to me and I would regret our lack of running water and dependable electricity. Fortunately coming back to Andrew’s warm arms made all of my doubts fall away, and I am happy to be back in my little house, sitting in the glow of the lantern as the fire rumbles nearby. As long as the Golden Hour keeps the “Big Wet” at bay, you won’t find me complaining!

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).