Saturday, February 18, 2012

Parsley, Poitier, and Cosmo Magazine

Temptation can come in many forms. Sometimes it strikes from nowhere…and makes itself too hilarious not to write about. Recently, tucked in under our down comforter I broke that heavy silence that precedes the first moments of dropping off to sleep. Turning over, I inhaled, stared up at the darkness and spoke:
“Shane…are you awake?” I took the garumphled response for consciousness. “Will you submit to a photo shoot for me?” Despite his drowsiness, I was unable to secure full commitment. “What are you talking about? What’s up?” came the careful answer. “Well….Cosmopolitan Magazine just emailed and they’re looking for the hottest bachelors of America…and made it quite clear that they’ve been known to find many successful candidates across the states in Agriculture. They sent application forms and waivers and everything in attachments…it’d be good publicity for the farm.” A modicum of grown man giggling ensued, but in the end the disappointing response was “I’m not a bachelor”. I figured we could work on that…once they saw Farmer Shane’s formidable and disarming grin they’d realize what they were missing and include the married men too….in the end, we reasoned that without the farmer tan you work up in the summer months, it wouldn’t be our best season to be photographed.
I suspect it is more than belt buckles, bronzed biceps and pectorals bursting and busting over-all straps that make farming and ranching men desirable to the folks at Cosmo magazine. It’s grit. The first test of Farmer grit comes in February, right around Valentine’s Day, when we all sheepishly make our first forays into a love note for our spring veggie acreage in the form of seeded Parsley flats. Nothing tests the faith like Parsley. It can take 3 weeks for the little buggers to germinate. 3 weeks of staring at a row of bare flats underneath lights in your kitchen. 3 weeks of wondering if this whole transplanting thing is even going to work. 3 weeks musing on how your whole living starts in the bleak middle of the second month of the year in your cramped kitchen, where you gesture weakly to the rigged up shelving and lights, and explain that this is your germination room, come March they all move out to the greenhouse. Besides the fall manuring of the field, this is your first overtly agricultural act for the new season and it can be knee-knocking stuff. There’s that first whiff of the potting mix. You can’t keep the kids away from the tub of “mud”, and the scent of it knocks everybody back a year into a bucket-load of nostalgia.
We use a soil block maker from England. It’s a clever little tool that makes for sandbox sessions for the adult farmer, as he forms the blocks to fill the flats to receive the seed. Soil blocks make for better root structure in our transplants, as there are no “pot bound” circling of root systems. The roots air prune as they reach the edge of the blocks…but they can dry out easily, and with a woodstove nearby it requires daily vigilance to make sure the blocks are kept moist. With these newly seeded flats we enter the arena of hyper-hovering parents-of-the-plants-hood. I suspect it is this ever present knowledge that your entire growing season is riding on these little blocks, and their baby plant success that keeps the the CSA farmer’s square jaw set and his eyes steeled, with a heart thumping combination of resignation, determination, faith, and “whew.” This “still waters run deep” kind of man receives emails from Cosmo from time to time because pulling one’s own weight is…attractive.
In his career as a Hollywood actor, Sidney Poitier made a habit of playing men who pulled their own weight, and who, sometimes painfully, remained true to their own ideals of manhood and worth. In fact he only ever broke into the bigger pictures by the help of a big agent who “had to manage him” when he had turned down a $750/ week role because the character he was asked to play didn’t stand up for himself, and let other people fight his own battles. He didn’t want to even appear as such a character. He wrote, in his autobiography, that his was because of the ethic of manhood he received from his father, both in advice and example, and in the fortitude and perseverance of his mother as well.
“When my mother sent me for water, which had to be drawn a long way from the house, it was because she needed to cook with it and to wash our pots with it. If I had said, “Nah I don’t feel like it,” I know what the result would have been, If my mother hadn’t kicked my ass, my brother would have kicked my ass. My brother would have said, “Are you crazy? Grab that pot over there and get that water!” That was the ritual. That was the way it worked…..What I’m saying is that by having very little, I had it good. Children need a sense of pulling their own weight, of contributing to the family in some way, and some sense of the families’ interdependences.”
Sidney Poitier describes his parent’s finding fulfillment in performing the daily duties of life on their farm, the tending of the fire, the baking of the bread, the collection of large rocks and pounding of each and every one of them into a pile of gravel to sell to the gravel man for extra cash, describes the comfort they took in all of this not because of some lean pride which egged them on, or the hope of better things to come by their efforts…but because of the genuine solid and lasting satisfaction that comes with being true to your commitments.
The emptying of a flimsy seed packet into a flat of soil blocks. That’s commitment. From that first moment of putting the little seed in contact with the moist soil we commit ourselves to its feeding, watering, temperature control, to its transplanting and weeding, harvesting. To the waiting that precedes its germination, to the packing of it into our member’s boxes. But more radically than that, we are committing our future to the hope we have for these little seeds. We are committing our daily bread, and water, and shelter, and clothing, to the promise contained in these bitty seeds. And this isn't lone midwestern"pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps." This is commitment to each other as a family, to our members, and beautifully, our members to us. At times it seems stutteringly crazy. Always it requires some measure of jaw setting grit. So begin the CSA days of starting her up again, letting her go, hanging on for dear life, and... trying to look pretty while doing it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Pastured Meat

It's only February, but our pastured Pork, Lamb, and Broilers are already proving rather in demand for the 2012 season. If you are interested in supporting our small, sustainable, and delightful efforts in grass-farming sign up early for one of our meatshares. Info about ordering a broiler share, lamb share, and Hogs to your right, on the sidebar of this website.

All of our sheep, chickens, and hogs are raised with passion, care, and the way they were meant to be raised: on grass. You're welcome to visit any-time to chat with and check up on them!

The Pioneer Homesteader

Yes. Lust is a sin. But we are shamelessly desirous of this new all-in-one implement from Pioneer. We drool over the intuitive design and ease of use that this tool exemplifies. The people at Pioneer are continuosly innovating for the draft farmer. Thought of the day: The use of tractors on the farm is a relatively new that is already showing signs of cracking. Draft-Power allows a sustainable solution to the problem of fuel. Farm generated power means Freedom, Integrity, and just plain Beauty.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Animal Farm

Light has a way of transfixing me. Especially that soft morning or evening light, when it is spilling onto the floor through a bathroom or bedroom window. Many times the sight of it filtered through lace curtains has stopped me dead in my tracks for moments on end absolutely still, enjoying the sight of it, purely for its own sake. I’ll usually come to in a few moments wondering how and why on earth I was caught in such an “unproductive” stupor, but go on to the day’s tasks with a kind of twinkling contentment at having been somewhere marvelous.
Working with animals often has that same effect. There are millions of good practical reasons to farm with animals. On-farm generated fertility. Better management of the farm’s whole eco-system. A safe source for meat, dairy, and eggs for your family and shareholders. Closer connection to the needs of the land, the pasture, the woodlands, the fields. A more human pace. But these pragmatic concerns are all beautifully buttered with the solid gold fact that it’s just plain good for its own sake, working with animals. There is a contentment and partnership akin to a choreographed pas de deux that is present between farmer and livestock. By choreographed I mean worked at order. And the reward is very often just as much in the work as in the final performance.
The goats, sheep, horses, chickens, rabbits, hogs, cats, and baby chicks on this farm day in day out require of us to continually fine tune our efforts here for their sakes, and the sake of the land they are here to help us cultivate. Very often they push us to our physical limits, and in so doing, reveal our true capacities to ourselves. Recently, faced with the daunting task of moving hundreds of hay bales from one end of the barn to another to make room for a winter nights/kidding quarters we were erecting for the very pregnant mama dairy does, I could feel my body rebel with ferocious sloth, brought on by one to many planning sessions and one too many Christmas cookies sitting by a cozy fire. But there is never any question when it comes to our livestock’s needs. If they need it we make it happen. Pure and simple. “She’s not heavy, she’s my goat” and many other variations, often apply.
It is rare, but sometimes the demands of our animals make for sticky situations. Two weeks ago we were all 4 flat out with stomach flu. At the same time. Dragging a bale of hay or carrying buckets of water out to the pasture with a stomach out to sea is miserable stuff. You feel all the helpless puny-ness of the human condition, without the epic poet present to immortalize your noble struggles. But most dangerously, it meant we weren’t able to work the horses for a little over a week. It’s been said before, and I’ll say it again. Your team is only as good as you work you do with them. The more you work them, the better they get. The more you work them the better you get. Or to quote the Small Farmer’s journal: “The more I work the horses the less I know and the easier it gets.” Ray Drongesen 1974
So, needless to say, the first time we hitched up after our “sick leave” the girls were a bit…rusty. They were also a bit…juiced. Their supply of grass hay had run out and the day before we were forced to feed them some of the alfalfa mixed bales that we keep for the goats. These two factors alone would have been enough to make for a bumpy ride, but add to them a bus coming out of the neighbor’s driveway as a sudden greeting is shouted, and we had a full-blown runaway on our hands. Not two nights before I had read Shane Stephen Leslie’s harrowing account of a near-death runaway on his farm, in which a woman’s two ankles were broken in multiple places after the team plowed into her pulling their stone sled behind them. After reading it we had counted ourselves fortunate to have such a steady pair in Maj and Marta, and with considerable diligence to have made such a seamless transition from teamless to working safely with our fjords with very few mishaps. As I watched as they suddenly shot forward toward the fence line I marveled at the strange combination of control and chaos. It seemed as though Shane, riding the sled with a lowered stance like a snowboarder calmly going about the most insane ride of his life, was simply waiting for the right moment to definitively stop them…they careened to the right, veering along the fence line and just as they came up to the driveway Shane leapt off and leaned back with his whole body and calmly said “WOA” and they stopped on a dime. They had bolted for a good 60 feet. Riotous, kicking, racing, runaway. And just like that it was over.
I ran over to where they stood panting “that….that was a runaway! That was a runaway!” The power of it, the unexpectedness of it, the helplessness I felt as it happened, the danger of it slowing seeping into me as I said it. Shane nodded. “I prepare for one every time I take the reins into my hands” he said soberly.
Maj and Marta, the sheep, the goats, the hens, the hogs, they are not slaves on this farm. They fulfill a vital role in the responsible stewardship of these 25 gorgeous acres. They do this by being the ruminants, omnivores, herbivores they are. As often as we harness their individual excellences we serve them as well…and part of the partnership that occurs between the farmer and his team is acknowledging that they are also unique beings, capable of independent action. Given regular care, work, and feed cooperation is to be expected…but it is acknowledged that the very powers that give us bounty can often bring with them risk as well.
That is in a nutshell what farming is. Perhaps that’s why Wendell Berry commenting on the Agrarian mind says it is one which "begins with the love of fields and... leads him ultimately to gratitude to God." The amount of risk the farmer juggles is massive when it comes to livestock, birthing, weather, and infestations, it throws him upon the breaker of a hope that there is something, after all, eternally constant in and out of this Universe. There is so much at stake, and so much to go amiss, many times there is only a thin thread of trust in God to keep him sane. This is why community supported agriculture is a thing of pure beauty. It breaks down the wall between farmers and families, a wall which insulates and anesthetizes people from the hard and soft realities of agriculture, the strains and blisses of a responsible food system, a wall which also alienates the farmer from the needed support of his surrounding community. For some people, it is a richer experience to put a face to their food, to know their farmer. As farmers, for us it works the same way. I cannot tell you how much of a difference it makes to be growing not Sun Gold tomatoes, Antohi Romanian Peppers, and Walla Walla sweet onions…but to be growing salsa for Greg and Jen, stir-fry for the Johnson family, pasta sauce for the Bices. For us, that has made the difference between a daily obligation to pay the rent and working till the sun goes down and seeding flats in the kitchen at night with a smile on our faces and deep satisfaction beneath our hearts. Seems the best things in life…are just putting in the work.