Sunday, September 12, 2021

Thank you for a wonderful 2021 Growing Season!

Harvest and Delivery Day on Little Flower Farm

2021 LFF Floral Designer

Winter Squash Harvest for Box #16

Onion Quality Controller

Will, our intern from Los Angeles, CA

Having fun with "Tomato Tumors"

Melon Crew. Clothes Optional.

Thanks for a Great 2021 Season Everybody!


Why our CSA members didn't get very many Cherry Tomatoes this year

Tomato Midges. Often elusive and hard to contain. Seldom photographed in action. Till now.


Bury me Beneath the Apple Tree

Queenie and the girls count sheep on a Driftless farm circa 2013
 Apple season stirs up memories for us every year.

The best dog that ever lived is buried beneath our old apple tree-the one with the hollow hiding hole in its trunk.  7 years ago, we had a team of hot Belgian mares that needed a job to do. We loaned them to an Amish neighbor with 30 acres of corn to cultivate. While helping the mares settle in the barn at his farm, our girls became enamored of a thick little Blue Heeler cross.

She was old, her “motherness” hanging low beneath her belly and swinging side to side. Though she was too old to keep up with the other dogs, and though the new pups on the block made her life one of nips and annoyance, the farmer kept her on because of her faithful loyalty. “She was with my father in the field the day he died in the accident. I can’t hitch up without her watching over things.” Seeing how taken the girls were with her, he lifted the dog into our truck. “She’s yours if you’ll take her. I figure she’ll have more peace with your girls than with our pups.” That’s how Queenie came to stay.

Haymaking, summer of 2013
Every time Shane hitched up our Norwegian Fjords to make hay or bring a tank of water down to the lower 20 to the sheep, she’d give a little bark of bossiness and sit in front of the team mesmerizing them, daring them to move even one inch while leather and clasps and snaps and pins were put into service and all was made ready for the chore of the day. When he’d take the reins in hand, she’d leap up onto the fore-cart to ride shotgun all afternoon.

When we moved to our current farm, Queenie spent the winter asleep by the woodstove, sniffling and wheezing while she dreamed and sighed over her younger days as a dog in the Driftless region of Southwestern Wisconsin.

That summer she fell off the fore cart while Shane was raking hay 2 miles away. She got caught up in the windrow tumbling as Shane pulled the team up and looked down at her in fear. She was fine, but he had to deny her the pleasure of accompanying him to the hay field from then on. He would lock her in the barn and whisper “I know, I know, girl, but it’s for your own good!” One day she broke out, and ran the 2 miles across HI way 95 to the hay field she had only visited once by truck. When Shane saw her, he shouted “great heart cannot be denied!” and lifted her up into his lap as he finished the season’s hay-making.

Cider Making Day 2021

She had all the feel of a great lady with a wealth of experience unknown to us. One day there was a commotion in the barnyard, and the girls came running in to tell us they had spotted what they thought was a Racoon under the woodpile. On our farm the coons are grain thieves and chicken snatchers, and so this news was met with the pull of a trigger. When Queenie heard the shot, she rocketed around the corner, out of nowhere, like a bullet, and dove under the wood-pile snout first. Out she came, backing out with an impressive display of feigned savagery shaking a woodchuck from side to side as it thumped, lifeless, against her solid body. It was like watching your great grandmother leap into the air and karate chop a shop lifter before stabbing him with a knitting needle. “Whoa Queenie! You have some pretty impressive hidden talents!” we exclaimed.

The day we were told by the vet that she had sepsis and was actively dying, we took her home top out her down ourselves. As Shane went in for his .22, Queenie died in my arms. She was too good a dog to make him waste a bullet on her. We were humbled by the seeming perfection of her life, the example of her quiet loyalty, the charm of her presence on our farm. Soon after, Maj, our older mare, passed away of old age. No doubt she felt, with Queenie her taskmaster gone, she now had permission to do so. It was the end of an era for us.

When we buried her beneath the apple tree we said, “Every autumn, when the apples are ripe, when the season draws to a close, we’ll remember her. Some things are too good to last on this poor earth.”

Harvest Season

When the pandemic first hit, our local grocery and big box stores ran low on meat. Interestingly, the local butchers’ shops did not. It got us thinking again of the fragility of our food chain, and the ridiculousness of our dependence on stores for our meat-even as our underutilized fields went to burdock and other overgrown weeds. While folks were stocking up on flour and toilet paper, we headed out to the local dairy farm to buy a couple of steer calves to fatten.

At last harvest day arrived, and with it we received a primer on rural life partnerships. Watching the custom slaughter team at work, I had the impression that if companies, law-makers, and heads of state attended such slaughter appointments (as seminars) like the one that transpired on our farm last week, they’d find themselves better equipped at their jobs after witnessing such ha master class in cooperation and team work.

Gerald arrived with a posse. He’s 63 and has been doing this since he was 10 years old on his parents’ farm, when his dad called to him and said: “Grab Grandpa’s gun. You’re doing your first steer today.” Back then they processed 350 hogs each year, stem to stern. Now he does the same number of hogs per year, and 7,000-9,000 steers when he’s not busy manufacturing the machines that make the 1090 masks for 3M.

He never misses. Takes careful aim with a .22 to stun them, and then quickly he and his assistant Jeremiah, a taxidermist by trade, quickly move in to slit their throats and bleed them out, massaging the blood out a they move aside for Vang and Vaduun. Vang and Vaduun are a quick moving mother and son team of gleaners. They follow Gerald in their pick-up. In back are buckets and pots and pans of all shapes and sizes. They grab a saucepan and catch the steer’s blood before much of it has had time to bless the earth. Shuttling pots full back and forth to a bucket, they amass 5-10 gallons of blood to take home for sausage making. I am glad to see nothing wasted, and am impressed with Vang’s treasure trove of traditional knowledge. My ignorance is expensive, as I am parting with many organs for free- a de facto tithe to this Hmong family. “How do you know how to cook all this?” I ask her, as she sits on an overturned bucket and deftly removes the tongue. “I have always known how. My mother taught me long time ago.” She and Vaduun help skin the steers, they remove the spleen, heart, liver, intestinal lining…all of it goes into a bucket. Vaduun readies Gerald’s tripod. He and his mother seem to magically make the whole process quicker, smoother. It is no wonder Gerald invited them along. His fee is the same to us whether it takes 30 min. or 3 hrs. Each steer takes about 20 minutes.

Just as the 1st is hooked between the tendons at the hock, and ratcheted up in the air using the tripod, a 3rd truck rolls up with a plastic sheet in the back. This fellow will load the steers and take them to the butchers immediately to hang in a cool room for 1-2 weeks. Gerald pauses to share his recipe for Ox-Tail stew. He presses the tail meat upon us insisting it is the best part of the animal. Also, the heart, cut pup, pan-fried and combined in a casserole w/ potatoes and cream of mushroom soup. “Bake it in the oven until it’s tender.” He groans with gastronomical delight. “We grew up on that stuff. Nothing better.”

Vaduun holds various organs out to me for photographing, tickled by my enthusiasm and promise to make him famous in a magazine article. Rosie (age 2) had been watching since the skinning commenced. She is quiet and sober, but not disturbed. I tell her they are becoming meat. Loss is the sewn-on shadow of living. We won’t just go forward with the anticipation of hamburgers or the happy memories of seeing them graze the 2021 summer’s grass. We’ll go forward with the loss of their good company too. You can’t shirk pain.

“Yeah, we get tailed by PETA people sometimes,” Gerald says to me as I watch Vang skillfully trim the gall bladder she will be using. “They say they’d like to see me out of business.” He shakes his head. My shampoo bottle has a PETA approved label on it. I wonder how we’re helping animals with all our plastic bottles of shampoo, our carefully packaged artfully designed vegan products which continue to perpetuate our distance from our food’s origins. Watching this very skilled Hmong woman I am painfully aware of how wasteful our habits of consumerism are. It is on display before my very eyes. It seems obvious that folks raising their own backyard meat, or guys like Gerald doing home slaughter, which reduces the stress of transport and delays and co-confinement for the animals, these are not the problem. Pushing food production out of sight and out of mind for reasons of profit and ease, that’s the problem. The scene before me is raw, but I find myself eager to participate more in it, indeed it begins to feel strange that I’ve hired someone else to do this for me. I think that’s a step towards normal. As the harvest continues our gratitude and appreciation for these animals grow. I find myself wondering what the PETA people would say about the Native peoples’ hunting and gathering. It seems to me suddenly obvious that the poverty our modern world suffers with fractured families and weak community ties has pushed us away from the traditions that still live on in communities like Vann and Vaduun’s. The day is a reminder of the wealth rural living brings.

How is it that something as gritty and utilitarian as the steer’s slaughter day has my heart singing with hope? Gerald got $85.00, Jeremiah got the hides, Vang got the organ meat, Vaduun got famous, and we got a chest freezer filled to the brim with beef…and this story.