Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding and Farming

Prince William and Catherine Middleton were married today amid much Pomp & Splendor at Westminster Abbey.
This morning, leaving my muck boots at the door I

followed the events transpiring halfway across the world online from the comfort of my own dining room.I listened with great amusement as Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters fell all over themselves in their commentary, tossing off comments like "oh! We voted all this out hundreds of years ago when we declined to make George Washington King." and "Look how orderly the crowd is!". There was this enormous desire to distance themselves from all the aristocratic "to do" of the day, and yet gawk in embarrassed admiration and self deprecation from "across the pond". Royal carriages, dukedoms, mounted guards, quails eggs with celery salt, and formal ceremony seem so distant from the American mindset, and certainly from the pasture studded with cow pies. But today they remind us that all that is in the past is not antiquated...but valuable. Valuable in that they remind us of our human dignity and courtesy. Important because the past has the most to teach us.

As Farmers we are constantly learning that modern science is helpful largely because it is constantly providing us with the reasons why the old ways of our Great Grandfathers worked in the fields and in the barn. In Britain there has been a longstanding tradition of embracing manure in cottage gardens and on small holdings. They have long viewed the vegetable garden as going hand in hand with the livestock production on a farm...and a return to this holistic approach is needed desperately in our American agriculture.

The hedegrows of the U.K. countryside were part of a natural approach to the cultivation of the land...utilizing natural native resources for fencing is both sustainable and enduring.

This is an approach which views one's farm as part of a generational experience, to last for one's children and grandchildren, as they weave their own work into the upkeep of the hedge.

"Once the hedge is established, it is there, if you take care of it, for centuries."

John Seymour "The Self Sufficient Life and How to Live it"

It is this talk of "centuries" that is the language of the farmer. Generations and Traditions, Feasts, and Ceremony. He builds up his herds for future generations. He plants trees for his Grandchildren to climb, and windbreaks for his children's gardens and crops. He views his own plot of land not as his own, but as part of a community, with responsibilities towards it's future tenants.

At Eden farm, Farmer Nate is making plans to make use of the regions native mulberry trees, by coppicing woodlots and harvesting the new shoots that grow from each bole. Using native growing shrubs as hedges to from windbreaks for the CSA garden is part of the long term plan for the burgeoning farmstead.

I remember reading in an Architectural journal about how the American tradition of lawns unbroken by fences or stonewalls was part of an early reaction against the distinctly British cottage gardens of "the mother country". We have spent the better part of 250 years distancing ourselves from afternoon teas, curtsies, and white gloves.

But the American Dream has never escaped the notion that each man's home is his Kingdom. And without this farm- as- one entity notion of agriculture our modern production model falls flat.
So at dawn this morning, as the Little Flower Farm guard of the Royal Plumed Roosters made their morning salutes,

I tied a white ribbon to the teapot, whipped up some chocolate scones (a nod to Prince William's reported preference for chocolate cake...) and fixed a Royal Wedding Day Farm breakfast. While the newly named Duke and Duchess of Cambridge feasted on cornish crab salad on lemon blini, roulade of Goat's cheese with caramelized walnuts, and a wedding cake that has been 5 weeks in the making resplendent with 900 sugar paste flowers, we toasted their good health with a nice hot pot of tea, scones, and scrambled eggs laid by our fine laying ladies. A most stately Rhode Island Red Rooster attended on the balcony rail just outside the window, sporting a brilliant red comb and dramatically festive wattles. He trumpeted his Congratulations for all the world to hear all during this most auspicious and ceremonial feast.

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

The Bishop of London, quoting Catherine of Sienna, today during his Royal Nuptials' sermon

Royal Wedding Chocolate Scones

*2 1/4 C all-purpose flour

*3 Tbsp cocoa powder

* 1/2 C sugar

*1,1/2 tsp baking powder

*1/2 tsp baking soda

*1/4 tsp salt

*10 Tbsp butter cut into small pieces

*1 C semisweet chocolate pieces

*1 large whole egg, plus one egg yolk

*1/2 C plus 2 Tbsp heavy cream

Line baking sheet with parchment, set aside. Combine dry ingredients. Cut in cold butter and mix in the chocolate. Obtain a specially laid royal egg from a Free-range thoroughly pampered hen. Wisk the egg and 1/2 C plus 1 Tbsp cream together. Make sure your cream is from a jersey cow that has spent the morning grazing to an orchestral version of "Hail Britannia". Mix the wet and dry ingredients together gently, and pat into a rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Cut scones into 10 rectangles. Refrigerate for 1 hour on parchment lined sheet. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, brush tops of scones with egg yolk and 1 tbsp cream mixture. Sprinkle with sugar and bake for 25 to 30 minutes while you brew a pot of tea. Absolutely Ripping!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Worth a Thousand Words

Last season photographer Mitchell Stier
captured images of Little Flower Farm's delivery day:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter!

“Spring bursts to-day, For Christ is risen and all the earth's at play.”
Christina Rossetti

Good Fences

"He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors?

Isn't it Where there are cows? "
Robert Frost's "Mending Wall"
Moving an entire farm in February has its disadvantages. Having to leave 3 acres of fencing frozen solid in the ground chief among them. Greeting your new neighborhood with 7 pregnant sheep, 2 rams, a flock of laying hens, 15 guinea hens, and two dairy goats with no accompanying perimeter fence lies somewhere between Errol Flynn bravado/optimism and Daffy Duck lunacy. Thanks to Spring thaw, the fencing has been retrieved and

We are progressing with our attempt at show-stopping grass farming.

Not so long ago I had no idea what hay was made of.

I could not conceive of asking any farmer to answer the question for me either.

Ignorant as I was of this "wonder crop" I understood somehow that the answer was so obvious that to ask would be pretty much as embarrassing as losing my drawers on the side of the interstate.

When I realized that hay was, um, grass...the world began to look very different to me.

Everywhere I looked I saw meat, milk, and cheese. Medians were food, yards were food, huge expanses of landscaping surrounding churches: food. Suddenly the very idea of a lawnmower seemed insane to me. Why not sheep? rabbits? goats? a cow? Even geese and chickens eat grass for a good portion of their diet...

"Statistics claim that there are thirty million acres of lawns in the United States, not counting the miles and miles of roadsides that the highway department mows and the miles of county roadsides that rural lawn fanatics keep as trim as newly shorn ewes. By mowing lawns, says research from the University of Sweden, we burn up eight hundred million gallons of fuel. That's over $1.2 billion dollars at today's prices. For this our soldiers die in Iraq.

If homeowners added white clover to their lawns, which some do, I presume well-fertilized, herbicided, watered, and otherwise coddled grass would produce about eight tons of dry forage per acre per year, because that's what good farmland can do. That would man that some 240 million tons of what could be good hay are not being produced. Multiplication yields some stunning milk or meat production figures. And remember that "hay" in the form of grass clippings is now going to landfills or composting facilities at colossal expense."

Gene Logsdon "All Flesh is Grass"

The most unexpectedly beautiful thing about grass farming is the usual accompanying existence of a decent fence. Good grass farming involves livestock...and livestock involves fencing. I say beautiful because a fence marks a speck of land out as something special, reserved, sacred...I also say it because of the magic that occurs when a fence is up.

Neighbors you haven't met yet stop by...

"Hi there! I've been meaning to stop by for weeks now..."

there's a nice good lean on the fence by both parties on either side..

"I see you have some laying hens...what kind are they?"

"Are you the folks doing the farm shares?"
"I grew up on a dairy farm...."
and then there's an appreciative gaze over the ewes and their new lambs...

Far from proclaiming to all the world to stay off this property, a fence tells neighbors just how far they can mosey on up, while still remaining on their own terms...a fence is something to lean on, to chat by, to peer through. Cattle panel after cattle panel surrounds our grand experiment in the cultivation of the most ubiquitous perennial, and cornerstone of our entire farm: good grass.

"Nothing builds soil like perennials. Nothing destroys soil like tillage." Joel Salatin

More than this...there is an investment here that goes beyond good returns in beef, lamb, pork, and poultry. It goes even beyond the investment in good top soil, and natural pollinators. It is an investment in beauty. Yes indeed folks, Soul Food. The corner of County Line Rd. and MacClain is now dotted with sheep, goats, and a jersey cow. It is rushing headlong into a bucolic cliche complete with blossoming clover, busy bees, and fat Spring lambs. Its a corner of the world devoted to the promotion of slowing down...feasting the eyes...a place where practicality meets whimsy in a kind of agricultural visual poem.
"We must view ourselves as earth stewards, not cattle farmers, grain farmers or vegetable producers." Joel Salatin

As Midwesterners we are often uncomfortable with actions that are not pragmatic. We often meet romantic notions and ideals with a kind of "meat and potatoes" skepticism....Yet we are inconsistent when we do not view our lawns as food!

Reconciling our secret Charlotte Bronte-esque longings for Romance and the idyllic English countryside with our Midwestern eye to the bottom line is possible with a good fence, good grass, and livestock.

"The earth's grasslands, building literally feet of soil over many centuries, need to work their wonder on your farm and mine. Putting grass on a pedestal, and in fact using it as a focal point of our agricultural enterprise, can help ensure long-term productivity, profitability, and distinctiveness."
Joel Salatin

Friday, April 15, 2011

Holy Week Pretzels

"Some sources suggest that pretzels' history may date back to 610 A.D. when a monk in a monastery kitchen in southern Europe created them with leftover bread dough. He twisted the ends around to resemble arms folded over the chest in prayer. He called them pretiola, meaning little reward, and gave them to the village children who learned their prayers well"

-From Alisa Crawford's article Pretzels, Eggs & Hot Cross Buns: Finding Meaning in Lenten Foods which appeared in the Feb/March issue of West Michigan's Food For Thought Magazine

Wendy's (Ridiculously Delicious) Pretzels

makes 8 pretzels...easily doubled and tripled.

* 1,1/4 C warm water

* 1 T + 1/4t yeast

*3 3/4 C all-purpose flour

*3/4 C + 2T powdered sugar (magic ingredient!)

*1 1/2 t salt

*2 t vegetable oil

*1/4 C melted butter

kosher salt

Bath: 4 C warm water + 1 1/4 C baking soda

1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a small bowl or cup. Let sit for a few minutes.

2.Combine flour, powered sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.

3. Add water with yeast and vegetable oil. Stir with a spoon then use hands to form into a ball. Knead the dough for 5 minutes on a lightly floured surface. Place dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover, store in a warm place for about 45 minutes or until dough rises till doubled.

4. When the dough has risend preheat oven to 425 degrees.

5.Make a bath for the pretzels by combining the baking soda with the warm water and stir until baking soda is mostly dissolved.

6. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 8 even portions. Roll each portion on a flat non-floured surface until it is about 3 ft. long. Pick up both ends of the dough and give it a little spin so the middle of the dough spins around once. Lay the dough down with teh loop nearest to you. Fold the ends down toward you and pinch to attach them to the bottom of the loop. The twist should be in the middle.

7.Holding the pinched ends, dip each pretzel into the bath solution. Put each pretzel on a paper towel for a moment to blot the excess liquid. Arrange the pretzels on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray (or buttered) If you want salt, sprinkle pretzels with kosher salt. Do not salt any pretzels you plan to coat with cinnamon sugar.

8.Bake pretzels for 4 minuetes and then spin the pan around and bake for another 4-5 minutes until golden brown.

9. Remove from pan and let cool for a couple minutes. They are incredible when warm! If eating them right away, brush with melted butter!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Meet the Girls!

"Daisy" the resident jersey at little flower farm... "If one has a cow, one has everything" -William Cobbett Dr. Schmiedicke's Theology of Cows: "When I was teaching at university and we were discussing ancient cultures, some of my students thought it ludicrous that ancient peoples worshipped cows. I responded by saying that there certainly was something amiss in their thinking, but that I thought the ancients were in some ways closer to the truth than we were. We pay homage to things that we ourselves have created, they to things they did not create. Imagine, an animal that is not only strong and beautiful, but that takes some of the most useless matter (grass) and effortlessly converts it into some of the best matter--milk cream butter, cheese, etc. The effect seems to far out-weigh the cause. It seems like your are getting something from nothing. There is something a little godlike about a cow. Ultimately it is all about security and goodness. We moderns worship stuff that WE created that gives us security and good things -- Insurance policies, cars, hi-tech phones, etc. They worshipped something they did not create, but which just seemed a gratuitous goodness--a superabundance not explicable by anything we can control or understand. "Ellie", the Dairy Queen of Eden Farm The family cow is the foundation of the family farm economy, taking grass and turning it into all sorts of goodness that can be shared not only by the family, but also by the other livestock on the farm. After the family has all they need for milk, cream can be used for butter (and icecream). Buttermilk and whey from cheesmaking can be fed to pigs and chickens. Even those lovely cow-pies are good for fertilizes. Joel Salatin and others have observed how in nature, birds follow after herds of wild cattle, pecking through the dung for bugs and scratching and spreading it around, thus increasing the fertility of the land. So the ancients took the cow, which they did not create, a little too seriously, just as we moderns tend to take too seriously our own gods which we have created. The mean between these extremes is the family cow. She is cared for, caressed, and loved, but she is not worshipped. She is a source of goodness...but receives goodness from the family as well. She is what she is, not a goddess, but a delightful addition to the family." "But there is no cow more tractable, or indeed lovable, than the little Jersey, and if you want a friend as well as a milk supply, I strongly recommend her" John Seymour, The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It. When you have a cow you find yourself doing all sorts of strange things... you stand, draped over your lovely jersey crooning "cow talk"... you down pints of heavy cream, diets be darned... find yourself making plans for another cow...and more cows after that...and more and more and more... start wondering if maybe, after all she could stay in the spare room in the house... you make plans for icecream breakfast, lunches, and dinners... take any opportunity to go mill around the barn and stare into those lovely deep brown eyes, and be nuzzled with that big schloppy wet nose... When you have a cow, you have contentment. Deep down you know that whether the world end in fire or will meet it with your arm around a big warm comforting bovine...and in the other hand, a chunk of glorious cheese.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Planting Out

"The Amish farmer says his own labor is part of his profit, not part of his costs." Gene Logsdon "Green Fields, Red Ink" 1986 The Farmer needs the dirt as much as the dirt needs him. These are the windy new days of Spring. Exhileration and trepidation meet in the breaking of new ground. Will the seedlings do well here? Will they take? There is a good grubby-ness to the dirt beneath the fingers. Mothers pause before asking children to wash away this proof of noble bouts in the field... How many winter evenings by the fire have been spent planning and pointing toward this day! There is a cozy familiarity the farmer now has with his boots. Every time he slips into them, to check on the ewes, or water the seedlings, or transplant the's like coming home. As if he's at sea when he's not in his boots. We are all acquainting ourselves with the rythmn of the work now on the farm. The new strawberry plants are in, the onion sets and starts have been planted, the early broccoli and cauliflower and lettuces are now in, ribbons of potatoes have been mounded over...and where once there was just a wasteland of sandy soil...a garden is in its infancy. "Sustainable farms are to today's headlong rush toward global destruction what the monastaries were to the Dark Ages: places to preserve human skills and crafts until some semblance of common sense and common purpose returns to the public mind." Gene Logsdon, Intro to "Living at Nature's Pace"

The First Lamb of Spring!

Jamaica gave birth to Jericho Tuesday night.

It is a wonder how such a little bitty thing can push himself up onto such legs!

Once Mama had him licked clean his fleece was all curly and warm...

This birth answered for us, relatively new shepherds, when to intervene and when not.

If the lamb isn't nursing within 30 is needed. The lamb's ability to process colostrom (so vital for a thriving baby!) decreases significantly within the first 16 hours of life.

Jericho needed some assistance latching on...but after that...his corkscrewing tail told all!

Little Lamb, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?

Gave thee life, & bid thee feed

By the stream & o'er the mead;

Gave thee clothing of delight;

Softest clothing, wooly, bright;

Gave thee such a tender voice,

Making all the vales rejoice?

Little Lamb, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?

W. Blake

Monday, April 4, 2011

Early April is when you do a lot of scrutinizing of those buds on those trees...and peering down at the dirt...and visiting the greenhouse. In a greenhouse it's always Spring-even if Mother Nature dumped a little last hurrah snowfall on you just when you were planning on planting out your brassicas. The greenhouse is where you go for hope therapy.

"April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain."

T. S. Eliot: The Waste Land.

We spent the day potting up some lovely heirloom peppers...stalling them hopefully until May when we can get them in the ground. The last round of tomatoes for our CSA gets seeded's going to be a delicious summer.

"In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours." Mark Twain

Special thanks to our volunteers! The best thing about Community Supported Agriculture is that there is always something for everybody to do. And it usually involves dirt. So old and new friends stop by, and sooner or later
everyone is up to their elbows in dirt having a jolly good time chattering away and getting loads of work done without marking it. Our CSA veggie garden will be one gigantic patchwork quilt with the words "Many hands make light work!" stitched out in cabbages, carrots, and tomatoes.

"April prepares her green traffic light and the world thinks Go"

-Christopher Morley

Happy April! CSA Farm Shares still available. Email for application and info!

"Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush" Doug Larson

Bread, Jazz, and Tradition

When Rosemary Clooney belts out "BLUES IN THE NIGHT" bread dough behaves.

It is most often 11:00 p.m. on the farm when we settle in for some bread making. Farmer Shane goes out to stoke up the fire in the greenhouse, and I turn on whatever Jazz is to hand.

Then begins the preparations for tomorrow's crusty loaves for sandwiches and scones for breakfast.

Somehow it is the only music that suits at that hour.

The snare drum and yeast must be distant cousins...they get on like a house on fire.

“Blues is to jazz what yeast is to bread. Without it, it's flat.”

Carmen McRae, Jazz vocalist and pianist. (1920-1994)

These late night rituals are a participation in multiple traditions.

It goes without saying that breadmaking is an old art...

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”Robert Browning (1812-1889)

I think, wherever they are now, all of our great grandmothers must be pleased when we make our own forays into the world of crust and crumb. We are carrying a torch of tradition when we pummel our doughs with might and main upon the kitchen counter.

"Now the rain's a-fallin, hear the train a-callin HOOOOO-EEEEEE!"lyrics from Blues in the Night by Arlen and Mercer

My own grandma was a singer in a trio not so long ago. She was a bombshell blonde with chesty voice that could melt butter...(and my Grandpa's heart.) We're talking glimmering matching evening gowns, a record contract, and that

bold brassy sound that gets you up out of your chair and dancing around your kitchen. So when I'm adding water to flour and yeast and salt, and crooning along with Rosemary I am being enfolded into layer upon layer of family tradition, both culinary and musical.

In the morning I greet my girls with soft bread spread thick with jam or clasping wedges of cheese...warm with the memory of duets sung with those who have gone before me.
"[Breadbaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells...there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread."M. F. K. Fisher, ‘The Art of Eating’

"my Mama done told me...when I was in pigtails....Uhhhummmmm" Blues in the Night

Friday, April 1, 2011

Maple Sugaring

"See that bank of trees on the horizon? See that pink haze? All those tiny little buds....means the sap won't be flowing for much longer..."

Uncle Jerry has a kind of rogue-ish charm. Not 5 minutes after we had all arrived on his farm to help with some sap collecting and he had all the kids clustered around him and his petrified turtle and frozen solid snake. If St. Nicholas was a pirate who turned farmer and moved to Amish country Michigan...he'd be Uncle Jerry's identical twin brother.

A gentle sense of enchantment steals over you when you enter a wood entirely comprised of Maples in various stages of life. It's a sea of silver stalks dotted with hundreds of pails and buckets. We emptied out the sap into big buckets, leaving a wake of "Plinking" and "Plonking" behind us as the sap continued to drip into their newly emptied pails.

Uncle Jerry has managed these trees for decades...a true tree farmer in every sense of the word...boiling hundreds of gallons of sap every hour and churning out his fine E. Dover Maple Syrup.

After the sap is collected into buckets it is poured into a large tank pulled through the silver woods by two fine Percherons along a muddy twisting trail, which in turn is pumped into a tank...then it is back to the boiling room where a monstrous Willy Wonka looking machine boils the sap down to syrup. The air in this room is filled with steam and the sweet scent of maple sugar, and standing in front of the wood fueled boiler feels like entering a Maple sauna.

It is farmers like these...harnassing the natural life-blood of the trees...scratching their initials out on their small acreages in scrawl of corn, and apples, and wheat...these farmers inspire in the rest of us a desire for a dusting off of old cider that our children may watch the gears and wheels turn and hummm, and swell with swigs of homemade cider and the satisfaction that comes with putting up enough food and drink for long Winters...they inspire in us a love for traditional arts of cultivation at slower paces...and as farmers like these grow older the land they have so long tended grows younger...there are saplings in those silver woods...and one day soon they will need tapping too.

Do not stand by as small farms dissapear. Take your child to a local farm. Plant a seed. It will grow.

"The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses." Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder)