We are are amazed at the support for our loan already! We are less than 48 hours into our effort and not only are we already public, (we needed 20 lenders to get onto the full site) but we are also 40% funded. It is a humbling experience to ask for help, particularly to grow your business. But we also feel so much better about this route, funded by real live people who believe in us. It is quite remarkable. We only have a little over a month to completely fund the loan, so we hope folks will keep sharing our story and contributing if they are able.
We are preparing to go into our biggest year of production to date, and need to get our poultry processing set up in tip-top shape. Now that we have a permanent spot- it's time to build a facility that can help us produce poultry in the way we believe in at a quantity that will keep the farm solvent. Right now, using NYS regulations, we can process up to a number of poultry without a state inspection. Of course, we still use all of the same safetly and health procedures, we just don't have to have a formalized license from NYS to do what we do. But this also means we can't sell our chickens in stores or restaurants in the same way as larger producers- and we certainly can't grow the amount of chickens and turkeys we need to keep the farm afloat. And, because we can't grow the number of poultry we would like to, we can't afford to buy the equipment that would make processing easier. It's a vicious cycle. It's also a big reason why we've run of our poultry for the winter, and are no longer at your favorite markets. There are operations near by that we could ship poultry now that we have moved, but previously it was at least 2.5 hours to the nearest facility- which did not get in line with our ethical considerations for meat production and just wasn't practical. It's substantially more expensive to pay someone to process your poultry then to do it yourselves, and didn't make sense given our land size, staffing capability etc. We've always planned that when we had a permanent location we would put in a NYS inspected facility that would allow us to sell more wholesale, provide rabbit at farmer's markets, and generally- just make life a little easier. With new equipment we can triple the amount of chickens we can process in the same amount of time- leaving more time for us to spend tending the livestock and doing the rest of the farm work (oh, and writing a blog post or two!). It's not a luxury for a business of our size, it's a necessity- it will keep our farm able to produce poultry for the foreseeable future. Plus, it will give us a really nice space to train great staff to help us process poultry, and will solve many of our turkey processing woes (frozen hoses, improper scalding water temps etc). If you asked me to choose between keeping our tractor or getting this facility done- I would choose the facility hands down- that's how important it is. As we made some mention of in previous posts, our move into the farm was quite disastrous. On November 1st, 2014 we took over the new place, with the amount of glee and excitement you may have come to expect. Mary and Josh brought their first load of belongings that first weekend, and we met them up here with a load of farm equipment. We celebrated with cupcakes and looked around at the potential of what was to come. Unfortunately, that was the least stressful moment we would have clear until after Thanksgiving. It was a downward spiral of mishaps. The electricity here started failing immediately, and we were having problems with the main well as a result. We had all kinds of minor projects to take care of, and realized that there were a bunch of unexpected repairs even to get appliances into Mary and Josh's kitchen. Meanwhile, the farm was still in full swing back in Copake, with a herd of turkeys to usher to the table- and a huge move to organize. I was driving up to the new farm a minimum of three times a week (2 hours each way), after finishing work in Copake- staying up at all hours working with Josh trying to get the house habitable, and then driving back in the wee hours of the morning to get home in time to get the livestock chores done. Kim was frantically trying to help me keep up at home, go to her full time job--we were both trying to pack--and things just were not falling into place here. Mary and Josh were spending time here, but having to patch-work sleep at their old apartment because the house just wasn't functional. Josh nearly froze on a ladder one night, as we finally discovered we had lost an entire 1/2 of the power to the house and we tried to repair a corroded coupling in failing sunlight. We did fix it, finally. The damage was done though. The electrical issues ruined our main well pump, and we ended up having to re-plumb the house to the farm production well- which is rather fragrant with sulfur. As a hilarious side note, the sulfur well water was recently described by the offspring of a friend as smelling like "spicy farts" as he washed his hands. That may be an understatement- but it's certainly better than not having a back-up well to use. We persevered, and the physical moving of the farm was equally as challenging- but a story for another day. Someday, we'll look back and laugh. And of course, it was a bad month- but just a month in what we hope will be years of good times. Still, the sheer amount of repairs ate up most of our winter reserves and we still have a main well that needs a major overhaul.
We've decided that it's time to ask for help. We are using the amazing Kiva loan program- which is like crowd-funding- only it's crowd lending! We are hoping to borrow enough funds to cover the cost of our well repair (we need both wells to keep the farm running) and get our poultry operation set up. In order for us to qualify for their wide community of lenders and reach out goal- we need to get 20 people from our community to lend us at least $5. Once we hit that mark, we will be able to be public on Kiva- and hit a much bigger pool of lenders other than the people we know. So if you like what we do, and you would buy us a cup of coffee- consider following the link provided below and lending us at least $5. AND- as a bonus- if you're new to Kiva (and we think many of you are), Kiva will match your loan amount!! So if you loan us $5- it's really $10 to us! We only have 15 days to get 20 people to lend. If you can loan us more (and don't forget, we will be paying you back over the term of the loan) please consider doing so. Programs like this take all of the power out of big banks and put them back in the hands of all of us, as community members. We know there are a lot of you out there who have supported us from the very beginning, and we can't thank you enough. This really is the precipice of success for us - we are consumed with getting this farm into shape so we can grow, long term. We want to be able to provide our wonderful customers with the delicious meat we grow- for many years to come. We also want to grow enough product that it will be a little easier for us to keep up with the demand. We're not becoming a huge business, just keeping the 48.5 acres we are now tending in production, as a small but sturdy little farm. Want to help us? You can first check out the full details of our Kiva Zip Loan HERE. Then, to be come a Kiva lender, you can follow these instructions:
(2) Select the amount you would like to lend in the panel on the right-hand side
(3) Click the orange "Lend Now" button
(4) Click the white "Register" button
(6) Click the orange "Register" button
(7) You should be redirected back to your checkout basket. Confirm the amount and click "Checkout"
(8) Choose to "Pay with your PayPal account" or "Pay with a debit or credit card"
(9) Fill out your payment information and click the orange "Pay" at the bottom of the page
We know times are tight, so if you can't swing it- we hope that you will consider sharing the link at least with folks you know. The more this is shared, the quicker we can get this little farm fixed and at full running speed!
This is one of the hardest things for non-farm folks to understand. I could not possibly love the animals we work with more. I love when they are babies, and helpless. I love making sure they are warm enough, have enough to eat, and are dry and safe. I, just like the non-farming world, have my cold and cynical heart melted at their downy-baby softness and utter adorableness in all shapes and sizes of every critter here. I love palm-sized bunnies, tiny hooves on goats, fluffy chicks. I show no shame in my delights.
And then, when it's time, I also have no problem when they become food. How could that be?
Firstly, it is my job. My job is to shepherd the lives of these animals in a responsible way, guide them to appropriate size and health so that myself, my family and my customers can eat well. I believe in pastured meats, I believe in the environmental sustainability of using livestock to care for land. I think it is healthy to consume, in moderation, animal protein that was raised responsibly. Research is coming in droves that when done properly, livestock farming is an asset to the environment, not a detriment. But that is a much, much longer conversation then I want to address here.
So, so many times people have said something along the lines of, "But, don't you feel sad? Isn't it disgusting? Or horrible?" No. It is not. It is not sad, because the animals only live on our farm with the understanding that they have a purpose here. They are fulfilling their role in our ecosystem. And they have lived a life full of comfort and kindness. They have been treated with honor, because we love them so much. We do not take their sacrifice lightly, nor our responsibility to them. It's not disgusting, because even though making meat is hard, there is beauty in the gritty little details.The circle of life is not disgusting- it's real. It's visceral. And it's messy. But what is not both visceral and messy in this human life?
Ours is work that gives you so much more respect for your plate. I'm not sad when a live animal becomes our next meal, I am appreciative and solemn. It's serious business, but just as their livest were dependent on us, our lives are dependent on them- in income and in nutrition.
If you have spent your life just buying something on the shelf, prepackaged, it must be strange to consider how that package came to be. But, for me, I need to look at it from start to finish. I need to know that everything was done to care for this package, before it was a package.
I'm not afraid to love the animals, or to name them. I'm not sad when they go away. I'm proud of the life we have given them, and of the way that then meat is made. It's that love that makes the work we do possible for me. If I didn't feel so passionately, I couldn't get out of bed to face the mountain of work that is farming. I couldn't haul one more bucket with frozen eyelashes- I couldn't spend hours lifting 50lb shovels of shit. Livestock are not pets, but they are integral to the fabric of our lives. I set my schedule around their needs, get up early, work long hours, and worry in the middle of the night when there are storms or a temperature change. I fret constantly, I'll be a gray old man sooner than later because we tend livestock. And then, there is the sweet release. Those hours, the gentle hands, the broken fences, the bruises and aches disappear when we sitting together over a well cooked meal or handing a share to a customer.
I guess, what it comes down to for me, is that we do not fear the planned harvest of our livestock- because that is always the goal. I fear the idea that the reality of farming is so outdated and foreign that a meat-farmer is strange and icky- but a package on a shelf, from lord-knows-where, treated lord-knows-how is normal and preferred. How, could that possibly be better? How could the love, compassion, passion, and care we provide be weirder then the alternative? How could it be better to not be able to identify how what you are about to put into your body came to be? I don't believe it is. I think that it's far more tasteful (pun intended) to have a personal relationship with your food, either through raising it yourself or knowing your farmer. To know that what you eat was adored and respected. And that's what you'll find on our farm- we love them from their very beginning to their final days, and believe in the whole process.
I know that some farmers and customers think it's unsavory for us to post pictures of the animals we raise, particularly when they are adorable. And I understand their positions. I just strongly disagree. We're proud of the journey our livestock take, and we want to share it. We are humbled by our work on a daily basis. We are honored to serve at the mercy of the weather and the whims of nature. And the few great pleasures this work provides are the joys of the animals, when they're not escaped or wrecking something or knocking me over. We want you to have the whole picture, so you can understand just how very much we care here, and why it matters. So that you can see for yourself that it isn't sad-- it's complicated and beautiful and above all, delicious in every meaning possible.
It's so cold right now I have to wear a face mask to do the daily chores. My asthma causes the air to rip through my throat and lungs, nearly forcing me to my knees if I'm not careful. So I bundle up double, bought new boots, and try to time chores while the sun is high. All of the livestock are bedded down with extra hay, but I still worry it's not enough given the calls for 25 below with the wind. I feel spoiled inside, away from the howling winds- with an oil delivery complete and the woodshed attached to the house. It's so strange to have gone from a bed parked next to our wood stove in a house so drafty you could still see your breath even with a fire roaring, to wearing a thick long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, with sturdy slippers and being completely comfortable. Modern conveniences! Who knew!
Back inside, I was torn on what to make for dinner. But the pull for making homemade spaghetti sauce was the clear winner. On cold, cold nights, nothing could be more comforting then a bowl of pasta with meatballs and freshly made sauce. Usually I like to cook my grandmother's gravy recipe all day, but today a shorter version will suffice. I think the deep flavor of the last of our Italian sausage should make up for the abbreviated cooking time. We don't have pork going to the butcher until March, so we may as well make the best of the last package.
I purchased some local beef while running errands today. That local beef mixed with our pork served as the meat ball base. As I added in dried summer herbs and the rest of the ingredients, I could hear my grandmother's instructions hum in my head. She'd rather I had veal or lamb too to add, but we're out so this will have to do. I can hear her say "over season the meatballs so they finish your sauce for you when you add them" and add a bit more salt. The tomatoes for the sauce are from the summer garden, those that could be salvaged before we got hit by the blight. We've yet to order seeds for this year's garden, but soon. We'll sit with a bottle of wine between us and thumb though the black and white FEDCO pages reading aloud the descriptions of summer, choosing both the standbys and chance seeds for a year of growth and eating.
I peel the stiff paper coating from our garlic, still dusty with the garden's remains. I can feel the dimming October (of 2013) light as I planted this seed, harvested in late-summer of this year in compact bulbs and now cured for the winter's cooking. I'm saddened we didn't manage to get in the garlic in November for this summer's harvest, and make note to look for a short-season variety in FEDCO as well. In the smell of our dried basil as I crush it between my fingers, I can almost feel the summer heat and remember frantically pulling the last of it before the frost.
Warmth. We all crave it. We crave the warmth that protects us from the physical blow of the wind, but we crave the warmth that comes from fond memories too. When you can guard against the weather and retreat into a bowl that transports you to a garden, or to a treasured time, or to both- the warmth is a different kind of cloak.
Everything about this meal warms me. The memories of a childhood at my grandmother's apron strings, listening to her talk to herself (and to me) about the perfect sauce. Standing on a step stool, stirring a pot of reducing stock and tomatoes with the oldest wooden spoon and her watchful eye. The acrid smell of cloves of garlic and minced onion. Her words, stern and soothing (still, this is always the case with her)- her kindness and love evident in every meal she's ever made. When I cook, regardless of what it is, I channel her- Grandma may not always know what to say- but everything she feels comes out in her food. I inherited that trait. If I cook for you, it's not just a meal. It's a language I speak most fluently. I grow the food, I harvest the food, I prepare the food, I share the food at our table. This is my calling. All of it.
Farming isn't all outdoor work, though a good bit of it does take place in the weather, regardless of what that means. Chores go slow, this time of year, despite the diminished population. There are rabbit water bottles to defrost, fresh bedding to pile down, plenty of grain to haul, fences to check, water buckets to chop through. Then there is the fire wood to haul, the meals to plan (nothing quick to grab from the garden, it all must be cooked) and... the office work.
I both enjoy and hate office work. This time of year it's dipping my toe into tax preparations (undoubtedly my least favorite task), drafting, editing and paying for advertisements, checking on orders placed, writing budgets, ordering supplies, plotting fence lines... it's almost as endless at the battle against frozen rabbit water bottles. But it does allow for a bit of dreaming. We're getting ready to expand, pretty substantially for next season, and finally in a place where I can set up things the way I think will work best. Of course I fully expect to be totally wrong about what's going to work- that's usually how it goes. But i thought curious folks may want to see some of the dreaming we've been doing. So here are a few of the projects we're currently scheming. Also, if you're nearby to the new farm, and run a biz that could help with any of these, shoot us an email. Maybe we can work together.
We're going to be setting up a completely different rabbit structure this year. We'd like to get all of the stock out on pasture. Previously, we have put the meat growers out on grass, in moveable pens, and rotated the breeding stock in and outside. We'd like to open up space and fencing to be mimic more of a natural set-up, where the does have a more natural breeding environment and their own pasture to raise kits on. Bucks would be let in when appropriate, but kept in their own range. Everything will likely still need to be under cover, and the fencing will be a challenge since rabbits love to dig. But we think it can be done.
I have long dreamed of brooders with built-in thermostats. I worry constantly about the temperature of little chicks, and finally think this is the year that I will actually wire in thermostats to the heat lamps. I'm hopeful that this little control will also reduce our losses even further, since chicks are so temperature sensitive. Along with this, we're going to try and pipe in most of our watering systems at least indoors, so that chicks never run out of water.
This is the BIG one. We need to put in a state certified processing facility for our poultry and rabbit operations. It's a major reason we moved, this is not going to be a cheap or short term project. In fact, it will be a giant undertaking, a ton of paperwork, and definitely a few headaches. BUT in the end, we will be able to process our poultry on-site (really important to us), sell rabbit wholesale and at markets, AND stream line our operation while keeping with our ethics. Right now, I'm in the midst of re-reading regulations, figuring out a project budget, and finding a few contractors to help. We've also had the unfortunate add-on that during our move we had a horrible electrical failure that blew one of the main well pumps. So, as part of our season's work we must get the well up and running- fast. The farm as two wells, but we had to plumb the house to the back-up well, which really is better suited for farm work- it's mighty- sulphur-y!
Frost Seeding, Pigs and Rotational Grazing-
Fencing, Fencing, Fencing. We've chosen a few pastures to be our primary grazing sites for the next season (or two) depending on grasses planted, location, and ease of fencing. Based on this, we'll be running various livestock over them, and frost-seeding with specific species in mind. For example- the pigs will be getting pastures that will have squashes, peas, and melons planted within their grasses. This will keep the flavor we're looking for and keep the pigs happy. Poultry just so happen to love the same things, so we can use those same pastures for them as well. It's exciting to have so much more control over the variety of foods for the livestock!
It's hard to imagine, especially in this mighty January cold- that a few short weeks we will be getting the first delivery of chicks, and it won't be long until the work days stretch late into the evening. Until then, it's nice to imagine all the ways we'd like to see the farm develop- and take steps to make it happen. It's going to be a big year! (Don't forget, meat-shares are still available! Check out the link to the right!)
We decided to spend the holidays quietly with friends and family, hence no blog posts. But now, it's 2015 and we'll be back with all kinds of exciting farm updates. In the meantime, please enjoy the view, we sure are!
Oversleeping a bit, we chugged a cup of coffee and threw on our winter coveralls to head up to the barn. It's less often now that Kim has time to help with livestock chores, and it's always nice when she does on the weekends. I miss her, and though it's not a heavy work load at the moment, it's still lighter with 4 hands- but it's more her company that I crave.
The rabbit water bottles were frozen, so she threw them in a crate to take them down to house to thaw while I hauled feed out to the pigs and dumped the goats old water out. On my walk back across the barn I stopped to feed the laying hens, tossed them more oyster shell and noted the three small eggs for collecting. The long nights make eggs more of a treat then a staple, but I'm pleased that the chicken coop at the new farm keeps the girls so warm they don't need a heat lamp.
The rabbit cages are finally neatly hung in the rear corner of the new barn, threaded with steel pipe to keep them sturdy and hanging from eye hooks in the rafters. It's a nice set up, but we're looking forward to finally building our dream rabbitry come spring, outdoors, with plenty of grazing and hopping space. I spent the week outside trying to sort through the materials, tools, supplies,and junk. The barn will take at least 2 years to get it set up just so, (one full season to make mistakes) but at least now there's space to move around and things are making more sense. Our two goat does (hopefully bred) and the buck clamored for breakfast from the pole barn while June, the only sheep we kept from our old flock, had weaseled her way out of the barn. She was standing directly outside of the big red door and digging through the snow for frozen grass. Apparently, her breakfast had just not come quickly enough.
Today is the solstice. The darkness is here, for many more months, and we're grateful for a few more long nights before the season starts again. But the turning point is something unique- it's simultaneously the start of the winter and the climb towards spring. We're having company today, warming the farm house on both ends with two kitchens filling with friends and baked goods. We're welcoming in the winter with sweets. It's a strange thought, to know that we're on the cusp of the seasonal turn- a literal turning of the strange globe we live on. But what is more comforting then a warm house, good folks and the smell of chocolate?
Seasons are important our rhythm here, we watch the weather and the light. We take the time to notice the shifts, it affects our work and schedule. As the light goes, so do the eggs, and we take our cue from the hens to slow down. The light always comes back, along with the work.
In our celebration today, we've prepared a traditional winter wassail, a mulled cider drink (with wine). There's more than one way to warm a house and your guests. It's currently brewing in the crock pot, a cauldron of cider and spice. Combined with the smell of wood smoke, and two (finally) settling in dogs, the twinkle of Christmas lights, the farm is everything one could hope for to journey through the longest night.