Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Hallows'

There's a chill in the air, left over from the hurricane weather change. It's a whisper of autumn's second half, the darker twin. The golden leaves are mostly laying on the ground, the sky's grey sweater fixed with shorter days.

I've yet to take stock of what's left of the veggie patch, though its on the list for today. Halloween is spooky, scary fun but it's also allowing death to mean something. It's the act of accepting the quiet and the cold, so you can prepare for the spring to return.

We have an eternal spring now, in the greenhouse, a little sanctuary against the cold. I hate to force the seasons, but the sweet taste of a winter green salad overrides any opposition. The fresh greens do not grow in the same volume during the late fall or winter. So they must be savored even more, a quiet luxury of modern farming.

Today we let the somber come in, easy to do when visions of nature's war path litter mass media. We take All Hallows' to acknowledge all that we build, grow and create is as the mercy of decay at some point. I think in acknowledging this, we can better appreciate the light when she returns.

We will bake a pumpkin, light the jack o lanterns and probably sip a good October brew. I'm not optimistic for the knocking of small goblins in costumes but we have sweets ready just in case. I love Halloween, I like to walk along the darker side of the season. I hope you all have a hot meal and a dark beer ( if you enjoy such things). I also hope you a take minute to let the passing of the season mean something, or let some piece of small mourning come to the forefront. It may help that candy taste all the sweeter with its contrast.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Spare Storm Lanterns

Yes, we have done some serious life- preserving prep. But it never hurts to have an extra lantern of the pumpkin variety!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cold Antler Farm

Saturday was a rare day for us. We started the day early, CSA prep made the before dawn hours soar by and we rushed into Albany to hand off the goods to members who were assisting us for the day (thanks guys!).

Then we headed out to Cold Antler Farm, two hours down the other end of route 22 from us in Columbia County for a day long farmers horse workshop. I've followed cold antler's blog ( for years now, but this was our first visit. Jenna, the farmer there, tells her story like a fellow traveler and is as welcoming in person as she is personable in her writing.

It's exceptionally hard for us to justify the expenditure in time and cash for anything but the necessities on farm. But this day was a necessity. We both got the opportunity to ride, ground drive and work with drafts. We were able to see two different farms with strong leaders who share their lives with horses. We heard from a farrier whose communication and skill with Steele, a magnificent Percheron was envious and brilliant. And we fell hopelessly in love.

From the second I saw Kim nearly race towards her chance each time she could directly handle drafts ten times her size, I knew she was sold on our path. I swung my leg over Merlin's strong Fell pony back, I could feel my farm world shift. There are moments this clear in my farming journey, where something intangible and idealized suddenly become hard outlines of the future. I felt this way when we first stepped foot on our farm.

Each piece of equipment was demystified by our guides for the day and it felt good to see the names I've poured over in books come to life. The enthusiasm and attentiveness by Jenna and Patty to us and to their horses was... well just great.

It's so hard not to mythologize horse farming, to idealize it. But for me, the reality of those reigns and lines in my hands was actually greater then the stories I had created in my mind. Yes, all of this was under the careful supervision of those with much more knowledge, but both were where we are not that long ago. They got where they are now through hard work and dedication. We have that, and so it feels possible.

Drafts are not just a practical solution to our need for field work, they are a living symbol of the life we are committed to. I can see us heading out for trail rides, caring for the soil and learning the subtle dance of a draft relationship. We are ready to begin, stop dreaming, and make it a reality.

Well, after we get through this hurricane, that is.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Great Song Farm

This past weekend was a blur on the farm. Friday we slogged through the impressive rains to butcher chickens. We still have several butcherings up ahead.

Saturday we did our delivery as usual, and rushed back home to care for the clucking, bleating and hopping masses. After everyone was returned to the comfort of a good meal, we headed to Kim's cousin's house for a Halloween party. Each year, they build an elaborate and fantastical trail and we were actors this year. It was great theatrical fun. Halloween is a favorite around here, the exaggerated play version and the solemn turning of the seasons.

Usually, that would be enough activity for us for one weekend, and we would quietly retreat into Sunday with a good dinner and some house work. But yesterday, we had a trip to our neighbors at Great Song Farm to meet their draft horse team.

Great Song is a small farm about 30 minutes from us with a vegetable CSA. Anthony emailed us to ask if we'd like to meet his team after reading our blog, and we jumped at the chance. He was planning to plow before the rain was twice as heavy as we expected, but still offered to take the horses out for a demo.

The pair are a stunning Suffolk duo clearly well cared for and eager for work. Anthony was generous with his time and we tried to absorb as much information as possible as he prepared Katie and Sonny for work. The ground ended up being too wet for more than 2 rows, but it was amazing to see these three in action.

It is equal part invigorating and sobering to watch someone adjust the various clips, hitches, snaps buckles etc required for a draft operation. The team was new to this particular plow and Anthony pointed out their reaction to the equipment, their prey response in opposition to their steadiness with familiar tools.

As the horses cut through the soil Anthony carefully monitored their progress and the adjustments needed for the implement. What struck me most was his commitment to remaining steady, collected and intentional. There seemed to be no room for auto pilot with horse farming.

This skill, there is no doubt, is a skill that will take years and failures to build. But it feels like a good fit. The level of awareness is attractive to me, I don't like to take for granted my actions or slip into routine. Anthony said something to the effect of wanting to be present if one was going to be plowing all day. And I agree.

All of this is well and good, but now begins of the work of the practical. Budgets, equipment estimates, building a skill set... It's a tall order. But I can't wait. And we are so grateful not to be starting from scratch solo- someone near by with knowledge is a wonderful thing, and we hope to repay his generosity at least with some good cooking.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lessons from year one

We are constantly analyzing and reflecting on our choices and progress. Sometimes (often) we make changes and adjustments to our methods, materials- whatever based on our reflections. We don't like to reinvent the wheel, but every farm is different and we have to find what works best for us.

There have been several things we have been re-evaluating recently, and in an effort of keep organized and maybe help those setting down a similar path, I decided to lay some of them out here.

Veggie Field- Phew! By now many of you know this drought seriously kicked our butts for much of the season, but we still were thrilled with the production from August until the hard freeze last week. We knew going in that it would take at least three years for us to even feel moderately comfortable with our soil, and five to seriously assess the best crop options. But a few more things have become apparent:
-We need to build up our soil beds rather than dig down. With the amount of rocks, we will be better off adding material. The rock provides excellent drainage though.
-We can't hand plow the field again. Our backs and time constraints say its time to move forward. Either we get a draft program running, or pay for field work.
- We need more pollinators. We noticed a serious lack of bees this yer, which didn't help our yields any. We have hoped to install a hive this spring but we had to cut back the budget. Next year, this is a non-negotiable.
-We need to mix some non-gmo hybrids into our heirlooms. We loved the flavor and color with the heirlooms, but it seems like we need some of the hybrids to round out the shares. I feel great about many of the heirlooms we chose. But by adding some hybrids, I think we can continue to preserve biodiversity and add more consistency to our production.
- Our onion crop must be trenched. Near our whole crop was lost this year, which was one of our biggest disappointments. We used the same growing method I've always used- but it was a catastrophic failure. Next year, we will try again. At least there are scallions!
-The greenhouse will revolutionize our growing. We will be have bigger, stronger, more numerous seedlings and a much expanded growing season. Horray!

Livestock- All said and done, we are very happy with our chickens this year, stoked about the popularity of rabbit and looking forward to the turkeys.
- The laying hens proved to be a huge headache. Our flock had unplanned molting and we lost a big number to predators. Egg production has been unpredictable at best. Purchasing new hens has been costly, risky, and not that beneficial. This winter we will be overhauling the entire operation. We need to raise almost an entire new flock and cull out all non-productive hens.
- We are only raising the giant Cornish-x in the spring. All of our subsequent batches paled in comparison to the first early birds (haha). The rest of the season will be the beloved freedom rangers. We need to alter our growing schedule for meat chickens to do larger batches spaces further apart. We need to upgrade our butchering equipment to streamline that process and can't schedule butchering weekly. We still need to figure out what the new schedule will be, but weekly was a big commitment and less efficient then we wanted. We also pushed the weather limits too far, next year we need to be done with meat chickens by the first week in October.
- Turkeys! We still will need to do a lot of assessment on these guys, but it looks like we will be doing an extra spring-summer batch. Turkey is so tasty- and not just for the holidays!
- With the HUGE popularity of rabbits it looks like we will be upping our breeder population. The cost of chicken grain is astronomical and rising fast. Rabbits are most cost effective in that we can raise much of what they eat without special equipment and not have to ship in tons of grain. We go through about 4,000 lbs of poultry feed in 7 weeks. We will go through more next year. With prices for our grain (even at our bulk rate) near 16.00 for 50lbs- relying more on rabbits makes sense. Plus, they are less labor intensive and we have big plans to convert our feeder rabbits to a pasture system much like our chickens.
-We need to add pigs! We would like to diversify our meat production, and we have some woods that we think will serve us well for pork production. We need to plan our infrastructure, so I'm sure more on this will be forthcoming.

This is just the start. Along with tangible farm changes, we are thinking about our marketing strategy, membership options, and customer base. We are looking at bigger delivery vehicles. We are planning to transition Kim to be on the farm full time, but we have to figure out the financials of this first and streamline out budgets even further. But in order to grow our business we both need to be on farm full time. We can't work more hours then there are in the day.

Farming isn't just brute strength, it's managing a living, breathing business that Mother Nature plays the last card on. And likely, everything I just laid out will change. Maybe by this afternoon. But we're hoping that by being flexible and open to the short comings and changes we can succeed.

Monday, October 8, 2012

October 7th Fall Farm Pick Up!

We had a great weekend here on the farm. On Saturday, some amazing fellow farmer friends showed up early to help us butcher a big batch of chickens. We were processing many more than Kim and I do on our own, so that our members could stock up on fresh birds ahead of time. By giving out multiple fresh birds, they can piece them out and then freeze them before the fresh season ends and we are only delivering frozen whole or halves.

After coffee, turkey visits and donuts, we finished setting up equipment. Kim and I had set up much of the area ahead of time, sharpening knives, covering tables in plastic and running hoses.Two of our closest friends, Melissa and Nick had brought their chicken plucker (THANK GOODNESS ) and their scalder so that we could both scald chickens and use the extra to seal packages once the chickens were complete.

Our friend Erika was learning to process chickens for the first time and was a quick study. The morning passed rhythmically without incident. Good friends, good work and lots of gratitude.

Sunday was a big show! We were up early, making sure the place was as picked up and ready as a working farm ever can be. Farms involve lots of manure and materials, so we did what we could to make the old place presentable. We had to set up snack tables and pick the veggies too- and it was a flurry of activity starting at sun up.

The veggie field surprised me with a bumper crop of late eggplants, it was rainy all week so I didn't spend much time out in the field. We had huge turnips, green beans, kale, peppers hot and sweet, zucchini, and spaghetti squash too set out along with treats for our guests.

It was really wonderful to walk everyone around the farm introducing the livestock and gorging on goodies. We spend much of our time working alone, and it was really great to share our efforts with the people we feed. It's really important to both of us to help our customers see the effort behind the food, and see the beauty here too. We are such a small farm, and we value every dollar that people spend with us instead of other options. We wanted to celebrate how far we have come and help people really see what we do.

Friends also joined us who hadn't seen the farm yet, and brought delicious cider donuts to share. I'll try to get that recipe up in a few days too.

Here are some other recipes by request!

R'Eisen Shine Pâté
1/2lb chicken livers
1/2cup water
1/4cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 juiced lemon
Sprig of fresh thyme, small sprig of fresh rosemary
Salt, pepper
1 bay leaf
1 stick butter, room temp

In a skillet, brown the onion, garlic and livers. Add the water and bay leaf along with some salt and pepper. Cover, and let the livers brown pretty fully.

Turn of the heat, and let the mix sit covered for 5 minutes.

In a food processor, add the rosemary needles, the thyme, lemon. Then remove the bay leaf and drain off about half the water from the skillet. Add in everything left into the food processor and blend. When it's smooth, add in butter, one tablespoon at a time until integrated and smooth. Sometimes, I add in a couple extra tablespoons. Add salt and pepper to taste. The mix will be fairly thin, but should look pretty uniform. Lightly grease a glass dish. Spread the pâté evenly in the dish and cover with plastic wrap or an air tight lid. If freezing, seal with melted butter first.

Let the pâté sit in the fridge overnight to set properly, you should be able to have it pop out of the container the next day. Serve with crackers or on sandwiches.

R'Eisen Shine Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cookies
2 1/4 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 stick of butter
1/4 C veggie oil
3/4 C sugar
3/4 C brown sugar
2 eggs
8 oz pumpkin
1 tsp vanilla
1 C oats
1pkg chocolate chips (more or less)

Mix the fats and sugars together til smooth, add the eggs.

Then add the pumpkin and vanilla and the dry ingredients, chocolate last.

Bake at 350 for about 8-10 minutes.