Monday, January 27, 2014

Winter photos

A snow dusted farm, through long cold winter.  Including a monogrammed melting patch!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Winter means....Meetings!

One of the things we don't often discuss on the blog is... the hard work of community collaboration, back-end business meetings, and small business development meetings... which are constant and continuous over the winter. Running a farm is also about looking for ways to build up your relationships with those in the area, working hard to improve where you live, and always looking at your strategic planning. Here is our week plan, as an example:

Today: Continue working on aspects of our collaboration with community members seeking to reopen our local general store. This is a HUGE project, and we're really excited to be integrating so many great local farm opportunities with the store re-launch. It's going to be amazing, and as soon as we can talk more about the details, you bet you'll hear all about it.

Tuesday: Exploring some additional land opportunities! And then, in the evening, Ejay is headed to the monthly Copake Farmland Protection Committee meeting, while Kim heads to a meeting with Cornell Cooperative Extension for local livestock farmers on the challenges associated with production in the area.

Wednesday: Feed run, and meeting with the feed mill to hopefully nail down all of our custom feeds for the next year.

Thursday: .... Another meeting! This time, it's an evening meeting of the zoning board to hopefully get the final approval for an improved slaughtering provision to allow for farmers to process their own poultry in the town of Copake.

We take our civic responsibility very, very seriously around here. And we really want to see the community that we live in, thrive. So even when we're tired, have cold weather to prep for, and a ton of farm work to do- we still have to attend meetings and contribute what we can. We're invested in sustainability all around!

While we're at meeting though, you should definitely check out our shares for next year, and SIGN UP!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mornings in January

I walk down to the barn after running back up to the house to throw on an extra sweatshirt. It's not quite cold enough for a heavy overcoat, but chilly enough that I'm grateful for worn leather gloves and thick socks. There are huge snow flakes swirling around my head, and a small table sits in the front driveway with a wooden crate perched atop. In the crate are winter CSA shares, decedent hand crafted treats worked on feverishly for two weeks. There is no car in the driveway, Kim has already left for the morning's Albany delivery. It's been a few days since I've been down to the barn, working early and long shifts at the cheese shop while Kim keeps the home fires burning.

I slide open the old, paint chipped barn doors and to my left, 4 of the 17 rabbit kits sit straight up in the grow-out pen, atop a mountain of hay. They look like prairie dogs, curious and wild eyed, waiting for the sound of a tin lid lifting off of a storage bin and the rustle of a feed scoop. A pop door rattles open and two young goat does burst in, throwing their body weight against a pallet lined pen, as if no one has ever fed them before. Those two are about to be three, with a new fellow coming to town to finally start the process of turning the goats into breeding stock... and then dairy animals.The smell of the barn is that sweet, a little damp, winter brew... cleaner then a chicken coop, but teaming with life and pungency.

I set down a five gallon bucket filled with water I was carrying, and fill another with hog feed, nearly a full 25lbs of it for the beasts I can hear announcing the sunrise up the hill. As I walk up, I see downed electric fence spots, and that though we moved them days ago the hogs have plowed through the thawing ground with vigor. They need more space, so I make note to reopen the second pasture gate once the battery is finished charging up, the insurance policy against our own episode of hogs gone wild. The biggest pig is a real brute, tossing the smaller boys aside to eat more than his share, so I split up the feed into several dishes and watch for a moment. The sheep mosey to their side of the gate, indignant that thus far I'm only here to fill their water. I ignore their affronted faces, fill water for them and the pigs and make my muddy way over to the overflowing creek spring, where I refill the bucket.

Once back down to the barn, I use the spring water to fill the goat's bucket and set the rest near the still locked hen coop. The pitch folk is coated in snow, and as I brush it off I notice the call ducks have weaseled their way out of their hut and at staring at me like bobble head dolls, head's slightly askew. Noticing my attention, they bark in loud voices, demanding their rations under the punishment of further, rather vulgar noise disruption should they wait any longer.  After heaving a fork full of hay to the goats, I scoop grain to the ducks who commence happy quacks until they notice their water too, needs filling. Usually I'd then move onto the rabbits, but we're running late, and Legs the Rooster is becoming impatient from inside his brothel confines.

I again, fill a bucket with feed and open the broken coop door, where, like a feathery clown car hens erupt and begin their all day quest to satiate their never ending hunger. Hopscotching through the crowd, I forgo filling the hen watering jug to return to the now exceptionally grumpy sheep with their fork full of hay, pausing to fix another section of pig fencing on my return back down.

The rabbits, ever patient, (and thus last on the list), click their tongues against water bottles as they finally get filled and fed. It sounds like a typing pool when they all get going, and never fails to make me laugh a little. The newest batch of rabbit kits has a runt with a bad eye, and I pull the palm sized critter from the pile of his siblings to apply eye drops to sooth his ills. Usually, at 3 weeks we help the babes out of the nest if they are particularly sloth like, to prevent the build of bacteria in their living space. However, with temperatures dipping well below zero during the earliest days of these babies arrival, we dared not remove them from the comfort of the fur and hay lined cavern their mother built. The eye infection is a direct result of not removing them sooner, and it will clear up with proper care of a saline treatment. Still better then frozen 3 week old rabbit kits.

Once the rabbits have all been tended, I stand in the door way of the barn quickly tallying the afternoon's chores for later. A few rabbit cages need scraping of old hay and manure, with fresh layers of hay provided for snacking and comfort. The pig stall needs a good scrape, along with a liberal application of wood shavings and hay. The hen water, while fine for now, will need 5 gallons later, and, has a mild build of water sediment, so it will need the apple cider vinegar to ward off bacteria. The hens will also need fresh, dry shavings so they can commence making a giant mess of the coop immediately upon my completion. The goats, should the snow keep up, will be furious they can't control the weather, and will take nothing but the driest hay from the safety of their indoor pen. The barn cat is out of kibble. With the animals now happily enjoying their morning, I can feel their forgiveness at my horrible condition of only having but 2 hands to feed them at much too slow a pace. The big snow flakes keep falling, and I sigh the sound of a man who finds his greatest peace in the profoundly unremarkable job of a livestock breakfast concierge.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Farming, Together

The cold weather had us in a little bit of a slump. We don't usually mind it, I almost like it- but the work of keeping the house warm, the livestock safe, and some other non-farm things we were just kind of grumpy. It happens to the best of us, I suppose. We spent the day working on the next CSA delivery, rendering lard, making rounds of pizza dough, taking freezer inventory etc. We caught up on office work, filled out forms for bulk purchases, started looking for some must-have equipment. All in all, it was just an unremarkable day. So many times I feel like I can wax poetic about the drearier aspects of farming, the weight of a shovel full of manure and what not- but some days are just drudgery, and that's okay. It makes the other days shine a little brighter. But then we got a little out of comfort zone, and I left the slump behind.

We're lucky enough to live within a prominent farming community. There are a lot of opportunities to collaborate and share experiences with other farmers. In the winter, there is a group called the Farmers Research Circle, which examines different subjects based on reading, experience, or experts. Last night's topic was "Couples in Farming". So after the day's work wrapped up, and against our own sluggishness, we bundled up and headed down to the FRC, just for a change of pace. Folks don't always believe me when I say it, but we are both kind of socially introverted. We like spending time with people, but we also can be a bit reclusive, preferring a quiet night in over much else. We don't know the FRC group really well, other than a select few, but the topic caught our interest.

It was all unexpected. Here we were, sitting in a room with couples who had been co-farming and married for 30+ years. I haven't met many couples married that long, let alone married and working together that long. The conversation was really engaging, with folks sharing how they saw there relationship as an asset to their farming, and how working together changed their relationship. They talked about raising children, finding time to not-farm, being successful, and resolving conflict. It just really resonated with me.

When customers, acquaintances, friend etc find out we work all day together, there is usually only one reaction. An exclamation, really, of "I could never do that, don't you get sick of each other?!" It rarely varies. The short answer is, no. We live and work together, but the days are long and we spend huge parts of our time apart on various projects at separate ends of the farm. The time when we are working together, the focus is usually the work. There is no one on earth I trust more implicitly then Kim, whose judgement I respect more, or whose input I find more valuable. It makes the hard, crazy moments more manageable to know that we are really, truly, in it together.

"Don't you fight?"
Yup. We do. Not all that often, and only if one of us really feels like it's worth it to have a difficult conversation right that moment. It's got to at least feel important enough to go to a place of argument. More often then not, we have a heated discussion, someone offers a course of action to solve a problem, and the other person backs down. There is no where to go when it gets rough. You can go cool off at another part of the farm, but this is both all we have- we want to work it out. We want to succeed, so you learn to figure out to speak honestly, a little more gently and then just let it go. And one of our biggest struggles this year was the vegetable production. It was so difficult to make a success that it caused tensions between us- another factor in deciding to scrap it for right now. We both are passionate, strong willed, stubborn people. That's why we are good at what we do, and the price of admission is worth it. 

A theme that kept arising in last nights conversation was the idea that we, as a society have become so estranged from all of our animal instincts, including the act of companionship. We're never alone now, with technology- you can reach anyone, any information, at any hour of the day. But that's different then living, working, loving another human, who you depend on for your survival. The survival of our farm, our livelihood, our dinner, our heat- depends on each other. And I'm grateful for that because it allows us to interact in a way that is both tangible and profoundly inexplicable. The farm physically can not survive without the two of us, working. And it wouldn't exist without both of our dreams, and our relationship together.

I know that this life isn't for everyone, or believe that every relationship would thrive in these close quarters. And I don't think one way of life is better than another. I'm not assigning a value. But I'm so glad for our life together, including working to build a business together. I love being a hub of family and friends, where we get relatives kids off the bus, can schedule in a mid-day hospital visit, and sit and drink coffee, or eat dinner at 9pm because that's what the day allowed for. I love knowing that my wife is as invested in our success as I am, that this is truly the product of both of our passion. I love knowing that as a co-worker, she won't write me off, that our relationship is such that we must respect each other's opinions, there is no HR rep to intervene. She is my wife first, and our relationship has grown as we work full time together. 

We live in this world that is so about individuality, notions of success tied up in money, going with what's convenient over what is of higher quality. Having a strong sense of self is admirable, as is financial stability. And it's ok to take a short-cut here and there. But when those become the only values, I think we miss things. It's unusual to work full time with our spouse. But I get to spend time with the person I love most, and I get to think the good of the whole (farm) along with my own needs. It's an amazing thing. As hokey as it may sound, I feel wealthy beyond measure. And after a day of the mundane, it certainly feels a lot more remarkable. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Frozen Farm

These are the types of weather days that test us. Swirling snow, frozen ground, wicked winds and slow slogging through layer upon layer. I was supposed to head in to Great Barrington today, to work at the cheese shop- but the plows here are always later than the rest of area, tucked away as we are. So instead, I stayed home and we stoked the fire, and finished prep for the CSA delivery tomorrow. We've been sleeping downstairs on the futon, this kind of weather forces us up throughout the night. No matter the type of wood we use, the fire needs to burn so hot, as it's the only source of heat here that we stand guard against the cold and sleep in shifts.

Is it worth it? The long walks to the barn, the hours of labor breaking up ice in water buckets, wading through snow to feed hungry hogs... I think so. I never mind the hours of labor, even when it keeps me outside longer than is reasonable, or when by the time we've finished it's only an hour before we need to start checking in on everyone again. I don't mind packing the rabbit cages with hay, scratching the head of a goat en route to pulling off the water bottles- which are solid bricks of ice nearly instantly from being refilled. Our life has a purpose, we have focus. It's not easy, and sometimes I don't think it's sane. But it is ours.

Still, this cold will make anyone pause and wonder at the ferocity that is Mother Nature. I've been worn thin lately, and think Kim is too. The holidays have their charm, but they also have their demands. It's time to hibernate a bit, to realize Mother Nature always wins, and stop fighting her for a few months. We will keep ourselves and our animals safe, and comfortable- but other that that- we won't be tilling ground (obviously) or analyzing pastures or making water appear from sprinklers or adding nutrients to soil. We will be still animals, quiet animals, reverent animals. We will eat, we will sleep, and we will re-group. Because you can't beat winter. Turn on some music, watch the snow blow, do what's expected and just recognize your own frailness. We would freeze in the world out there, while other animals thrive. We would struggle to find food. We need heat and shelter. Even the most prepared of us still get frostbite. It's humbling, to be a creature at the mercy of the world, isn't it?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year - New Deal

We welcomed in the new year with some of our closest friends, and fellow farmers. We left the farm in the evening, after everyone had been tended to and locked in for the night. Kim's younger sister and her boyfriend watched the place, keeping the stove hot and the dogs cared for. We were back in time for morning chores, but the few hours away were spent in good company celebrating the arrival of 2014.

January is a planning time of the year for our farm. We start ordering all of our supplies, contracting for feed orders and even setting out work plans. This year will be different then the last two, since the vegetable acres will be absorbed into pasture for the livestock. We will have a spring filled with fencing, baby chicks, and building more rabbit pasture pens. But for now, we will sketch our maps of rotational grazing, plan share contents, and continue to make delicious goods to include in our year-round share that runs through May. The greenhouse is hanging in pretty well, we have some nice baby greens that if we can help them survive through the reported -10 to -25 degree wind chills tonight, we will have some nice mid-winter greens.

We're in for a heck of winter snow storm today, and spent the morning preparing the animals to be buried in over a foot of snow and stay out of the cold. No doubt that there will be much work to keep everyone safe and happy once the storm blows through, but after the livestock rounds this afternoon we should be in good shape to weather it through. But this is what we expect in winter, the ebbs and flows of cold weather, keeping everyone protected the best we can and keeping ourselves close to the fire. We appreciate the winter, even when it creates a long to-do list.

As we are going through our planning stages, and hiding out from the cold winter winds- we also wanted to take the opportunity to offer something special for our next year's CSA season. If you can get 10 people signed up for ANY of our May-September meat shares, we will deliver to a location (within 2 hours from the farm) of your choice. Got a group at your work? Want to host a pick up at your house? Think your church would love to get a delivery? We'll go there- if you can get 10 folks to sign up with you. In addition, we will also give you a 5% discount on any of our shares (MBF beef/egg shares not included). So, you could get some of our delicious meat dropped at your door-stop, for a cheaper price- just for helping us spread the word and hosting the delivery.

If you have questions about this deal, just shoot us an email at It's a good day to catch us, we're inside all day!