Saturday, November 30, 2013

After Thanksgiving

Well, we made it through the official end of our busy farming season. The turkeys made it to tables, surrounded by all kinds of farm fresh goodies in the way of vegetables, gravy, cranberry sauce, pies... even stuffed to the gills it still makes my mouth water. 

It was a hell of a roller coaster ride getting those birds to the table though. We had a very elaborate and (we thought) well organized plan- but like most farm plans- it required a lot of on the spot negotiation. Early in the fall, we bartered the cost of straw bales for the greenhouse for help processing turkeys at near-by McEnroe Farms. A good deal, as the seedlings are looking fairly sturdy even in the cold weather. So the week before Thanksgiving, not only were we prepping CSA shares full of holiday cheer, and organizing our partner butchering with Mountain Brook- but I was working to get those bales paid for. 

Mountain Brook hosted the butchering this year, with our two small farms pooling together resources and materials to keep volunteers fed and get the birds done professionally. We moved our small flock of turkeys up to MB on Friday morning, though we had some hiccups moving their temporary housing down from out a field in some thick fall mud- we did manage to make it happen eventually. We split up, taking on tasks to get the whole operation in line for Saturday morning, when our birds were on the docket. 

Processing turkeys is a big job, given their size and the time constraints you face getting them all done fresh for the holiday table, and we were lucky to have an A+ crew on hand to help us on Saturday. Unfortunately, I was not at my best and while distracted I took a razor sharp knife to my finger. It's the first time I've ever injured myself that badly butchering, in over 5 years experience. I guess it was bound to happen sometime! I ended up needed to hit the ER for stitches, and was eternally grateful that the crew we had kept it moving so quickly even a man down. The turkeys weighed in nicely even given their struggles through the season and it was a great sight to see them all packaged up in our modified cooler truck. I managed to get back from the ER in time to help finish up, but really it was Kim, Hilary and our indomitable volunteers who made it happen. 

With a splinted finger, I'm a bit slow moving (still), but Sundays delivery was just Awesome. Sure, it was freezing and windy as all get out- but their are few things we love more then sharing the farm with customers. Everyone managed through the weather to pick up their turkey and array of fixings, have a cup of coffee or a brew sample. The brave even bundled up to say hello to the piglets and rabbits. 

The farm after Thanksgiving is still a busy place. With the temperatures hovering around frigid this early in the season, we've burned a fair amount of wood. My injured finger is keeping our wood cutting operation down, so we bit the bullet and ordered some to be delivered. A shot to the wallet and to my pride, but it's only a temporary injury so it's better to be grateful then bitter. Or cold. We still have the laying chickens, rabbits, quail, sheep, goats and pigs to tend to- but it seems a much more relaxed pace given the fury of summer. I've taken an off-farm part time job, the finances need an influx, and it's a good job learning the art of cheese mongering. It's always good to expand your skill set, and the farm is headed for some big changes that will require a good amount of investment. If we really want to make this farm reach it's potential, we have to make some changes, and those changes need more money. We have been so fortunate to have become successful with our growing so quickly, and so while the winter rolls in we will pad the savings account so we can hopefully keep up with the demand come spring time. It's exciting, and not all that much quieter then when the vegetables are in full bloom- just busy in a different way. But still, we're taking today to recuperate after a harried 3 week sprint, joyfully full from another wonderful farm holiday. We're awaiting firewood (still have enough to fight back the chill until it arrives) and feeling contemplative. And though busy, after Thanksgiving there IS time for a second cup of coffee. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

To Grandmother's house we go...

It's a Saturday, and we do not have a delivery for the CSA today, as we have switched to our bi-weekly winter schedule. We had some plans for the morning, but... well... we just didn't get to them. I needed a hair cut, and my stylist (wife) was free, so we took care of that. We caught up on some television we like. We laid about. So, now it's noon. This is a very strange feeling, and regardless of the fact that we've been going for 8 days straight of morning until night farm work, I feel guilty for hanging about a bit. I have this terrible problem of being completely unable to be still, even when it's called for.

This week is sure to be an intense one, we have to get the farm 'tour ready', we try to get it a little more presentable, as in- clearing out muddy paths, sweeping barn cobwebs, making sure tools are put away when there is going to be more traffic. Our biggest delivery of the year- the Thanksgiving pick up is next Sunday. The turkeys are doing well, though we have had some struggles with this batch and haven't loved the stock that came from the hatchery. We're keeping them exceptionally well fed and tended, as we hope they will be the center piece of everyone's holiday table.

We are still behind in planting garlic, but hope to have that remedied either tomorrow or first thing Monday. We didn't get a working vehicle back until Thursday, so getting supplies was a real juggling act. But the ground isn't frozen, and we have the blessing of a few warm days to help us make sure we get the seed in. The straw bales in the hoop house are doing pretty well, a little bit of transplant shock, but we'll see how they pull through. I'm hopeful for a nice crop of winter kale and salad greens with some good tending and a little luck.

This evening, after chores we're headed to CT to visit my grandma, who I think most know I absolutely adore. She's cooking dinner (undoubtedly it will be delicious) and we get to meet her new beau. My grandma is a classy, ferocious woman. I wouldn't be who I am without her.

When I was a little kid, I spent a lot of time at Grandma's house. I remember standing on a stool, stirring pots of tomato sauce that she would dip her pinky in to taste. I'm not sure why it was her pinky, but it always was. She would orate on the nature of a perfect sauce and supervise my technique with the long wooden spoon. As I got older, she insisted I learn to sew, knit, and cook- skills which I still find incredibly useful (and enjoyable). In the winter, she would bundle me up and send me out ice fishing with my grandfather, a sport that still is a favorite for me to this day. She always wants her grandkids to do things they love, and to be useful. And I think her love of food is a lot of what inspired me to farm.

I remember walking down the road where she lived to an older italian neighbor who raised meat rabbits. It wasn't strange, or exotic, even in this kind of suburban neighborhood. Her sister, and my god mother had the most amazing vegetable garden- and I spent many an afternoon running through cherry tomato bushes. We weren't farmers, but Grandma set the example of 'do it yourself' (she still does today) and to be delighted, whatever the result. She laughs heartily when she has a failed recipe (though it's not often) and is known to tease herself when she doesn't something silly. When I was in college she would call and tell me what she mis-heard (she wears hearing aids, but keeps them off) during the week. She once even tried to mail me an oil and garlic based bean salad. While this salad is absolutely one of my favorites, it arrived in an oil soaked box along with some well ruined brownies. I called her to find out what she was thinking and all she could do was laugh.

I tend to take things seriously, be a bit dark and sarcastic. These aren't bad things, but when times get tight on the farm, or I make a ridiculous mistake I think I'd do well to take a cue from grandma. You can't be wildly successful all the time. But you can laugh, try again and always seek to be useful. Or at the very least make a damn good marinara.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Unique and Awesome Farm-Friendly Gifts! (including Beer!)

We have a long tradition of hand-making most of our gifts for the holiday season, and this year will be no exception. We like long dark evenings in front of the wood stove, project supplies scattered about and music or a movie playing. We've made all kinds of things, and usually include some kind of edible treat- home canned pickles, applesauce, etc. Last year, our wedding pictures served as a gift for those who were there, and we hand-made picture frames from all of the farm's gorgeous scenery- wooden frames adorned with sealed acorns etc. We haven't quite picked what this year's gift will be, but we're thinking it's going to involve these beauties...

Tanned rabbit hides! We've been tanning the hides from our rabbit operation for a while, and have quite the store, in a variety of colors. They're soft, warm, pliable, and just waiting for the right project. Mittens? Hat? boot liners?

I mentioned we have quite the store... And that's the truth! So if these are inspiring you, we're happy to sell you a few for your home projects. You can be assured that they come from our very own ethically raised rabbits and are tanned with care. We have a few that are well over a year old and holding up just perfectly. We'll sell them at $10/each (if you want more than 5, we probably could cut that price a bit) and ship anywhere (we can give you a price quote for that). Send us an email if you'd like some! 

If crafting isn't your thing, we've come across this other really cool opportunity... our friend James (who we met when he bought 1/2 a lamb a few months ago) is promoting his own beer tasting club! He invited us over a few weeks ago for a sampling (and some delicious pizza too!) and damn... that beer is awesome. It's such good beer in fact, that we're helping him out by offering to bring along his tasting packs to our delivery in Albany. If your looking for a great gift for a micro-brew lover, or just are a libations enthusiast- it's a pretty great opportunity. We recently asked James some questions so y'all could get to know him more, and hear about his journey into brewing. 

How did you get into brewing?

I guess it all harkens back to my days at art school (and some how my grandmother has an indirect influence on how I got here.) Where I believe my meticulous, curious, obsessive nature was allowed to blossom to its awkward introverted fullest. Time passes and many projects later, I develop a taste for, of all things, beer! Being of the right age where I got to be a witness to the burgeoning craft brew industry.  As well as the idea that you could make this stuff at home. I kicked around the idea in my head for a few years. Oh yea, did I mention that I’m amazing at procrastination? Then one day I was walking down a small street in Brooklyn and we come upon 10 6 gallon glass carboys in the trash. What a find! My friend and I drag back 2 to his apartment and start figuring out how we can make kick ass beer!
Many months later (remember I’m meticulous and obsessive so I needed to know everything to make the perfect beer)...we made the worst tasting beer ever or maybe the best tasting bottle of aspirin flavored water ever!?

So post asiprin-beer- how did the game plan change?

There began a couple years of study and many bad batches of beer. With just enough good batches to keep me from getting completely discouraged. Keep me motivated. Of course making beer begets drinking and I started to think about how different styles of beer are made. For example, what’s a Quad or Gose? All of this was fuel for the meticulous, curious, obsessive beast inside. 

Er, so.. enlighten us as less obsessed beer enthusiasts on what you are talking about?

Well specifically a Quad is a Trappist style that’s dark and strong--around 11-13% ABV. They are dark in color, though not roasty like a stout more fruity with notes of apricot, plum and raisin. Plus there are all the peppery esters common in a Belgian style beer.
Gose, pronounced go-say, is an almost extinct German style, that relies on a water profile that’s a bit salty to give the beer a sour brine aftertaste. I had one when I was in Berlin one time and it was much more refreshing than it may sound. On second thought I shouldn't say extinct, rare is probably a better term. I did see one on a menu in a bar in Brooklyn. According to a friend, small American craft breweries are trying to resurrect the style.

Ok, so was there a turning point?

Sooner than later I find I make fantastic beer! I probably started making good beer before I thought it myself. Anywho, to make a long story short-- I started bringing beer I made to parties. I discovered another friend of mine who was a secret brewer and we started throwing parties to share our beers with friends and others.
But, what ended up happening was that after more than a couple parties we would find a lot of our beers opened half full with tons of cigarette butts in them. We both felt frustrated and angered by this. Our friends meant no real disrespect but, we put a lot of effort and care into making those beers!

We know this feeling, we always try to give tips to use EVERY part of the things we grow! So now you have great beer, and you needed an audience?

We hatched plan. We would start a tasting club! My friend had some other plans first though, he had to WOOOF across one continent. Then bike across another and he would be ready to do it. I waited 8 months then said screw it and started organizing. That was 4 years ago and the club is going strong. I’ve moved from Brooklyn and am lookin’ to start another club up here in the upper Hudson Valley/Capital region.

Lucky us! How does it work?

How it works is each month I cook up 3 different brews and bring them to a pick up spot. You get them and drink them. The beers come with a small booklet that will give you some info on the beers you’ll be drinking and some space for tasting notes. This happens 6 times from December to May. If you would like to be a part of the club shoot me an email at for further details and cost!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Scrap the list.

Sigh. You ever have one of those days where you wake up with the best intentions to tackle a mountain of a to-do list, and are thwarted at every pass?

That was today on the farm. After a week in the shop, Kim's mom picked her up to go retrieve the subaru and she planned to run errands that were much overdue. We had worked pretty hard all morning handling some butchering chores, and I finished up solo so that she could get ready to leave the farm. After the last of the washing, I headed up to check the piglet's electric fence. Being stuck without a car meant we hadn't been able to buy any replacement batteries, and were running on borrowed time.

The piglets weren't out grazing or sunning themselves. And... they weren't in the barn.... 5 missing piglets. Much of the spring's income, gone. I started the search up in the woods, and in the now pretty died down vegetable patch. No luck. Suddenly, I saw a laying hen come flying out from a large pine tree along the perimeter of the farm. Running in.. fear? Then, the ruffled fowl was quickly followed by Pumba the elected leader of the piglet troop, by virtue of his size and domineering personality.

I wrangled the 5 back towards the fence and with some panting, running and scare tactics (and luck) herded them back into the barn, safely. I acted like a sheep dog, getting low and looking larger then my size, looking the beasts dead on. They blew past me several times before deciding that the miserable farmer wasn't going to leave them alone and it was just easier to go on.  I then jogged to the turkey fence and set them up with the weaker fence box, pulling the stronger 12-volt version for the pigs.

Back in the farm house for some leftovers, the phone rang. Kim had successfully picked up the car, and... three miles down the road it died again- despite a new radiator. She was now waiting for a tow truck to arrive.

I ate some lunch, and a friend stopped by to drop off some spent grain from his brewery (healthy snacks for livestock!). I was showing him around, and we headed up to the pig pen. Naturally, I had failed to notice a spot where they had uprooted the fence before. And so, the five were back out, merrily chewing on pasture outside of their fence. Repeat performance from above, and luck again- got them back in. Fixed the fence. Again.

I headed back down to the house, intending to do some dishes and get some pears we have turned into jam for the weekend delivery. While prepping I realized we were out of sugar, and small jars. And, our spare car has a flat and needs new tires before it can go back on the road. And the farm truck isn't really running off-farm. So no supply run possible.

Kim called again, the car had been towed, but getting replacement tires for the other car was going to be much more expensive then our plan to order online in a few weeks since we just paid for a new radiator on the subaru. With no choice, we bit the bullet to replace the tires- we have to have a car before Saturday.

Finally, I gave up on anything else on the to-do list and used the time honored method of dealing with stress- shoveling shit. A few cartloads in, and I felt better. With a fresh bunny pen, I was able to move two litters into our spacious grow-out area (we brood chicks there in the summer, but since we can't pasture the litters in the winter time the space serves as a great place to let them stretch out and graze on grain/hay/sprouts). Calmer, I headed up to fix a ripped turkey shelter (the dummies keep roosting on top, rather than inside their shelter) since the weather is calling for rain.

Some days, you just have to scrap the list. We're not religious or spiritual people, really- other than a deep belief in caring for animals and the earth. But if you've ever heard of mercury in retrograde- it has the habit of creating havoc in mechanics, and in communication- and we're seeing it. Maybe it's coincidence, maybe it's the planets- regardless- the sun will come up tomorrow and the list will still be there, and so will we.

**note- in the midst of writing this, I had to lock up the turkeys for the evening, and with Kim waiting for a ride from her mom after work, I had to do it alone. In the theme of the day, the turkeys acted like they had never before entered their shelter, and proceeded to play "ring around rosie" like a group of ugly school children rather than doing anything I needed them to. Eventually, all did get in, but I thought I'd treat you to the image of 30 turkeys giving me the run around to cap off this little fiasco of a day.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Holding Pattern

I've been down with a cold for a few days, and Kim has been carrying the weight of the usual farm chores. We haven't been able to make much progress on the farm "to-do before Snow" list. These things happen, we're just hoping to play catch up a bit more next week instead. It's been the kind of cold where your whole body protests even the short walk to get a drink, and my asthma demanded that I slow down, immediately.

We did still manage to put together a nice end of harvest dinner, though. Halloween Day is always a feast day for this farm. We have a little tradition of stuffing a pumpkin for Halloween Dinner. We open it up, like a jack-o-lantern, and clean the insides. Then we make a savory stuffing with sausage and veggies, pack it full, put the lid back on and roast it until it's soft enough to serve in slices. This year, Kim added a pan de muerto to the dinner, and damn- it was melt in your mouth delicious. She used this recipe, for anyone looking to try. Family came over to join in the celebration, and we had a very quiet, relaxing night. It feels appropriate to celebrate the actual day of Halloween this way, with a bit more reverence and quiet reflection to the end of a season (though we also do lots of spooky silly things before the day too).

Today is the first Saturday in a long time (2ish years) that we haven't had a delivery to make, or planting to do, or snow to negotiate. It's been a little strange, trying to deviate from the schedule, but nice too. It's a day for laundry, chores, etc and we decided to limp the farm truck into town for breakfast. The subaru is in the shop for repairs, and the farm truck is on it's last legs. It won't be far on the horizon that we will be searching for a replacement. But the old rust bucket got us to the town diner, and we had a nice breakfast and semi-planning meeting. We start planning for spring season now, and we have a lot of ideas of whats to come for our little farm. Its nice to not have somewhere to be immediately and give ourselves the space to plan and dream a bit. If All Hallows brings the end of the growing year, it's a good time to reflect and begin anew--especially over a hot cup of coffee.

Roasted stuffed pumpkin, ready for slicing!

Pan de Muerto, straight from the oven